Thursday Briefing: Russia and North Korea’s Defense Pledge

President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un revived a Cold War-era mutual defense pledge between Russia and North Korea yesterday.

They promised to provide each other with “mutual assistance in the event of aggression,” but it was unclear if such assistance would mean full-fledged military intervention, as the now-defunct 1961 treaty specified.

But Putin said that Russia “does not exclude the development of military-technical cooperation” with North Korea, per the new agreement. He also promised unspecified technological help. If that includes a few critical technologies Kim has sought to perfect, it could help the North better target its adversaries, starting with the U.S.

Putin also seems done with his years of helping to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. “Pyongyang has the right to take reasonable measures to strengthen its own defense capability, ensure national security and protect sovereignty,” he said yesterday, though he did not address whether that included further developing the North’s nuclear weapons.

Humanitarian groups have thousands of tons of food, fuel and medicine ready to send to Gaza, but much of it can’t get in. Why?

Some problems are typical for a war zone. Aid groups want to protect their workers from bombs and gunfire. Roads and warehouses are destroyed, making the terrain difficult to navigate. But there have been bigger issues: Israel has enforced opaque rules that turn back aid trucks, citing security concerns. Egypt has blocked aid to protest Israel’s military operations. Hamas has stolen, or tried to steal, aid shipments for itself.

In other words, the people in charge of allowing aid into Gaza have prioritized their own interests over helping Palestinians. In doing so, they’ve repeatedly made decisions that humanitarian groups can’t overcome.

Israel typically cites two justifications for blocking aid: It wants to stop any supplies that can help Hamas and it wants to keep aid workers safe.

The first reason is the more contentious. American officials and humanitarian groups argue that Hamas has intercepted very few shipments. Critics say that Israel has been too careful about an overblown threat — or, worse, has used the aid as a weapon against Palestinians. “They are trying to provide a plausible cover story for collective punishment,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, president of Refugees International, a humanitarian organization.

But Hamas has intercepted some aid, and Israel says its precautions keep the group from taking more.

Other Hamas tactics have also made Israel more cautious. The group often hides behind civilians by placing its operatives in hospitals and stashing weapons in schools. Israel, worried that Hamas could also hide behind humanitarian groups and workers, requires aid groups to report their activities. For example, it signs off on specific routes in part to ensure that these really are humanitarian missions and not covert enemy operations.

Those checks, however, can fail. In April, Israel killed seven World Central Kitchen workers, even though the group said it coordinated its mission with the military. Israel called the strikes a mistake and apologized for the killings. It fired two of the officers involved and reprimanded others.

“That was a turning point,” said my colleague Adam Rasgon, who’s based in Jerusalem. After the killings, Israel opened more crossings to let aid into Gaza. The Israeli military also announced this week that it would stop operations in parts of southern Gaza during daytime hours; the pause in fighting could help get more aid to Palestinians.

Since Israel controls what goes in and out of Gaza, it has taken a lot of the blame for the crisis there. But it is not the only country that has stopped supplies for Palestinians.

After Israel moved into the southern city of Rafah last month, Egypt protested the incursion by blocking aid shipments. It did not want to look like it accepted Israeli control of the Rafah crossing, and was upset that Israel was operating so close to the Egyptian border. (Consider: Egypt once occupied Gaza, but lost control in 1967 in a war with Israel.)

Egypt has since started allowing some aid through Kerem Shalom, a crossing on the border with Israel. Still, the amount of aid getting into Gaza has dropped by nearly two-thirds since Israel started its operation in Rafah, according to the U.N. Despite these problems, humanitarian groups rarely criticize Egypt for its role in the crisis. “They know that Egypt is really important to their operations and also extremely unreceptive to public criticism,” Adam told me.

Separately, Palestinians have looted some shipments, out of hunger and desperation or to sell the supplies in Gaza’s black markets.

Far-right Israeli activists have also intercepted aid trucks traveling from Jordan to Gaza and smashed their supplies. The activists argue that Palestinians shouldn’t receive aid until Hamas returns Israeli hostages. The U.S. placed sanctions last week on Tsav 9, one of the groups involved in these attacks.

Aid workers often argue that the blame for all of these problems ultimately falls on Israel: People in Gaza are starving because Israel started its military campaign in the territory; it has the power to stop the war.

But Israel has genuine national security interests in destroying Hamas. It wants to ensure that nothing like the Oct. 7 attack can happen again. To do that, Israeli leaders believe they have to fight across Gaza. In that sense, Israel has put Israelis’ security above Gazans’ — a predictable, if controversial, choice in war.

North Macedonia is laying a claim to Alexander the Great and other historical figures in a push to build a national identity. Greece and Bulgaria aren’t happy. They see the new country — born just 33 years ago — as annexing their heritage and heroes.

Willie Mays, the Giants center-fielder whom many considered to be the greatest all-around baseball player in history, died at 93. Known as the “Say Hey Kid,” he hit a whopping 660 career home runs.

But Mays was more than the complete ballplayer — he was one of the game’s, and America’s, most charismatic figures. He captured the ardor of baseball fans at a time when Black players were still emerging in the major leagues and segregation still gripped his native South.

“Numbers and accolades tell only part of his story,” my colleague Kurt Streeter writes. “For it was how Mays played — the way he bent the confines of baseball to his will with his smarts, his speed, his style and his power — that set him apart as the most deeply beloved of stars.”

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