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Forecast Podcast: Israel confidence vote, NATO summit, California eases COVID restrictions, Biden-Putin summit, Burkina Faso violence

NATO members pose for the "family photo" in Watford, Hertfordshire outside London, on Dec. 4, 2019.

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Israel’s incoming government faces its first test with a vote of confidence in the country’s parliament. NATO is scheduled to meet in Belgium as U.S. President Biden makes his first trip overseas since entering office. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised a “full reopening” of the Golden State economy. Biden will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin face-to-face in Geneva, Switzerland. And an interview with Alex Moore on the recent violence in Burkina Faso.

These stories and more are available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors David Wyllie, Jeff Landset, Joe Veyera, Irene Villora and Alex Moore.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.


This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is June 10th.

In this week’s forecast we cover a vote on Israel’s incoming government, the NATO summit in Brussels, California easing some coronavirus restrictions, a meeting between President Biden and Russian President Putin and violence in Burkina Faso. 

You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Israel confidence vote

Information compiled by David Wyllie 

JIMMY: On Sunday, Israel’s incoming government will face its first test with a vote of confidence during a special session of parliament. 

And it’s a crucial vote, too. Not only will it reveal the viability of an eight-party coalition, but if the vote passes, the new government will be sworn in and Naftali Bennett will become the country’s next prime minister. That would end current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year rule.

Now, the road to this vote actually started back in March when the election failed to produce a majority government.

As the leader of the largest party, Netanyahu got the first attempt at trying to secure a coalition agreement that would allow him to continue governing. 

After he failed to do so, other party leaders attempted to form a working majority. That’s when we saw an unexpected twist. Naftali Bennett, the leader of the fifth-place right-wing Yamina party, turned down a deal with Netanyahu. Instead, Bennett sided with Yair Lapid, leader of the second-place centrist Yesh Atid party.

Now even though the vote seems all but decided, and Bennett looks to be headed to the prime minister’s office, the defection of even a small number of legislators could leave the coalition short

Still, if it is successful, not only will the vote unseat the country’s longest-serving leader, but considering Bennett’s more right-wing and nationalist rhetoric, the change in leadership may spell trouble for the tentative ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

NATO summit in Brussels

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: On Monday, NATO is scheduled to meet in Brussels as President Joe Biden takes his first trip overseas since entering office.

And when the 30-member alliance meets it’s going to have a lot on its plate for the gathering. 

After all, a lot has changed since the last formal NATO summit in December of 2019. Not only has the world gone through a pandemic, but the United States elected a new president who has broken from his predecessor and resolutely defended NATO at all steps, breaking from his predecessor.

Another change since the 2019 London Summit involves Afghanistan.

In April, Biden announced a plan to withdraw troops from the country. NATO is following suit with plans to leave by September 11. 

The military alliance is also dealing with a new low in its relationship with Russia, following the announcement that the country is deploying 20 more military units to its western border by the end of the year. 

The summit will also focus on the fallout of Belarus forcing a plane to land, allegedly to arrest a well-known journalist and his girlfriend

Finally, the summit gives the United States a chance to rebuild bonds with the other members of NATO after dealing with President Donald Trump the past four years. It also gives Biden a potential stronger starting point ahead of his summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin later that week.

California to relax many coronavirus restrictions

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: On Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom promises a “full reopening” of the Golden State’s economy. But some critics — and opponents in the upcoming recall election — have said his efforts won’t go far enough.

Now, California’s state of emergency will remain in place. But, capacity and distancing restrictions will be lifted for most businesses and activities. 

Other states, including Massachusetts and South Carolina, have either rescinded their own states of emergency or will soon as part of a rollback of virus-related measures. 

Meanwhile places like Texas opened months ago in the face of significant criticism

And of course earlier this week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state will “be back to life as normal,” once 70 percent of residents have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. 

Now, it’s not that the loosening of restrictions in California doesn’t mark a significant milestone in the pandemic recovery. It does. It’s just that with about 65 percent of the eligible population in California either partially or fully vaccinated, concern remains over the potential for outbreaks among those who have opted not to get the shot.

Biden–Putin summit in Geneva

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin face-to-face in Geneva, Switzerland.

It will be the first time the two have met since Biden took office.

Now, there aren’t any high expectations regarding agreements surrounding this meeting. In fact, up until recently Putin’s attendance was still up in the air. But, some issues are likely to be addressed, including alleged Russian cyberattacks, tensions with Crimea and the country’s relationship with Belarus.

The meeting is scheduled to take place after Biden’s European tour, where he’ll meet NATO allies and EU leaders and participate in the G7 Summit in the United Kingdom.

The White House hopes the meeting leads to more fluid communications with the Russian government after four years of tension with the Trump administration. 

They say it’s an effort to gain a better perspective of Russia’s intentions and protect American interests. 

Still, critical voices like Ukraine’s are interpreting this summit as the United States making concessions to Putin’s power. 

Biden’s team, however, defends it as a way to manage the difficult bilateral relations between both nations.

Burkina Faso violence

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the alarming escalation in violence in the West African country of Burkina Faso. For a better grasp on that I briefly spoke with Factal editor Alex Moore. 

JIMMY: Hey there, Alex. 

ALEX: Hello, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Hey, thanks for taking time with us today to talk about Burkina Faso. 

ALEX: Happy to. Thanks for having me. 

JIMMY: All right, let’s just dive in. What’s going on there? What’s the latest?

ALEX: Yeah, unfortunately, at least 160 civilians were killed last week when suspected jihadists carried out an attack in Solhan, which is a village in Burkina Faso’s Sahel area near the border with Niger.

JIMMY: And I believe I saw somewhere that the victims, or at least some of the victims, were kids. Is that right?

ALEX: Yes, unfortunately there were roughly 20 children that were killed and more were injured in the overnight ambush.

JIMMY: Who was behind the attack?

ALEX: So no group has claimed credit for the attack yet, but JNIM, who is the local al Qaeda offshoot has denied involvement. And it’s kind of situated in the context of escalating violence perpetrated in the region by groups that claim allegiance to Al-Qaeda, including JNIM, but also the Islamic State in Sahel. 

JIMMY: But we don’t know for sure who did it?

ALEX: No, not for sure – with any claim yet – but government officials in Burkina Faso have said that the attack was carried out by militants aligned with the Islamic State in the greater Sahel, which tracks given the fact that they have a track record over the past couple of months of killing hundreds of civilians, and also the denial by JNIM, who is the al Qaeda affiliate. 

JIMMY: Do you think this attack is a one-off? 

ALEX: No, unfortunately, it’s kind of indicative of a kind of longer term trend and the difficulty that governments in West Africa are having when facing these groups along with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. We’ve seen similar, you know, escalations of violence play out in Niger, Mali, Chad, Nigeria, as well, along with Burkina Faso. The Pentagon says that there have been roughly 8,000 people killed between 2015 and 2020 in fighting between these groups and their governments as well as clashes among the groups themselves.

JIMMY: I saw that the UN refugee agency had said a few thousand people from Solhan had fled to nearby villages after the attack. I know we’ve been keeping an eye out for more on that, but is there anything else people should be watching for?

ALEX: Yeah, any claim of official responsibility is definitely worth watching for and how the governments respond obviously. Burkina Faso, specifically, has kind of resorted in a bit peculiar fashion, to arming civilian militias to fight against these groups in these more rural areas in the Sahel. Which, has a flipside of risking turning these villages into targets for the militants if they’re considered to be too pro-militia or pro-government. And it also presents a challenge to France, the former colonial power in West Africa, that is in the midst of a prolonged – pretty extensive – counterterrorism operation throughout the greater Sahel, especially as it freezes cooperation with Mali following the country’s second military coup in nine months.

JIMMY: Well, it’s definitely a lot of moving parts and a lot to keep track of. But thank you for the update. Hate to see such a horrible attack anywhere. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come. 

ALEX: Yeah, no, I totally agree. Thanks for having me though. 

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors David Wyllie, Jeff Landset, Joe Veyera and Irene Villora. Our interview featured editor Alex Moore and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello at factal dot com.

Top image: NATO members pose for the “family photo” in Watford, Hertfordshire outside London, on Dec. 4, 2019. Source: The White House | Flickr