© 2024
Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Polling in Israel shows two things. Israelis overwhelmingly support the country's war goal of destroying Hamas, and Israelis overwhelmingly disapprove of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now another Israeli leader is calling to set a date for elections. Benny Gantz leads an opposition party and also regularly faces the prime minister as part of the war cabinet. Polling shows Netanyahu would lose to him.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jennifer Ludden is covering this from Tel Aviv. Hi there, Jennifer.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: OK, so for those who don't follow this every day, what makes Benny Gantz an especially significant figure to be calling for elections?

LUDDEN: Well, for starters, he's the most popular politician in Israel and the one who polls show, if there were elections, would beat Netanyahu handily. Remember, Netanyahu's coalition depends on far-right partners. Gantz was brought in as a kind of moderating influence and to instill more public trust. He's a retired general, a former chief of the military General Staff.

Now, to be clear, Gantz is not leaving the national war cabinet. He says he wants the whole government to agree to hold elections in September. But this is a big blow for Netanyahu. It's coming on the heels of the largest anti-government public demonstrations since Israel invaded Gaza.

INSKEEP: Although we should note Netanyahu has survived indictments, election defeats, elections that didn't work out. He is a survivor. So how's he responding to this?

LUDDEN: You know, even before this, when protesters were mounting demonstrations in front of the Knesset here, the parliament, he said, look; early elections - that would paralyze the country for months. He argues a campaign would stall negotiations on releasing more than a hundred Israeli hostages that are still in Gaza and that it would set back the military's efforts to rout Hamas. But a lot of Israelis hold Netanyahu personally responsible for failing to anticipate the Hamas attack, which Israel says killed 1,200 people. Israel's military response has killed more than 33,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry there.

And I just want to note one other big issue that is simmering here. Ultra-Orthodox Jews in full-time religious study are exempt from military service. This is infuriating for many Israelis, especially with the country at war. But ultra-religious parties are a key part of Netanyahu's coalition, and so far he has not challenged their exemption.

INSKEEP: OK, you're talking about some of the domestic political disputes in Israel. There is also international outrage over Israeli airstrikes that killed aid workers - seven aid workers with the charity World Central Kitchen. What are Israelis doing about that?

LUDDEN: So Israel has repeated that, look; this was tragic. It says it was unintentional, and it's conducting a thorough investigation. We're also now hearing from World Central Kitchen's founder, Jose Andres. He says, look; Israel targeted his group's three-car convoy, which was spread out over more than a mile. Here he is talking to Reuters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSE ANDRES: This was not just a bad luck situation where, oops, we dropped the bomb in the wrong place or - no. This was a very defined humanitarian convoy that had signs in the top, in the roof.

LUDDEN: And, you know, look; Andres says he hopes Israel didn't certainly intend to hit humanitarian workers. And let's just recall that World Central Kitchen was bringing this food in by sea because Israel has limited the amount of trucks that can bring it in. Israel's defense minister, Yoav Gallant, had an overnight call with his U.S. counterpart. He says Israel will expand the influx and distribution of aid in Gaza. And we'll just have to see exactly what that means.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jennifer Ludden in Tel Aviv, thanks so much.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: NATO is marking 75 years since its founding. It started as a U.S.-led alliance to protect European allies against the Soviet Union, and today it remains an alliance that worries about Russia.

FADEL: The alliance has grown from just a dozen members in 1949 to 32 today, including Sweden, which is attending its first meeting as a full member this morning.

INSKEEP: Teri Schultz is covering this moment from Brussels. Hi there, Teri.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How is NATO marking 75?

SCHULTZ: Well, there've been some commemorative events at NATO headquarters. For example, here's what "The NATO Hymn" sounds like, which was played this morning to kick off the ceremony.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF ANDRE REICHLING'S "THE NATO HYMN")

SCHULTZ: But given the state of global affairs, I wouldn't say there's a very celebratory air. It's pretty solemn. Center stage was given to countries which joined in the last couple of decades, some of which were forcibly occupied by the Soviet Union for more than half of NATO's 75 years of existence...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

SCHULTZ: ...As they dreamed of being part of the West. And you can hear that in the words of Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RADEK SIKORSKI: When NATO was founded, my country, Poland, was trapped on the wrong side. Communist Soviet domination meant that if it came to war, Polish soldiers would have had to obey the orders of our enemies in order to fight our friends.

SCHULTZ: And the ministers of other countries that felt trapped behind the Iron Curtain expressed similar feelings and gratitude at being protected by the military alliance now.

INSKEEP: In those years, it was obvious what the purpose of NATO was. Then, the Soviet Union fell - you know this history - and Russia seemed less of a threat, even seemed like it was joining the democratic order, and people wondered if there was any point in NATO. I assume that recent events have shown the relevance again.

SCHULTZ: Sure. We heard a lot of those comments in years past. And I don't think this is the way anyone would have wanted it to happen, but it's certainly the case that NATO has become more important again. And you don't need to look any further than the latest two countries which joined NATO - Finland last year and Sweden just last month. They would have remained neutral or militarily nonaligned had Russia not launched this full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. I lived many years in Finland in the '90s, and you couldn't even bring up membership in NATO...

INSKEEP: Wow.

SCHULTZ: ...Much less hear Finnish diplomats criticize the Kremlin. But now listen to Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen arriving for today's ceremony.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELINA VALTONEN: NATO represents the freedom to choose, and I think that is very well manifested in the fact how Sweden and Finland, the most recent members, joined NATO just recently. Democratic nations, free people chose to join, unlike how Russia expands by aggression or by illegal annexation.

INSKEEP: Well, when you say aggression or illegal annexation, that takes you right to Ukraine. Any chance, any way that Ukraine could join NATO?

SCHULTZ: Yes, there is a chance. And Ukraine has been promised it will join NATO, Steve. But what it would really like is to be offered that opportunity at NATO's summit in Washington coming up in July, and that's not going to happen. What ministers will discuss today is a new five-year plan and a 100 billion euro fund to try to reassure Ukraine while it waits for that offer.

INSKEEP: Teri Schultz, thanks for your insights. Really appreciate it.

SCHULTZ: A pleasure, Steve.

INSKEEP: Teri Schultz is in Brussels for the 75th anniversary of NATO.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, last week's collapse of a Baltimore bridge demonstrated a reality of harbors. Ship happens.

FADEL: That's ship with a P.

INSKEEP: Thank you.

FADEL: When you put a bridge in the water, a boat may strike. That's predictable. The key is to design in enough protection. And NPR's investigations team found that Baltimore's Key Bridge had less protection than bridges do at many other American ports.

INSKEEP: NPR's Chiara Eisner has her findings. She's here in our Studio 31. Good morning.

CHIARA EISNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so what are the protections supposed to be?

EISNER: They're called dolphins. Yes, they are named after the marine mammal.

INSKEEP: OK.

EISNER: And the Key Bridge has four of them. There are two on either side of it. And they've worked well in the past. In 1980, a ship hit one of them, and it crashed into it, destroying the dolphin but saving the ship. That's what's supposed to happen. They're supposed to divert ships from hitting the bridge itself.

INSKEEP: OK, so it's like a concrete island that's supposed to keep a ship away from the bridge support. Why did that not work this time around?

EISNER: Well, this time, the pilot lost control of the ship. It lost power. He had trouble steering. And they didn't hit the dolphin itself. The ship narrowly missed it. And if you look at photos from the wreckage right now, you can see the ship is right next to one of those dolphins, and it looks absolutely tiny compared to it. I talked to some engineers to ask them what they thought of that. Here's Roberto Leon. He's a structural engineer at Virginia Tech.

ROBERTO LEON: The bridge didn't stand a chance. You needed more and bigger ones is really the point. And I don't think that that was going to stop anything except a very small boat.

EISNER: He said that other bridges have larger dolphins and more of them - like, six to eight.

INSKEEP: OK, so in this case, the ship, huge as it was, went around the barrier. But what do you see when you compare the Key Bridge's protections with those of other ones?

EISNER: So the Key Bridge's dolphins were small. And dolphins are unattached to a bridge. That's not the norm everywhere. Other bridges have other kinds of protections. In the 15 busiest ports, we found that many of the other bridges were protected by things like islands of rocks, fenders, beds of concrete. Those were attached to the central beams. They didn't have dolphins that were just floating in the water.

INSKEEP: Can you give us an example, then, of what one of those other 15 bridges looks like?

EISNER: Sure. There is a bridge in Philadelphia - it's called the Betsy Ross Bridge - that's structured the same way and built around the same time as the Key Bridge. That one does have four dolphins, too, but they look bigger. My co-reporter, Caitlin Thompson, and I showed imagery of both bridges to Dr. Kim Roddis, an engineering professor at George Washington University. She said the dolphins around the Betsy Ross Bridge were larger and, quote, "definitely more protective" than the Key Bridge.

INSKEEP: OK, so now we have a question of history. Why would the Key Bridge, built also on the East Coast around the same time, have so much less protection?

EISNER: We asked the Maryland Transportation Authority for a comment, and they did not get back to us. We do know that there have been some repairs to both the bridge and its dolphins, but when we reviewed satellite imagery and nautical charts from the '70s, it looks like those repairs did not include any significant enlargement of the dolphins. They look about the same as when they were first put in.

INSKEEP: OK.

EISNER: Of course, it's easy to look back now and say they should've done that, but the engineers we spoke with said states face tough choices on expensive infrastructure upgrades. Here's Dr. Roddis.

KIM RODDIS: It's in a very tight part of the harbor, so you can see why they have reasons not to have included it. It wasn't something that was required at the time, and it's not something that people regularly go back and reevaluate.

EISNER: States tend to invest in problems that seem more urgent, like those potholes that the construction workers were fixing when the bridge went down.

INSKEEP: Oh, they could've been focusing on dolphins. Chiara, thanks so much.

EISNER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Chiara Eisner of our investigative team. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.