News Roundup and Notes: July 8, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Israel-Palestine

Israel launched an aerial offensive on the Gaza Strip early Tuesday, reportedly striking 40 targets in the last few hours and more than 50 throughout the night, including the home of Mohammed Abdel Rahman Guda, a Hamas commander. Meanwhile, rocket fire continued on the south of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly instructed the Israeli army to prepare for the possibility of a ground offensive in Gaza, Amos Harel [Haaretz] discusses.

The Israel Defense Forces have called up 1,500 reservists, mainly Home Front Command and aerial defense units. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said “If last week we were talking about calm being answered by calm, we are now talking about preparing for an escalation.” [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

Meanwhile, in an op-ed for Haaretz’s Israel Conference on Peace, President Barack Obama has said that “the only solution is a democratic, Jewish state living side-by-side in peace and security with a viable, independent Palestinian state.”

The New York Times’ editorial board questions whether Israeli and Palestinian leaders can act to prevent an escalation of revenge attacks, saying “these deaths should cause the two communities to think again about the need for a permanent peace, but the loss of four young men may not be motivation enough.”

Be sure to follow Haaretz for live updates of the ongoing and escalating situation in Gaza.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

While the U.S. remains tight lipped about last week’s arrest of an alleged German double agent of the CIA, anger is mounting in Germany [Anton Troianovski, Wall Street Journal]. German Chancellor Merkel said if true “[i]t would be a clear contradiction of what I consider to be trusting co-operation” with the U.S. [BBC]. The Daily Beast reports that Germany has decided it will end its 70-year “no-spy agreement” with the U.S. and Britain.

On the heels of this weekend’s investigative report from the Washington Post on the scope of NSA’s incidental collection, the Post’s opinion writer Eugene Robison is critical of the NSA arguing, “if you try to know everything, you end up knowing nothing.”

Joseph Menn [Reuters] writes that Chinese hackers believed to be associated with the Chinese government – and who until recently have targeted U.S. experts on Asian global politics – have begun to target experts on Iraq, as violence has escalated in the country in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal provides an overview and insight into China’s version of the NSA, the Third Department of the People’s Liberation Army’s General Staff Department, or 3PLA.

Some top experts and journalists believe there may be a second NSA leaker, in addition to Edward Snowden [Julian Hattem, The Hill].

Iraq and Syria

Reuters (Isra’a Al-Rubei’i and Ahmed Rasheed) reports that the Iraqi parliament has stalled the process of forming a new government, putting off its next session for five weeks. Laith Kubba, an analyst and former spokesperson of the Iraqi government, said “the problem is that there is no shared vision today in Iraq, the Kurds have developed a vision, and the Sunnis are very confused about the new reality, and the Shia are very confused.” [New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin and Suadad Al-Salhy]

Jay Solomon at the Wall Street Journal has learned that, according to senior U.S. officials involved in the political process in Baghdad, the Iranian leadership is divided over whether to continue its support for current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. U.S. officials have privately said that they believe Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, should step down in favor of a unity government, due to policies he has pursued which have alienated Sunnis and Kurds.

Former Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell said on Monday that a public appearance by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will not bring him any closer to U.S. capture [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad]. In a piece for Politico, Richard Bulliet explores whether ISIS is dramatically overestimating its power and influence due to its stunning but limited series of military victories and the role of Baghdadi’s title as “caliph.”

Matthieu Aikins for the New York Times posits that in order for the west to find allies in Syria – and to push back both Assad and ISIS – “they will have to be less squeamish” about who they pick, suggesting that the answer may lie in other Sunni Islamists.

Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has named a new chief of military operations against pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, continuing a reshuffle of the military and security leadership [Reuters].

Maria Tsvetkova [Reuters] reports that following the loss of their bastion in the town of Slaviansk, separatists barricaded Donetsk on Monday in preparations to make a stand following their most significant defeat of the three-month uprising. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladamir Putin remained silent on Monday despite pleas for military assistance from the rebels [Wall Street Journal’s James Marson and Julian E. Barnes].

European Union governments on Monday agreed in principle to place further sanctions on additional individuals involved with the violence in Ukraine. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman] Meanwhile, the White House threatens to impose more sanctions on Russia. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

The Russian invasion of Crimea has had an impact on Ukrainian civic identity, uniting Ukrainians across ethno-linguistic lines, according to Michael Fedynsky [The Hill].

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the “continued, unlawful acts” of armed fighters in Ukraine [UN News Centre].

Afghanistan

At least 16 people were killed in a suicide blast in eastern Afghanistan earlier today, including at least four NATO soldiers and two Afghan policemen [Al Jazeera]. According to an Afghan security source, the attack took place at a medical clinic in the province of Parwan near the Bagram Air Base.

Reuters (Mirwais Harooni and Maria Golovnina) reports that following yesterday’s announcement of the preliminary results of last month’s run-off election, Afghan presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah is describing the outcome as a “coup” against the people, putting him at odds with his rival, Ashraf Ghani. The New York Times (Matthew Rosenberg and Azam Ahmed) reports that the results have sparked protests in Kabul while Ghani supporters took to the streets to celebrate.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the protests in Afghanistan and suggestions of a “parallel government” are cause for the “gravest concern.”

Other Developments

The Associated Press (Reem Khalifa) reports that Bahrain ordered U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski to leave the country on Monday after he met with a leading Shiite opposition group. Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry said that the top U.S. diplomat had violated “conventional diplomatic norms” [The New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Kareem Fahim]. Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said that the United States is “deeply concerned” by the decision of the Bahrain government.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the United States and Israel as playing “good cop, bad cop” in order to intimidate Iran into making concessions on descaling the Iranian nuclear program [Reuters’ Mehrdad Balali].

Lauren French [Politico] provides updates on the progress of the special committee chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy that is tasked with investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks.

Reuters reports that three mortars landed in Saudi Arabia on Monday, close to its border with Iraq. Meanwhile, a Saudi court sentenced four people for trying to go to Iraq to engage in the conflict and for supporting al-Qaeda operations abroad [Al Jazeera].

The U.S. vessel tasked with destroying Syria’s chemical weapons has started the 60-day process of neutralizing the materials [Al Jazeera].

Sir Richard Dearlove, a former chief of MI6, said that the government and media have blown the Islamist terror threat to the west out of proportion [The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor].

Russia announced last week that it will have radar evading nuclear-capable missile forces by 2021 [Defense One].

Ben Hubbard for the New York Times notes the encroaching jihadist influence on Jordan, a state that has maintained a reputation as a solid American ally.

Following President Obama’s recent request for an additional $5 billion for a Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, the Washington Post’s editorial board questions the plan, arguing that “allowing aid to flow to foreign military units that commit major human rights crimes cannot be in the U.S. interest in any circumstances.”

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Earnest

Former Managing Editor of Just Security (2013-14) Follow him on Twitter (@thomasdearnest).