News Roundup and Notes: July 14, 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.

Surveillance, privacy, and technology

Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to downplay tensions with Germany over the allegations of American spying on Sunday [Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Lundeen].  Speaking with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Kerry said the countries “have enormous political cooperation” and are “great friends.”

U.S. officials have told Reuters (Mark Hosenball) that the German defense official under investigation for alleged spying was in contact with the U.S. State Department, not the intelligence agencies, raising doubts about whether any spying took place.

According to emails obtained by the Associated Press (Jack Gillum), senior Obama administration officials knew in advance of the U.K.’s intention to make The Guardian destroy its data on NSA surveillance last year, and at least one senior official appeared to praise the effort.

Charlie Savage [New York Times] covers the filing of a lawsuit that is challenging the government’s Suspicious Activity Reporting program, which has created a database of information from security guards and local police that could point to terrorist activity.

The Washington Post editorial board argues that “Congress is overdue in dealing with the cybersecurity threat,” noting that the “supercharged privacy debate” in the wake of the Snowden revelations “should not stand in the way of a good cybersecurity bill.”

The Justice Department has charged the executive of a Chinese aviation technology company with hacking U.S. defense contractors for information on U.S. technology, marking the latest effort to tackle what officials allege is Chinese industrial espionage [Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Grossman and Danny Yadron].

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is due to announce a $1.9bn package to boost military capabilities, including investment in the country’s intelligence and surveillance operations [The Guardian’s Nicholas Watt].

Israel-Palestine

As the crisis in the region continues, the Palestinian death toll has reached over 170, while international pressure for a ceasefire intensifies [Al Jazeera]. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm on Sunday that despite the UN Security Council’s demand for a ceasefire, the situation nonetheless appears to be worsening [UN News Centre].

Over 15,000 Palestinians fled their homes in northern Gaza yesterday, following Israeli warnings to evacuate ahead of an intensified offensive [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Casey and Joshua Mitnick].

As the Israeli military were dropping leaflets on Gaza to warn of the surge in air strikes, thousands of Israelis received fake text messages warning residents to stay close to bomb shelters, in what appears to be a “new round of warfare using text messages” [Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash].

The Associated Press reports that the Israeli military said it shot down a drone along its southern coastline today, the first report of an unmanned aircraft on the Palestinian side since the Israeli campaign began last week.

Reuters (Dan Williams and Tom Perry) reports that rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel today have drawn retaliatory fire from the Israeli forces, according to Lebanese security officials and the Israeli army.

Defending Israel’s air strikes on Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for civilian deaths, stating [CBS News’ “Face the Nation” with Bob Schieffer].:

“[The difference between us is that we’re using missile defense to protect our civilians and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles… it’s the Hamas that bears complete responsibility for […] civilian casualties.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said today that when Hamas leaders see the extent of the destruction caused by the Israeli Defense Forces to the organization, they will “regret [that] they embarked on a round of fighting with Israel” [Haaretz].

The United Nations has estimated that 77% of casualties in the week long offensive have been civilians, raising questions of compliance with international humanitarian law.

The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi met with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the President’s wish to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Casey and Tamer El-Ghobashy].

Sen. John McCain has said that the Middle East today is “more dangerous than any time in the past”, adding that he believes the Israeli government has shown “admirable restraint” in the wake of shelling from Gaza [Candy Crawley, CNN’s ”State of the Union”].

Speaking with David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former U.S. Middle East envoy Martin Indyk expressed doubt that Israel would initiate a ground offensive, questioning how it would serve Israel’s purposes.

In an op-ed for Al Jazeera, UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, discusses the “cynical disregard” for the realities of the current situation in the region shown by western diplomats and mainstream media, claiming that both have “perversely sided with Israel.” Falk argues that “[p]ressure on Israel is urgently needed to protect the Palestinian people from further tragedy.”

Peter Beaumont [The Guardian], describing the situation as “the stupidest of wars” and “futile,” argues that nothing will come of the recent conflict other than another “edgy truce.”

Jodi Rudoren [New York Times] reports on the disintegration of Israeli-Palestinian relations, discussing the destruction of a railway joining Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

Be sure to check out Haaretz for live updates of the situation in the region.

Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry said that “very significant gaps” remain between the P5+1 countries and Iran over a final nuclear deal [Reuters’ John Irish and Lesley Wroughton; Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]. Following the foreign ministers’ inability to reach a breakthrough yesterday, Kerry is due to hold in-depth discussions with his Iranian counterpart today in an effort to advance the faltering negotiations, ahead of the July 20 deadline [Associated Press].

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told David Gregory [NBC’s “Meet the Press”] that he “will commit to everything and anything that would provide credible assurances for the international community that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, because [it is] not.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Zarif’s remarks as a “joke” [Brit Hume, Fox News Sunday].

The British House of Commons’ foreign affairs committee has endorsed a nuclear deal that would permit Iran to continue limited uranium enrichment, noting that the negotiations represent “the most promising forum for reaching a settlement which assuages fears about the scope and intention of the Iranian nuclear program” [Al-Monitor’s Barbara Slavin].

David E. Sanger [New York Times] covers the constraints at home faced by both Americans and Iranians over the nuclear talks, causing one U.S. official to comment that this “may be the most complex negotiation I’ve ever seen.”

Iraq and Syria

The New York Times (Alissa J. Rubin and Suadad Al-Salhy) reports that the Iraqi Parliament remained deadlocked on Sunday, unable to reach a decision on the new speaker. Meanwhile, Sunni militants conducted a raid near Baghdad, indicating their intention to move closer to the capital.

The BBC reports that Iraqi security forces and government-affiliated militias appear to have killed at least 255 Sunni prisoners in the past month, according to Human Rights WatchCNN (Hamdi Alkhshali) has learned that some 34 people have been killed by militants in Baghdad in an attack on a building that is said to have functioned as a brothel.

A classified U.S. military assessment of Iraq’s security forces indicates that much of the army is deeply infiltrated by either Sunni extremist informants or Iran-backed Shiite personnel, posing a risk to Americans assigned to advice Bagdad’s forces [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Michael R. Gordon].

Former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad [New York Times] writes on the possibility of Kurdish independence, stating that “strengthening ties with Kurdistan now will serve American interest down the road.”

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post on Friday, Texas Governor Rick Perry criticizes “isolationist” counterterrorism policies of politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul, and warns that “[i]gnoring the growth of the Islamic State and events in Syria and Iraq will only ensure that the problem will fester and grow.”

Commenting on terrorist threats from Syria, Attorney General Eric Holder said “[i]n some ways, it’s more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general” [George Stephanopoulos, ABC News’ “This Week”].

The UN Security Council is reportedly set to clash over a draft resolution on delivering humanitarian aid into Syria, with Russia and the West supporting opposing sides in the conflict [The New York Times’ Somini Sengupta].

Russia and Ukraine

Russia has threatened Ukraine with “irreversible consequences” after a Russian man was killed by a shell fired across the border [Al Jazeera America]. Kiev has dismissed the accusations as “total nonsense,” suggesting that the attack could have been carried out by the rebels to provoke Russia into assisting the separatists.

Kyiv Post (Mark Rachkevych) reports that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is due to reveal documented proof of Russian involvement in the supply of military equipment across the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Following a brief lull in violence, fighting has surged once again in eastern Ukraine, reports the Wall Street Journal [Alan Cullison and James Marson]. Ukrainian troops have attacked rebel positions in the suburbs of their stronghold, Luhansk, but fell short of recapturing the city [New York Times’ Sabrina Tavernise]. And Michael Birnbaum [Washington Post] reports that Ukrainian authorities are struggling to restore order in Slovyansk, despite driving rebel forces out of the city.

Other Developments

The New York Times (Eric Schmitt) reports that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is expected to resume life on active duty as early as today, six weeks after being released from five years of Taliban captivity, according to Defense Department officials.

Following agreement on a deal brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry, Afghanistan is set to begin an unprecedented audit of 8.1 million votes cast in the June 14 presidential election [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge and Ian Talley]. In addition to agreeing to accept the results of the audit, the two candidates said that the winner of the election would form a “national unity government” inclusive of the losing side:

Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee [Wall Street Journal] cover how the “convergence of security crises” around the world, which has not been this wide-ranging since the late 1970s, is posing serious problems for President Obama, and highlights the “increasingly tenuous” role of the U.S. as a global power.

Army Col. James Pohl has stepped down from the USS Cole case and assigned a U.S. Air Force colonel to preside at the Guantánamo military commission [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]. In an order, Pohl said that he made the decision “to ensure continuity of the proceedings and to avoid scheduling conflicts” with the 9/11 conspiracy trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four others.

Standard Digital (Edwin Limo) reports that Kenya warned its citizens over the weekend against transiting through London’s Heathrow Airport due to the threat of attack posed by Al-Qaeda operatives, based on information provided by U.S. officials.

The French government said that it intends to rearrange military forces currently stationed across the Sahara so as to better assist in combating Islamist militants threatening the stability of a number of West African countries [Wall Street Journal’s Ruth Bender].

Rival factions in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, battled for control of the city’s main airport on Sunday, killing at least six people and disrupting international flights, according to officials [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim].

Al Jazeera reports that an explosion near a security compound in Egypt’s Sinai region has killed at least eight people, including a soldier and two children.

A Shiite group handed back an army camp to the Yemeni government on Saturday in the hopes of easing tensions arising from the capture of a city in the north of the country [Reuters]

Al Jazeera reports that according to the Seoul military, North Korea has fired 100 shells today into waters near its sea border with South Korea.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).