News Roundup and Notes: July 30, 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.

Russia and Ukraine

Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced new sanctions against Moscow, targeting the energy, arms and finance sectors of the Russian economy. Obama said that the sanctions “will have an even bigger bite” as they are being “closely coordinat[ed] with Europe.” Obama also sought to dismiss claims that the current situation is reminiscent of the Cold War, noting instead that “it is a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.”

Reuters (Justyna Pawlak and Eric Beech) reports on the expanded sanctions from the U.S. and the EU, which mark “the start of a new phase in the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.”

The New York Times’ editorial board applauds the “punitive and carefully orchestrated” sanctions agreed by the European Union, noting that while economic sanctions are “flawed,” they are nonetheless the only “tool at the disposal of the West” short of armed force.

The Pentagon said yesterday that Russia has supplied separatists with air defense systems similar to those which downed the Malaysia Airlines plane [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

The New York Times (Andrew E. Kramer) covers the fighting in and around the crash site of Flight MH17, which has blocked off access to the Dutch and Australian team attempting to reach the wreckage zone.

The Wall Street Journal (Margaret Coker and Philip Shishkin) reports on shelling in Donetsk, as Ukrainian government forces continue their offensive against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

The Guardian (Alec Luhn and Julian Borger) reports that Russia may be at the brink of walking away from the 1987 intermediate range nuclear forces treaty with the U.S., following claims by the Obama administration that Moscow had violated the agreement with recent missile tests.

Neil MacFarquhar [New York Times] writes of “growing alarm” in Russia over the “festering turmoil” in Ukraine, including the impact that increased economic sanctions will have on the country.

Timothy Heritage [Reuters] writes that Russian President Vladimir Putin risks becoming “an international pariah,” questioning whether the Russian leader has “passed the point of no-return” over the Ukrainian crisis.

Iraq and Syria

The Pentagon has announced a proposed sale of the largest ever shipment of Hellfire missiles to Iraq,  along with related parts and training, after the State Department approved the potential sale estimated at  $700 million [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe].

The Wall Street Journal (Ali A. Nabhan and Nour Malas) reports that the Iraqi military is struggling to hold off Islamic State fighters from the country’s capital, as militants push the frontline toward Baghdad.

Al Jazeera America (Michael Pizzi) covers the emergence of self-ruling Kurdish and Islamic State “petro-states,” as the black market trade in Iraqi oil proliferates.

The Associated Press reports that rebel fighters in Syria detonated bomb-filled tunnels under the city of Aleppo yesterday, killing 13 soldiers and pro-Assad militia, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Chams Eddine Zaougui and Pieter Van Ostayen  [New York Times] argue that the risk of jihadists returning to the West from Syria is not as high as it is perceived to be, writing that “[p]olicy makers’ unrealistic obsession with foreign fighters could be a distraction from a more serious domestic terrorist threat.”

Israel-Palestine

At least 43 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip early today, including 20 in a UN school, according to a spokesperson for the Palestinian health ministry [Reuters’ Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ori Lewis].

The Times of Israel (Ilan Ben Zion) reports that a stockpile of Hamas rockets was found yesterday in one of the UNRWA’s Gaza schools, the third such discovery since the Israeli offensive began. The UNRWA condemned the placing of munitions in the school, saying it is “yet another flagrant violation of the neutrality of our premises” [UN News Centre].

Haaretz reports that a Palestinian official has said that no delegation will attend ceasefire negotiations in Cairo unless there is a 24 hour truce.

The New York Times (Ben Hubbard) reports that Gaza is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster with shortages of shelter and electricity. The Israeli forces destroyed Gaza’s only power plant yesterday, cutting the electricity required for water and sewage systems. Jesse Rosenfeld [The Daily Beast] suggests that few Gazans will “see a campaign … [targeting] civilian infrastructure as anything less than collective punishment.”

The Washington Post (William Booth and Ruth Eglash) writes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “riding a massive wave of popularity” and support for the ongoing campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

Sen. Mark Kirk said this week that “Hamas is like Nazis,” and “the only way to secure peace in the Middle East is to wipe out those who would bring terror to the Middle East” [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes].

An AP Analysis (Dan Perry) suggests that “through the fog of war” a number of “endgame scenarios” can be glimpsed, and puts forward a number of ways in which the conflict could play out.

The Washington Post’s editorial board argues that “the Obama administration should be working with Egypt and Mr. Abbas, as well as Israel, to end the conflict in a way that reduces rather than reinforces Hamas’ power over Gaza.”

Rep. Keith Ellison [The Washington Post] considers that the conflict can only be “resolved with a final status agreement, and ending the violence and the blockade is a first-step toward a permanent solution.”

Glenn Greenwald [The Intercept] argues that the U.S. discourse on the conflict is “skewed … in favor of Israel” and draws attention to the “purely manipulative, propagandistic nature of the term ‘terrorists,’” which he claims may apply more aptly to Israel rather than Hamas.

Gerald M. Steinberg [Wall Street Journal] blames the “massive and unaccountable aid” sent to Palestine by the EU for the recent conflict, suggesting Hamas diverted resources into military pursuits rather than developing the infrastructure and economy.

Check out Haaretz for live updates of the crisis in the region.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

Yesterday, Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced an updated version of the USA Freedom Act, aimed at reforming NSA surveillance [full text]. Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall welcomed the bill as a “vast improvement” over the House version passed in May, but said that it did not go far enough in protecting U.S. citizens from backdoor and warrantless spying [The Hill‘s Kate Tummarello].

Just Security’s Jennifer Granick covers the things to like, things to hate, and things remaining to fear in the latest version of the bill.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith [Wall Street Journal] outlines the company’s legal battle with the government, in which Microsoft seeks to resist the government warrant for customer information that is stored exclusively in data centers outside the U.S. Smith argues that while technology advances, “timeless values should endure, and digital common sense should prevail.”

Iran

Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program, told lawmakers that the administration intends “to end [negotiations] on Nov. 24 in one direction or another” [Reuters’ Patricia Zengerle]. However, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed skepticism over a comprehensive deal at yesterday’s hearings and demanded a vote in Congress on any final agreement with Iran [New York Times’ David E. Sanger].

Sherman also called for the release of the Washington Post journalist and three other Americans, who are being detained in Iran without explanation [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Ernesto Londoño].

Other Developments

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation practices could be released in the middle of congressional recess in August [Politico’s Burgess Everett]. Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she hopes the White House will return its redacted version of the report to her committee by Friday.

The House Armed Services Committee voted 34-25 yesterday to criticize President Obama for failing to notify Congress 30 days in advance of releasing five Taliban officers from Guantánamo Bay, in a prisoner swap that secured the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]. Bergdahl is expected to be questioned next week, as part of the Army probe into the circumstances that led to his capture by the Taliban in 2009 [Reuters’ Laura Zuckerman].

While the U.S. refuses to pay ransoms to terrorists, a New York Times (Rukmini Callimachi) investigation finds that European governments are “inadvertently helping to bankroll Al Qaeda’s global operations” by making ransom payments through “a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid.” A video of a kidnapping of 32 Europeans in Algeria in 2003, which shows the kidnappers to be amateurs, demonstrates how militants have “developed the perfect crime with which to bankroll their operations” [New York Times]. The European citizens were ransomed for 5 million euros.

Al Jazeera reports that a coalition of armed groups has taken over a major army base in southeast Benghazi, forcing troops loyal to former Libyan general Khalifa Haftar to abandon their post.

Nigerian security agents have reportedly arrested four suspected Boko Haram members in Kano state, following the recent surge in deadly suicide attacks in the region [Naij News].

In Egypt’s Giza province, three suspected militants died in a car explosion when a bomb they were carrying accidently detonated this morning [Associated Press].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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