News Roundup and Notes: January 28, 2015

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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Israel launched airstrikes targeting Syrian army posts in response to rockets fired yesterday from Syria into the Israeli-held Golan Heights, the military said today. [AP]  Israeli defense officials suspect that the rockets fired from Syria are a sign that Hezbollah, as well as Iran and Syria, want payback for the Jan. 18 strike that killed an Iranian general and six Hezbollah operatives. [Haaretz’s Amos Harel]  Meanwhile, Tehran is warning Israel of “consequences” via U.S. officials over the killing of the Iranian general in Syria. [Al Jazeera]

Jordan has agreed to release a convicted Iraqi terrorist in exchange for an air force pilot captured by the Islamic State in Syria one month ago. The statement from Jordan made no reference to the Japanese journalist also held hostage by the militant group. [New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Ranya Kadri]

The victory in Kobani demonstrates what can be achieved with a reliable, willing and capable partner, said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby speaking yesterday, adding that the U.S.-led airstrikes “helped a lot.” [DoD News]

Former DIA chief Michael Flynn accused the Obama administration of being paralyzed and playing defense in the fight against ISIS. Flynn expressed support for the creation of a “single unified and international chain of command” akin to that between the Allies during World War II. [The Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier]

President Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State is a “feckless effort” behind which is a “cluster of mistaken notions,” writes the Washington Post editorial board, emphasizing that while the victory in Kobani is a relief, it “won’t alleviate the mounting catastrophe.”

Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders painted a “bleak picture” of the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State during a meeting with President Obama’s special envoy for the operation, Gen. John Allen. [Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff]

Many Syrian opposition rebel groups, previously favored by the CIA, have seen their money and supplies cut off or substantially reduced, even as Obama noted support for the rebels in his State of the Union address, write Jamie Dettmer and Tim Mak. [The Daily Beast]

LIBYA

Yesterday’s attack on a luxury hotel in Tripoli by heavily armed gunmen killed at least nine people, including an American and a Frenchman, among other foreigners. [Reuters’ Ahmed Elumami]

A group claiming allegiance to the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the armed assault. The “Tripoli Province of the Islamic State” made the claim on social media and appeared to be taking revenge for the abduction of Abu Anas al-Libi by American forces in 2013. [New York Times’ Suliman Ali Zway and David D. Kirkpatrick]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

The U.S. signed an agreement with Ukraine providing $2 billion in loan guarantees to assist the country with “near-term social spending” in 2015. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also expressed a willingness to work with allies to “increase the pressure on Russia.” [Reuters]

EU leaders condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine and called on the bloc’s foreign ministers to work on new sanctions options. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]  President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on the need to hold Russia accountable for its actions in eastern Ukraine during a phone call late yesterday. [Reuters]

Andrew S. Weiss argues in favor of the “unsavory” diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, noting that the alternative is for the president “to leave behind a bloody quagmire in eastern Europe as part of his legacy.” [Politico Magazine]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The legality of Israel’s policy of targeting Palestinian homes during last summer’s Gaza war is being scrutinized by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. The organization says the policy of striking residences led to the deaths of 606 people in 70 attacks. [The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has provoked backlash from the White House, congressional Democrats and Israel by his decision to accept an invitation to speak before Congress about Iran, with some officials describing the decision as “irresponsible,” reports Jodi Rudoren. [New York Times]

YEMEN

Shi’ite Houthi rebels have released a senior presidential aide abducted by the group in Yemen ten days ago. [BBC

The Houthis are blaming separatist forces in the south of Yemen for the impasse preventing an end to the political crisis gripping the country, accusing some forces in the south of taking provocative steps, reports Mona El-Naggar. [New York Times]

“Arming weak states such as Yemen doesn’t make them stronger,” writes David Ignatius, drawing out the lessons which should be taken from the U.S. experience in Yemen. [Washington Post]

IRAN

Sens. Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez unveiled their bill to impose new Iran sanctions if the negotiating parties fail to agree on a deal by June 30. Fourteen others co-sponsored the bill, including six Democrats. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

A block of Democrats said they will wait two months before voting on any new sanctions to allow the administration time to reach a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An anti-tank missile struck an Israel Defense Forces vehicle in Israel’s north near the Lebanon border this morning, with Israel reportedly firing artillery shells into Lebanon in response. [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen]

A suicide attack in northern Mali killed at least five people overnight, say two Tuareg rebel sources. [Reuters]

The Pentagon intends to propose a fiscal 2016 budget of $585 billion, a significant increase from last year. Jeremy Herb and Austin Wright provide more details on the administration’s defense spending plans as the fight against terrorism focuses in on the Islamic State. [Politico]

The revelation of a Russian espionage ring in New York raises the prospect of a prisoner swap, note Benjamin Weiser and Kate Pastor, drawing comparison to a similar scenario in 2010 which did end in an exchange. [New York Times]

No decision has been made on charges to be filed against Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, but the military retains a range of legal options, including various degrees of desertion charges, Army and Pentagon officials said on Tuesday. [AP]

Hillary Clinton will testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, the panel’s top Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings said yesterday. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

The recreational drone that crashed on the White House lawn was being operated by an employee of the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. [Reuters]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security