News Roundup and Notes: March 4, 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

Iraqi forces entered the city of Tikrit yesterday, in an attempt to force out Islamic State militants, and retook control of two oilfields in the area. [Bloomberg’s Khalid Al-Ansary]  The operation to retake Tikrit has exposed tensions between the U.S. and Iraq, with Iraqi officials declaring that they would fight the Islamic State at their own pace with or without U.S. assistance. [New York Times’ Anne Bernard]

A U.S. official’s recent media briefing about plans for an Iraqi-led Mosul offensive was “neither accurate information nor, had it been accurate, would have been information that should be blurted out to the press,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. [AP’s Robert Burns]

ISIS has lost more than 20 villages in Syria, as Syrian troops and Kurdish forces fought separate, uncoordinated battles against the group near the Iraqi and Turkish borders. [The Daily Star]

Syrian forces are being backed by Iran and Hezbollah in their efforts to regain control of territory from rebels in the country’s south near the Golan Heights, reports Al Jazeera.

Leaders of the Syrian Nusra Front are considering ending ties with al-Qaeda and forming a new entity with the support of some Gulf states. [Reuters’ Mariam Karouny]

The Islamic State has released four more Assyrian Christian hostages of the scores captured last week in northeastern Syria, reports the AP.

An ex-British Royal Marine has been killed fighting alongside Kurdish forces against the Islamic State in Syria; the U.K. Foreign Office has said it is aware of reports but could not confirm their accuracy. [BBC]

Two Malaysians have been identified in an Islamic State video of a beheading of a Syrian man, Malaysian authorities have confirmed. [Reuters]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. military forces carried out seven airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria. Separately, the U.S. and coalition military forces conducted a further seven strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

The New York Times editorial board calls for “firm and coordinated action” to deprive the Islamic State of the funds needed to sustain its reign of terror, noting that the group’s ambitious territorial aspirations are a serious vulnerability.

Presenting the Islamic State as the “iconic demon, the stuff of nightmares” is exactly what it wants and it only serves to further the “symbiotic relationship between western power and jihadism,” writes Owen Jones. [The Guardian]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned a joint session of Congress against an emerging deal with Iran yesterday, stating that the agreement “paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” [full transcript; Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee]

President Obama said there was “nothing new” in Netanyahu’s speech and that the Israeli prime minister “didn’t offer any viable alternatives” to the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. [Reuters’ Dan Williams and Matt Spetalnick]  However, Netanyahu said he “offered a practical alternative” and enabled lawmakers to “better understand why this is a bad deal,” as he arrived in Israel this morning. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

Netanyahu’s address divided leading Democrats, with some praising the speech and others criticizing it as an attack on the White House. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she was “saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.” [The Hill’s Mike Lillis]

The speech was denounced by Iran, with the foreign ministry spokesperson criticizing the “continued lies of Netanyahu.” [CNN’s Greg Botelho and Kate Bolduan]  And Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Gholamali Khoshroo, wrote that Netanyahu’s “false alarms” are being used to “serve his domestic political maneuvering and to create a smoke screen that relegates the Palestinian question to the margins,” in a New York Times op-ed.

The media weighs in. The Wall Street Journal editorial board welcomes the Israeli prime minister’s address, writing that it “raised serious doubts” about a deal being negotiated “in secret.”  The New York Times editorial board criticizes the speech as “unconvincing,” arguing that it was “all about proving [Netanyahu’s] toughness” ahead of the Israeli parliamentary election.  The Washington Post editorial board calls on President Obama to provide “real answers to Netanyahu’s arguments.” And the Haaretz editorial board writes that the speech, like the approach of other candidates in Israel’s election, ignores the real existential threat to Israel: “the unending occupation of the territories.”

Would the Israeli prime minister’s plan work? Many experts do not believe that Netanyahu’s tougher approach would change Iran’s nuclear activity, reports Michael Crowley. [Politico]

Netanyahu’s address has widened “a once-semantic difference [on the Iran nuclear threat] into a strategic chasm.” David E. Sanger explains the growing divergence between Israel and the administration on Iran. [New York Times]

The Israeli leader likened Iran to the Islamic State in his address. Ishaan Tharoor sets out why this analogy “obscures far more than it reveals.” [Washington Post]

Nuclear negotiations continue. Secretary of State John Kerry continued talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Tuesday, even as the Israeli leader made his case against the nuclear negotiations in Washington. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Felicia Schwartz]  Meanwhile, Zarif was quoted by Iran’s news agency as saying that his country “will not accept excessive and illogical demands,” in response to President Obama’s comments on a 10-year freeze demand. [Al Jazeera]

Senate Democrats are threatening to withdraw support for their own Iran legislation due to the rushed way in which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is bringing the measure to the full Senate. [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Gen. Martin Dempsey said that the time has come to “absolutely consider” providing lethal aid to Ukraine’s military, the first time the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has expressed support for the possibility of arming Ukraine. [Defense One’s Gordon Lubold]

Germany threatened Russia with further sanctions in the event of fresh violence in Ukraine, following a teleconference between Western leaders and the European Council yesterday. [Reuters]

NATO members are failing to fulfill pledges to reverse declines in defense spending, as the threat posed by Russian expansionism grows and the “chill of a new Cold War” descends upon Europe, reports Ian Birrell. [Wall Street Journal]

Over 30 people have been killed in an explosion at a coal mine in rebel-held Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. [Reuters’ Maria Tsvetkova]

YEMEN

Yemeni President Hadi suggested Riyadh, the Saudi capital, as a potential venue for renewed UN-brokered talks with Houthi Shi’ite rebels who have seized the country’s capital, Sana’a. [AP]

The U.S. ambassador to Yemen will be based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia after the State Department evacuated staff and closed the embassy in Sana’a following the Houthi takeover. The U.S. will not relocate the embassy to Aden in order to avoid suggestions that Washington accepts de facto division in the country. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]

A man accused of assisting in the development of Yemen militant group AQAP’s online propaganda has been extradited from Britain to face trial in Manhattan. [New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Gen. David Petraeus pleaded guilty to one federal charge of authorized removal and retention of classified information, a misdemeanor that will not involve a jail sentence due to a plea deal. The plea deal “completes a spectacular fall for Mr. Petraeus” but also “allows [him] to focus on his lucrative post-government career,” write Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo. [New York Times]  Peter Maas suggests that the deal may also reveal a two-tier justice system in which senior officials are “slapped on the wrist for serious violations” while “lesser officials are harshly prosecuted for relatively minor infractions.” [The Intercept]

Defense lawyers in the USS Cole death penalty trial have requested the release of a U.S. government copy of the full Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA torture program. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The House approved full fiscal-year funding for the Department of Homeland Security yesterday, following a three month battle in Congress. [Reuters’ David Lawder and Richard Cowan]

The House Benghazi Committee has suggested Hillary Clinton used multiple personal email addresses during her time as secretary of state, and the committee chair Trey Gowdy said Clinton and her email providers would be issued with new requests in the coming weeks. [Politico’s Lauren French]  Shane Harris investigates how safe Clinton’s emails were likely to have been from spies, looking at what steps were taken to keep her personal email secure. [The Daily Beast]

Shots were fired at a National Security Agency building yesterday; the FBI said today that a suspect is being held in connection with that incident and a separate incident involving shots fired into traffic in Maryland. [Washington Post’s Martin Weil et al]

The Palestinian leadership is meeting to discuss ties with Israel and may decide to suspend security coordination with Israel, a move that would immediately impact stability in the occupied West Bank. [Reuters’ Ali Sawafta]

Edward Snowden wishes to return to the U.S., according to the former NSA contractor’s Russian lawyer. In D.C., officials said they would welcome Snowden’s return but that he would have to face the criminal charges that have been filed against him. [Reuters]

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a South Sudan resolution imposing sanctions on individuals who hamper efforts to restore peace in the country, but did not bar warring factions from purchasing more weapons. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta and Isma’il Kushkush]

An Egyptian court has suspended upcoming parliamentary elections, after the Supreme Constitutional Court held that the law defining voting districts was unconstitutional, reports the AP.  The “low-burn insurgency” in Egypt is not an immediate threat to Cairo’s government but needs monitoring and “perhaps some American help to put down,” writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

Jacob Siegel reports on “Iran’s stealth jet thief”: the naturalized American who attempted to send documents to Iran with technical details on U.S. fighter jets. [The Daily Beast]

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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