News Roundup and Notes: March 24, 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.

YEMEN

Yemen’s foreign minister has called for Gulf Arab military intervention to prevent the advance of Shi’ite Houthi rebels, a step which may entangle neighboring states into the country’s worsening power struggle, reports Reuters.

UN-brokered peace talks will be held in Doha, according to the UN envoy to Yemen, who said that any agreement reached by the parties would be signed in Riyadh. [Al Jazeera]

The country’s disorder has made Yemen “a front in Saudi Arabia’s region-wide rivalry with Iran,” as Yemen heads toward what may become all-out war. [Reuters’ Angus McDowall and Noah Browning]

The violence in Yemen “isn’t orderly enough to merit being called a civil war.” Simon Henderson analyzes the “rising menace” posed by Yemen’s disintegration. [Wall Street Journal]

Yemen was Washington’s counterterrorism success story, but the U.S. strategy has been struck a “devastating blow” as instability grows “increasingly dire” and the U.S. withdraws all special operations forces, writes Sean D. Naylor. [Foreign Policy]

AFGHANISTAN

Ashraf Ghani began his first official visit to the U.S yesterday. Afghanistan’s new president expressed his gratitude for U.S. assistance throughout the years, a sharp contrast to the criticism levied against America by his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, reports Matthew Rosenberg. [New York Times]

U.S. officials will seek billions of dollars in extra spending to support Afghan security forces, as announced yesterday at Camp David following a day of meetings. The agreement is an indication of U.S. efforts to strengthen Afghan forces as they attempt to prevent Taliban fighters and Islamic State militants from gaining new footholds in the country. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]

President Obama will slow down the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, following a request from President Ghani. Obama will now allow most of the 10,000 remaining American troops in Afghanistan to stay in the country through 2015, according to a defense official. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

A U.S. drone strike killed at least nine Pakistani militants in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province early today. The strike took place close to where fierce fighting has taken place in recent days on the Pakistani side of the border. Drone strikes in Afghanistan are not tracked and go largely unreported, reports Saud Mehsud. [Reuters]

Gunmen killed at least 13 people in a highway attack overnight in Afghanistan’s Wardak province in the east of the country. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, although the Taliban controls large amounts of territory in the province. [AP]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Israel spied on closed-door nuclear talks with Iran last year, using the information to build a case against the looming deal, which was shared with U.S. lawmakers to undermine support for the negotiations, according to current and former officials. Senior White House officials learned of the operation through American intelligence agencies spying on Israel, reports Adam Entous. [Wall Street Journal] A senior Israeli official has strongly denied the spying allegations, dismissing them as “utterly false.” [BBC]

Israeli officials have turned to France in a last-minute mission to secure French support to block what it considers will be a dangerous nuclear deal. [AP]

A group of 367 lawmakers have signed a letter to President Obama, warning that Congress must be convinced that the terms of a nuclear deal “foreclose any pathway to a bomb” before “permanent sanctions relief” can be considered. [CNN‘s Alexandra Jaffe]

Iran’s supreme leader has said that the removal of sanctions has to form part of the nuclear deal and cannot follow after the deal, in his speech marking the Iranian New Year. [Al-Monitor’s Arash Karami]

Hardliners in Iran are “keeping a low profile” as the nuclear talks enter a crucial phase, which reflects their overall satisfaction with the progress of the negotiations as well as with Iran’s widening influence across the Middle East, reports Thomas Erdbrink. [New York Times]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Barack Obama will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the White House in mid-April, the administration announced yesterday. [Politico’s Nick Gass]

An Iraqi government request to the U.S.-led coalition for assistance with airstrikes in the campaign to retake Tikrit from ISIS is “imminent,” according to a senior diplomat from a Western state that is a member of the coalition. [Reuters]

Canada’s government will seek parliament’s permission to expand its involvement in the war against the Islamic State, introducing a motion today easing restrictions on its military’s ability to attack Islamic State targets in Syria. [Canadian Press’ Murray Brewster et al]

The bodies of Iraqi troops have been found in a mass grave in a town north of Baghdad, after reportedly being killed by ISIS. An official security source could not confirm the number of bodies discovered, reports Al Jazeera.

The Islamic State is taking steps to secure its influence in East Africa, approaching al-Shabaab as the group struggles with internal division over its support for al-Qaeda. [Al Jazeera’s Caroline Hellyer]

Islamic State fighters are siphoning millions of dollars in salaries paid to Iraqi government employees in occupied territories, such as Mosul; Baghdad continues to send these funds to maintain local support. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta and Adam Entous]

The Nusra Front is quietly expanding in Syria, consolidating power in areas stretching from the Turkish border to central and southern Syria, as the Islamic State remains the focus of international attention. [AP’s Bassem Mroue]

Turkey is tightening its frontier with Syria. Turkey partially closed its last two border gates into the conflict-stricken country earlier this month, amid concerns over possible terrorist attacks. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

The majority of the information used to compile the Islamic State ‘hit list’ of U.S. service members was openly available online, debunking the “Islamic State Hacking Division’s” claims that they obtained the information by breaching military security. [The Daily Beast’s Nancy A. Youssef]

Syria’s civilian population feels “increasingly abandoned” by the international community due to the focus of global attention on the threat posed by the Islamic State, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday in his monthly report to the UN Security Council on Syria. [Reuters’ Michelle Nichols]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. Coalition military forces carried out eight airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between 8am March 22 and 8am March 23. Separately, coalition forces in Iraq conducted a further six strikes against ISIS targets. [Central Command]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized on Monday for his comments last week about Israeli Arabs that prompted strong criticism in Israel and abroad. The Joint List of Arab parties dismissed Netanyahu’s apology as an “empty gesture.” [Haaretz’s Jonathan Lis]

The White House remained unmoved by the apology. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said yesterday that the Israeli leader’s pre-election rejection of Palestinian statehood cannot be ignored, despite Netanyahu’s attempt to backtrack on those comments since his election victory. [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren and Julie Hirschfeld Davis]  During his speech to J- Street, a left leaning, pro-Israel group, McDonough also said that the “occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end.” [NPR’s Domenico Montanaro]

Noting Netanyahu’s “diplomatic missteps and political gamesmanship,” former Secretary of State James Baker also blasted the Israeli leader at the J Street conference. [Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere]

Sen. Lindsey Graham criticized McDonough’s speech on Israel, saying that the White House Chief of Staff used language “that has been reserved for terrorist organizations” such as Hamas. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

Human rights violations “are both cause and consequence” of the ongoing violence in the occupied Palestinian territories, a senior UN official told the Human Rights Council, detailing the human rights situation in the region. [UN News Centre]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

The House passed a resolution calling for lethal military support to be provided to Ukraine by the United States. [The Hill’s Cristina Marcos]

A dispute between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and a billionaire regional governor—who financed pro-Kiev militias that played an important role in halting rebels in the east—could lead to a serious domestic crisis. [New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer and David M. Herszenhorn]

Ukraine will temporarily discontinue buying natural gas from Russia, as the interim deal struck last October expires, the country’s energy minister has said. [Wall Street Journal’s Nick Shchetko]

Nuclear midnight ticks closer” in light of Moscow’s suggestion that nuclear weapons could be placed in Crimea, writes Sharon Squassoni, noting the need for U.S.-Russia cooperation on arms control. [Reuters]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have expressed concern over reports that the CIA assisted domestic law enforcement to develop U.S. cellphone scanning technology. Citing a report in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, the lawmakers sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, calling on the Justice Department to answer their questions on the program. [Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett]

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is seeking public comments on activities under Executive Order 12333, as part of its review of counterterrorism activities under the Executive Order relating to U.S. intelligence activities.

Canada’s spy agency has developed an extensive arsenal of cyberweapons capable of hacking into phones and computers around the world, stealing data, and destroying the target’s infrastructure, according to classified documents obtained from Edward Snowden. [CBC News’ Amber Hildebrandt et al; The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher]

The British parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee report on government mass surveillance proposes reforms to U.K.’s intelligence agencies that are “mostly cosmetic and would do little to protect individual privacy,” writes the New York Times editorial board.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Former Guantanamo detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab has requested a meeting with Uruguay’s foreign minister to discuss his future and that of five other ex-prisoners resettled in the country. [AP’s Peter Prengaman and Leonardo Haberkorn]  The new Uruguayan government said that the country will no longer grant asylum to Guantanamo Bay detainees, and will also stop accepting refugees from the Syrian conflict. [BBC]

National security is moving up on the agenda of the 2016 presidential race, owing to the rise of the Islamic State and the impending nuclear deal with Iran, changing the political calculus for candidates in both parties. [Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib]

Six Tunisian police commanders have been dismissed by the country’s prime minister for security failures exposed after last week’s fatal attack on the National Bardo Museum. [Reuters’ Tarek Amara]

Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government have shot down a warplane controlled by Libya’s Dawn, the rebel group aligned with the rival government installed in Tripoli. [Al Jazeera]

Pakistan has displayed the country’s first locally manufactured armed unmanned aircraft during Pakistan’s Republic Day parade, reports the AP.

Okinawa’s governor ordered the suspension of work on a new U.S. airbase yesterday, an escalation in confrontation with Japan’s central government. Officials in Tokyo said they would not act upon his order and would continue preparations for the project. [New York Times’ Jonathan Soble]

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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