News Roundup and Notes: July 29, 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

Turkish involvement. Turkish planes continued to assault Kurdish PKK fighters in northern Iraq overnight, in what were reported to be the heaviest strikes yet since the campaign began last week. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said last night that the peace process with Kurdish militants had become “impossible.” [BBC; Reuters’ Humeyra Pamuk]  Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described Turkish airstrikes in Iraq as “a dangerous escalation and a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” calling on Ankara to respect “good relations” between the two states. [AP]

NATO expressed support for Turkey’s campaign against the Islamic State following recent terrorist attacks, though some members urged restraint in the campaign against Kurdish fighters. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes et al]

The creation of a “safe zone” in Syria is an attempt by Turkey to prevent Kurds from forming their own territory, the leader of Turkey’s HDP party has told the BBC.  And Molly O’Toole reports that the Pentagon does not know if it can defend the Turkish “safe zone” or the opposition fighters it is training on the ground. [Defense One]

Syrian opposition fighters have made further gains against forces loyal to the Assad regime, losing territory on a number of fronts yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher]

An Israeli drone strike in southwestern Syria killed two militiamen fighting alongside the Syrian government army, according to Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV. [Reuters]

The New York Times editorial board expresses concern at the Turkish anti-PKK campaign, suggesting that it may “seriously undermine” the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, which could otherwise gain traction with Ankara’s support.

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out nine airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria on July 27. Separately, military forces conducted a further 23 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The US is spending $600,000 per moderate opposition fighter it is training to tackle the Islamic State in Syria. [The Daily Beast]

Hillary Clinton called for the Islamic State to be blocked from using social media to promulgate their ideology, taking a stance on an issue which has proven controversial among government officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Peter Nicholas and Damian Paletta]

The UK is losing the fight against ISIS recruitment tactics, reports Katrin Bennhold, commenting that the idea of a Muslim “safe haven” in the form of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria has lured hundreds of young Britons. [New York Times]

IRAN

House Foreign Relations Committee testimony. Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz  testified at a hearing on the Iran nuclear deal and its enforcement. Kerry argued that the deal was a way of making Israel and the entire region safer, again drawing on the narrative that no better option is available. [Financial Times’ Megan Murphy]  Footage is available here.

President Obama will meet House Democrats at the White House today, a meeting likely to focus on gaining lawmakers’ support for the Iran nuclear accord, reports Lauren French. [Politico]

Iran has warned the UN Security Council that it would reconsider its agreement to the nuclear deal if the international community re-imposed nuclear sanctions on Tehran, under the guise of terrorism support or human rights abuse accusations. [Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch]

The Obama administration has enlisted the assistance of Europe’s top ambassadors – from the UK, Germany and France – to help sell the nuclear deal to Congress. The “signature” message being pushed forward is that the agreement is an international one, which they all support, writes Michael Crowley. [Politico]

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius invited Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to visit France this November, during the first visit of a French foreign minister to Iran in 12 years. [Reuters]

Representative Sander M. Levin expressed his support for the Iran deal yesterday; Levin is the longest-serving Jewish current member of Congress. [New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer]

Israel’s stance on the Iran nuclear deal risks it losing the support of US Democrats for a generation, argues James Traub, predicting that if Congress overrides Obama’s veto, Democrats will “blame Netanyahu and Israel.” [Foreign Policy]

Pyongyang has no interest in Iran-style nuclear talks. Alastair Gale reports on why searching for denuclearization discussions with North Korea has become like “looking for signs of life on Mars.” [Wall Street Journal]

“[N]early everyone who in 2015 is alarmist about Iran was in 2002 alarmist about Iraq.” James Fellow makes historical arguments for controversial diplomatic deals. [The Atlantic]

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban leader Mullah Omar has died, according to Afghan government sources. The insurgent group has not commented on the claims. [BBC] A press conference on the subject has been called, a government official says. [Reuters]

A car bomb in northern Kunduz province killed two civilians today; the explosion took place as the car passed a police vehicle, officials say. [AP]

The Taliban has gained territory across three of Afghanistan’s northern provinces in recent days; Kabul is struggling to strengthen isolated outposts as the insurgent offensive progresses, reports Joseph Goldstein. [New York Times]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

An Israeli spy will be released from American prison, according to the US Parole Commission. The agent, Jonathan Pollard, has served 30 years of a life sentence. [Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman]  Pollard was charged with transferring confidential documents from the Naval Intelligence Center to Israel. [NBC’s Pete Williams]  His imprisonment has remained a sore spot in Israel-US relations, reports the New York Times’ Michael D. Shear.

The decision regarding Pollard is unconnected to the Iran deal, said Secretary of State John Kerry. Several Israeli officials and Jewish interest groups have campaigned for his freedom over the years. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid et al]

Israeli lobby AIPAC will send 40 American lawmakers to Israel, as part of a program it organizes every two years. This year’s visit will carry particular significance, because it comes just before Congress’ vote on the Iran nuclear deal. [The Hill’s Scott Wong]

Israel has approved plans for the construction of 300 new homes in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank; the move comes just after the Israeli Supreme Court declared two buildings to be illegally constructed on Palestinian land. [Reuters]

Hamas’ political chief visited Saudi Arabia – for the first time since June 2012 – for informal meetings. [Al Monitor’s Adnan Abu Amer]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Russia is likely to veto a Security Council resolution regarding the downing of Flight MH17, which would set up an international tribunal to prosecute perpetrators. [AP]

“Are you together with the barbarian or together with the free world?” is the question put forward by Ukrainian President on the subject of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, during an interview with Wall Street Journal’s Sohrab Ahmari.

The inquiry into the fatal poisoning of a former KGB officer in Britain has stalled after a Russian suspect, Dmitri V. Kovtun refused to testify. [New York Times’ Alan Cowell]

Ukraine might be a bargaining chip in the Iran nuclear deal; speculation has arisen over whether American officials are making backroom concessions to ensure Russian favor. The Atlantic’s Brian Whitmore investigates.

Russia banned the National Endowment for Democracy, an NGO founded by the Congress. [NBC’s Alexey Eremenko]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A suspected ISIS sympathizer was charged yesterday; the FBI believes the man planned to mount an attack on US soil using a nail-bomb on a Florida beach. [AP]

General Martin E. Dempsey called on UN members to reinvigorate their commitment to global peacekeeping forces, among other recommendations to pressing concerns. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

Saudi-led fighters might be planning ground attacks in Yemen, given recent developments in the conflict. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

The US Navy is investigating claims relating to potential carcinogens at Guantánamo Bay, after several civilian and military staff and lawyers were diagnosed with cancer. [Reuters’ David Rohde]  At least three military lawyers have died in the past 13 months. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]  It remains unclear what the cancer rate among detainees is. [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe]

Gunmen opened fire outside the Niger Embassy in Cairo, killing one and wounding three. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bares similarity to other recent attacks by ISIS affiliated militants. [AP]

The American Army would benefit from anthropologists, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, and should find a replacement for the Human Terrain System program, writes Foreign Policy’s Whitney Kassel.

The head of a militant group has been killed by Pakistani police, along with 13 others. Malik Ishaq was classified as a terrorist by the US and his group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had claimed responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Shi’ite Muslims. [Reuters’ Mubasher Bukhari]

TSA security procedures will be reformed, according to the new agency head Peter V. Neffenger, who is looking to restore credibility to TSA following revelations that its agents had failed 67 out of 70 security tests. [New York Times’ Ron Nixon]

Singapore arrested a man who intended to join ISIS and conduct terrorist attacks, pursuant to a security law that permits two years of detention without trial. [Reuters’ Aradhana Aravindan]

Bahrain has made arrests following a Tuesday bomb attack, which wounded at six people. [Reuters’ Maha El Dahan]

Progress on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act will be delayed, and has already received criticism from civil liberties activists. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

The White House will not pardon Edward Snowden, despite a petition on the White House website, that garnered more than 100,000 signatures. [The Intercept’s Dan Froomkin]

Armed groups clashed in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, killing two people and injuring six, days after a Fatah official was assassinated in the same camp. [AFP]

President Obama spoke to the African Union, emphasizing good governance and democracy. The New York Times’ Peter Baker provides analysis. 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Sarika Arya

Former Summer Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@sarika_arya).