The Early Edition: March 3, 2016

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

Syria ceasefire. Rebel group, Jaish al-Islam says that the conflict has not stopped since the temporary truce agreement went into effect, accusing the government of violating the agreement and adding that a cessation of hostilities was not feasible while “militias and states kill our people.” [Reuters]  Meanwhile, UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura said that the ceasefire is holding, with violence “greatly reduced.” [Al Jazeera]

Syria is in a state of de facto partition which seems likely only to continue, reports Yaroslav Trofimov, commenting that division of the war torn country will not assist in the fight against the Islamic State. [Wall Street Journal]

Syria’s government reported a countrywide electricity outage yesterday; Syria’s utilities infrastructure has been damaged during the conflict which in part accounts for the frequent outages experienced. [CNN’s Jason Hanna and Hamdi Alkhshali]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out eight airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 3. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 21 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Apple v. FBI. A “flood” of support for Apple’s position in its ongoing encryption battle with the FBI streamed into the court yesterday, reports Mario Trujillo, citing a brief submitted by 17 companies, including Twitter, which described the FBI’s attempts to compel Apple to unlock one of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone as “extraordinary and unprecedented.” [The Hill]  Apple has compiled the amicus briefs in support of its position here.

The National Security Agency is “mysteriously absent” from the Apple-FBI fight, observes Jenna McLaughlin, considering the possible reasons for why the NSA has not become involved. [The Intercept]

Amazon will no longer encrypt customers’ data on its Fire tablets, streaming media devices and Kindle e-readers with the latest software update, though the company does not appear to have mentioned removing the full-disc encryption from Fire OS in any public facing materials. [The Guardian’s Nathaniel Mott]

The Pentagon aims to stay up-to-date with technology innovation, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during an appearance at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. [DoD News]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

A Palestinian woman has been shot dead after she ran her car over an Israeli soldier in the occupied West Bank, wounding him. [Reuters]

Israel is close to completing a US-funded multi-billion dollar missile defense system, which will allow it to destroy ballistic missiles and even orbiting satellites. Once complete, it will be superior to any other system in the Middle East. [Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash and William Booth]

“The missiles of the resistance cover each and every spot in occupied Palestine,” but “we do not want war.” Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah touted Lebanon’s missile capabilities in a televised address last month, comments which then took over Israel’s media. The episode is illustrative of the “tense cold war” taking place between Israel and Hezbollah, which dominates Israeli military strategy. [The Daily Beast’s Neri Zibler]

Israel’s “draconian new laws, policies and regulations reinforced by incitement campaigns” target Palestinians living in Israel and, more and more, Jewish liberals, in what Neve Gordon refers to as “an inversion of Israel’s colonial project.” [Al Jazeera]

NORTH KOREA

Leader Kim Jong-un has told North Korea’s military to “bolster up nuclear force” and to “get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment,” in response to the new UN sanctions, which the Korean Central News Agency has called “unprecedented and gangster-like.” It is still unclear how advanced North Korea’s nuclear program is. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun; BBC]

Sanctions against North Korea will only be effective if they are enforced, observes the New York Times editorial board, particularly by North Korea’s main ally, China. Then, sanctions must be followed up by an effort to reinstate negotiations with North Korea to close down its nuclear program.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The US Navy has sent ships and an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea, following Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s warning to China on Tuesday to desist in its militarization of disputed islands. According to Navy Commander Clay Doss, a spokesperson for US Pacific Fleet, the aircraft carrier is conducting a routine patrol of the South China Sea. [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe]

China is set to increase its military spending by 7-8% this year, although this constitutes the smallest increase for several years. The slow-down is a reflection of the country’s flailing economic growth. [Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page; AP]

UKRAINE

“It was a very difficult meeting,” according to Ukraine’s foreign minister. Attempts by Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany to revive the peace process in eastern Ukraine have been stalled by disagreements between Ukraine and Russia. [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton]

Fighting between Ukraine government forces and pro-Russian armed groups in eastern Ukraine has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 9,160 civilians since it began in April 2014. The rate of casualties has slowed recently, but reports of killings, abductions and torture of prisoners by rebel groups continue to be received by monitor groups. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Congress must act on Islamic State and the closure of Guantánamo Bay since President Obama has failed to provide a suitable strategy on either front, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Mac Thornberry said yesterday. Neither issue is “going to go away,” he told reporters, and will need to be dealt with in an upcoming defense policy bill. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

There were 69 allegations of sexual exploitation or abuse against UN peacekeeping personnel in 2015, according to a UN report, which calls for on-site courts-martial for those accused and the creation of a DNA registry of all peacekeepers. Almost a third of the allegations come from the Central African Republic. [Reuters; AP]

A car bomb detonated by Kurdish rebels has killed two police officers in Nusaybin, on Turkey’s border with Syria. The explosion, at a police station and police lodgings, also wounded 35 others. [AP]

Spanish authorities have seized around 20,000 military uniforms bound for Islamic State and other militant groups. They were hidden in a shipment labeled “secondhand clothing” in the ports of Valencia and Algeciras. [New York Times’ Raphael Minder]

Almost 700 Islamic State fighters have returned home to Tunisia, to date. Sarah Souli examines the reasons behind the returns: disillusionment with their role, the entreaties of their families, or a desire to recruit others. [Al Jazeera]

Did Hillary Clinton’s aides share computer passwords? The FBI is investigating this as a possibility as it attempts to work out how classified emails “jumped the gap” onto Clinton’s private server. [Fox News’ Catherine Herridge and Pamela K Browne]  The investigation may be nearing a conclusion, according to legal experts, as indicated by yesterday’s revelation that one of the former secretary of state’s staffers has been granted immunity by the FBI in exchange for his cooperation. [Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky]

Japan’s prime minister has stopped work on the expansion of the US military base in Okinawa. While the government was hoping to relocate the base to a less populous area, locals want the base removed entirely. The halt in work is the result of a court-mediated settlement between the two sides. [BBC]

Senator Jeff Session has been nominated as chairman of Donald Trump’s national security advisory committee. The Senator is the first to endorse Trump, publicly backing him last weekend by referring to his campaign as a “movement” which “must not fade away.” [The Hill’s Mark Hensch]

The US military is already recruiting women for combat roles, plans endorsed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter reveal. [The Daily Beast]

Britain leaving the EU “could have disastrous repercussions for a US-led post-Cost War order,” experts say. A united Europe is vital to deterrent measures such as economic sanctions, and to the sharing of information. There is also the impact of the loss of the world’s fifth-largest economy and defense budget to consider. [Washington Post’s Griff Witte]

“War games” involving simulated Russian military interventions are “all the rage” among Western military experts, as they try to gauge how best to deal with the country they increasingly see as a global threat. Richard Galpin considers how the West should respond to Russia’s military actions and more assertive foreign policy. [BBC]

Hunting for food rather than burning homes and abducting hostages. The latest attack by Boko Haram on a Cameroon-Nigeria border town saw fighters stealing livestock and whatever food they could find before fleeing with it, further indication that the terrorist group is “falling victim to a major food crisis of its own creation.” [New York Times’ Dionne Searcey]

A bomb exploded under a police van in Belfast, Northern Ireland, this morning, injuring a prison officer. Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said the attack was “a demonstration of how lethal the terrorist threat continues to be in Northern Ireland.” [BBC]

Since 9/11, Mexican border security has been a “political issue,” with Congress funnelling $90 billion into 650 miles of new fence and military hardware in an attempt to appease an electorate “fearful about terrorism and angry about illegal immigration.” Mark Binelli focuses on the killing of a 16-year-old boy in 2012 as he discusses some “troubling questions” about the US Border Patrol. [New York Times] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE