The Early Edition: May 19, 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

Syrian government forces seized the strategic town of Deir al-Asafir from insurgents today; forces loyal to the Assad regime captured the town southeast of Damascus with the assistance of allies including Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

America has warned Iraqi officials not to move troops from the front lines against ISIS to protect Baghdad, as already about 50% of Iraq’s active forces are focused on securing the capital – a proportion considered sufficient by American military advisers, said Col Steve Warren, spokesman for the US-led coalition against Islamic State. [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne]

“A week of terror attacks in Baghdad that killed hundreds.” Sarah Almukhtar provides an infographic plotting the locations of the attacks, many of which have been claimed by Islamic State, at the New York Times.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 17. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

A US military plane was intercepted in an “unsafe” manner by two Chinese fighter jets over the South China Sea, the Pentagon said yesterday. Beijing’s response was that America must end surveillance near China. [Reuters’ Idrees Ali and Megha Rajagopalan]  If a final US investigation concludes that the interception was definitively unsafe, “it would mark the first such dangerous midair encounter between US and Chinese aircraft” over that body of water since 2014. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Paul Sonne]

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has accused the US of militarizing the South China Sea, rejecting American claims to the contrary, during an interview with Al Jazeera.

“China’s nuclear subs are ready to terrorize the sea.” David Axe discusses the developing capabilities of Beijing to fire nuclear missiles from the sea. [The Daily Beast]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to discuss an Egyptian proposal to restart peace talks between Israel and Palestine in Cairo yesterday. Speaking on Tuesday, al-Sisi apparently offered to mediate a reconciliation between Palestinian factions in order to facilitate negotiations with Israel, though the details of his proposal have not been reported. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]

Israel intends to increase its missile-defense system to include warships, and has successfully tested a naval version of its land-based “Iron Dome” system, the head of operational systems in the Israeli navy, Col. Ariel Shir, said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones and Robert Wall]  Footage of the test can be watched over at Haaretz.

RUSSIA

Russia is due to deliver several S-300 missile divisions to Iran before the end of this year, Russian presidential aide Vladimir Kozhin is reported as saying. [Reuters’ Alexander Winning and Dmitry Solovyov]

Sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine are expected to be renewed in July, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said today. [Reuters’ Gabriela Baczynska]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Google’s new messaging service, “Allo,” will offer end-to-end encryption, the tech giant announced yesterday. The decision to offer encryption as an option to users is being perceived as an attempt to “strike a middle ground in the toxic debate over encryption,” and has drawn criticism from some privacy advocates. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

It is possible that foreign hackers are targeting US presidential hopefuls, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. [NBC News’ Robert Windrem et al]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

EgyptAir Flight MS804 from Paris to Cairo has crashed, France’s President Hollande has confirmed. The plane lost contact with radar at 02:30 Cairo-time this morning. There were 66 people on board.  Earlier, the former president of the French air accident investigation bureau told journalists that “there’s a strong possibility of an explosion on board from a bomb or a suicide bomber.” Investigators are focusing their attention on ground crew at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport in an attempt to establish whether any airport employees posed a security risk. This story continues to unfold.  Live updates are being provided by the Guardian and the BBC.  

The House passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Bill yesterday despite a White House threat to veto it over provisions relating to Pentagon funding, detainee policy, the US military base network, and fighting Islamic State. [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne; Politico’s Connor O’Brien and Jeremy Herb]

A preliminary decision on the 28-pages is expected this week, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper expected to inform the White House whether he supports declassifying the extract of a congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

France is delaying approving NATO control of the US-built European missile-defense system, over concerns as to whether the NATO control and command will work. US and alliance officials are attempting to persuade it to change its position, fearful that any delay will be interpreted by Russia as a sign of weakness. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E Barnes and Robert Wall]

NATO is to welcome its newest member: Montenegro. The Balkan state’s membership must be ratified in each of the alliance’s national capitals next month, but the decision is set. [BBC]

A US B-52 bomber crashed after take-off from an army base in Guam yesterday, the US air force has confirmed. All crew members survived what it is calling a “mishap.” [BBC]

A Turkish military helicopter which crashed last week may have been shot down by PKK fighters using a ground-to-air missile, Turkish armed forces said today. If true, it would be the first known use of such weaponry by the PKK in recent years. [Reuters’ Humeyra Pamuk and Nick Tattersall]

Saudi-Israeli relations are flourishing under a “shared sense of betrayal and abandonment” by a Washington focused on Iran, writes Todd Rosenblum. This is an opportunity for the US to develop “a broader security apparatus in the Middle East,” he says, but there is also a risk that it will lose its influence in the region, which in turn could put homeland security at risk. [Politico]

“Our behavior, as an organization and as individuals, must signal our commitment to the values we so often proclaim.” Adm. John M Richardson, chief of naval operations, has delivered a blunt message to fellow officers that they must place renewed emphasis on integrity after several recent “scandals,” including the Asian defense contractor who pleaded guilty to allegations of bribing Navy officers with “cash, sex and luxury goods” over the course of a decade. [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock]

US prosecutors have charged 83 American men and women in connection with Islamic State so far, 32 of whom have been convicted. Adam Goldman, Jia Lynn Yang and John Muyskens provide the stats on the terrorist organization’s “suspected inroads into America.” [Washington Post]

Prominent realist and liberal foreign policy academics spoke at a Charles Koch Institute event yesterday, their common message being a denouncement of the neoconservative worldview that has informed Republican foreign policy for decades. Zaid Jilani, reporting, saw the event as “the latest example of how foreign policy no longer neatly aligns with party politics.” [The Intercept] 

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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