The Early Edition: December 21, 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.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

A Pentagon memo setting out Donald Trump’s defense priorities does not mention Russia, according to a copy of the memo published by Foreign Policy’s John Hudson, Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce.

President-elect Donald Trump’s reaction to the recent terrorist attacks in Berlin and Zurich framing them as a jihadist attack on Christians added confusion to dangerous situations, writes Julian Borger at the Guardian.

NATO allies have a “general anxiety” about Donald Trump but his campaign statements regarding defense spending and stepping up the fight against terrorism are not without merit, former NATO deputy-general Alexander Vershbow said yesterday, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reporting.

Donald Trump’s selection for ambassador to Israel David Friedman help raise millions of dollars for a prominent West Bank settlement, Rory Jones and Carol E. Lee at the Wall Street Journal suggesting that the connection could complicate Trump’s campaign promise to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Trump’s choice of ambassador to Israel is a “drastic intrusion into Israeli politics on the side of a radical, anti-democratic fringe” signaling that Washington is abandoning the aim of a peaceful two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, writes Israeli historian and journalist Gershom Gorenberg at the Washington Post.

Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer lent his support to Donald Trump’s idea of moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last night, saying the reasons why the plan should go ahead were “pretty clear,” the Hill’s Harper Neidig reports.

A US embassy in Jerusalem won’t hurt the chances for peace between Israel and Palestine, argues the Wall Street Journal editorial board, accusing the political establishment of portraying every change of policy as “the end of days.”

Donald Trump’s “freewheeling” style has had some unexpected benefits in relation to China, but he is on his back foot on Russia. David Ignatius at the Washington Post considers how these two foreign policy challenges with shape Trump’s early months in office.

SYRIA

Assad regime forces closed in on the last of the rebels’ territory in eastern Aleppo yesterday, Angus McDowall and Maria Tsvetkova report at Reuters.

Turkish and Russian diplomats announced their intention to end the Syrian war yesterday at a tripartite conference in Moscow also involving Iran, adopting a document they called the “Moscow Declaration,” David Filipov, Erin Cunningham and Kareem Fahim report at the Washington Post.

The meeting of ministers from three nations that previously backed opposing sides in the nearly six-year Syrian war reflected a shared interest in reaching a compromise, observes Vladimir Isachenkov and Zeina Karam at the AP.

The last buses evacuating some 3,000 rebels and civilians from the remaining rebel-held parts of Aleppo have been delayed for nearly 24 hours for reasons that are unclear, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [AP]

Four Turkish soldiers were killed in intensifying clashes in the Islamic-State controlled town of al-Bab in northern Syria, Turkey’s military said today, Reuters’ Tulay Karadeniz reporting.

IRAQ

A bomb attack targeting the offices of an Iranian Kurdish opposition party in northern Iraq left seven people dead late yesterday, the BBC reporting that it was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 16 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 19. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

ANDREY KARLOV ASSASSINATION

Turkey and Russia launched a joint investigation into Monday’s assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov, NPR’s Merrit Kennedy reports.

Both Turkey and Russia insisted that Karlov’s killing would not affect bilateral relations or cooperation over Syria yesterday, Kareem Shaheen and Shaun Walker report at the Guardian.

The assassination of Andrey Karlov has underlined a budding alliance between Russia and Turkey that could exclude the US from the endgame of the Syrian conflict and weaken American influence in the Middle East – at least that is Putin’s clear intention, writes that Washington Post editorial board.

Moscow does not believe the gunman who shot Karlov acted alone, the spokesperson to Russian President Putin indicated yesterday, Nataliya Vasilyeva and Suzan Fraser reporting at the AP.

While the pull toward analogies with 1914 and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand is strong, there is a danger in any historical analogy that draws surface comparisons while ignoring particulars, giving us the comforting sense that we know what’s coming next and how to respond when the reality is we have no idea what’s coming next and our chances of miscalculating increase dramatically as a result, writes Nicole Hemmer at the Washington Post.

BERLIN TERROR ATTACK

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market on Monday, the BBC reports.

Berlin police are searching for a Tunisian man named Anis A. whose immigration documents were discovered in the truck that ploughed into the market, killing 12, SPIEGEL reports.

The original suspect, a Pakistani asylum-seeker, was released by police yesterday, police reassuring the public that they were “relatively confident” that they would be able to present a new suspect in “the near future,” Reuters reports.

The European Commission proposed increasing controls on cash and precious metals entering the EU from outside today in an effort to cut off one source of funding of militant attacks on the continent following the Berlin attack, Francesco Guarascio reports at Reuters.

Strengthened surveillance and security laws were called for by a German state interior minister in the wake of the attack, DW reports.

“Peace no longer happens by itself.” The next French president must increase defense spending to be able to deal with Islamic extremists and authoritarian states relying more and more on military muscle, France’s chief of the general staff urged in an appeal published today. [AP]

The Berlin attack appears to have achieved one of the Islamic State’s stated objectives – spreading fear and chaos in a Western country in order to increase the divide between Muslims and everyone else – even if the group’s claim of responsibility is inaccurate, observes Joby Warrick at the Washington Post.

The Berlin attacks seems to have been modeled on the Bastille Day attack in Nice, the truck-attack tactic becoming a focus of propaganda by the Islamic State in the past month, observe Julian Borger and Ewen MacAskill at the Guardian.

A visualization of 45 years of terrorist attacks in Europe has been provided by Chris Alcantara at the Washington Post.

RUSSIA

Seven Russians and dozens of companies were added to the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list released yesterday, provoking an angry response from the Kremlin, including a vow of revenge from Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, RFE/RL’s Mike Eckel reports.

Russia has become the “alien imperialist power” viewed as waging war on Islam by many in the Middle East, previously America’s status – the flip side of its “dizzying rise” to become the region’s indispensable power broker, writes Yaroslov Trofimov at the Wall Street Journal.

GUANTANAMO BAY

An application by the media to watch a man who lost his family in the 9/11 attacks testify at Guantánamo Bay war court was rejected by the judge hearing the case, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL INVESTIGATION

The FBI told a federal judge there was probable cause that the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner seized as part of its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server contained classified information, a warrant unsealed yesterday revealed. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

There was nothing in the released search warrant application that would give rise to probable cause, the Los Angeles lawyer who sued to obtain the court papers said in a statement. [AP]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

“The year of the hack.” There were so many big cyberattacks this year that it deserves that moniker, their hallmark being just how public they have become, writes Geof Wheelwright at the Guardian.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A deal to identify 123 Argentine soldiers buried on the Falkland Islands was signed by the UK and Argentina, the International Committee of the Red Cross having negotiated an agreement on taking DNA samples from the remains of the soldiers, who died during the 1982 conflict, the BBC reports.

A Spanish employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross was abducted by unknown gunmen in Afghanistan, the I.C.R.C. confirmed yesterday, highlighting the deteriorating security in the country, Habib Khan Totakhil reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Four police officers were killed fighting Islamist militants near the southern Jordanian city of Karak yesterday as they hunted militants who killed 10 people over the weekend, according to security officials. [Reuters’ Suleiman Al-Khalidi]

Police in Kashmir believe that separatist groups are behind a series of bank robberies in the region over the past 40 days, an indication that their finances have been badly affected by the government’s demonetization drive, Azhar Farooq and Michael Safi report at the Guardian.

Three suspects were killed in a gunfight with Indonesian anti-terrorism police on the outskirts of capital Jakarta today, foiling a suicide bomb plot, according to a police spokesperson. Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Gayatri Suroyo report at Reuters.

The UN human rights chief asked Philippine authorities to investigate President Duterte for murder following his claim that he personally killed people in the past and to examine the “appalling epidemic of extra-judicial killings” that have taken place during Duterte’s anti-drug crackdown, Jim Gomez reports at the AP.

China welcomed the news that Sao Tome and Principe cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, commenting that the island nation was “back onto the correct path of the One China Principle,” the BBC reports. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

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