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The Early Edition: December 23, 2016

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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.

HIJACKED LIBYAN PASSENGER PLANE

Airbus A320 operated by Libyan state-owned Afriqiyah Airways has been hijacked and diverted to Malta with 118 people onboard, the Guardian’s Emma Graham-Harrison reports. The airliner had been traveling from the city of Sabha to Tripoli. Malta airport appears to have been shut down.

Two hijackers onboard the plane claiming to be pro-Gaddafi appear to be carrying hand grenades, the Times of Malta reports.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

Following a call from Trump to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt agreed to postpone a vote on a UN resolution demanding Israel halt its settlement activity in occupied West Bank, the Egyptian president’s office confirmed. [Al Jazeera]

Israeli government officials requested that Donald Trump intervene in UN discussions on the resolution after they came to understand that the Obama administration wasn’t going to block it, placing him in direct opposition to the sitting president, Israeli officials confirmed. Jay Solomon, Rory Jones and Farnaz Fassihi report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump and Egyptian President al-Sisi both agreed that the incoming US president should be given a chance to try to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict in a second call early this morning, the AP reports.

An expansion of America’s nuclear capabilities was called for by President-elect Donald Trump yesterday via Twitter, alarming experts who said that the move would fuel global tensions. Melissa Fares and Timothy Gardner report at Reuters.

Trump’s appointment of Peter Navarro is “another sign of the confrontational approach the incoming Trump administration seems intent on taking in relations with China,” the China Daily opined yesterday, though the Chinese government’s official response was more muted, Tom Phillips reports at the Guardian.

Trump is a better negotiating partner for Russia over Syria, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said today. [Reuters]

Trump may abandon the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in favor of a cheaper plane, he tweeted yesterday, Missy Ryan and Aaron Gregg reporting at the Washington Post.

In a day of tweets, Trump suggested major changes in national security policies, Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post discussing Trump’s assertions yesterday that he will expand the US nuclear arsenal and his calls for the US to veto a UN resolution on Israeli settlements.

Trump’s take on foreign policy is violating the convention of deference to the incumbent White House during transitions, Benjy Sarlin writes at NBC News.

President Obama will formally dispense with the controversial travel registry progam that tracks visitors from many Muslin-majority countries, a “symbolic” move since the post 9/11 program hasn’t been used since 2011, but which Trump said he might reinstate, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

A “total – and very dangerous – mess.” While Donald Trump’s Tweets suggest he is no great admirer of Africa, it’s too early to say whether the incoming administration will be bad news for the continent, which Trump has shown little sign of wanting to prioritize or understand, John Campbell at Foreign Policy concluding that it’s career civil servants and diplomats who will handle that aspect of his foreign policy.

It’s encouraging that Bob Gates is advising President-elect Donald Trump, suggests David Ignatius at the Washington Post.

The danger of a defense secretary coming to power with the ardent loyalty of the men and women he recently commanded was highlighted for Rep. Ruben Gallego by the angry reaction he got from Marines across the country to his announcement of his decision not to support granting Gen. James Mattis a waiver to serve as secretary of defense, he explains at the Washington Post.

There was surprisingly little substantive talk on cybersecurity by either presidential candidate during their campaigns, observes Jacob Olcott at the Hill, providing some positive near-term steps the incoming administration could take at home.

Trump’s transition “package” threatens the self-identity of the intelligence community as existing only to pursue objectivity as it performs important and often irreplaceable work valued by policy makers, former CIA and NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden writes at the Hill.

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE in the US ELECTION

Americans must not sink to Russia’s level when looking at Moscow’s alleged interference in the US election, CIA Director John Brennan said yesterday, Mark Hensch reporting at the Hill.

“Don’t be sore losers.” That was Russian President Putin’s message to the White House and Democratic leaders who accuse him of interfering in the US election and stealing their victory when answering questions from a Russian TV host today, David Filipov reports at the Washington Post.  The Guardian is providing live updates on Putin’s once-yearly presser with Russian and international journalists in Moscow today.

“It is much easier to spread the image of some devil enemy” than to consider the results of the US election, Russian President Putin’s press secretary said on Russian television yesterday. [TASS]

SYRIA

The Assad regime regained full control of Aleppo yesterday after the last rebel fighters and civilians were evacuated from the city’s eastern parts, the Syrian government announced, Hugh Naylor reporting at the Washington Post.

Rebels shelled Aleppo today, killing three people, Syrian state television reported, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saying that about 10 shells had fallen in al-Hamdaniya district in southwest Aleppo. [Reuters]

A video purportedly showing two Turkish soldiers being burned alive was released by the Islamic State after Turkey vowed revenge on the jihadists for the deaths of 16 of its soldiers in Syria, AFP reports.

The UN is once again allowing the Assad regime the opportunity to suggest changes to the wording of its Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) – the overarching planning document bringing together the aid response across Syria – the Syrian government this year requesting the word “conflict” be replaced with “crisis,” and the word “besieged” be removed altogether, Emma Beals reports at the Daily Beast.

The fall of Aleppo in the weeks before Barak Obama leaves office is the fitting culmination of his policy of retreat and withdrawal in the Middle East, writes Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post.

IRAQ

Two months into the offensive on Mosul, the Islamic State retains control of an estimated 75 percent of the city, the operation “stalemated” contrary to reports by local media and the coalition, Campbell MacDiarmid reports at Foreign Policy.

Three car bomb attacks by the Islamic State in the reportedly liberated Gogjali district of Mosul left 23 dead was the deadliest of numerous attacks by Islamic State militants in areas of the city they are supposed to have left that are hindering troops’ advance in the city and disrupting residents’ return to normal life, Hamza Hendawi reports at the AP.

Four million letters encouraging and supporting the city’s long-suffering residents were dropped on Mosul by the Iraqi air force yesterday. [Central Command]

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

BERLIN TERROR ATTACK

Berlin terror attack suspect Anis Amri was shot dead by police in Milan, Italy, after a shootout with police that left one police officer injured. This and other live updates are being provided by the Guardian.

Amri’s family in Tunisia called on him to turn himself over to police yesterday, Naveena Kottoor reports at the Washington Post.

Amri was radicalized in the Italian jail in which he served a sentence for arson and violent assault at his migrant reception center for minors on the island of Sicily where he arrived by boat in 2011, Anthony Faiola, Naveena Kottoor and Stefano Pitrelli report at the Washington Post.

Amri was part of an Islamic State recruitment network orbiting around radical preacher and self-styled Islamic State representative to Germany Abu Walaa, German investigative files obtained by CNN’s Paul Cruickshank reveal.

The multiple failings of Europe’s security apparatus are laid bare by Amri’s journey culminating in allegedly carrying out the terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday, writes Matthew Dalton at the Wall Street Journal.

ELSEWHERE IN GERMANY

Two brothers were arrested on suspicion of planning to carry out an attack on a shopping mall in the Ruhr region of western Germany today, authorities now investigating the pairs intentions and whether anyone else was involved, AP reports.

YEMEN

US-coalition airstrikes have killed 28 al-Qaeda militants in Yemen between Sept. 23 and Dec. 13, according to a statement by Central Command.

Explain why it took so long for the UK government to establish that British-made cluster bombs banned by international treaty were being used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn demanded of Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday, Rowena Mason and Anushka Asthana reporting at the Guardian.

AUSTRALIA

A Christmas day bomb attack plot in Melbourne was foiled by Australian police who detained five men suspected of planning a series of Islamic State-inspired attacks on the Flinders Street train station, neighboring Federation Square, a bar and restaurant prescint, St. Paul’s Cathedral and an Anglican church, Victoria state Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said today. Rod McGuirk reports at the AP.

A further two were arrested but are not expected to be charged over the plot, which allegedly involved the use of several improvised explosive devices and possibly other weapons including knives and a firearm, Rhiannon Hoyle and Rob Taylor report at the Wall Street Journal.

TURKEY

Turkish authorities detained 31 people suspected of having links with the Islamic State in Istanbul today, Reuters reports.

Every new terrorist attack in Turkey bolsters President Erdoğan’s bid to win approval for a referendum that would give him near absolute power, warns Yaroslav Trofimov at the Wall Street Journal.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Former “forever prisoner” at Guantánamo Bay Muhammed al Ansi, profiled as Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, was cleared for release on Dec. 9, the panel recommending he be sent to an Arab country in the Persian Gulf region, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald. Anonymous US officials disclosed that the Obama administration could not achieve transfer deals for all 23 of the men currently cleared for release before Jan. 20, when Obama leaves office.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Allegations that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden maintains ties with Russian intelligence are contained in a declassified report released by the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.

Some foreign travelers will be asked to provide their social media information on entering the country by the US government beginning next Tuesday, POLITICO’s Tony Romm reports.

The CIA is ensnaring former employees’ nonfiction books in red tape, books that can foster a climate of accountability that is essential in a democracy, write Nada Bakos and John Nixon, former CIA analysts, at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Russia’s reported Dec. 16 testing of an anti-satellite weapon could be the latest sign of its increasing intention – and ability – to threaten the US’s hundreds of government and private spacecraft, David Axe writes at The Daily Beast.

The UK is increasing its defense engagement in the Gulf and Asia over four decades after Britain withdrew from bases “east of Suez,” analysts regarding the move as a recognition of the region’s increasing global influence, Jeevan Vasagar reports at the Financial Times.

Japan’s move away from over seven decades of military pacifism post-World War II is signaled by yesterday’s greenlighting of a significant defense spending increase and it’s National Security Council’s decision to expand the scope of its Self-Defense Forces ability to defend allies in peacetime, writes Robbie Gramer at Foreign Policy.

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About the Author

is the Assistant News Editor at Just Security. She is also Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE.