The Early Edition: December 11, 2017

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.


Protests were held across the Middle East and Asia over the weekend in protest of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, there were clashes outside the U.S. Embassy in the Lebanese capital of Beirut and the Arab League yesterday denounced Trump’s announcement as a “dangerous violation of international law.” Nada Homsi and Anne Barnard report at the New York Times.

The Israeli army responded to rocket fire by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip with airstrikes on four Hamas facilities on Saturday, killing two militants and bringing the total number of deaths to four since Trump’s announcement of a shift in U.S. policy. Loveday Morris reports at the Washington Post.

Israeli forces destroyed a “significant” Hamas attack tunnel from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military announced yesterday, the attack came as the Palestinian factions – Hamas, who control the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party, who control the Palestinian territories in the West Bank – tried to meet the deadline of an Egypt-brokered deal handing over to control of Gaza to Abbas. Reuters report.

Abbas is expected to reject an invitation to meet Donald Trump in Washington and will not meet with Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region later this month. In a separate development, the French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan have agreed to work together to persuade the U.S. to reconsider its decision, Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” Pence’s press secretary said in a statement yesterday in response to comments saying that the Vice President would not be welcome in the Palestinian territories. Brent D. Griffiths reports at POLITICO.

“Peace is based on recognizing reality,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today during his first official trip to the European Union capital of Brussels, saying that acknowledging the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “makes peace possible,” however the E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reiterated that the E.U. considers the boundaries of Jerusalem to be a final status matter as part of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Netanyahu said that he believed European countries would follow the U.S.’s example by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving their embassies there, however Mogherini said that the E.U. would continue to recognize the “international consensus” and in talks between Macron and Netanyahu prior to the Brussels meeting, Macron called on the Israeli leader to take steps to break the impasse by freezing settlement building and re-engaging with Palestinians. The BBC reports.

European officials have not received details of a U.S. initiative for the Israel-Palestine peace process, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said that the E.U. have “been waiting for several months” for information about a U.S. plan.  Lorne Cook report at the AP.

“Jerusalem is the apple of our eye. We will not abandon it to the child-murderer state,” Erdoğan said yesterday, and Netanyahu responded that he was “not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran go around international sanctions, and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people.” Ben Wedeman, Ghazi Balkiz, Gul Tuysuz and Isil Sariyuce report at CNN.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has invited Abbas to discuss Trump’s decision, a presidential statement said yesterday, Reuters reporting.

“The U.S. administration has totally ripped apart the very legal foundation for peace in the region,” senior Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) member Hanan Ashrawi said today, Al Jazeera reporting.

Trump listened to the “will of the American people” when making the decision to recognize Jerusalem and move the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday, adding that the administration were aware that the decision would cause “upset” but “courage does cause that.” Sophie Tatum reports at CNN.

An interfaith group from Bahrain has flown to Israel for an event which has been seen as a test case for Gulf Arab countries to see what the reaction would be if they recognize Israel. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

Trump’s decisions on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal reveal an obsession with his predecessor’s legacies rather than serving U.S. interests, and the president’s recklessness stands to benefit Iran in the region. Jackson Diehl writes at the Washington Post.


Iraq has been “fully liberated” from the Islamic State group, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday, saying that the militants had been driven out of the border region with Syria. Ghassan Adnan and Isabel Coles report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Islamic State group were defeated after a more than three year war and the U.S.-led coalition congratulated the people of Iraq on the victory, Tamer El-Ghobashy reports at the Washington Post.

“Iran simply does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors,” the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Douglas Silliman, said today, adding that the U.S. would now focus on peace, rebuilding Iraq and curbing Iran’s influence now that the Islamic State group has been defeated. Susannah George reports at the AP.

Influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on his militia forces to hand back state-issued weapons to the Iraqi government and hand over some territory to other branches of Iraq’s security forces, the AP reports.

The victory on the battlefield does not signal the end of the threat posed by the Islamic State group, security analysts and military commanders have warned, and significant challenges must be addressed, including reconstructing cities like Mosul, ensuring stability and security, and resettling the three million displaced Iraqis. Margaret Coker and Falih Hassan report at the New York Times.


The U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) said that they have established a joint military center with the Iraqi army on the Syrian-Iraq border in order to protect the area following the defeat of the Islamic State group, the S.D.F. said in a statement yesterday. Reuters reports.

The Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived at Russian airbase in Syria today and ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops, saying during his unannounced visit that if the “terrorists raise their heads again” Russia would “carry out such strikes on them which they have never seen.” The BBC reports.

Pro-Syrian government forces have stepped up their operations on rebels in the eastern Hama province as part of an advance on the rebel-held Idlib province in northwestern Syria, according to rebels and witnesses. The Islamist Tahrir al-Sham alliance and some Free Syrian Army factions control areas in Hama, Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.

The delegation representing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad returned to Geneva yesterday to participate in U.N.-backed peace talks, however Western diplomats expressed skepticism about their willingness to engage meaningfully. Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 4 and December 7. [Central Command]


The U.S., South Korea and Japan are preparing military drills in response to fears that North Korea has been rapidly developing its submarine-launched ballistic missile (S.L.B.M.) technology, a report by a Washington-based think tank revealed images of cylindrical objects that “suggests construction of a new submarine” at a facility of North Korea’s east coast. Gerry Mullany reports at the New York Times.

Any sign of a U.S. sea blockade of North Korea would be seen as “another public declaration of war,” the North Korean state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said yesterday, Bryan Harris reports at the Financial Times.

“Time is of the essence,” the U.N. under-secretary for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, said on Saturday following his visit to North Korea, saying that there was a need for the “full implementation of all relevant Security Council resolutions” and the pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Susannah Cullinane reports at CNN.

North Korea has been developing its biotechnology infrastructure and may be on its way to acquiring the components of an advanced bioweapons program, according to U.S. and Asian intelligence officials and weapons experts. Joby Warrick reports at the Washington Post.


Trump’s top adviser Hope Hicks was warned by F.B.I. officials about Russian attempts to make contact during the presidential transition, according to sources familiar with the matter, there were concerns about introductory emails to Hicks from Russian government addresses – there has been no evidence that Hicks did anything improper. Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo report at the New York Times.

Oleg Voloshin sought the input of a close associate of the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort before publishing an op-ed about Manafort, Voloshin said the close associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, then shared the article with Manafort, but said that allegations of Kilimnik’s ties to Russia were groundless. Manafort has been charged by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, as part of their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Pavel Polityuk reports at Reuters.

Republican and Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee have clashed over the focus of their investigations, with Republicans keen to look at Obama-era scandals, while Democrats wanting to pursue potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and the circumstances surrounding the firing of former F.B.I. Director James Comey. Jordain Carney explains at the Hill.

A feature on the Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, and the links between his activities in Greece and connections to Russia, is provided Griff Witte at the Washington Post.

The F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last week suggests that he has “joined the Justice Department effort to stop the public from learning about the bureau’s role in the 2016 election,” he avoided answering questions about the alleged bias of the top F.B.I. agent, and former member of Mueller’s team, Peter Strzok, and dismissed questions about surveillance warrants that may have been obtained to spy on the Trump campaign. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The Mueller investigation is in jeopardy due to a concerted effort by Republicans to derail the probe, recent events demonstrate that many Republicans would not be prepared to defend American institutions and rise above partisanship, thereby endangering democracy and creating a “recipe for autocracy.”  E.J. Dionne Jr. writes at the Washington Post.


Saudi-backed forces are advancing on the Yemeni port of Hodeida, Yemen’s official S.A.B.A. news agency reported yesterday. The port provides a lifeline to the Shi’ite Houthi rebels, the AP reports.

The debris from the short-range ballistic missile fired by Houthis toward the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Nov. 4 comprised of Iranian hardware and a component manufactured by a U.S. company, according to a report by U.N. investigators, Colum Lynch reports at Foreign Policy.


The resignation of a top U.S. diplomat reveals the negative atmosphere within the State Department and suggests that more diplomats would leave the department due to the management of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Trump administration’s lack of regard for diplomacy. Dan De Luce and Robbie Gramer report at Foreign Policy.

China’s foreign policy strategy has raised concerns in the U.S. and there have been signals that it has been engaged in wider efforts influence public policy, Josh Rogin observes at the Washington Post.


The Pentagon’s plan to fight Islamist al-Shabab militants in Somalia is expected to take at least two more years of combat, according to sources familiar with the deliberations, and the Pentagon wants 24 months before reviewing how the plan in Somalia is working. Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

Riduan bin Isomuddin has been charged by the war court prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay for his role in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing and of sending fighters from his extremist group to Afghanistan to meet with Osama bin Laden to carry out suicide bombings. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

A feature on the Niger military operation that killed four U.S. Special Forces members, is provided by Monica Mark at BuzzFeed News.

The Trump administration’s unreliability has become predictable and Europe should help Iran to ensure “we don’t soon find ourselves repeating history,” the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif writes at the New York Times, urging European countries to protect the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and stating that Iran’s military capabilities “comply with international law and are entirely defensive.” 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK