The Early Edition: December 12, 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.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

European Union officials warned the U.S. that it must have international support for any peace initiative between Israel and Palestine, the E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said yesterday in Brussels after meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – days after Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to begin moving the U.S. Embassy there. Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“The E.U. and member states will continue to respect the international consensus on Jerusalem until the final status of the holy city is resolved,” Mogherini said yesterday, emphasizing that there is “full E.U. unity on this.” The BBC reports.

Mogherini rebuffed Netanyahu when he predicted that “all or most E.U. countries” would follow the U.S. and move their embassies to Jerusalem, saying that “this move will not come.” Jacopo Barigazzi reports at POLITICO.

The Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas met with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi yesterday and agreed to continue high-level coordination in response to the change in U.S. policy, a spokesperson for the Palestinian leader’s office said that there would soon be an Arab initiative to preserve the rights of the Palestinian people. Reuters reports.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system shot down a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel yesterday and responded to the attack by bombarding a military position belonging to the Palestinian Hamas militant group, according to a statement by the Israeli military. Ilan Ben Zion reports at the AP.

“The most important response will be to announce a third Palestinian intifada on all occupied Palestinian territories,” the leader of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militant group, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech delivered via video link to a rally in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, calling for an uprising in response to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Louisa Loveluck and Suzan Haidamous report at the Washington Post.

Nasrallah said that he hoped the “foolish decision” would mark the “beginning of the end” of Israel, adding that Hezbollah were almost done fighting elsewhere in the region, such as in Syria, and that it would “give all its time” to focus on the Palestinian cause. Al Jazeera reports.

Trump’s decision “will hasten the destruction of the Zionist regime and will double the unity of Muslims,” Iran’s defense minister Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami said yesterday according to a state media, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) also pledged Iran’s “complete support for Palestinian Islamic resistance movements.” Reuters reports.

The U.S. decision “is destabilizing the region and wiping out the prospect of peace,” the Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday, speaking alongside the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, saying that Russia and Turkey both think the decision “is not helping the situation in the Middle East.” Al Jazeera reports.

The response to Trump’s decision may have been relatively muted, but it was still a disaster: the decision was taken for the wrong reasons, there was a complete absence of strategy in the announcement, resulting in the “continuation of a long, grim and nasty grind” that neither sees the death of the peace process nor its advancement. Aaron David Miller writes at POLITICO Magazine.

Trump’s announcement was littered with ambiguity which may have more destructive consequences in the long-run, Scott R. Anderson provides an analysis at Foreign Policy.

NEW YORK ATTEMPTED TERRORIST ATTACK

A would-be suicide attacker targeted the Manhattan area of New York yesterday, the pipe bomb failed to fully detonate and the attacker, identified by police as 27-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant Akayed Ullah, was the only one seriously injured in the explosion. Sarah Maslin Nir and William K. Rashbaum reports at the New York Times.

Ullah had been radicalized online and set off the bomb in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Syria and elsewhere targeting Islamic State militants, according to several law enforcement officials, Alan Feuer reports at the New York Times, explaining the confusion over the attack within the Bangladeshi community in New York.

“Today’s attempted mass murder attack in New York City … once again highlights the urgent need for Congress to enact legislative reforms to protect the American people,” the president said in a statement yesterday, adding that the U.S. “must fix its lax immigration system.” Danielle Paquette, Lindsey Bever and Devlin Barrett report at the Washington Post.  

A breakdown of what is known so far about the attempted attack is provided by Euan McKirdy and Chris Boyette at CNN.

SYRIA

The Russian President Vladimir Putin took a surprise trip to an air base in Syria yesterday and ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian troops in the country, his visit demonstrated Russia’s attempts to shape the post-conflict scenario in Syria and its growing influence in the region. Nathan Hodge reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Russia will keep a naval and air base in Syria to combat terrorists should terrorists seek to “walk tall” again, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said today, Reuters reporting.

Putin’s travels included stops in Syria, Egypt and Turkey yesterday, where he met with their respective leaders. In Syria, he praised Russia’s mission against Islamist militants in the country and said that the military had achieved its aims, in Egypt, Putin discussed economic issues, and in Turkey, Putin and the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan focused on political talks to end the war in Syria and a deal to purchase a Russian S-400 air missile defense system. Neil MacFarquhar and Anne Barnard report at the New York Times.

The Syrian opposition negotiating team has urged Russia to rescue the U.N. peace talks in Geneva and persuade the delegation representing President Bashar al-Assad to engage in face-to-face discussions. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

Putin’s tour of the Middle East demonstrates how he has been outplaying Trump, Russia has taken the lead in Syria while the U.S. has ceded influence, the U.S. has had no strategy for Syria and Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital benefits Russia by increasing a perception that Russia has a balancing role to play in the region. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

NORTH KOREA

Victor Cha has been nominated by the Trump administration as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Cha is known for his expertise and a hawkish approach toward North Korea. Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in is expected to focus on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping tomorrow, the two countries have had significant differences over the approach to Pyongyang and China has been angered by the deployment of the U.S.-made T.H.A.A.D. anti-missile system in South Korea. Christine Kim and Ben Blanchard report at Reuters.

A panel hearing testimony about North Korea’s prisons concluded that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un should be tried for crimes against humanity, with one of the jurists, Auschwitz survivor Thomas Buergenthal, saying that the conditions in the prison camps “are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experience in my youth in these Nazi camps.” Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

China has been constructing at least five refugee camps along the border with North Korea in preparation for the potential collapse of the Kim Jong-un regime and the possible influx of migrants that would result, however the spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry declined to confirm the existence of the camps. Tom Phillips reports at the Guardian.

South Korea has asked the U.S. to postpone annual joint exercises until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, raising concerns that military maneuvers would increase the chance of North Korea taking provocative actions. Demetri Sevastopulo reports at the Financial Times.

The U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussen called for the Security Council to assess the human rights impact of international sanctions on North Korea, warning that the measures have impacted the provision of humanitarian aid. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to meet with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, according to a Canadian government source, Reuters reporting.

The former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman has urged Trump to designate him a peace envoy to North Korea, Rodman has taken five trips to Pyongyang and hopes to fly there again to try and defuse tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Tom Phillips and Justin McCurry report at the Guardian.

Some diplomats and analysts see a window of opportunity, despite the despair over the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, due to a recent slowdown in North Korea’s missile testing which increases the possibility for engaging in dialogue. Gerald F. Seib writes at the Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team interviewed the former acting Attorney General Sally Yates in July in relation to the circumstances surrounding the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who recently pleaded guilty to lying to F.B.I. agents over his conversations with the former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition. Del Quentin Wilber and Aruna Viswanatha report at the Wall Street Journal.

The business partner at the company promoting a plan for a U.S.-Russia nuclear project in the Middle East said that allegations that Flynn said the project was “good to go” on Inauguration Day were “patently false and unfounded,” Reuters reporting.

The federal judge hearing the case of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort mildly reproached Manafort and his lawyer following revelations that Manafort was involved in the publication of an op-ed defending his work as a political consultant and lobbyist in Ukraine. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee are keen to interview the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner again and ask him additional questions about his foreign contacts and outstanding concerns. Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman report at The Daily Beast.

Trump’s allies and lawyers have attacked Mueller and embraced an aggressive legal theory that undermines the Department of Justice’s investigation, and the department’s role must be protected in order to protect the rule of law. Bob Bauer writes at the New York Times, discussing the role of the criminal investigations and Congress.   

The former White House chief strategist Steven Bannon has not faced significant public scrutiny during the Russia investigations, despite being a key figure in the administration and a bystander to important decisions, including the firing of Flynn. Darren Samuelsohn provides an analysis of Bannon’s role at POLITICO.  

YEMEN

Republican lawmakers have pushed for sanctions on Iran due to its support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, with Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) saying that Iran needs to be “held accountable for the mess and war they are perpetuating in Yemen.” Cristina Marcos reports at the Hill.

The Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign has targeted food supplies to Yemen and increased the prospect of imminent mass famine, Ioana Craig reports at the Guardian.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban killed three Afghan soldiers at a military checkpoint in the eastern Ghazni province today, according to a spokesperson for Ghazni’s provincial governor. The AP reports.

A feature on the Trump administration’s policy on Afghanistan, and its air and ground campaigns to combat the Taliban, is provided by Eric Schmitt at the New York Times.

IRAQ

Turkish airstrikes killed 29 members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) in northern Iraq yesterday, according to the Turkish military, the P.K.K. are designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and the E.U., and the army said the P.K.K. fighters in northern Iraq were believed to be preparing an attack on Turkish border posts. 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]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The issue of whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program is set to revert to President Trump after he refused to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in October and called on Congress to address his concerns about Iran’s “continued aggression and nuclear ambitions.” However, it seems that Congress has been unable to find a path toward a solution. Katrina Manson reports at the Financial Times.

Transgender troops will be able to enlist in the U.S. military from Jan. 1 following a ruling by a federal judge which rejected a Trump administration appeal. Gordon Lubold and Brent Kendall report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. suspension of visa processing at its embassy in Cuba is “seriously hampering” families and migration, the Cuban foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday, the U.S. took measures to suspend processing and reduced its embassy staff in September after American diplomatic staff in Havana experienced mysterious health symptoms. Reuters reports.

Trump is expected to visit the U.K. in the next year, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K. Woody Johnson said today, making the comments after Trump recently shared messages from a far-right, anti-Islam British political group on his Twitter page and was rebuked for doing so by Prime Minister Theresa May. The BBC reports.

Lawmakers in the House passed legislation reorganizing the Department of Homeland Security’s (D.H.S.) cybersecurity operations, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill. 

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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