The Early Edition: February 12, 2018

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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.

SYRIA

“Iran brazenly violated Israel’s sovereignty” by dispatching an Iranian drone from Syrian territory into Israel, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, after the Israeli military said that one its helicopters intercepted an Iranian drone on Saturday morning. The BBC reports.

The intercepted Iranian drone appeared to have been developed based on a U.S. spy drone that Iran captured in 2011, according to experts and Israeli officials, and Israeli officials added that the drone was operated from a base inside Syria and traveled three or four miles into Israeli territories before being intercepted. Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report at the Washington Post.

Israeli forces attacked 12 Iranian and Syrian government targets in Syria yesterday in response to the downing of an Israeli fighter jet on Saturday, the Israeli jet was brought down after coming under “massive anti-aircraft fire” from Syrian government forces, according to a statement by the Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F.), and Netanyahu vowed to maintain a policy of continuing to strike “every attempt to strike at us.” The incident took place after Israel intercepted the Iranian drone, Andrew Carey, Laura Smith-Spark and Nicole Chavez report at CNN.

Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel had dealt “severe blows” to Syrian and Iranian forces after carrying out airstrikes yesterday, Netanyahu’s government had long warned that Iran and the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group intend to use the Syrian conflict to expand their influence and set up bases and weapons manufacturing plants in the country. Mehul Srivastava and Erika Solomon report at the Financial Times.

The U.S. “strongly supports Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself,” the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Saturday after Israel struck Iranian and Syrian targets. Reuters reports.

The European Union today urged all parties in the Syrian conflict to show restraint and to respect international law, Reuters reports.

Hezbollah responded to the downing of the Israeli jet on Saturday by saying it marked the “start of a new strategic phase” limiting Israel’s use of Syrian airspace, the Syrian government had vowed for years to shoot down Israeli aircraft flying over its territory and the incident on Saturday marks the first time that Syrian government forces had delivered on that promise. Isabel Kershner, Anne Barnard and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

The clashes between Israeli forces and pro-Syrian government forces and Iranian militia raises the possibility of further confrontations and the opening up another front line in Syria. Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.

A Turkish military helicopter was downed on Saturday during its offensive against Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia in the northern Syrian area of Afrin, the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan said. The Turkish operation against the Y.P.G. began Jan. 20 as Ankara considers the Y.P.G. – who dominate the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) – to be terrorists and an extension of the outlawed Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.), the AP reports.

“We might lose a helicopter, but they’ll pay the price for this,” Erdogan added, the Turkish military said that two soldiers were killed and Y.P.G. sources separately confirmed that they had downed the helicopter. Reuters reports.

Turkey has a “legitimate security concern, and we do not dismiss one bit of that, along that border with Syria,” the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday, according to the Turkish state Anadolu news agency, Mattis adding that the Turkish offensive has drawn S.D.F. fighters to Afrin to support “their fellow Kurds.” Al Jazeera reports.

Pro-Syrian government forces have been indirectly supporting the Y.P.G. in Afrin despite having fought against each other in other parts of the country, the two forces have been united in their common desire to counter the Turkish offensive, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stands to gain from the Kurdish coordination. Laila Bassam and Tom Perry report at Reuters.

The Trump administration national security adviser H.R. McMaster met with his Turkish counterpart last week, they discussed their countries’ “long-term strategic partnership” amid increased tensions, in particular the Turkish operation against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds in northern Syria. Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

The U.S. and Turkey have come close to direct conflict in northern Syria due to U.S. support for Kurdish militants, Western diplomats intend to use high-level N.A.T.O. meetings this week to de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and Turkey. Emre Peker and Julian E. Barnes report at the Wall Street Journal.

Mattis intends to raise the issue of foreign fighters held by U.S.-backed S.D.F. in Syria with U.S. allies this week, the S.D.F. is currently holding thousands of suspected Islamic State militants, hundreds of which are nationals from a number of countries. Lolita C. Baldor reports at the AP.

The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate de-escalation of violence in Syria on Saturday, the U.N. News Centre reports.

The Israeli strikes at the weekend mark a potentially consequential action in the Syrian war, Israel has had some involvement in the conflict, but had mostly avoided largescale engagements and the incident in Saturday appears to be a significant provocation by Iran. Adam Taylor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

A war between Israel and Iranian forces and its allies would not start now, however the elements for a future confrontation are being established, David Gardner writes at the Financial Times.

The clashes between Iran and Israel in Syria over the weekend has implications for the Syrian conflict, notably indicating that new conflicts are emerging as the civil war winds down. David M. Halbfinger offers five key takeaways at the New York Times.

Netanyahu appears to have few options in Syria, Russia remains the dominant influencing force in the country, the U.S. has been a bystander in the conflict and has damaged its international standing, and civilians continue to suffer. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis of the weekend’s developments at the Washington Post.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 41 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between February 2 and February 8. [Central Command]

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivered a message on Saturday to South Korean President Moon Jae-in inviting him to Pyongyang for talks, Moon’s responded to Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, in a noncommittal way, saying that he wanted to “create the environment for that to be able to happen.” Many have been skeptical about North Korea’s outreach efforts and its desire to participate in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea – saying that it is an attempt to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, Anna Fifield and Ashley Parker report at the Washington Post.

“There is no daylight between the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan on the need to continue to isolate North Korea,” the Vice President Mike Pence told reporters on his return flight from the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Christine Kim reports at Reuters.

The U.S. administration would pursue a strategy of “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time,” Pence said on his return flight, saying that this would mean that “no pressure comes off” North Korea until they take steps toward denuclearization but that if they want to talk, “we’ll talk.” Josh Rogin reports at the Washington Post.

South Korea would need the “right conditions” before it could attend a summit with North Korea, the South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said yesterday, in an attempt to assuage U.S. concerns about the nature of thawing intra-Korean relations. Bryan Harris and Katrina Manson report at the Financial Times.

“There’s no wedge there,” the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday in response to concerns that North Korea’s outreach was creating divisions in U.S.-South Korean relations. Brandon Conradis reports at the Hill.

“It is too early to say if … using the Olympics in a way to reduce tensions, if that is going to have any traction once the Olympics are over,” Mattis said yesterday, also noting the decision by North Korea to stage a military parade on the eve of the Winter Olympics. Idrees Ali reports at Reuters.

Kim Yo-jong outshone Pence at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, the differing attitude of Kim and Pence have left an impression in the country and some analysts have said that Pence has missed an opportunity to advance America’s aims. Motoko Rich and Choe Sang-Hun report at the New York Times.

The North Korean delegation and Kim Yo-jong’s presence at the Games gives the regime a public-relations makeover, the Western media has fawned over Kim and indulged the dictatorship and President Moon deserves much of the blame for appeasing the Pyongyang regime. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

“I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements” as they complicate peace-making efforts, Trump said in an interview published yesterday about Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank, also saying that “right now the Palestinian are not into making peace” and that he isn’t certain that Israel is “interested in making peace.” The BBC reports.

“By taking Jerusalem off the table I wanted to make it clear that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” Trump said in the interview, justifying his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and adding that he would “support what both sides agreed to” when it comes to the specific boundaries of the city. Al Jazeera reports.

The economic crisis in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has the potential to lead to total collapse and an outbreak in violence that could impact Israel’s national security. David M. Halbfinger explains at the New York Times.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Trump blocked the release of a memo written by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Friday, the Democrat memo rebuts claims made in a Republican-authored memo which casts doubt on the early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation, including a decision by the F.B.I. and Justice Department to obtain a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. The BBC reports.

Trump told the Democrats to “re-do” the memo and “send back in a proper form” in a message on Twitter on Saturday, saying that the Democrat memo would need to be heavily redacted due to the information contained within it. Reuters reports.

Democrats will sit down with the F.B.I. and redact sections “to make sure that we’ve very protective of sources and methods,” the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (Calif.) said yesterday, adding that Democrats had approached the Justice Department and the F.B.I. before bringing it to the committee. The AP reports.

The resignation of Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand on Friday has potential implications for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Just Security co-editor-in-chief Steve Vladeck writes at NBC News.

All of the documents that the House Intelligence Committee used to compile their memos should be declassified, allowing greater transparency and giving the public the opportunity to “judge who is closer to the truth.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left for a tour of the Middle East at the weekend, he will visit Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and the trip comes at a time of increased tensions in the region, particularly in light of new escalations in Syria, the Trump administration decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the cutting of funding to the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. and Israel’s policies in the Middle East have failed due to Iran’s actions in the region, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday during celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution. Parisa Hafezi reports at Reuters.

The U.S.-led coalition campaign to defeat the Islamic State group in Iraq led to $45.7bn in damage to Iraq’s infrastructure, according to an assessment by the World Bank and the Iraqi government, and the assessment is likely to influence decisions at a conference in Kuwait this week about reconstruction in Iraq. Michael R. Gordon and Isabel Coles report at the Wall Street Journal.

An Egyptian military operation in the Sinai Peninsula has killed 16 Islamist militants over the weekend, the BBC reports.

It is a cause for concern that Trump does not read his daily intelligence briefing but his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner does, Karen Tumulty writes at the Washington Post. 

Filed under:
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