The Early Edition: March 26, 2018

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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.

YEMEN

Saudi Arabia’s military said it intercepted seven missiles fired from Yemen yesterday, the Saudi statement blamed the Iran-backed Houthi rebels for the attack and one man was killed by debris that fell from the interception, marking the first fatality on Saudi territory since the Saudi-led coalition began its campaign against the Houthis in Yemen. Amir Vera and Nic Robertson report at CNN.

Houthi rebels said that they had fired at least three ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia in their account of yesterday’s attack, with the leader of the rebels, Abdul Malik al-Houthi saying in a speech reported by the rebel-run Saba news agency that he would remain defiant in the fact of “Saudi-American aggression.” Saeed Al-Batati and Rick Gladstone report at the New York Times.

The Houthis had targeted the King Khalid international airport in Riyadh and other airports in Saudi Arabia, according to Saba news agency. Reuters reports.

“This aggressive and hostile action by the Iran-backed Houthi group proves that the Iranian regime continues to support the armed group with military capabilities,” the spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition, Turki al-Malki, said in response to the attack. Iran has consistently denied arming the Houthis, the BBC reports.

The attack took place on the third anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s Yemen campaign, the escalation has jeopardized the effort by the new U.N. envoy to broker talks and pursue peace. Kareem Fahim reports at the Washington Post.

Disguised roadside bombs in Yemen bear similarities to those used by Iran-backed forces in Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain, according to a report by Conflict Armament Research. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

An explanation of the ongoing conflict in Yemen, and the parties involved, is provided by Al Jazeera.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Recent changes within the Trump administration risk marginalizing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the White House chief of staff John Kelly. The two retired generals, who may be considered moderates within the context of the Trump administration, have expressed doubts about the incoming national security adviser John Bolton and there have also been concerns about Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to be Secretary of State, David E. Sanger and Gardiner Harris report at the New York Times.

“Look for a ramp up in a tension on the Korean Peninsula, in our relationship with China, certainly against Iran,” the former N.A.T.O. Commander Adm. James Stavridis said at the weekend, responding to Trump’s new national security officials. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

An influential Iranian lawmaker has denounced the appointment of Bolton and Pompeo, saying the personnel changes “proves that the final U.S. purpose is overthrowing the Islamic Republic [of Iran].” Al Jazeera reports.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) yesterday questioned whether Bolton would receive security clearance due to his contacts with “foreign governments,” including a Russian gun rights group with links to the Kremlin. Kevin Robillard reports at POLITICO.

A feature on Mattis and his role in the Trump administration is provided by Robert F. Worth at New York Times Magazine.

Bolton’s appointment has rightly raised plenty of concerns, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. disdains multilateralism, played a key role in the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and has been bellicose in his approach to North Korea and Iran. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

RUSSIA

President Trump is considering expelling some Russian diplomats in response to the nerve agent attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the English city of Salisbury earlier this month, according to U.S. and European officials. John Hudson, Ellen Nakashima and John Wagner report at the Washington Post.

A U.S. decision announcing the expulsion of Russian diplomats could be made as early as today, a source familiar with the situation has said. Steve Holland reports at Reuters.

Russia and the Taliban have both dismissed comments by the top commander in Afghanistan that Moscow has been supporting and possibly arming the militant group, Gen. John Nicholson made the claim in an interview last week. The BBC reports.

SYRIA

Around 70% of the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital of Damascus is now under government control, rebel groups have been evacuating the territory which has been subjected to an intensified campaign by pro-Syrian government forces. The BBC reports.

More than 5,000 rebel fighters from the Failaq al-Rahman left Eastern Ghouta yesterday, as part of a deal reached Friday, the fighters will be transported to an opposition-held area in the northwest of the country. Reuters reports.

Jaish al-Islam rebel fighters have said that they are ready to lay down arms and leave the town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, the Russian R.I.A. news agency quoted a Russian official as saying. Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between March 16 and March 22. [Central Command]

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Top North Korean and South Korean officials are scheduled to meet at the truce village of Panmunjom this week to prepare for the inter-Korean summit meeting planned for late April, the South Korean Unification Minister said Saturday. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

The North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho intends to visit Russia in mid-April, according to Russia’s Tass news agency, Reuters reporting.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The lawyers Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing will no longer be hired to join the legal team representing Trump in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, there have been difficulties within the legal team over the approach to a possible interview between the president and Mueller. Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The decision not to hire the lawyers was due to a conflict of interest, a statement by counsel to Trump said yesterday, the announcement also came three days after his lead lawyer dealing with the Russia probe, John Dowd, resigned over disputes about strategy for an interview with Mueller. Josh Dawsey, Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.

The changes to Trump’s personal legal team leave the president with just one personal lawyer working full time on the Mueller investigation, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The data research firm Cambridge Analytica assigned non-U.S. citizens to advise Republican candidates in 2014, according to documents provided by the whistleblower Christopher Wylie and other former employees. Craig Timberg and Tom Hamburger report at the Washington Post.  

The U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) carried out its first ever drone strike against al-Qaeda militants in southern Libya at the weekend, marking an expansion in U.S. military operations in the country. Declan Walsh and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

Attacks by Islamist militants in Somalia over the past four days have killed nearly 20 people, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group claimed responsibility for yesterday’s car bomb at a security checkpoint near the capital, Mogadishu. Hussein Mohamed reports at the New York Times.

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile shield was launched Sunday in response to machine gun fire within the Gaza Strip and not in response to incoming rocket fire by the Palestinian Hamas group, Israel’s military has said. Ori Lewis reports at Reuters.

The House Intelligence Committee will investigate China’s investment and role in Africa, the chairman of the panel Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said yesterday. Reuters reports.

Nigerian envoys have met with representatives of an Islamic State faction to attempt to reach an agreement with the militants, who were formerly part of the Boko Haram extremist group. Drew Hinshaw, Joe Parkinson and Gbenga Akingbule report at the Wall Street Journal.

Turkey has begun “operations” against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) rebels in northern Iraq, the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday. The AP reports.

The justice of the U.S. role in the Iraq war has evolved and shifted over the years, Matt Peterson reflects on the justice of the cause and provides an analysis at The Atlantic. 

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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