The Early Edition: May 10, 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.

ISRAEL-IRAN CONFRONTATION

Israel’s military carried out airstrikes this morning against Iranian targets across Syria in response to a volley of rockets fired by Iran’s Quds Force at Israeli positions in the occupied Golan Heights yesterday. The Quds Force is an elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) and the spokesperson for Israel’s Defense Forces (I.D.F.), Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, told reporters that the I.R.G.C. commander Qassem Soleimani ordered the attack which had not “achieved its purpose,” Oliver Holmes reports at the Guardian.

Israel struck Iranian intelligence sites and military positions around the Syrian capital of Damascus in retaliation for Iranian forces’ first ever direct engagement with Israeli forces, with the Israeli military saying that several of Iran’s rockets fired towards positions in the Golan Heights were intercepted by its missile defense system. Loveday Morris, Ruth Eglash and Louise Loveluck report at the Washington Post.

The I.D.F. “hit almost all of Iranian infrastructure in Syria,” the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday, adding that while his country had “no interest in escalation” with Iran, it had to “be prepared for any scenario.” The BBC reports.

“I hope we finished this chapter and everyone got the message,” Lieberman said this morning, adding that Israel would not allow Iran to turn Syria into a “forward base” from which to attack Israel. Yaniv Kubovich reports at Haaretz.

The Iranian strikes in the Golan Heights took place a day after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the confrontation between Iran and Israel has heightened tensions in the region, which saw a separate incident yesterday when Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels fired missiles towards Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh. Dov Lieber and Dion Nissenbaum report at the Wall Street Journal.

Lt. Col. Conricus told reporters that Russia was informed in advance of the strikes against targets in Syria. Russia and Iran are both allied to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Al Jazeera reports.

Russia would be unlikely to limit Israeli military action in Syria, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, telling reporters that there was a need to “ensure the continuation of military coordination between the Russian military and the Israel Defense Forces.” Dan Williams reports at Reuters.

The confrontations marks the latest in a series of exchanges between Israel and Iran, in February, Israel accused Iran of flying a drone from Syria into its airspace and on Tuesday a missile strike, believed to be conducted by Israel’s military, hit facilities used by the Syrian military and their Iranian allies. Isabel Kershner reports at the New York Times.

The French President Emmanuel Macron today called for a “de-escalation in the situation” following the recent Israel-Iran confrontations. Reuters reports.

The U.K. today condemned Iran’s attack on Israel and called for “calm on all sides.” Reuters reports.

TRUMP WITHDRAWS FROM THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

European powers have stepped up efforts to preserve the Iran nuclear deal after Trump announced Tuesday that the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement – the French, German and British foreign ministers are scheduled to meet with their Iranian counterpart next week and the French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani yesterday to urge him to continue implementing the agreement. James McAuley and Karen DeYoung report at the Washington Post.

“Under the current conditions, Europe has a very limited opportunity to preserve the nuclear deal,” Rouhani told Macron during their phone call, according to the I.S.N.A. news agency. Reuters reports.

“I said from the first day: don’t trust America,” the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday in response to Trump’s decision, adding that he does not “have confidence” that the U.K., Britain and France would be able to salvage the deal, taking a more cynical approach than President Rouhani who said he would cooperate with other signatories to keep the agreement in place. The BBC reports.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to engage immediately with “partners around the world” to pursue talks on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, U.S. officials have said, with a State Department official saying that the “ultimate goal is to lay the groundwork for getting everyone back to the table and negotiating a new deal.” Lesley Wroughton reports at Reuters.

“If Iran acquires nuclear capability we will do everything we can to do the same,” the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in an interview yesterday, praising Trump for withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal because it was “flawed,” “does not deal with Iran’s ballistic missile program nor does it deal with Iran’s support for terrorism.” Nicole Gaouette reports at CNN.

Additional sanctions on Iran “may come as early as next week,” the White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday. Reuters reports.

The British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said yesterday that the U.K. had no intention of withdrawing from the nuclear deal and told Members of Parliament that, from his discussions with senior U.S. State Department and White House officials last week, he was assured that there was no enthusiasm for any kind of U.S. military action against Iran. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

The “very premise” of the Iran nuclear deal “has been betrayed by its own abysmal track record over the past two years,” the U.S. national security adviser John Bolton writes at the Washington Post, defending the president’s decision as reversing an “ill-advised and dangerous policy” that has enabled Iranian expansionism in the Middle East.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday that the U.S. has the opportunity to address the nuclear deal’s flaws and “make it more compelling” in consultation with allies, despite the fact that Mattis and other senior Pentagon officials had called for Trump to keep the U.S. in the deal. Paul Sonne reports at the Washington Post.

The chair of the opposition Syrian Negotiations Committee, Nasr al-Hariri, yesterday praised Trump’s decision on the Iran nuclear deal as a “step in the right direction,” but warned that it was “not enough” on its own to limit Iran’s influence in Syria. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

The new U.S. ambassador to Germany’s comments on the Iran nuclear deal have prompted strong criticisms from Germany. Rick Noack reports at the Washington Post.  

European allies have been humiliated by Trump, the president’s decision marks the latest instance in which he has decided to ignore the entreaties of U.S. allies, Steven Erlanger writes at the New York Times, explaining that European countries face a tough task in their approach to the Trump administration.

Trump’s decision has caused difficulties for the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who must try and balance the country’s relationship with the U.S. with its relationship with Iran. Samia Nakhoul provides an analysis at Reuters.

“The end result will be a weak sanctions regime, an Iran that over time violates its nuclear commitments, and a Middle East that becomes even more unstable than it already is,” Richard Nephew and Ilan Goldberg say of Trump’s decision at Foreign Policy, providing an analysis of the implications of the president’s announcement.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

President Donald Trump today welcomed home three U.S. citizens who had been imprisoned in North Korea for more than a year, meeting the men as they returned from Pyongyang with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a military facility outside Washington. Michael C. Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for freeing the hostages, although he refused to comment on whether he had spoken to Kim. Mary Tyler March reports at the Hill.

The president mentioned in a cabinet meeting in the lead-up to the release that “everyone thinks” he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for overseeing the prisoners’ release, although he claimed that “I would never say it…the prize I want is victory for the world.” Katie Rogers reports at the New York Times.

Trump noted that he and Vice President Pence had spoken to the family of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. university student detained at the Pyongyang airport in January 2016 and who died shortly after his return to the U.S. after his release in June last year. Scott Neuman reports at NPR.

Kim had allegedly reached a satisfactory consensus with Pompeo upon their meeting, according to North Korean news agency K.C.N.A., which also quoted Kim as saying that the upcoming summit between the two nations will be excellent for promotion of a positive situation on the Korean Peninsula. Joyce Lee reports at Reuters.

This is the first time that Kim is known to have publicly acknowledged the summit with Trump, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

The summit between Trump and Kim, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, will take place in Singapore, Pompeo has described US objectives for the summit as the immediate “permanent, verifiable irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program”. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

South Korea’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha will meet Pompeo tomorrow, with their discussions expected to prepare the ground for the summit between their leaders later in May, according to Kyung-wha’s ministry. Josh Smith reports for Reuters.

Following the release of the three Americans, South Korean government spokesman Yoon Young-chan has once again called for Kim to release six South Koreans still held by the North, while according to the Japanese government, more than a dozen Japanese abductees remain missing. Allie Malloy, Jeff Zeleny and Ben Westcott report for CNN.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in handed Kim a USB drive laying out a “new economic map for the Korean Peninsula” when they met last month, including plans for new railways and power plants for the North, on the premise that Kim abandon his nuclear weapons, according to South Korean officials. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

HASPEL CONFIRMATION PROCESS

Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to lead the C.I.A, vowed that she would not allow the agency to carry out torture in the future during her confirmation hearing yesterday, although she defended the previous torture of terrorism suspects in the wake of 9/11 and claimed that the officers responsible should not be judged. Matthew Rosenberg and Nicholas Fandos report at the New York Times.

Haspel was grilled by the Senate Intelligence Committee on her readiness to sanction interrogation techniques and was asked by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine.) what she would do if President Trump gave her a direct order to use waterboarding on a “high-value terrorism suspect,” to which she replied that she did not believe the president would make such a request.  Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu report at Reuters.

Haspel said that there were “security issues” in response to a question by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) about the destruction of video recordings documenting C.I.A. interrogation techniques. Bill Chappel reports at NPR.

The hearing was interrupted by a protester yelling “bloody Gina…you are a torturer,” before being removed by police, according to Al Jazeera. A small group of protesters also attended before the hearing, shouting “say ‘no’ to torture,” before they too were removed.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) came out against Haspel’s bid yesterday night, having not attended the confirmation hearing due to cancer treatment, and urged colleagues to join him claiming that Haspel’s “refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.” Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) may be among the undecided lawmakers whom McCain might sway, Elana Schor reports at POLITICO.

McCain commented that “the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world” and although he described Haspel as a patriot, he said that her “role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing.” Jacqueline Thomsen and Brett Samuels report at The Hill.

Haspel’s refusal to denounce the use of torture outright means that she is unfit to lead the C.I.A., according to the New York Times Editorial Board.

Haspel is uniquely qualified to lead the C.I.A., and the opportunity for a woman to head the organization represents a momentous occasion, argues Jack Devine at NBC.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen received cash for access, according to an “executive summary” of material compiled by investigators working for the lawyer Michael Avenatti, who is representing the adult film star Stormy Daniels in relation to her alleged affair with Trump and an attempt to buy her silence. The alleged payments include one from the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who has reportedly been questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Philip Ewing reports at NPR.

The drug company Novartis and the telecommunications giant AT&T both said yesterday that Mueller had approached them for information about their links and deals with Cohen. Tracy Connor, Michael Capetta, Sarah Fitzpatrick and Tom Winter report at NBC News.

A tree diagram setting out Cohen’s connections to companies, Vekselberg, Stormy Daniels and Mueller is provided by Troy Griggs and Karen Yourish at the New York Times.

The Russian-linked Columbus Nova company is listed as the organization that registered a series of alt-right websites, Vekselberg is an investment partner at the company. Eli Rosenberg reports at the Washington Post.

The Russian company Concord management and Consulting L.L.C. has pleaded not guilty to charges issued by Mueller alleging that the firm was controlled by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef,” and had links to the Internet Research Agency, which used social media to spread misinformation and sow discord during the 2016 U.S. election. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

Classified documents from Mueller’s investigation will be shared with the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), according to Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah). Brett Samuels and Olivia Beavers report at the Hill.

Erik Prince, the founder of the private military firm Blackwater, has been interviewed by Mueller’s team, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Prince, a Trump ally, has been under the spotlight for meeting with a senior Russian official in the Seychelles shortly before Trump’s inauguration, Betsy Woodruff reveals at The Daily Beast.

A profile of Vekselberg is provided by the AP.

SYRIA

Iraq’s state T.V. reported yesterday that its military had captured five Islamic State group commanders who crossed into Iraqi territory from Syria. Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 27 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between April 27 and May 3. [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.K. government has apologized for the “appalling treatment” of the Libyan man Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar who were subject to detention and rendition, Andrew Sparrow reports at the Guardian in rolling coverage.

A series of attacks took place across Afghanistan yesterday, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for an attack on the Kabul police station, while the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack near a bank in the capital. Jawad Sukhanyar and Rod Nordland report at the New York Times, providing an overview of the recent spate of attacks and highlighting the precariousness of the security situation in the country.

The International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the U.N. Security Council yesterday that her office expects to issue new arrest warrants pertaining to Libya “in the near future,” adding that there had been “significant progress” in investigations into war crimes committed in the country. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP. 

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

Robbie Stern

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).