The Early Edition: May 15, 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.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

At least 58 Palestinians were killed by Israeli live gunfire at the border with Gaza yesterday and over 2,700 injured, yesterday was the bloodiest day since Palestinian protestors started gathering at the Israel-Gaza border on March 30 as part of the “Great March of Return,” the violence coinciding with the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and with the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel. David M. Halbfinger, Isabel Kershner and Declan Walsh report at the New York Times.

Funerals will be held in Gaza today, coinciding with the day that Palestinians mark as the “Nakba,” or the “catastrophe,” commemorating the mass displacement of Palestinians following the creation of the state of Israel. The BBC reports.

There is the prospect of further violence, the protests that began March 30 were organized as a grassroots initiative and not by the militant Palestinian Hamas group, however Hamas called people to the border fence yesterday and may do so again today. Nir Hasson, Almog Ben Zikri, Amir Tibon, Jack Khoury, Noa Landou and Yaniv Kubovich report at Haaretz in rolling coverage.

The Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F.) stated that Hamas was “leading a terrorist operation” and inciting the protestors, claiming that protestors threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, and burned tires, and that the I.D.F. had thwarted an attack by three Palestinians in Rafah during a “particularly violent demonstration.” Ian Lee, Tamara Qiblawi, Abeer Salman and Richard Roth report at CNN.

“The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” the deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah told reporters yesterday, adding that “Israel has the right to defend itself” and declining to call for restraint or criticize Israel for its lethal response to the mass protests. Jonathan Allen reports at NBC News.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked President Trump at the opening ceremony of the embassy in Jerusalem, praising him for “having the courage to keep your promises” by relocating the embassy and recognizing the contested city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller report at Reuters.

“What a great day for the American-Israeli alliance,” Netanyahu said in a message on Twitter after the opening ceremony, during which Trump delivered a pre-recorded video message and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner delivered a speech. Ruth Eglash reports at the Washington Post.

The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank to hold a general strike today to mourn those killed in Gaza, Al Jazeera reports in rolling coverage of the day’s news.

The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called on all sides to exercise restraint and expressed alarm at the “sharp escalation of violence” in a statement yesterday. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The opening of the embassy in Jerusalem and the U.S. response to the killing of Palestinians at the border fence has increased tensions with European and Middle Eastern allies, the U.K. and France both condemned the violence and reiterated their opposition to the embassy’s opening. Jessica Donati and Farnaz Fassihi report at the Wall Street Journal.

The violence drew condemnation from various quarters, the U.N. human rights spokesperson today said that lethal force by Israel should be used as a last resort, Abbas labeled the gunfire on the protestors as a “massacre” and Turkey and South Africa announced that they would recall their ambassadors from Israel. Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report at the Washington Post.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet today to discuss the violence in Gaza following a call by Kuwait; however, diplomats said that members were unable to reach unanimous agreement yesterday on issuing the draft statement by Kuwait which would have expressed “outrage and sorrow” at the killings and called for an “independent and transparent investigation.” Jennifer Peltz reports at the AP.

The U.S. blocked the Kuwaiti draft statement calling for an investigation into the violence on Israel-Gaza border, Amir Tibon reports at Haaretz.

Members of the Security Council sent a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General yesterday expressing “profound concern” about the lack of implementation of a 2016 resolution on Israeli settlement building, 10 countries members of the 15-member Council signed the letter, which was sent on the bloodiest single day for Palestinians since 2014. Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

Turkey has called for an emergency meeting of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (O.I.C.) to discuss the violence in Gaza, with the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stating that the U.S. has “partnered” with the Israeli administration in “this crime against humanity.” Reuters reports.

The U.S. has bolstered its security presence at its embassies in Jordan, Israel and Turkey due to the unrest triggered by the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel, with U.S. officials saying that security measures are being considered in other countries in the Middle East. Courtney Kube reports at NBC News.

Reactions to the embassy move from America’s closest Gulf Arab allies have been muted, reflecting the change in focus among Gulf Arab states to the Israel-Palestine issue. Stephen Kalin and Lisa Barrington explain at Reuters.

The contrasting images of U.S. embassy opening and the suffering in Gaza were “chilling” for those who hope for peace, the New York Times editorial board writes.

The “Great March of Return” started as a wish expressed on Facebook and set off a movement, one of the organizers of the march, Ahmed Abu Ratima writes at the New York Times, explaining that he does not regret organizing the protests despite the suffering and loss of life.

The illusion of “peace in our time” died yesterday, Ben Wedeman writes at CNN, providing an analysis of Israel-Palestine relations and concluding that “a storm is coming.”

Trump fulfilled a promise that had been made by many presidents and U.S. politicians over the years, the U.S. has been right to support its friends in the region and Palestinian suffering “will continue no matter where the U.S. locates its embassy” as long as its society is animated by “bitterness.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

IRAN

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today that he had a “very good and constructive” meeting with the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, commenting after the hour-long session that both sides were on the “on the right track” to ensure that the interests of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal’s “remaining participants, particularly Iran, will be preserved and guaranteed.” The AP reports.

Zarif is due to land in Brussels today to meet his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany on the final leg of a global tour rallying diplomatic support for the country’s nuclear deal, following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement last week. AFP reports.

Russian Acting Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkovsaid said today that it would be possible to discuss the future of the Iran nuclear deal without the participation of the U.S., claiming also that it would be possible to preserve the deal without Iran making concessions and that President Trump’s decision on Iran was “rash” in the context of nuclear talks on the Korean peninsula. Katya Golubkova reports at Reuters.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today asked the E.U. to stand against the U.S.’ “illegal and illogical” actions, commenting that Tehran could only remain in the deal following the U.S. departure if it fully benefits from it. Bozorgmehr Sharafedin reports at Reuters.

Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson indicated yesterday that the navy is closely watching Iranian behaviour in the Gulf and expects a “period of uncertainty” following Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal. Idrees Ali reports at Reuters.

There is growing frustration among Trump’s European allies following his decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal, with the gulf between Europe and the U.S. demonstrated yesterday in the markedly different responses to the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and accompanying violence in Gaza. Barbara Plett Usher comments at the BBC.

IRAQ

The surprisingly strong performance of a political coalition backed by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraqi elections over the weekend will lead to a rethink amongst U.S. officials, given Sadr’s record as a vociferous critic of American policies in the Middle East and his former leadership of the militia that carried out deadly attacks on U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Tamer El-Ghobashy reports at the Washington Post.

Sadr looks likely to assume the role of kingmaker if the election results hold, capping a remarkable evolution that has seen Sadr transform from the head of a Shi’ite militia to a populist political leader. Tamer El-Ghobashy and Kareem Fahim report at the Washington Post

Sadr’s spokesman has indicated that he supports honoring commitments between Iraq and the U.S. concerning the training of Iraq’s security forces and weapons purchases and some amongst Sadr’s political allies want U.S. soldiers to stay to reinforce the Iraqi regime. Margaret Coker and Rick Gladstone report at the New York Times.

A pressing question is whether the election results mark a turning point for Iranian influence in Iraq, whose allies in Iraq’s Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces were pushed into second place by Sadr. Analysis from Simon Tisdall at the Guardian.

Abadi’s electoral performance is thought to have been hurt by a split within his Dawa party, but Abadi who has maintained good relations with both the United States and Iran might still have a senior role in a governing coalition, commenting in a televised address that “we are ready to work and cooperate in forming the strongest government for Iraq, free of corruption”. Jane Arraf reports at NPR.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider appeals by the former Blackwater private military firm convicted for the 2007 killing of 14 Iraqi civilians at a junction in Baghdad, although one amongst the convicted men – Nicholas Slatten – will be retried in separate proceedings starting June 11. Joanna Walters reports at the Guardian.

SYRIA

The leader of the Iran-backed Shi’ite Lebanese Hezbollah group said yesterday that a “new phase” opened up in the Syrian conflict last week following the launch of a volley of rockets from Syria at Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights. Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 53 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between May 4 and May 10. [Central Command]

The KOREAN PENINSULA

South Korea has indicated that it will hold high-level talks with North Korea tomorrow to discuss steps needed to denuclearize the peninsula and formally end the Korean War – pledges arising from the April 27 inter-Korean summit. Christine Kim and Cynthia Kim report at Reuters.

Commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea has started to dismantle its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, according to an analysis from U.S.-based monitor 38 North which suggests that several key operational support buildings have been destroyed since the previous analysis in April. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

North Korea will invite South Korean reporters to observe the formal destruction ceremony for Punggye-ri on May 23-May 25, South Korea’s Unification Ministry announced today. Joyce Lee reports at Reuters.

No observers from international atomic monitoring agencies have been invited to the ceremony on May 23-5, raising concerns over the transparency of the process. AFP reports.

There are safety and verification concerns surrounding the dismantling of Punggye-ri, with recent reports indicating that some areas of the test site have become unstable after the most recent and significant nuclear test last September. Josh Smith and David Brunnstrom report at Reuters.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed North Korea’s commitment to dismantle the Punggye-ri test site as an important “confidence-building measure” that will reinforce efforts towards lasting peace and denuclearization on the Peninsula, also expressing hope that the “positive momentum” will be consolidated during next month’s summit between the U.S. and North Korea. The U.N. reports.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The legal team for the Russian company Concord Management and Consulting L.L.C. has called for a federal judge for access to secret information reviewed by a grand jury impaneled by special counsel Robert Mueller, the court filing by the company – which allegedly funded the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency, also known as the Russian “troll farm” – said that Mueller had wrongfully accused them of a “make-believe crime” as part of a politically motivated investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Betsy Woodruff reports at The Daily Beast.

The Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko said yesterday that he had been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury impaneled by Mueller. Artemenko had contacts with Trump associates and advisers and proposed a peace plan to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels in the Crimea, David Stern and Josh Meyer report at POLITICO.

Mueller’s investigation has hit the one year mark and he has conducted his role with “professionalism, integrity and remarkable efficiency,” the Washington Post editorial board writes.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Senate Intelligence Committee will vote tomorrow whether to endorse Gina Haspel to lead the C.I.A., a committee aide said yesterday. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Afghan Taliban fighters have been making advances in the province of Farah, raising a challenge to the Afghan government and its ability to keep control of the area. Storay Karimi and Mohammad Stanekzai report at Reuters.

A suspected U.S. drone strike killed three al-Qaeda militants in Yemen late Monday, according to Yemeni tribal and security officials. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley yesterday criticized members of the Security Council who have prevented action in response to violence against Rohingya minority Muslims in Myanmar, effectively calling out China without naming the country specifically. Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

The U.S. diplomat Col. Joseph Emmanuel Hall has been allowed to leave Pakistan. Col. Hall’s movement had been restricted due to his involvement in a fatal car accident in Islamabad last month and the tension over his position has taken place against the backdrop of deteriorating U.S.-Pakistan relations, Salman Masood reports at the New York Times. 

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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

Robbie Stern

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