The Early Edition: August 8, 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.

IRAN

President Trump has warned trading partners that anyone who does business with Iran will not be doing business with the U.S., after his administration reimposed blanket sanctions on Tehran. The punitive measures came into force early yesterday, following Trump’s decision earlier in the year to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Josie le Blond report at the Guardian.

“These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed,” Trump said in a message on Twitter yesterday, adding “in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized the tweet as a tired cliché and denounced “U.S. unilateralism,” Reuters reports.

“The world won’t follow impulsive tweeted diktats… just ask E.U., Russia, China & dozens of our other trading partners,” Zarif wrote in an earlier message on Twitter. In a show of defiance, Zarif also held talks in Tehran with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, Al Jazeera reports.

Ri and Zarif “expressed satisfaction with existing bilateral relations and called for further expansion of ties,” according to state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, which added that the two men “also discussed the latest regional and international developments, as well as issues of mutual interest.” Samantha Beech reports at CNN.

The European Union’s. (E.U.) foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said yesterday that the organization would not let the 2015 Iran deal fall apart, urging Europeans to make their own investment decisions. The move sees the E.U. poised for a possible clash with the Trump administration, Daniel Boffey and Saeed Kamali Dehgjan report at the Guardian.

“If E.U. companies abide by U.S. secondary sanctions they will, in turn, be sanctioned by the E.U.,” Mogherini’s aide Nathalie Tocci told BBC Radio 4 on Monday, adding that such steps would be necessary “in order to signal, diplomatically, to the Iranians that Europeans are serious” about preserving the nuclear agreement. Jaqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.

“As a matter of principle we are against sanctions in the region … blockade and sanctions destroy societies and do not weaken regimes,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said yesterday at a news conference, adding that his administration considered U.S. sanctions on Iran to be “a strategic mistake and incorrect but we will abide by them to protect the interests of our people.” Reuters reports.

Iranian hackers are developing software attacks that render computer systems inoperable until a digital ransom is paid, according to a new report, with the potential threat coming as the U.S. re-imposes sanctions on Tehran. Robert McMillan reports at the Wall Street Journal.

An explainer for the new sanctions regime is provided at the BBC.

Iran’s economy and people are braced for a period of uncertainty, Amir Vahdat and Mehdi Fattahi explain at AP.

The Trump administration cannot be sure of the practical efficacy of the sanctions nor whether the price paid by the Iranian people can be morally justified, Afua Hirsch comments at the Guardian.

With the re-imposition of sanctions ending a temporary respite in conflict between the U.S. and Iran, Robin Wright questions at the New Yorker: “who will last longer – Trump or Iran’s theocrats?”

Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force Qassem Soleimani is considered by many in the U.S. defense community as a notable enemy, but attempting to take him out would be a mistake, Borzou Daragahi explains at The Daily Beast.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) must preserve the emails of former F.B.I. Director James Comey, a judge ordered on Monday, saying it should ensure that the records are “potentially responsive” to any Freedom of Information Act requests. The firing of Comey by President Trump last year is a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, John Bowden reports at the Hill.

Trump “mentioned” ending Mueller’s investigation “about 20 times” over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday, adding he had told Trump that he had so far seen “zero evidence” of collusion between the president and Russia. Rebecca Shabad reports at the NBC News.

An explanation of why Kristin M. Davis, known as the “Manhattan Madam,” is a person of interest in Mueller’s investigation is provided by Alan Feuer at the New York Times.

MANAFORT TRIAL

The trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort reached its sixth day yesterday, featuring the testimony of Manafort’s associate Rick Gates. Manafort’s trial is the first to arise from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election – and although Manafort faces charges of tax- and bank-fraud unrelated to Russia and the presidential race, Gates’s testimony sees two former senior campaign aides pitted against each other. Katelyn Polantz, Jeremy Herb, Elizabeth Landers and Liz Stark report at CNN.

Gates began his evidence by describing how he helped Manafort evade U.S. taxes on millions of dollars earned from political consulting work the two men performed in Ukraine, taking the jury through the foreign bank accounts used by Manafort to receive payments from Ukrainian politicians – cash that was not reported to the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S). Gates has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is cooperating with the government, AFP reports.

Gates said that by the time he and Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 vendors were chasing Manafort about unpaid bills. Manafort nonetheless worked for the Trump presidential campaign for no pay, apparently hoping that the connection alone would help him secure business, Sharon La Franiere and Kenneth P. Vogel report at the New York Times.

“This is Manafort’s trial, but it reflects on Trump’s style and judgment,” Dana Milbank argues at the Washington Post.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

“The United States has lived up to the Singapore declaration. It is just North Korea that has not taken the steps that we feel are necessary to denuclearize,” the White House national security adviser John Bolton said yesterday, referring to the meeting in June between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore and an agreement signed between the two. Demetri Sevastopulo reports at the Financial Times.

“What we really need is not more rhetoric. What we need is performance from North Korea on denuclearization,” Bolton also said, adding that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is prepared to travel to Pyongyang for another meeting with Kim. Al Jazeera reports.

SYRIA

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army has been building up its ground forces beyond its pre-civil war size, the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday, explaining that the Syrian military “is not satisfied with just taking over all of Syrian territory but is expressly building a broad-based, new ground army that will return to its previous proportions and beyond.” Reuters reports.

The U.S.-led coalition’s retreat from northeastern Syria could grant Russian and Iran greater influence over the country, analysts have warned, arguing that Washington should pursue efforts to stabilize the area after the Islamic State group has been defeated. Lara Seligman reports at Foreign Policy.

A map setting out the territory controlled by various parties to the conflict in Syria is provided by Alia Chugtai at Al Jazeera.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 20 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between July 30 and Aug. 5. [Central Command]

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Israel Defense Force (I.D.F.) said it fired at a Hamas facility in northern Gaza this morning in response to fire from the Gaza Strip aimed at Israeli security forces. According to reports in Gaza, the tank fire killed two members of the al-Nukhba elite unit from the Palestinian militant group’s military wing – the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades. Jack Khoury reports at Haaretz.

The two dead have been identified as Ahmed Murjan and Abdel-Hafez al-Silawi, both 23 years old. Hamas warned in a statement that “the resistance cannot allow the occupation to impose a policy of bombing sites and targeting fighters without paying the price,” Al Jazeera reports.

A video released by I.D.F. shows two men in a watchtower, said to be in northern Gaza, and puffs of smoke as one appears to open fire. Hamas claimed that the border post was hit during an “exhibition” by a naval commando unit that was being watched by several Hamas leaders, the BBC reports.

The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is calling on Israel to allow emergency fuel into the Gaza Strip to avert the shutdown of hospitals and sanitation facilities, with one representative calling the restriction of fuel imports “a dangerous practice, with grave consequences on the rights of people in Gaza.” The AP reports.

The I.D.F. sounded air defense sirens near the Gaza Strip this morning, although the I.D.F. later confirmed that this was a false alarm. Reuters reports.

U.S.-TURKEY RELATIONS

Turkey will send a delegation of top officials to Washington this week to try to improve relations with the U.S. which have been undermined by a series of spats, including Turkey’s detention of American Pastor Andrew Brunson and disputes over trade. David Gauthier-Villars reports at the Wall Street Journal.

It is possible that the U.S. and Turkish officials will agree a deal when they meet, which may involve exchanging Brunson for a convicted Turkish national in the United States. Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.  

U.S. SPACE FORCE

“We need to address space as a developing war fighting domain and a combatant command is certainly one thing that we can establish. This is a process we’re in,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday, expressing his full support for President Trump’s direction in June that the Pentagon begin the process of establishing a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Vice President Mike Pence is the “point man” when it comes to the proposed Space Force, Mattis told reporters. According to two sources in Pence’s office, the Vice President will discuss the future of the U.S. military in space when he visits the Pentagon on Thursday, Ryan Browne and Elizabeth Landers report at CNN.

GEORGIA N.A.T.O. ACCESSION

N.A.T.O.-aspirant countries such as Georgia and Ukraine should be offered a realistic road map to membership, the former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili comments at the New York Times.

Since the Russo-Georgian War ten years ago, the West has spent a decade playing into Putin’s hands; to that extent, Trump is reading from a familiar script, Robert Kagan argues at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the issue of nuclear arms control and new weapons limits when he met with President Trump for a summit meeting in Helsinki last month, according to a Russian document obtained by POLITICO. Many details regarding the content of the two leaders’ discussions remain unclear, Bryan Bender reports at POLITICO.

At least a dozen Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban were killed by a U.S. airstrike, Afghan officials said yesterday, with a spokesperson for the governor of Logar province explaining that U.S. airstrikes had been called in for support but mistakenly targeted an Afghan police outpost due to a misunderstanding. Mujib Mashal and Farooq Jan Mangal report at the New York Times.

Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (D.-Md.) yesterday asked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to review a Russian oligarch’s investment in a company that runs part of the Maryland election system. Sylvain Lane reports at the Hill.

The Saudi-led coalition has hit the international airport in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a with an average of one bomb every two weeks, according to the aid groups the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International, citing figures from the war monitor the Yemen Data Project. The Saudi-led coalition has been at war with the Iran-aligned Yemeni Houthi rebels since 2015, the AP reports.

The international community appears to be following a “failed blueprint” in Somalia, Amanda Sperber writes at Foreign Policy, noting the fragmented approach to nation-building and training the national army, and arguing that this undermines the security situation and the attempts to defeat the al-Shabab terrorist group.

Saudi Arabia’s lashing out at Canada for criticisms of human rights violations reveals the weakness of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the emptiness of his program of reform. Steven A. Cook writes at Foreign Policy. 

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).