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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.
President Trump announced yesterday that the U.S. should acknowledge Israeli sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights, in a significant boost for his ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “After 52 years it is time for the U.S. to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Trump said in a message sent on Twitter, describing the Golan as being “of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Anne Gearan, Loveday Morris and Carol Morello report at the Washington Post.
The Golan is a strategic area seized from Syria and annexed by Israel in a move never recognized by the international community, AFP reports.
The move comes just days before Netanyahu is set to join Trump at the White House and follows weeks during which Netanyahu has renewed his push for the U.S. to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel, Jeremy Diamond and Jennifer Hansler report at CNN.
Netanyahu publicly thanked Trump, sending a message on Twitter stating: “at a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognises Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights … thank you President Trump!” Reuters reports.
Trump claimed that his decision was not a move to boost Netanyahu ‘s prospects in the upcoming reelection race. “No, I wouldn’t even know about that,” Trump told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo in an interview to air today, Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.
Syria condemned Trump’s announcement as “irresponsible,” with Syrian state news agency publishing a statement remarking that the decision illustrated the “blind bias” of the U.S. towards Israel. The statement added that Syria was determined to recover the area “through all available means,” the BBC reports.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
The Trump administration yesterday increased pressure on North Korea, imposing new sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies that it alleges have been assisting Pyongynang avoid international sanctions. “The U.S. and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related U.N. Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement, Alan Rappeport reports at the New York Times.
The sanctions were the first that the Treasury Department has imposed since late last year and come less than a month after the collapsed Hanoi summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Al Jazeera reports.
North Korea announced this morning that it would be pulling its staff out of a key liaison office with South Korea. The office, located on the North Korean side of the militarized border, was supposed to be a central point in negotiations between the two countries, but representatives from the two Koreas have not met there since the failed Hanoi summit; the Seoul administration “expressed its regret at the decision and is urging staff from the North to return as soon as possible,” The Daily Beast reports.
The government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro intensified its campaign against opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó yesterday as intelligence agents in ski masks arrested Guaidó’s chief of staff Roberto Marrero in a predawn raid. Maduro’s administration did not comment on the arrest of Marrero, taken from his home in the Venezuelan capital by armed officers of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, according to his neighbor and fellow opposition lawmaker Sergio Vergara, Kejal Vyas reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. warned of “consequences” should Maduro continue the crackdown. A U.S. State Department spokesperson called for Marrero’s release, commenting “the detentions show Maduro is betting on repression to hold on to power. It will not stand … there will be consequences for a continued crackdown,” Reuters reports.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton commented that Maduro and his allies would be “strangled financially” if they continued to hold onto power. “As President Trump clearly stated, the toughest sanctions are yet to come … unless Maduro’s usurpation ends, he and his cronies will be strangled financially … the window is closing,” Bolton said in a message on Twitter, Reuters reports.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) continued to fight Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) militants holed up in the eastern Baghouz area overnight, supported by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, seeking to defeat the last pockets of resistance from the militants. The S.D.F has been battling for weeks to defeat I.S.I.S. at the Baghouz enclave at the Iraqi border, Reuters reports.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 99 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Feb. 24 and March 9 [Central Command]
Two U.S. service members were killed today while conducting an operation in Afghanistan, according to a statement from the N.A.T.O.-led Resolute Support mission in the capital Kabul. The statement did not specify the location of the combat or say who the soldiers were fighting; in accordance with U.S. Department of Defense policy, the names of the service members killed in action are being withheld until after notification of the next of kin, the AP reports.
The Islamic State group today claimed responsibility for yesterday’s string of bombings near a Shi’ite shrine and cemetery in Kabul that killed six people and wounded 20. The AP reports.
CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY
Employees of tech giant Facebook were aware of concerns about “improper data-gathering practices” by political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica months before initial reports in December 2015 that the organization had obtained data on millions of people from an academic. The concerns appeared in a court filing by the attorney general for Washington D.C. and were subsequently confirmed by Facebook, Julia Carrie Wong reports at the Guardian.
Facebook announced yesterday that an internal security review found the passwords of hundreds of millions of users had been stored on company servers without encryption, although no passwords were leaked and the company has found no indication the sensitive data was improperly accessed. The issue was first reported by security researcher Brian Krebs, who published a blog post yesterday claiming that Facebook employees built applications that captured the passwords of users and stored them as plain text; Facebook issued its own post on the security issue shortly after Krebs’ post, Jason Abbruzzese reports at NBC.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
The attorney for Trump senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that Kushner uses private messaging applications and personal email to communicate about official White House matters, the committee wrote in a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone yesterday. The oversight panel said that Kushner had been using the platform WhatsApp as part of his official duties — an apparent violation of a law governing White House records, Tim Mak reports at NPR.
The White House is rejecting a “sweeping” request from House Democrats for documents and interviews related to President Trump’s communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Cipollon has written a letter asserting that the president’s diplomatic communications are confidential and protected by executive privilege, describing the Democratic requests as beyond Congress’s legitimate realm of inquiry, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
A rising China is driving the U.S. Army’s new game plan in the Pacific, Lara Seligman explains at Foreign Policy.
An analysis of how strongmen leaders are using Interpol red notices to serve their ends is provided by Matt Apuzzo at the New York Times.