The Early Edition: May 6, 2019

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-PALESTINE

Palestinians said early today that a ceasefire has been reached with Israel, following the worst bout of combat since the last full-blown war in 2014. The outbreak of violence appears to have begun on Friday when a sniper wounded two Israeli soldiers; in the conflict that ensued, Palestinian rocket and missile attacks killed four Israelis while Gaza officials announced that the death toll for Palestinians had reached 22. David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner report at the New York Times.

Israel has not confirmed the truce, but its military has lifted emergency measures in place in southern Israel, the BBC reports, putting the Palestinian death toll at 25.

Palestinian militant group Hamas – in control of the Gaza strip – announced that the Egypt-brokered truce went into effect at 4:30 a.m. and included commitments from Israel to lift some restrictions on the strip, such as expanding Gaza’s fishing area, allowing more cash into Gaza for infrastructure and employment and developing Gaza’s power plant, Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Israeli officials say more than 600 rockets were launched from Gaza since Friday, with 150 of them intercepted by its Iron Dome defense system. Israel confirmed that it had launched 320 retaliatory strikes on targets under the control of militant groups in Gaza, The Daily Beast reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday ordered “massive strikes” on the Gaza Strip. Palestinian casualties included a pregnant woman and two infants, Al Jazeera reports.

Hamas commander Hamed Ahmed Abed Khudri was killed yesterday in what the Israel Defense Force described as a targeted strike and Palestinians said was the first such action since the 2014 war in the Palestinian enclave. Khudri had been responsible for transferring funds from Iran to armed factions in Gaza, Reuters reports.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said he is following the Israel-Palestine developments with “deep concern,” urging all parties to exercise maximum restraint. Guterres condemned “in the strongest terms the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, particularly the targeting of civilian population centers,” the U.N. News Centre reports.

U.S. President Trump last night weighed in on the conflict, putting the onus on Palestinians to “END the violence and work towards peace” in a series of messages sent on Twitter. “Once again, Israel faces a barrage of deadly rocket attacks by terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad … we support Israel 100% in its defense of its citizens,” Trump wrote, Zack Budryk reports at the Hill.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

President Trump said yesterday he does not want special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before Congress after House Judiciary Committee member Rep. David Cicilline (D.-RI) raised expectations by telling ‘Fox News Sunday’ that the panel had tentatively set a May 15 date for Mueller to testify. Timothy Puko and Sadie Gurman report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Bob Mueller should not testify … No redos for the Dems!” Trump stated in a late night series of messages sent on Twitter yesterday. “After spending more than $35,000,000 over a two year period, interviewing 500 people, using 18 Trump Hating Angry Democrats & 49 F.B.I. Agents – all culminating in a more than 400 page Report showing NO COLLUSION – why would the Democrats in Congress now need Robert Mueller… to testify … are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion … there was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the Report), and NO OBSTRUCTION,” the president added. Felicia Somnez reports at the Washington Post.

The statement marked something of a U-turn for the president, who had claimed Friday that it was up to Attorney General William Barr whether Mueller testified. The president’s about-face now puts new pressure on Barr, who must decide whether to accede to Trump’s call; last week, Barr said he had no objection to Mueller testifying, Michael Tackett and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

Cicilline yesterday warned Barr that he faces a contempt citation if the attorney general does not comply with requests for documents relating to Mueller’s report. “I think if the attorney general does not, the chairman will ask the committee to move forward with a contempt citation,” Cicilline said during his Fox News Sunday interview, adding that House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) had given Barr until 9 a.m. today to produce a less-redacted version of the Mueller report and documents referenced in it, Rachel Frazin reports at the Hill.

Trump said he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an hour-long call, covering issues including the “Russian hoax.” “Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin,” the president announced in a message on Twitter sent Friday; the purported conversation would mark the first between the leaders since the redacted Mueller report was released, the BBC reports.

President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen today begins his three-year prison sentence at the minimum-security Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York. Cohen is serving time for campaign-finance violations related to hush-money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels on Trump’s behalf, The Daily Beast reports.

Barr is facing accusations of bias in his stance toward Trump, “acting as the president’s personal lawyer rather than a guardian of the constitution.” Lauren Gambino provides an analysis at the Guardian.

“Mueller believed in his own purity so much that he was blinded to his naïveté,” Maureen Dowd comments at the New York Times, arguing that the special counsel has been outmaneuvered by Barr.

“The [Mueller] Report treats the campaign finance issues almost cursorily… even to the point of failing to identify and address all the applicable law,” Bob Bauer comments at Just Security, explaining the significance of this shortcoming.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea appears to have tested a new short-range missile early yesterday. The test was quickly played down by President Trump and his top advisers, who noted it was not the kind of long-range missile North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has refrained from launching since 2017; however, the sudden activity has alarmed Washington’s regional allies and suggests that Kim’s missiles are improving. Eric Talmadge reports at the AP.

Kim reportedly oversaw the test firing, stressing the need to “increase the combat ability so as to defend the political sovereignty and economic self-sustenance” of North Korea in the face of threats and invasions. Reuters] reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated yesterday that the U.S. still sees “a path forward” in its nuclear talks with Pyongyang. “It’s a serious situation for sure and we’ve known that the path to fully verified denuclearization would be a bumpy and long one,” Pompeo said on A.B.C’s “This Week,” adding that “we still believe there’s a path forward,” AFP reports.

IRAN

The U.S. is sending a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region to send a “clear and unmistakable message” to Iran, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton announced last night in a written statement. Bolton claimed that Washington is not seeking to go to war with Tehran, but “we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” Alex Johnson and Abigail Williams report at NBC.

“Any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force,” Bolton added. It is unclear where specifically the carrier will be sent, but U.S. Central Command is responsible for the U.S.’ military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and central Asia, Aime Williams reports at the Financial Times.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the deployments have been in the works for “a little while.” “We will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests … and the fact that … if those actions take place, if they do by some third-party proxy, a Shi’ite militia group, the Houthis or Hezbollah, we will hold the Iranian leadership directly accountable for that,” Pompeo added, Kate Sullivan, Barbara Starr and Brad Lendon report at CNN.

SYRIA

Syrian government forces and Russian allies have intensified their air offensive on the country’s rebel-held northwest for a fifth consecutive day in an expanding campaign, killing and wounding dozens and forcing thousands to flee their homes. Government and Russian warplanes escalated bombings Saturday, striking the rebel-held province of Idlib and neighboring province of Hama, according to aid workers in the area, Al Jazeera reports.

Warplanes struck a hospital in Idlib province yesterday, knocking it out of service.
U.K.-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian warplanes were behind the attack on the main hospital in the rebel-held village of Hass, Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.

“Moscow is now shifting focus to another objective: The Kremlin would like Syria to provide it a financial windfall,” Anchal Vohra writes at Foreign Policy.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between April 6 and April 20 [Central Command].

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Afghan forces battled for hours against Taliban insurgents who stormed a police headquarters in the northern city of Pul-e-Khumri, after a suicide bomber blew up his explosive-laden car, killing at least 13 people, officials announced yesterday. Reuters reports.

The U.N. mission to Libya is calling for a week-long ceasefire in the capital Tripoli, where forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar are battling militias loosely allied with a U.N.-supported government, the AP reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated yesterday that the Trump administration is preparing to pull the trigger on a broad range of measures to oust Venezuelan incumbent President Nicolás Maduro, demanding that other countries end their involvement in the nation’s affairs. “We have a full range of options that we’re preparing for,” Pompeo told ABC’s This Week, adding that potential strategies include “diplomatic options, political options, options with our allies and then ultimately a set of options that would involve use of U.S. military,” Vanessa Romo reports at NPR.

President Trump said yesterday that he intends to appoint former U.S. Border Patrol chief Mark Morgan to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Reuters reports.

In order to get hold of President Trump’s tax returns – Congress should sue Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin based on his failure to comply with a 1924 law found in 26 USC 6103(f)(1)), rather than seek the information through a subpoena, George K. Yin argues at POLITICO Magazine. 

About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

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