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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) air and ground troops began attacking the Gaza Strip early Friday; initial reports suggested troops had crossed over into Gaza to exact their assault but a spokesperson for IDF later clarified this was not the case. Lt. Jonathan Conricus said the operation targeted a system of tunnels Hamas has spent years building underneath Gaza’s streets. “The aim of that joint activity of air and ground forces was to deliver a severe blow to Hamas’s underground tunnel system, which we refer to as the ‘metro,’ which is essentially a city beneath the city of Gaza,” he said. “It is a strategic asset that Hamas has invested many years of effort and time and significant resources to construct …. The focus is on direct, precision fire based on live intelligence using air, ground and cyber forces at a fast tempo,” he added. Michael E. Miller, Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin report for the Washington Post.
120 U.S. military personnel from the Central Command and European Command were pulled from Israel and landed in Ramstein Air Base in Germany earlier on Thursday “in coordination with our Israeli counterparts,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The worsening conflict is causing difficulties for Arab nations that recently normalized relations with Israel, with waves of pro-Palestinian protests taking place across the Middle East and beyond. The Abraham Accords saw the U.A.E., Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan all sign agreements with Israel, however now that “events have descended into deadly violence, any further public warming of relations between the Arab states and Israel has been put on hold,” Frank Gardner reports for BBC News.
The U.N. Security Council is going to meet on Sunday to publicly discuss the worsening violence between Israel and Palestinian militants. The meeting comes after a compromise had been reached to U.S. objections to a meeting today. Reuters reporting.
The U.S. blocking of tactics on Israel-Palestine have frustrated U.N. Security Council members and Biden’s “U.N. honeymoon is over”. The U.S. twice this week used its veto power to block agreement on a U.N. statement and issued a last-minute objection to an open debate on the issue. Ryan Heath for POLITICO.
Airstrikes, artillery and tanks continued their attack on the Palestinian enclave while at least three brigades of troops readied for action. The number and type of IDF units present are unclear. Steve Hendrix, Shira Rubin and Michael E. Miller report for the Washington Post.
Clashes and violent riots between Arab and Jewish mobs in Israeli street raises concern of a “civil war.” “We need to solve our problems without causing a civil war that can be a danger to our existence, more than all the dangers we have from the outside,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, adding, “the silent majority is not saying a thing, because it is utterly stunned.” Declan Walsh and Eric Nagourney report for the New York Times.
Mobs of right-wing nationalist Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis protesting in support of Palestinians in Gaza target each other in Israeli cities including Sheikh Jarrah, Damascus Gate in the Old City Acre, Tamra and Umm Al Fahm. Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the call-up of 10 reserve Border Patrol companies to assist with policing the violence, with about 400 people arrested. Felicia Schwartz reports for the Washington Post.
Curfews imposed Wednesday in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, the epicenter of the violent riots, have done little to calm the violence. Issabel Kershner reports for the New York Times.
As of early Friday morning, Hamas had fired around 1,800 rockets from Gaza, many more than in previous clashes, with Israeli intelligence estimating there to be a stockpile of 30,000 rockets and mortar projectiles in Gaza. Monaa El-Naggar reports for the New York Times.
Despite blockades on Palestinian militants, they have been able to amass their arsenal by Iranian support, ingenuity and innovation, repurposing plumbing popes and Israeli-fired duds. The rate and range of rocket fire has shocked both Israel’s government and other weapons and military experts. Mona El-Naggar reports for the New York Times.
What weapons do Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have and how powerful are they? Claire Parker and Adam Taylor report for the Washington Post.
The State Department issues a travel advisory for Americans to “reconsider travel” for Israel the West Bank and Gaza. The department said it has raised its travel advisory “to Level 3 — ‘reconsider travel’. It had previously been at Level 2, which recommends travelers ‘exercise increased caution,’” reports AP.
More than 100 progressive groups have released a joint statement calling on the Biden administration to condemn the Israeli government over policies they say amount to war crimes against Palestinians. The statement focuses on the potential forced evictions of Palestinians in east Jerusalem, which has also drawn scrutiny from the United Nations and concern from the European Union. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Biden has said efforts to restore calm in the Middle East is a “work in progress.” The U.S. strategy has been to get the violence to stop and restore what officials called a sustainable calm. Biden told reporters yesterday that “there has not been a significant overreaction” by the Israelis to the attacks. “The question is how they get to a point where there is a significant reduction in the attacks, particularly the rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centers,” he said. “It’s a work in progress right now.” Steve Holland and Michelle Nichols report for Reuters.
Live updates on the clashes from Al Jazeera.
Bombs have killed 11 Afghan citizens, wounding at least 13 others, on the first of the three-day cease fire, to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. Four separate roadside bombings occurred in Afghanistan yesterday, though there were no reports of direct fighting between Taliban insurgents and government forces. Reuters reporting.
There are renewed calls for President Biden to leave some U.S. forces behind in Afghanistan following new battlefield gains by the Taliban and a spate of terrorist attacks, including the weekend bombing that killed at least 50 girls. The finger-pointing over who will be to blame over Afghanistan has also already begun, with Biden’s allies arguing that the Trump administration is most responsible for the current situation. Bryan Bender reports for POLITICO.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and top GOP member Rep. Michael McCaul (TX) have called for “all available tools, including sanctions and other restrictive measures, to hold all perpetrators accountable and bring an end the conflict” in the Tigray region after reports that Eritrean soldiers were blocking critical aid to starving and wounded civilians in the region. Veronica Stracqualursi and Nima Elbagir report for CNN.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) pressures Biden to nominate ambassadors for El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras. “The State Department has appointed Ricardo Zúñiga to serve as a special envoy for the region, in part to carry out the root causes strategy. But the administration has yet to make any ambassador nominations in Latin America, and the U.S. has been without an ambassador in Honduras since the start of the Trump administration,” reports Rebecca Beitsch for The Hill.
The Biden administration’s approach to Chad has received criticism from human rights organizations and civil society groups for not pushing for democratic reforms in the country or human rights reforms. Earlier this month, President Biden’s envoy to the U.N. paid tribute to the late leader of Chad, lauding Idriss Déby as “a leader and a partner who dedicated his life to the fight against violent extremism” and “a military man at his core.” However, there was little mention of “Déby’s checkered human rights record over the course of his three decades of rule, or the spurious transfer of power after his death, in which the Chadian Army appointed Déby’s son as interim ruler in an apparent violation of the country’s constitution that bears the hallmarks of a military coup,” Foreign Policy reports.
The mystery attacks on U.S. citizens abroad, some of which have led to traumatic brain injury, need to be solved argues the Washington Post.
The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin have discussed the importance of renewed commitment to multilateralism during virtual talks held yesterday. “Their talks also covered a number of international and regional peace, security and humanitarian issues and the need to resolve conflicts through political dialogue, mutual respect and understanding,” UN News Centre reports.
Conservative group Project Veritas, aided by British former spy Richard Seddon, launched a campaign during former President Trump’s office to discredit any of his perceived “enemies” within government, according to documents and people involved in the operations. “The campaign included a planned sting operation against Mr. Trump’s national security adviser at the time, H.R. McMaster, and secret surveillance operations against F.B.I. employees, aimed at exposing anti-Trump sentiment in the bureau’s ranks … Female undercover operatives arranged dates with the F.B.I. employees with the aim of secretly recording them making disparaging comments about Mr. Trump,” report Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti for the New York Times.
A group of House Democrats are pushing to end the giving of military-grade gear to the police. The group are introducing a bill, sponsored by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and co-sponsored by 17 other House Democrats, which would repeal the program that allows the Pentagon to send excess equipment to local police departments. Rebecca Kheel reports for the The Hill.
New York prosecutors subpoena information from a Manhattan private school that the grandchildren of the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer attend. Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg paid more than half a million dollars in tuition fees with checks signed by himself or Trump. Former prosecutors not involved in the probe have said that the Manhattan district attorney’s office could be examining whether the Weisselbergs evaded taxes with the tuition-payment arrangement. Corinne Ramey reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Joel Greenberg, the ex-Florida tax collector with close ties to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), is planning to plead guilty on Monday in a federal court in Florida. Greenberg will cooperate with investigators in a wide-ranging probe examining whether Gaetz broke federal sex trafficking, prostitution and public corruption laws and whether he had sex with a minor. Katelyn Polantz and Paula Reid report for CNN.
Judge Peter A. Cahill postponed until March 2022 the criminal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd to allow for a federal case against them and Derek Chauvin to move forward. The delay in the trial of the three former officers who are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder allows for a separate federal case against them to move forward. “We need some distance from all the publicity that has occurred [from the Chauvin trial] and is going to occur,” Judge Cahill said. Matt Faber reports for the New York Times.
The military sexual assault reform bill has received sufficient bipartisan support to pass in the Senate. The bill, written by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), would remove decisions about whether to prosecute sexual assault and several other serious crimes from the hands of military commanders, instead trained military prosecutors would decide. The support means that the bill can now move forward “after years of pushback from the Defense Department,” Ellen Mitchell reports for the The Hill.
PIPELINE RANSOMWARE ATTACK
President Biden confirmed that the hackers were likely based in Russia but were not backed by the Russian government. “We have been in direct communication with Moscow about the imperative for responsible countries to take decisive action against ransomware networks,” Biden explained. “We are also going to pursue a measure to disrupt their ability to operate,” he added. Maggie Miller reports for the The Hill.
Biden will not rule out retaliatory cyberattacks targeting DarkSide, the criminal group that carried out the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack. Kevin Liptak and Veronica Stracqualursi, report for CNN.
Colonial Pipeline paid roughly 75 Bitcoin, or nearly $5 million, in ransom to hackers to recover its stolen data. The payment has cleared the way for gas to begin flowing again, but it has complicated Biden’s efforts to deter future ransomware attacks. Michael Shear, Nicole Perlroth and Clifford Krauss report for the New York Times.
JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK
An active-duty Maine Corps Major, Maj. Christopher Warnagiris, has been arrested and charged for allegedly assaulting police during the Jan. 6 attack. He is believed to be the first active-duty military service member to be charged in connection with the attack. “According to an FBI document filed in federal court, security camera footage from the Capitol on Jan. 6 shows Warnagiris forcing his way through East Rotunda doors,” Ryan Lucas reports for NPR.
The ongoing investigation into the Jan. 6 attack and prosecutions are the subject of analysis in a report by Devlin Barrett, Abigail Hauslohner, Spencer Hsu and Ashlyn Still for the Washington Post.
Much of the production of parts for solar panels may rely on the exploitation of Uighur communities in the Xinjiang region and other ethnic and religious minorities. A new report “presents evidence of a troubling reality: that components for clean energy may be created with dirty coal and forced labor,” Clare Duffy reports for CNN Business.
Mosques have been disappearing in Xinjiang as part of an effort by China to “build a beautiful Xinjiang.” “Researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimated in 2020, after a survey of 900 Xinjiang locations, that 16,000 mosques had been partially or completely destroyed over the previous three years … At several mosques, Islamic architecture was replaced with Chinese-style roofing. These included Changji’s Tianchi road mosque, whose gold dome and minarets were removed in 2018, according to publicly available satellite images,” Reuters reporting.
The U.K.’s biggest naval fleet in decades is preparing to set sail to the Indo-Pacific, with a focus on China and the U.S.. “The approach seeks to cement the ‘special relationship’ with the U.S. while bolstering alliances within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and across the globe,” James Marson and Max Colchester report for the Wall Street Journal.
A Japanese journalist has been released by Myanmar. The state-run MRTV said that the journalist was released as recognition of Myanmar’s close relationship with Japan and comes as a journalist who worked for the Democratic Voice of Burma was found sentenced to three years in prison yesterday. Al Jazeera reports.
Myanmar’s junta has declared martial law in the town of Chin State after accusing “armed terrorists” for attacks on a police station and a bank, state media reported on Friday. Reuters reporting.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A top Russian admiral has complained about increasing NATO military drills near Russia’s border. Admiral Alexander Moiseyev, the commander of Russia’s Northern Fleet, said that the drills “are provocative and have a negative impact on regional security,” and that NATO’s navy presence in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea have reached levels unseen since World War II. AP reporting.
Turkey’s Karpowership is shutting down power to Lebanon. Turkey’s Karpowership, which provides electricity to Lebanon from two barges, said it would have to shut down supplies unless there were moves to settling issues over payment arrears and a legal threat to its vessels. Edmund Blair and Can Sezar report for Reuters.
Canada’s ethics watchdog has cleared Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of wrongdoing in the political scandal relating to the WE Charity. However, the watchdog has found former finance minister Bill Morneau to have breached federal ethics rules in the scandal. BBC News reports.
Ireland’s health service operator was the target of a significant ransomware attack, shutting down all its systems Friday. “It’s a very sophisticated attack, not just the standard attack. It is impacting all of our national and local systems that would be involved in all of our core services,” Health and Safety Executive Chief Executive Paul Reid told national broadcaster RTE. Reuters reporting.
Toshiba Tec France Imaging System said today that DarkSide, the hacking group blamed for attacking Colonial Pipeline, had targeted it in a ransomware attack on May 4. “The unit of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba Corp said in a statement that only a minimal amount of work data was lost during the cyberattack and no leaks of data had been detected. It said it had put protective measures in place immediately after the attack,” Reuters reporting.
Saudi Arabia has released from prison Bakr Bin Laden, former chair of Saudi Bin Ladin group and a half-brother of Osama bin Laden, after more than three years being detained as part of a corruption crackdown in 2017. Reuters reporting.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has appointed diplomat Elisabetta Belloni as the chief of the country’s spy agency, the first woman to lead the Department of Information Security. Reuters reporting.
French President Emmanuel Macron has demanded that Azerbaijan immediately withdraw its troops from Armenia’s border areas. “Azerbaijan’s armed forces have invaded Armenian territory. They must be immediately withdrawn,” Macron said on Facebook. Ned Price, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said that the United States, which along with France is part of the Minsk Group brokering diplomatic talks on the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, was “closely following” the recent tensions. DW reports.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet his Irish counterpart Michael Martin in England on Friday to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland and broader Brexit issues, the Irish Government has said. Reuters reporting.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 32.85 million and now killed over 584,400 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 161.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.34 million deaths.
Fully vaccinated Americans no longer need masks or to physically distance in many cases, even when indoors, according to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At a briefing, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said, “we have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.” “Based on the continuing downward trajectory of cases, the scientific data on the performance of our vaccines and our understanding of how the virus spreads, that moment has come for those who are fully vaccinated.” Yasmeen Abutaleb and Laurie McGinley report for the Washington Post.
Following the CDC guidance, the White House has lifted its mandate for staff and visitors to wear masks on the complex. Anita Kumar, Ben Leonard and Sarah Ferris report for POLITICO.
Biden has hailed a “great day for America” as he removed his mask in the Oval Office. BBC News reports.
The State Department has condemned the political use of vaccines after Taiwan blasted China for seeking to use vaccines to make diplomatic inroads with Honduras, one of Taipei’s allies. Honduras has said it was considering opening an office in China to be able to acquire Covid-19 vaccines, prompting Taipei to criticize Beijing for pushing a vaccine-for-recognition deal. “We condemn the cynical use of potentially life-saving medical assistance to advance the narrow political agendas of certain donors,” a State Department spokesperson has told Reuters. Michael Martina reporting for Reuters.
India variants of Covid-19 are spreading across the world as the number of recorded Covid-19 infections in India climbs above 24 million, with 4,000 deaths recorded over the last 24 hours. “The B.1.617 variant of the virus, first identified in India, has been found in cases in eight countries of the Americas, including Canada and the United States, Jairo Mendez, a World Health Organization (WHO) infectious diseases expert said on Friday,” Al Jazeera reports.
A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.
Latest updates on the pandemic at the Guardian.