Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Tuesday, September 13, 2016, 2:28 PM

A nationwide ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia is mostly holding across Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that it has not recorded a civilian death from fighting in the 15 hours since the ceasefire was implemented on Monday evening, though the watchdog group said that pro-government forces had conducted scattered air attacks in the hours immediately following the ceasefire. Syrian state media said armed rebel groups had violated the truce in a number of locations around Aleppo since early Tuesday morning. This ceasefire, which marks the second attempt this year to halt the bloodshed in Syria, does not include jihadist groups such as the Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, al Qaeda’s former franchise in Syria. Both Reuters and the Washington Post have more.

But the Financial Times notes that neither Syrian President Bashar al-Assad nor the rebels appear particularly committed to the deal. Assad vowed just hours before the truce that he would retake the entire country, while rebel groups bitterly complained that the deal was stacked against them. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States had observed a drop in violence in Syria since the ceasefire came into effect, but stated that it was too early to draw definitive conclusions.

The Associated Press offers an updating timeline of the ceasefire. Turkey’s military shelled two targets inside Syria minutes after the truce began in response to a mortar round from its war-torn neighbor landed inside its territory. But Ankara also delivered 20 convoys full with food, clothing, and children’s toys for Aleppo. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had promised this aid on Monday to celebrate Eid al-Adha.

The Associated Press also writes that Israeli military struck artillery positions in Syria after a projectile from that country’s civil war hit the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights on Tuesday. The incident was the fifth case since last week in which fighting in Syria has spilled over into Israel. Syria’s armed forces claimed to have shot down an Israeli warplane and an unmanned drone along the frontier between the countries, but the Israeli military denied this claim, saying instead that a pair of surface-to-air missiles were fired at Israeli aircraft but missed.

U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein condemned the Syrian government on Tuesday in a wide-ranging speech cataloguing human rights abuses around the world. Zeid said Syria is one of just five countries that routinely refuses to cooperate with human rights inspectors, lambasting the regime for having "gassed its own people … attacked hospitals and bombed civilian neighbourhoods with indiscriminate explosive weapons; and maintain[ed] tens of thousands of detainees in inhuman conditions." Zeid’s speech marked the beginning of a three week session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Saudi-led airstrikes on a water well in northern Yemen have reportedly killed 30 people and wounded 17. The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, said in a statement that the casualties in the village of Beit Saadan included both first responders and children. The strikes took place on Saturday, on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Yemeni state media, which is controlled by the Houthi rebels fighting the KSA-led coalition, reported that 100 people were killed or wounded in the strike. The attack marks the deadliest episode in the civil war since peace talks broke down last month. The Associated Press has more.

The New York Times reports that pro-government Yemeni fighters are growing angry that their payments from Saudi Arabia are being delayed. Due to the delays, soldiers are routinely rotating out of their posts to find employment elsewhere. But the Saudi-led coalition said it has sent the funds to the Yemeni government and that any subsequent distribution problems should be resolved by Yemen.

Turkey has made a formal request to the United States for the arrest of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen on charges of orchestrating an attempted military coup on July 15. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in China to discuss Gülen’s extradition. According to White House officials, Obama explained to Erdogan that any decision by the United States whether to extradite Gülen would be a legal, and not a political, decision.

Turkey’s state-run news agency claimed Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has renewed a call for Turkey’s government to resume talks with Kurdish militants aimed at ending the long-running conflict that has cost thousands of lives. Ocalan reportedly said talks could potentially end the conflict within six months. Hundreds of security personnel and thousands of PKK militants have been killed since hostilities resumed last summer following nearly three years of peace.

Iran threatened to shoot down two U.S. Navy planes over the weekend as the planes flew inside the Strait of Hormuz, according to CNN. The pilots were flying in international airspace but near Iran’s airspace when the Iranians made three radio calls warning them that they risked being shot down by surface-to-air missiles if they entered Iranian airspace. This episode is the latest in a string of incidents in which Iranian military personnel have harassed U.S. operations in the region.

Reuters tells us that the United States and Israel have concluded a $38 billion military aid deal, marking Washington’s largest aid commitment ever. As part of the deal, Israel has agreed to not to seek additional funds from Congress beyond what will be guaranteed annually in the new package. The deal will also phase out a special arrangement that has allowed Israel to spend part of its U.S. aid on its own defence industry instead of on American-made weapons, and will incorporate money for Israeli missile defence, which until now has been funded ad hoc by Congress. The Memorandum of Understanding will expire in 2018.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu lashed out after his U.S. counterpart, Ash Carter, accused Moscow of sowing seeds of global instability in a speech at Oxford last week. Shoigu said that the international order should not be conflated with a U.S.-led order. He added that the international community’s duty was to preserve the former whereas only the Pentagon was responsible for working towards the latter. “The sooner our U.S. colleagues realize that and begin to change, the sooner our accumulated disagreements could be settled, and not only on Syria,” he said.

The New York Times relays a joint pledge by the United States and South Korea to push for the “strongest possible” resolution at the United Nations Security Council, including new sanctions and the removal of existing loopholes, to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test. Two U.S. nuclear-capable supersonic bombers flew over South Korea on Tuesday as a sign of the United States’ commitment to Seoul. The flights were also scheduled to help counter calls from South Korea’s hardliners that their country should develop its own nuclear program.

Antonio Inoki, Japanese lawmaker with close ties to Pyongyang’s inner circle, reported that North Korea’s nuclear program is targeted at the United States instead of Japan. According to General Vincent Brooks, the Commander of U.S. Forces Korea, “North Korea’s nuclear test is a dangerous escalation and poses an unacceptable threat.” The Washington Post has more.

The Wall Street Journal reports that North Korea’s missile testing program may serve as an impetus for closer military cooperation between Tokyo and Washington. Japan’s new defense minister, Tomomi Inada, is slated to make her first official visit to the United States on Thursday. Inada will likely look to tighten Japan’s partnership with the United States in response both to Pyongyang’s latest provocation and also to Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the East China Sea.

Politico reports that the White House received legislation passed unanimously by Congress that would allow families of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia. But Josh Earnest, the White House’s press secretary, vowed that President Barack Obama will veto the bill. Foreign policy aides to the president worry that the legislation would prompt retaliatory parallels from other countries that could hurt U.S. personnel and the United States’ national interest.

French authorities have now filed charges against all four women arrested in connection with a parked car loaded with gas canisters discovered near Notre Dame Cathedral two weeks ago. The Wall Street Journal updates us on the ongoing counterterrorism case, noting that one of the women had ties to Islamist extremists who killed three people in recent terror attacks on French soil, while another woman was arrested when carrying a note proclaiming her fealty to ISIS. Two of the women were involved with a violent confrontation with police last Thursday, in which two police officers were stabbed. The Associated Press adds that Rachid Kassim, an Islamic State recruiter, has been the common link among at least four separate plots to attack France since July, suggesting that ISIS has established a terrorist network across France.

The BBC reports that German authorities are investigating whether three recently detained Syrians, held on suspicion of working for the Islamic State, are connected to the Paris attackers. The three men, who travelled through Turkey and Greece on fake passports, are believed to have arrived in Germany in November with the intention of carrying out a pre-planned attack or awaiting further instructions from ISIS. The German government is under intense pressure to ensure the public’s safety after the country’s expansive immigration policy has welcomed more than million refugees last year alone.

The Philippines moved to shore up relations with the United States on Tuesday with guarantees that a treaty between the two nations would be honored despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent tirades against Washington. The firebrand leader called for the withdrawal of U.S. special forces from the Philippines on Monday, citing their presence as an obstacle to ongoing counterterrorism efforts. In the lead-up to the G20 summit, Duterte cursed both President Barack Obama and the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines publicly. The country’s top military spokesman reassured Duterte’s critics that military ties between the United States and the Philippines remained “rock solid.”

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Paul Rosenzweig raised our awareness to a hearing that Senator Ted Cruz will chair on the ICANN’s transition from the NTIA’s oversight.

Julian Ku warned that the legitimacy of the South China Sea’s arbitral award will be determined almost entirely by the United States’ response.

Beverly Milton-Edwards reminded readers that the crisis in Syria should not mean that we neglect Libya’s implosion and the ramifications that will happen for the West.

Naz Modirzadeh, Gabriella Blum, and Dustin Lewis flagged a paper they wrote that sheds light on the concept of war algorithms and the accountability problems and opportunities this new trend offers.

Herb Lin highlighted a paper that offers a literature review on what we know about cyber attribution and adds a few new insights.

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