Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tara Hofbauer, Cody M. Poplin
Friday, July 25, 2014, 1:37 PM

The violence between Israel and Hamas continues to dominate headlines today. According to the Associated Press, at the center of the current conflict is Gaza’s network of underground tunnels, which provide access to both Israel and Egypt.

It appears that the Israeli soldier Hamas claimed to have taken hostage during fighting on Sunday was actually killed during battle that day. The AP points out that “an Israeli soldier in the hands of Hamas could have been a game changer.”

Following the Israeli shelling of a United Nations-run school in Gaza, U.N. officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, expressed outrage over the incident. The New York Times shares more details on their statements. Protests in the West Bank followed the incident as Palestinians there showed support for their brethren in Gaza. According to the Financial Times, the demonstrations ended up becoming violent.

The U.N. school bombing has brought greater urgency to the effort towards a cease fire, according to Reuters. In negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry proposed a week-long truce, during which Israeli and Palestinian officials would discuss a more permanent deal. The Times reports that the plan is still being worked out.

In an op-ed in the Times, Roger Cohen remarks, “The peoples of the Holy Land are condemned to each other. Without that realization, any truce... will only be a way station to the next round of slaughter.”

Meanwhile, the battle between Israel and Hamas is also being fought in the courtroom. Foreign Policy examines the role of lawfare in the conflict.

Back at home, Republicans are planning to introduce their own version of a bill to provide emergency funding to Israel’s Iron Dome system. The Hill has more.

The Post reminds us that, although the world seems focused only on the situation in Gaza, violence in Syria and Iraq also continues. The past week “may have been the deadliest” in the Syrian conflict so far. According to the Wall Street Journal, Islamic State jihadists yesterday engaged the Syrian military outside Hasakah city in the east. Politico notes that thousands of the militants in Syria appear to hold Western passports, “fueling fears that extremists could relatively easily enter the U.S. to carry out an attack.” Reuters informs us that today, the Jordanian air force intercepted and shot down “an unidentified drone” flying over Jordanian air space near the border with Syria.

In more positive news, nine U.N. trucks carrying “food, shelter, water purification, and sanitation supplies” crossed into Syria yesterday, following a U.N. Security Council resolution which authorized the delivery of aid without Syrian government approval. Reuters has details.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal covers the situation in Iraq, where two isolated attacks in and near Baghdad yesterday claimed the lives of some 60 people. The Post reports that the Islamic State has destroyed a Jewish, Christian, and Islamic holy site in Mosul---the grave site of the Old Testament prophet Jonah. According to the Post, Kurdish security forces are now looking to the United States for military support.

The AP tells us that securing such assistance may be problematic. During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) told State Department and Defense Department officials, “Unless you are going to give us a sense of where the security forces are at, moving forward, this chair is not going to be willing to approve more arms sales so they can be abandoned to go to the hands of those who we are seriously concerned about in terms of our own national security.”

Four journalists---three with U.S. citizenship---have been arrested in Iran on “unspecified charges.” The Post confirms that among the four were Jason Rezaian, the Post’s correspondent in Tehran, and his Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi, a reporter for the United Arab Emirates based newspaper the National.

Meanwhile, the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that it would need an additional € 1 million to defray costs associated with the four-month extension of the interim Iran nuclear deal. Reuters has more.

According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. officials said Thursday that Russia is now firing artillery across the border at Ukrainian military assets. If true, this marks a major escalation of hostilities from a civil-war with Russian involvement, to what could reasonably be considered an international conflict.

Throughout Thursday and today, European Union ambassadors have hammered out a preliminary agreement on new sanctions against Russia, but the details remain to be settled and it could be another week before anything is final, reports Reuters. Key measures include closing EU capital markets to Russian state-owned banks, an embargo on arms sales to Moscow, and restrictions on the supply of energy and dual-use technologies. It seems that new sanctions would not affect supplies of oil or gas from Russia.

The Times tells us that the Ukraine crisis is testing the E.U.’s resolve.  Because of the glacial pace of reconciling competing national interests, the E.U. may prove unable to confront a conflict on its own borders; the Post Editorial Board urges that if the West does not act soon, “it may be too late to save Ukraine.” The L.A. Times suggests that economic sanctions are necessary, as Russia “must pay a price,” but also says that it would be a mistake to give the Ukrainians weapons.

All of this comes as Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk has tendered his resignation, citing parliament’s failure to pass legislation to liberalize energy markets in Ukraine and to finance the army. His announcement came after two parties quit the ruling government coalition, forcing new elections for the first time since before the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich in February. Reuters has more.

The AP reports that both the Netherlands and Australia have announced that they are ready to send a police-led humanitarian mission to secure the site and begin an investigation into the MH17 shoot-down. The Times says that “for all the diplomatic frenzy, there is no sign of an investigation” at the moment.

On MH17, what exactly did U.S. intelligence officials know about the SA-11 missile launcher in Ukraine and when? And, why wasn't the FAA alerted? The estimable Shane Harris, writing in Foreign Policy, raises these questions and more.

Fourteen civilians have been shot dead in Afghanistan by suspected Taliban gunman today, the Post reports. All fourteen have been identified as Shiite Muslims.

Reuters describes the snail’s pace at which the Afghan vote recount is moving. Apparently, both camps argued over a single result sheet for hours yesterday.

Also in Afghanistan, the Post has an account of how a robotic helicopter allowed the Marines to cut back on the number of vehicle convoys traveling over Afghanistan’s explosive-riddled roads.

How’s this for irony? Pakistani military officials have said that the United States could be doing more to intercept militants crossing the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan as a result of Pakistan’s ongoing military offensive in the region.  According to the Post, the official said, “There should be a hammer and anvil” but the “Pakistan hammer saw no evidence of the anvil on the other side.”

Worried that militants may try to launch attacks in response to the ongoing offensive, Pakistan is putting the military in charge of security in the capital of Islamabad. Reuters has more.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that two attacks in Nigeria have left 17 people dead.  The Islamist insurgency Boko Haram is suspected to have carried out the two attacks, which occurred hundreds of miles apart.

Writing in the Atlantic, Matthew Levitt tells us that two years after bombing a Bulgarian airport, Hezbollah remains as strong as ever in Europe. While the group does not suddenly have Europe it its crosshairs, the U.S. Treasury Department’s statement this month that Hezbollah continues to buy weapons and technologies from Europe, coupled with its previous attacks, suggests that Europe has not gone after the group “in a meaningful way.”

The Times reports that weather issues, not a ground-launched strike, most likely caused the Air Algerie plane crash in Mali yesterday.

Earlier, we noted the Intercept’s publication of the National Counterterrorism Center’s (NCTC) guidelines for classifying someone a terrorist. Following that story, the Guardian highlights “the ease with which someone can be placed on U.S. watchlists” and contrasts this “with the impact [such] placement has.” In the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf argues: “There is no defense for the Obama administration’s avowed belief that a system so opaque and unchallengeable can protect the civil rights... of those subject to it.”

Remember the underwear bomber who successfully smuggled explosives onto an airliner on Christmas Day 2009? Apparently, the bomb failed to detonate because Umar Abdulmutallab “had been wearing the same underwear for more than two weeks,” thus degrading the fuse. The Telegraph shares the dirty details.

Before a Connecticut court yesterday, a Moroccan man, who allegedly tried to fly explosives on “drone-like devices,” pled guilty to perjury in relation to issues with his immigration status. NBC has the story.

The Wall Street Journal examines the origins of the U.S. drone program and the initial internal debates surrounding it, while Motherboard probes the privacy impact of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The Times reports that Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy plans to file a new National Security Agency (NSA) reform bill next week. His version appears to be much tougher on the NSA than a recent iteration of the House’s USA Freedom Act.

Yesterday, in the 9/11 terrorism trial, a military judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, severed Ramzi Binalshibh from the proceedings so that the court can evaluate his mental capacity and his potential need for a new lawyer. The Post points out that “the order could accelerate pre-trial proceedings for the four” other defendants in the case.

In an Al Jazeera op-ed, Crofton Black examines yesterday’s ruling from the European Court of Human Rights on Poland’s complicity in the torture of al-Qaeda operatives at CIA “black sites.” Poland called the decision “premature.” Reuters has details.

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