Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tara Hofbauer, Cody M. Poplin
Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 12:51 PM

This morning, about a week after the bombing of a U.N.-run school in Beit Hanoun in Gaza, shells hit another U.N. Gaza refugee camp---this time in Jabaliya. The New York Times shares that at least 20 people have died as a result. However, despite reports of civilian casualties and international outrage, the Israeli Defense Force’s Gaza offensive, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prosecution thereof, is hugely popular among Israelis. According to the Washington Post, “the deep support among Israelis... is almost unprecedented.”

Yesterday, after Israeli Channel 1 broadcasted the transcript of an alleged conversation between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, both the White House and Israeli officials dismissed the report as not “bear[ing] any resemblance to reality.” Time details their statements in response to the incident, while Vox shares the ten funniest Twitter parodies of the supposed phone call.

The Associated Press reports that Secretary of State John Kerry has dismissed criticism of his inability to negotiate a ceasefire. The Post Editorial Board notes, however, that Secretary Kerry’s proposals so far have failed to adequately address the issue of Hamas’ hold over Gaza and the underground tunnel system. Foreign Policy provides footage of the use of one of the tunnels, demonstrating why their destruction is so important to Israelis.

The Daily Beast explains why members of the U.S. Congress have been loath to criticize Israel’s military operations.

Jihadology shares a recent and graphic video released by the self-declared Islamic State.  In it, the group commits numerous war crimes, including murdering large numbers of Iraqi security forces. Reuters examines the brutality exhibited in the 30-minute clip.

Thinking of starting your own Caliphate? In Foreign Policy, Christian Caryl pens a letter to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on the 9 things to avoid in the process.

The Wall Street Journal reports that militants representing the Islamic State are now moving toward Baghdad from southern Iraq. The Iraqi government may soon receive some assistance from the U.S., though. The Post informs us that the State Department has approved the largest sale ever of Hellfire missiles. More than 5,000 missiles are headed to Baghdad.

Al Jazeera shares news that Iraqi oil is now providing some financing for insurgency operations in Iraq. Meanwhile, according to the Times, thanks to a number of ransom payments over the past decade, “Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.”

In Syria, rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad bombed tunnels under the city of Aleppo. The Times informs us that at least thirteen pro-government individuals died as a result.

In an op-ed in that same newspaper, Chams Eddine Zaougui and Pieter Van Ostaeyen explain why the West’s concerns regarding foreign fighters are “overblown.”

The U.S. and the European Union significantly expanded sanctions on Russia yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reports. Europe, for its part, agreed to approve major trade and investment restrictions, and to hit Russia’s banks and oil industry. The United States followed suit, announcing similar actions against the Russian banking, energy, arms, and shipping sectors.

The Times Editorial Board hailed the new sanctions, saying that “these punitive and carefully orchestrated actions go considerably beyond any previous sanctions” and that Europe appears to have “now grasped the magnitude of Mr. Putin’s threat.”

The Journal has the rundown on this round of sanctions, while Neil MacFarquhar of the Times suggests that in Russia, alarm is growing over Putin’s tactics and the country’s increasing international isolation.

Will Putin dig in or change course? That remains to be seen, but the Pentagon said on Tuesday that Russia is continuing to supply rebels in eastern Ukraine with sophisticated air defense systems similar to the one that targeted Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. The Hill has more.

“But they told us they wouldn’t bomb Donetsk, they told us!” The quote is from a Ukrainian woman, and can be found in the Wall Street Journal’s gruesome story on fighting there. The Ukrainian government continues its offensive to retake the city.

In a welcome sign of reason, Belarus will host talks between Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, reports Reuters.  The timing of talks has not yet been announced, but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked Belarus to host them on Thursday. Talks are expected to address the process of securing access to the MH17 crash site. OSCE representatives have been unable to get to the site for three days, due to fighting in the region.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday, chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman refused to lay out a deadline for negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, saying instead that the Administration would “consult Congress along the way.” Several senators, including Chairman of the committee, Democrat Robert Menendez, expressed their frustration with the Administration’s approach in the ongoing negotiations. But the National Journal reports that there also appeared to be little desire to interfere.

On the subject of U.S.-Iran relations, the Air Force Times is reporting that former hostages taken from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 are seeking compensation from Iran. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) has introduced a bill that would use fines for violating sanctions against Iran to provide roughly $4.4 million to each surviving hostage. Isakson said that he has not ruled out attaching the bill to a final agreement with Iran if the agreement comes to the Senate for approval.

Admiral Samuel Locklear told a Pentagon news conference that he is worried the United States has become “numb” to the threat from North Korea’s frequent missile tests.

Yesterday, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a long-anticipated Senate version of the USA Freedom Act, a bill designed to reform the NSA. According to the AP, the bill would end the Agency’s bulk collection of phone records. The bill was co-sponsored by several Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. However, even amongst the chorus of praise from outlets such as the Times, the Hill notes that Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) said that the bill still does not go far enough. The senators worry that the bill lacks provisions to end warrantless searches of personal electronic communications.

Over at the Monkey Cage blog on the Washington Post website, H.L. Pohlman, Professor of Political Science at Dickinson College, raises other objections, saying that by creating a “backdoor” authority to collect phone records, “Leahy’s bill is a continuation of the intelligence community’s efforts that at best confuse---and at worst, mislead---the American people (and perhaps their legislative representatives) through the clever use of legalese.”

On Lawfare, Jodie and Ben provided a straightforward summary of Leahy’s proposal, without opinions as to its effects. They say, “In short, the trade throughout this bill seems to be institutionalization of governmental authority in exchange for regulation the government will regard as burdensome and a great deal of transparency.”

On the other side of the Hill, on Monday evening, the House approved several bipartisan cyber bills. Defense Daily has a round up and a bit on what each does.

Kim Zetter at Wired has a piece on the costs of NSA surveillance. She says that personal privacy is only one of many casualties; other entities that have suffered damage include the economy, the security of the internet, and the credibility of the U.S. government’s leadership when it comes to online governance and freedom.

Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of Microsoft, has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, explaining the company’s current legal battle with the U.S. government over who owns your emails. And, in case you missed it, the Lawfare Podcast has more from Smith on the legal challenge, and the balance of privacy and national security.

This has much of D.C. bamboozled: Former NSA Director General Keith Alexander now earns up to $1 million per month in cybersecurity consulting. The Verge criticizes the fact that “Alexander stands to profit directly off of his taxpayer-funded experience.”

According to Reuters, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s lawyer, Eugene Fidell, said yesterday that Bergdahl will be questioned soon regarding the circumstances surrounding his abduction by the Taliban. Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee passed a resolution yesterday, condemning President Obama for his failure to inform Congress of the transfer of five Guantanamo detainees in exchange for Bergdahl. The National Journal and the Huffington Post have more.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald informs us of the existence of video footage showing U.S. soldiers searching the Qurans of Guantanamo detainees for contraband. Such incidents allegedly prompted hunger strikes among prisoners.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced yesterday that a redacted version of the committee’s interrogation report could be released during Congress’ August recess. The Hill has more on her statements.

According to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), House and Senate staffers will work through August on a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) “fallback.” Defense News has the story.

How do you predict the terror lead of the future? Perhaps, by watching Game of Thrones. Over at Defense One, Patrick Tucker explains how the rise of future terrorist leaders largely mirrors the ascension of rules in the popular HBO hit.

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