Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Thursday, October 30, 2014, 1:57 PM

As Israeli paper Yediot Achronot noted in a headline yesterday, “Jerusalem continues to burn.” The instability wracking the disputed, holy city reached new heights yesterday with the attempted assassination by a Palestinian of a prominent right-wing Jewish activist, US-born Yehuda Glick. The suspected assailant, 32-year-old Moataz Hejazi, was later killed by Israeli police officers during a shootout at his home. With the stated objective of preventing more internecine violence between Jews and Muslims in the area, the Israeli government announced it was closing the Temple Mount to all visitors, the first time that has happened in more than a decade.

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas quoted the leader as saying the closure of the site amounted to a “declaration of war” by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people. Israeli officials, for their part, blamed the latest wave of violence on Abbas, with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying at an emergency cabinet meeting that Abbas had incited extremist elements in Palestinian society:

I said only days ago that we are facing a wave of incitement by radical Islamic elements and by Palestinian Authority head Abu Mazen, who said that the ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount needs to be prevented by every means.

Aropos, the US-Israel relationship has also reached new lows in recent days. The discord deepened after a report published by Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic quoted a senior administration official as calling Netanyahu a vulgar term beginning with “chicken.” Another official also called him a “coward” on Iran’s nuclear program. The New York Times has more.

Reaction was swift across the Israeli political landscape, with left-wing ministers, such as Labor head Isaac Herzog, saying that this comment was just the latest manifestation of Netanyahu’s ineptitude in managing the Israel-US relationship. In contrast, other centrist and rightist ministers supported the Prime Minister. Prominent Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said the slight was an insult not just to Netanyahu, but also to millions of Israelis. The Washington Post has more on the take in Tel Aviv.

Also at the Washington Post, Dan Drezner examines why US officials are trash-talking the Israeli Prime Minister, suggesting it may be a consciously telegraphed move to the Iranian negotiating team. Regardless of the reason, John Hudson at Foreign Policy asserts that the White House is in “damage control” over the comment.

Despite the diplomatic fracas, Defense News reports that the two erstwhile allies have inked a deal where Israel is set to acquire a second order of F-35As, bringing its planned buy from 19 jets to 44. According to an analysis by Business Insider, Israel boasts the strongest military in the Middle East and the order will only add to one of the most capable air forces in the world.

Finally, in Sweden, the Wall Street Journal writes that the new center-left Lofven administration has recognized the state of Palestine, becoming one of the first EU member states to do so and drawing Israeli ire. Other countries in the region, including Norway and Denmark, said they would not replicate Sweden's policy.

In the Washington Post, Liz Sly writes that the Israel-US relationship is not America’s only bilateral alliance that is under strain: Washington’s ties with Turkey are also on the ropes. She analyzes how differences over how to respond to the carnage in Syria threaten to dissolve the two countries’ 60-year-old alliance.

In general, the Obama administration’s foreign policy outfit is under fire for what appears to be trouble keeping up with a world that is lurching “from crisis to crisis,” claims Mark Landler of the New York Times.

Speaking of crises, Reuters reports that “elite Iraqi Kurdish fighters with heavy weaponry” are headed to Syria to bring the fight to ISIS. A video of the first group entering the embattled town of Kobani can be found here. The Assad government condemned Turkey for allowing foreign fighters to enter Syria “in a violation of its sovereignty.” Ankara promptly dismissed the remarks, saying they come from a regime that has “no legitimacy.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that ISIS militants “unleashed a barrage of shelling near a border crossing with Turkey” in preparation for their arrival.

McClatchy writes that Syrian rebels have asked the US for protection against Jabhat al Nusra. The al Qaeda affiliate was long viewed by rebels as an “ally in the battle to topple President Bashar Assad,” but al Nusra has recently “turned on them.” Syrian rebels say they are “sure to lose” what is shaping up to be a three-front war unless the US changes policy and more actively contributes weaponry to their cause.

The Long War Journal features a handy map showing the proliferation of jihadist training camps in Iraq and Syria since the beginning of the latter’s civil war. Their analysis should not be seen as exhaustive however; the analysis uses publicly-available records, and it is “likely” that certain training camps are not publicized.

The Washington Post reports that ISIS publicly executed at least 46 men belonging to a “resistant Sunni tribe.” The mass murder is meant as a “chilling message” to Iraqi authorities that are attempting to consolidate opposition to the Islamist group. Still, Al Sharq Al Awsat writes that the Iraqi military, which claims to have “regained the initiative” against the group, is pushing forward and preparing to recapture the strategic town of Amiriyah Fallujah in Anbar province from ISIS militants.

According to Reuters, the US is working with Iraqi Kurdistan to shut off the flow of money from ISIS’s oil smuggling business. Acting Energy Envoy for the United States, Amos Hochstein, said that the Kurdistan Regional Government has arrested people accused of smuggling. Furthermore, he said, the US is working with the KRG to “identify oil routes, trucks and traders involved,” and to close off smuggling bottlenecks at border crossings.

If witness reports and damning video evidence are to be believed, the Syrian army continues to perpetrate a string of atrocities in its struggle to regain territory. Reuters reports on what appears to be the Assad’s most recent crime: A Syrian army helicopter released two barrel bombs on a displaced persons camp in Idlib, a northern province in the country. Reports from the region said as many as 75 people were killed in the ensuing conflagration, with many more suffering severe burns.

The Air Force Times reports that an Air Force C-130 dropped 7,000 meals to members of the Iraqi Abu Nimer tribe, which has been “displaced” by fighting in the region of Hit. The meals were picked up and delivered by Iraqi Security Forces.

Defense One writes that ISIS is currently shifting its propaganda approach so as to directly counter what mainstream Western media outlets are saying about the group and its tactics, specifically in the battle for Kobani.

In an opinion piece on CNN, Robert Baer explores whether or not the US should target ISIS leadership. His tentative conclusion: “drone assassinations and targeted killings will get us absolutely nowhere.”

According to the Times of Israel, Australia passed a law on Thursday that criminalizes traveling to a “declared area” where a terrorist group is conducting hostile activity with a maximum 10-year sentence. 70 Australians are believed to have made the journey to such “areas” so far. In an opinion at CNN, Clark Jones argues that the country’s tough new terror laws could backfire.

The Associated Press carries a claim by Iran that it has foiled a sabotage attempt on “tanks used for the transportation of heavy water, a key component in nuclear reactors.” The attempted foul play, which Iranian officials put down to an “unidentified foreign country,” targeted a liquid that is not radioactive in and of itself, but is “essential” in both generating nuclear power and manufacturing nuclear weapons. Iran boasts only one known heavy water reactor, which is still under construction in the city of Arak.

,Al Jazeera writes that in Yemen’s Ibb province, Shiite Houthi rebels have captured the strategic city of Radmah. The city is a stronghold for the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islah party and lies on the vital Sanaa-Aden highway artery. Nine fighters from both sides were killed during the battle.

According to Al Arabiya, the Egyptian government on Thursday banned a pro-Morsi “pressure group.” The official injunction against the poorly-named National Coalition to Support Legitimacy and Reject the Coup as well as its political organ, the Independence Party, comes amid a continuing crackdown by the Sisi regime against the Muslim Brotherhood and its perceived supporters.

Reuters reports that Ukraine’s gas supplies from Russia are in doubt as winter starts to grip Europe. Negotiations over unblocking deliveries of Russian gas are “deadlocked” over the Kremlin’s insistence on “firmer commitments” from the EU to cover pre-payments for energy. Although the sides agree on the price for Russian gas, the amount to be bought, and the repayment by Kiev of unpaid bills, Moscow is demanding more assurances that Kiev can produce $1.6 billion “up front” for gas deliveries. Some Western critics of Russia are questioning whether Russia’s motivation is entirely financial, or whether it also plays into the Kremlin’s diplomatic dance with the continent. Reuters also carries a report examining whether Western sanctions on Moscow may in fact be strengthening Putin’s hold over the Russian energy elite, and thus Russia itself.

According to the Wall Street Journal, NATO is tracking widespread Russia air activity in Europe. NATO asserts that the aerial maneuvers, which are “on a scale seldom seen since the end of the Cold War,” prompted NATO to scramble jets and “could have endangered passing civilian flights.”

And they’re not done yet: the Military Times reports that on Wednesday, Russia successfully test-fired a Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile from the Yuri Dolgoruki nuclear submarine underwater in the Barents Sea. The missile’s warheads reached their targets in the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia, constituting the latest success for a weapons system that was long plagued by developmental problems.

Still, not all Russian-made rocket components have seen success recently: Foreign Policy reports that Soviet-era engines powered the failed launch Tuesday of the Antares 130 rocket. The rocket, which crashed near NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, was carrying supplies meant for the International Space Station. Its explosion represents a “step back” for NASA’s “flirtation with the private sector;” the rocket was manufactured by a Virginia-based company, Orbital Sciences.

Foreign Policy also writes that despite being under “constant shelling,” having unclear borders and lacking political stability, “darn it, the Donetsk People’s Republic is holding an election on Sunday.”

The BBC reports that the Western African nation of Burkina Faso is convulsing as protesters angry at the ruling president, Blaise Compaore, set fire to the country’s parliament, city hall and ruling party headquarters. The demonstrators, which are reportedly “surging towards the presidential palace” are angry at a proposed deal that would allow the president to extend his 27-year-rule by changing the constitution. Five people have been killed so far in the instability.

Despite the high-profile murder by a US Marine of a transgender Filipino earlier this month, Manila is “unlikely” to amend the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows thousands of US troops to “join large-scale combat exercises” in the country. The Military Times has more on the controversy.

A US drone strike on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line killed four suspected militants in what is considered a Taliban stronghold, reports the Guardian.

Foreign Policy writes that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has broken with the White House and decided that the Pentagon will monitor all soldiers returning from West Africa for a full 21 days. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that the decision was made out of an “abundance of caution.” But, the decision comes as the White House continues to discourage quarantines for health care workers returning from the region.

In what CNN is characterizing as a “wild bike ride,” Kaci Hickox, the nurse protesting her treatment following her return from West Africa, defied Maine’s quarantine today---but stayed well away from the town’s center. Her attorney has said that the fear being stoked about Ebola is political and “based on misinformation about the way the disease is transmitted.” Hickox has twice tested negative for Ebola and exhibited no symptoms upon returning to the United States.

All of this leads to an inevitable question: are mandatory Ebola quarantines legal? The Daily Beast tackles that question, explaining that legal authority is based on a “patchwork of laws” that grants broad discretion to the government with very little absolute parameters.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the World Health Organization has announced that the number of cases in the current Ebola outbreak is nearing 14,000, and 4,910 people have died on account of the disease. However, there may finally be some good news as WHO officials said they see “glimmers of hope” in Liberia, where new evidence suggests that the rate of infection is decreasing. Nonetheless, officials were quick to caution that people not put their guards down, with Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s assistant director-general in charge of the operational response, suggesting “it’s like saying your pet tiger is under control.” The Washington Post has more.

Following a New York Times in-depth report published two weeks ago, the Times tells us that the military will offer medical exams and long-term health monitoring for troops potentially exposed to chemical weapons during the Iraq War.

Pentagon reporter Tony Capaccio writes in Bloomberg that Pentagon contract officers have paid as much as 85 percent more than their own targets for replacement aircraft parts, after a company received exclusive rights to provide them from original equipment manufacturers.

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Kontorovich responds to Jack’s post here at Lawfare on the Article I power in Zivotofsky v. KerryNot sure what this case is all about? Make sure you check out Lawfare’s preview by Jodie Liu. And, don’t miss Julian Davis Mortenson’s argument that in its ruling, the Supreme Court should stay far away from the Vesting Clause.

Parting shot: the Washington Post tells us that sadly, treasure hunting in Jordan roaring back, as the “gold fever” drives a “surge in tomb-raiding.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

In this week’s Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, Stewart Baker interviews Bob Litt, General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Carrie Cordero asks if there is a different path towards transparency that would be more meaningful from the general public’s perspective.

Julian Davis Mortenson writes that the Supreme Court should stay far away from the Vesting Clause in Zivitofsky.

Major Charles Kels weighs in on “Folk International Law and the Application of LOAC in Counterterrorism Operations.”

While, finally, in the Lawfare Book Review, Ashley Green reviews Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat by Jeffrey D. Simon.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.