Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Tuesday, November 18, 2014, 3:31 PM

According to the BBC, a report from the Global Terrorism Index found that the number of deaths from terrorism increased by 61 percent in 2013, while the number of attacks increased by 44 percent. We begin our coverage today with saddening news of several more.

A horrendous act of violence has left Jerusalem paralyzed. Earlier today, 3 dual American-Israeli citizens and 1 dual British-Israeli civilian were murdered by two Palestinians while conducting morning prayers in an Orthodox neighborhood of Western Jerusalem. The two terrorists were armed with axes, knives and guns, and killed the innocents and wounded scores more before police fatally shot them both. The four men who died were all rabbis: Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, 40, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 68, Rabbi Kalman Levine, 50, and Rabbi Moshe Twersky, 59. The latter, Rabbi Twersky, was the head of a yeshiva in Jerusalem and the scion of the prominent Twersky rabbinic family. The BBC has live updates.

Leaders across the world condemned the attack, including UK Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. Secretary of State Kerry had harsh words for the perpetrators and excoriated Palestinian leaders “at all levels” for incitement. Israeli leaders from across the spectrum denounced the actions, with many pointing the finger at incitement from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. For his part, Abbas condemned the attacks.

The Times of Israel reports that Israeli political leaders have vowed that this is a tipping point, and that they will respond harshly to the rabbis’ murders. Specific actions that have been mentioned so far, include relaxing gun ownership laws in Israel, demolishing the family homes of the murderers, and revoking the residence permit of one of the terrorists’ wives. Another Israeli news portal, Srugim, writes that authorities will not return the bodies of the attackers to their families for burial.

The Brookings Institution held an event today that focused on the violence currently plaguing Jerusalem and prospects for a two-state solution. Audio from the event is available here:

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In the war against ISIS, Stars and Stripes brings us news that Washington and Ankara have reached an agreement for US forces to train moderate Syrian fighters inside Turkey. The training is scheduled to begin in late December. This training center comes in addition to an agreement already struck between the United States and Saudi Arabia that will allow Americans to train the moderate opposition in that country too. Reuters reports that American forces have already embedded with Iraqi troops in the western Iraq province of Anbar. The move is a faster-than-expected expansion of the American role in the country and a significant development in the war against the Islamic State. Much of the province is currently under ISIS control. Elsewhere, the New York Times reports that US and Iraqi military officials are struggling to find Sunni tribes willing to fight the Islamic State in Anbar after militants from the Islamic State have rounded up hundreds of soldiers and tribesman, executing many in a show of force intended to scare others from cooperating. One tribal leader was quoted saying, “they come in with a list of names and are more organized than state intelligence.” There is hope that the tide can be turned through an influx of guns and money, but success is also likely to require a demonstrated track record of defeating ISIS, dislodging them from their positions, and defending towns and cities that cooperate in the coalition’s campaign. The Los Angeles Times highlights another challenge in the fight against ISIS: without an extensive network of CIA analysts on the ground, the country is a “black hole” where intelligence shortages make it difficult to track individual and high-value militants, and even more difficult to confirm the success of strikes against them. But that’s not all, analysts and senior military officials are also suggesting that there’s a “shortage” of drones and other surveillance capabilities in the region. Many argue that the war in Afghanistan continues to receive preferential treatment in terms of the allocation of capabilities even though the war there is winding down. Yet, as the boots-on-the-ground leave Afghanistan, the need for surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities is likely to expand, not decrease. Even so, Reuters reports encouraging news that Iraqi security forces have entered the Baiji oil refinery. The refinery has been under ISIS control for five months and has been a crucial element to the group’s financing. The New York Times also notes that a United Nations panel is urging the Security Council to order all countries to seize oil shipments entering and exiting territory controlled by jihadist groups. The steps could have a dramatic impact on ISIS’s ability to finance its own operations. Al-Monitor brings us news that the Daraa province in Syria is slowing falling into the hands of the Free Syrian Army. Yesterday, Clara brought us the saddening news that Islamic State militants had murdered Peter Kassig, an American aid-worker captured in Syria. The video was one of the most brutal displays of the group’s savagery since its inception. However, in the Guardian, Martin Chulov notes that ISIS’s latest propaganda missive may be intended to mask a week of defeats wherein ISIS has retreated on all fronts after losses delivered at the coalition’s hands. In the Christian Science Monitor, Howard LaFranchi writes that the gruesome videos, intended to terrify the local population into submission while preventing further US advances into the conflict, may now be backfiring. France 24 reports that authorities in Paris have identified the French jihadist pictured in the Kassig video. His name is Maxime Hauchard, a 22-year-old native of Normandy. In the wake of the murder of another American hostage, Shane Harris of the Daily Beast has an exclusive report that the Obama administration is “finally looking to fix its disjointed efforts”to handle hostage situations. The review will reportedly examine how the United States engages with families of those kidnapped, its methods of intelligence collection, and its diplomatic missions to rescue hostages. According to DefenseOne, Pentagon and Hill officials say they still do not know what the Obama administration will propose for a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) or when the White House will propose it---if they even choose to do so. Nevertheless, DoDNews writes that Congress is likely to pass the White House’s requests for $5.6 billion in funding for the fight against the Islamic State. Over the weekend, Jack, Ryan Goodman, and Steve Vladeck published an op-ed in the Washington Post outlining “five principles that should govern any U.S. authorization of force.” At the Council on Foreign Relations, Max Boot has published a comprehensive memorandum for defeating the Islamic State. Pivoting once again in the Middle East: yesterday, Egypt’s military announced that it intended to double the size of a secure buffer zone bordering the Gaza Strip after it found tunnels for smuggling. The New York Times has more. In Buzzfeed, Gregory D. Johnsen, a Michael Hastings Fellow, describes the harrowing account of how he narrowly escaped kidnapping in Yemen. The BBC reports that in response to a court injunction, Hong Kong authorities have moved to clear part of the Admiralty protest site. According to the article, “student protesters did not resist the clearance” and indeed many “helped to remove” the debris. Two more protest camps remain in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay; the city’s high court has also authorized the clearance of the former. In China’s restive Xinjiang province, China opened the first part of a high-speed railway slated to crisscross the vast area and connect it with the rest of the country. The 330-mile track stretches between the regional capital, Urumqi, all the way to the eastern city of Hami. The New York Times reports that it is only the first stage of the larger 1,100-mile Lanxin Railway, which will connect Xinjiang to neighboring Gansu province. The Times also reports that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has officially called for early elections. His announcement comes just a day after economic data revealed that Japan had entered its fourth recession since 2008. PM Abe’s “once-vaunted” Abenomics plan for reviving Japan’s dreary, decades-long economic stagnation have stalled, and analysts suggest the Japanese leader is seeking a new mandate to defer a scheduled increase in the national sales tax, which could hurt future growth. Farther south in Okinawa, residents there voted to oust the incumbent governor and vote in a replacement who campaigned on closing down a controversial US Marine base on the island. The victory of Takeshi Onaga over Tokyo-backed Hirokazu Nakaima comes as a blow to Abe, who has vowed to respect the Japan-US military alliance and protect the latter’s military footprint on the island. Okinawa, which is strategically located close to Taiwan and China, currently hosts two-thirds of the 50,000-strong American military personnel force stationed in Japan. The Hindu writes that India and Australia are slated to upgrade bilateral defense ties. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, are slated to approve the countries’ “enhanced strategic partnership” when they meet today in Canberra. In addition to enhanced bilateral military exercises, the two countries will also discuss “synergies in integrating defense systems,” with a focus on research and development cooperation. ISIS has another adherent: a splinter group from Pakistan’s Taliban, Jundullah, pledged support on Monday to the militant Islamist group. Jundullah’s announcement follows reports of representatives of ISIS visiting the group in Pakistan, and comes a month after five senior commanders from Pakistan’s Taliban stated that they would support ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and his organization. Reuters has more on the announcement. The Daily Beast reports that in Eastern Ukraine, there is an “air of anticipation” that full-scale war may break out soon. In the flashpoint city of Donetsk, Jamie Dettmer describes the tense situation, on-edge amid a stream of reports concerning a Russian military buildup in the region. According to Reuters, NATO officials confirm the latter and say that Russia’s actions in the region constitute a violation of an agreed-upon ceasefire and could lead to a catastrophic result. While denying that their military is engaged in Ukrainian areas held by pro-Russia separatists, during talks in Germany, Russian officials did say they see “no chance of breakthrough” regarding the current crisis. Relatedly, Der Spiegel writes that German-Russian relations are in freefall, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself is growing concerned about Russian influence in certain Balkan states. Defense One has an in-depth story on the Pentagon’s new offset strategy, specifically the DoD’s plans to increase its utilization of robots and other autonomous weapons in the years ahead. According to Defense News, senior analysts and experts in the US Navy are calling for an overhaul of the fleet’s surface ships. Specifically, they say that surface ships meant to protect aircraft carriers, such as Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers, need a more robust “offensive punch” in order to effectively and efficiently neutralize incoming enemy missiles. At TechCrunch, Alex Wilhelm reports that the White House has released a statement wherein it says that it “strongly supports” the Senate’s USA FREEDOM Act, which would curtail the NSA’s bulk metadata collection practices. However, support is far from universal, and in the Wall Street Journal, Michael V. Hayden and Michael B. Mukasey have written an op-ed castigating the bill as the kind of “NSA reform that only ISIS could love.” That must mean the editorial board of the Washington Post is getting warm and cuddly with the Islamic State, since they argue that “the bill deserves to be approved.” If you’re trying to catch up on the bill, Lawfare has a quick and dirty summary here, and Ben writes on whether or not it is a good bill, ultimately deciding “the bill is worth pursuing.” Reuters reports that Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi, a detainee at Guantanamo Bay accused of commanding attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan for al Qaeda, has claimed that he may be classified as a soldier under international war rules and therefore should be exempt from prosecution. For Lawfare, Wells provided in-depth coverage of the day’s proceedings. In a November 10th filing recently disclosed by the Pentagon, war court prosecutors are pushing back against a judge’s order to temporarily stop female guards from touching Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an alleged al Qaeda commander. According to the Miami Herald, the prosecutors say that the order “ignores established precedent requiring deference to prison administrators” and impairs the work of female guards, who are “enmeshed and the safe and effective functioning” of the camp.

ICYMI: Yesterday, On Lawfare

Ben commented on the legality of President Obama’s proposed plan to proceed on immigration reform unilaterally.

Ben Bissell alerted us to the upcoming Congressional hearings on ISIS and Iran.

Ben Bissell also brought our attention to the Navy’s scary new death ray. Elsewhere, Wells provided the chief prosecutor’s statement on this week’s hearing in Al-Hadi, as well as four dispatches from the hearing’s sessions 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