Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Sebastian Brady
Wednesday, March 4, 2015, 3:27 PM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress yesterday. In his speech, he roundly condemned the nuclear deal being negotiated between Iran and the P5+1. The Washington Post describes the speech as a “bankshot,” directed at people with little authority over the negotiations in the hopes that they will increase pressure on the Obama administration. It appears to have had such an impact already; Politico reports that Republicans have begun efforts to fast-track legislation that would make the talks harder for the administration, though Democrats who previously supported the legislation are turning against it due to this machination.

President Obama responded to the speech from the Oval Office and discounted it as offering no new ideas. But, the New York Times adds, the President must now overcome not just Republican opposition to the deal, but also a strong rebuke by the Israeli prime minister. The congressional response to the speech was largely divided along partisan lines. According to the Post, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the speech an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.” Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) said the speech “crystallized a lot of thinking” for those debating what role Congress should play in the talks.

In Israel,  the press and many political analysts have agreed that Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a strong speech. Critics, however, echoed President Obama’s remarks suggesting that the speech offered nothing new; political opponents said it did more harm than good, the Post reports. For its part, Iran predictably denounced the speech and claimed that it humiliated President Obama while driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. CNN has more.

Fireworks in Washington notwithstanding, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program continued yesterday, the Post reports. Reuters adds that, according to a State Department official, the two sides made progress but still face significant obstacles before a deal can be reached. The Associated Press notes that a senior U.S. official tried to lower expectations for the framework that is supposed to be reached by the end of March. The official said the sides would try to come to a broad “understanding that's going to have to be filled out with lots of detail.”

Iraqi troops have entered Tikrit, a city that has been controlled by ISIS since last June. Bloomberg reports that Iraqi forces took control of several sites within the city and seized two oilfields. However, experts cautioned that the Iraqi military faces a long battle to expel ISIS militants, the Post notes. ISIS may turn the fight for Tikrit into a long-term urban war of attrition -- militants are already using suicide bombers and roadside explosives -- which the Iraqi military and associated militias are ill-prepared to handle.

The offensive is exposing rifts between Iraq and the United States, the Times reports. The U.S. military was not asked to join the offensive, which included significant numbers of troops from Shiite militias and both troops and advisers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Ali al-Alaa, an aide to the Iraqi prime minister, had this to say about Iraqi strategy: “The Americans continue procrastinating about the time it will take to liberate the country …Iraq will liberate Mosul and Anbar without them.” Elsewhere, however, the U.S.-led coalition hit ISIS targets with 12 airstrikes, Reuters notes.

Part of Iraq’s frustration with the United States stems from its recent disclosure of details regarding the plan to retake Mosul from ISIS in April. The AP reports that new Defense Secretary Ash Carter now calls the Pentagon’s briefing on the Mosul attack plan both improper and incorrect.

The conflict with ISIS continues to draw a range of foreign fighters. Reuters reveals that Malaysian authorities have identified two Malaysians who took part in the beheading of a Syrian man by ISIS militants. On the other side of the fight, the AP adds that a British man has been killed in Syria while fighting alongside Kurdish forces. The man, Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, was an ex-Royal Marine who also held Greek citizenship.

ISIS has released yet another group of Assyrian Christian hostages, the AP reports. After releasing 19 hostages earlier this week, the militant group released four more, according to Syrian activists. However, ISIS continues to hold at least 190 Assyrian Christians.

The many-sided conflict in Syria may soon become even more complicated. According to sources within Syria’s Nusra Front, the militant group may soon cut ties with al Qaeda, opting instead to be backed by friendly Gulf states who want Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed. The move, apparently being encouraged by Qatar, could provide Nusra more funding as it fights the Assad regime, ISIS, and moderate rebels. Reuters has more.

The U.S. envoy to Yemen will operate out of an existing consulate in Jeddah, the Post reports. Some Persian Gulf countries have moved their embassies to Aden, the southern Yemeni city where ousted President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi now resides, but the United States eschewed this move to avoid implicitly accepting a division of the country. The envoy has traveled to Aden, however, to meet with President Hadi, who the United States still recognizes as the legitimate ruler of Yemen.

An Egyptian court has suspended upcoming parliamentary elections, the Wall Street Journal reports. The ruling was expected because last week the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the Egyptian law defining voting districts is unconstitutional.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to impose sanctions on those individuals preventing peace in South Sudan. While the resolution passed yesterday does not block either side from purchasing arms or impose immediate sanctions, it does form a panel that will identify people blocking the peace process and punish them with travel bans and asset freezes. The Times notes that the vote comes as the rival factions -- one side loyal to the South Sudanese president and one loyal to the vice-president -- face a Thursday deadline to reach a peace deal.

Continued clashes between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists have left another Ukrainian soldier dead, a Ukrainian military spokesman said yesterday, Reuters reports. Sporadic fighting continues despite a ceasefire agreement that both sides say the other has repeatedly violated. Western leaders discussed the crisis via teleconference yesterday. The Wall Street Journal reveals that, according to a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the participants -- leaders from Germany, the United States, Britain, France, Italy, and the European Council -- agreed that some progress had been made in implementing the ceasefire agreement but asserted that they remain ready to impose new sanctions on Russia should it back away from the deal.

In addition to potential further sanctions, the United States is also considering whether to arm the Ukrainian military. According to DefenseOne, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing yesterday that “we should absolutely consider providing lethal aid.

In his first public remarks since the murder of opposition activist Boris Nemtsov, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the murder as a “shame and tragedy,” and claimed that extremist activity is posing an increasing threat to Russian stability, according to the Wall Street Journal. Reuters adds that the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service has indicated that the investigation has already found several suspects. The Post has an infographic depicting what is known so far in the case.

China announced plans to boost its military spending by 10 percent this year. This announcement, the Wall Street Journal writes, indicates that a Chinese economic slowdown will have little impact on Chinese plans to continue modernizing a military that has seen booming government expenditures over the past several years.

Reuters reports that mandatory U.S. budget caps may jeopardize the United States’s ability to fulfill an Israeli request for missile defense funding. Depending how the request is summed, it could reach $488 million. At the same time, Palestinian leadership is gathering to discuss potentially suspending security cooperation with Israel, Reuters adds. At the meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas harshly criticized Israel’s withholding of over $100 million in taxes collected on behalf of the Palestinians every month. He asked, “Are we dealing with a state or with a gangster?”

Averting another last-minute showdown, the House of Representatives passed a bill fully funding the Department of Homeland Security without blocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. The Post reports that the bill passed 257-167, with support from 182 Democrats and 75 Republicans.

Minh Quang Pham, a Vietnamese man accused of helping develop propaganda for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has been extradited from Britain to the United States, the Times reports. He will face trial in Manhattan.

A jury has been selected in the trial of accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Times reveals. 18 jurors were chosen in the capital case; only 12 of these will participate in final deliberations, but the identity of the 6 alternate jurors will remain secret until the end of the trial.

David Petraeus has reached a plea deal taht will allow him to avoid jail time for giving his mistress his highly classified journals, the Times reports. While serving as CIA Director, Petraeus apparently passed personal notebooks containing war strategy, intelligence capabilities, the names of covert officers, and other highly sensitive information to Paula Broadwell, who was writing a biography of Petraeus while also having an affair with him. As part of his plea deal, prosecutors recommended a $40,000 fine and two years of probation.

In the trial of alleged USS Cole bomber Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the defense requested that the judge obtain a copy of the Senate’s ‘Torture Report.’ The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg writes that the defense wants the full report -- a 500-page executive summary of which has already been released -- in order to either challenge evidence presented against him or claim that the United States has lost the moral authority to execute Nashiri if he is convicted.

NSA leaker Edward Snowden says wants to come home, again. The Times reports that a Russian lawyer working for Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia in 2013, is working with both German and American lawyers to ensure that Snowden’s condition on his return -- a guarantee that he will receive a legal and impartial trial -- is met.

Parting Shot: A quadriplegic woman recently flew a F-35 Joint Strike Fighter simulator using just her mind.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Wells covered Tuesday’s proceedings in the al Nashiri Guantanamo military commission prosecution. (Sessions 1, 2, & 3)

Cody tipped us off to Herb Lin’s testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday.

Andy Wang summarized the First Circuit Court's decision rejecting a request by the defense of the alleged Boston bomber to move the trial.

Jane Chong continued Lawfare’s ongoing discussion of what explains the U.S. public’s lack of trust in the intelligence community.

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.