Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tara Hofbauer
Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 1:52 PM

After a bruising election cycle, Israelis head to the polls today to vote for the 20th Knesset. Thanks to a close race, current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in danger of losing his position. His hard-line, security focused Likud Party is in a tight battle against the Labor Party, which has emphasized the rising cost of living in Israel.  Check out the Jerusalem Post for live updates on the vote.

Yesterday, in an appeal to right wing voters, Netanyahu announced that if he were elected to a fourth term, he would not allow for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said during an interview. His statements contradict previous assertions, in which he supported a two state solution. The New York Times has more on the Prime Minister’s about face.

The Washington Post points out that turnout of Arab Israelis may “swing” the vote. Making up twenty percent of the country’s population, Arab Israelis generally oppose Netanyahu. Indeed, in a video posted to Facebook, the Prime Minister voiced concern as to the fate of his party, saying, “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls.”

Iraqi forces have halted their offensive on Tikrit. Last week, Baghdad wrested control of most of the city from Islamic State militants. But the victory “has come at a cost,” reports the Post. The fighting has been much more difficult than was originally anticipated, and “the steady flow of coffins” underscores that point.

The battle for Tikrit has also has increased Iran's role in the region. According to the Times, the Islamic Republic “has deployed advanced rockets and missiles to Iraq to help fight the Islamic State in Tikrit, a significant escalation of firepower and another sign of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.” U.S. News and World Report writes that in order to root out the Islamic State, the Iraqi government has been “forced to accept Iran’s ‘suffocating embrace.’”

Iraqi security forces have arrested 31 members of the Islamic State’s car bomb cell. The suspects are allegedly responsible for over 52 attacks carried out in Baghdad since last year. The militants had previously been able to make it through security checkpoints by showing police bottles of alcohol contained in their cars. "They were trying to fool the police into thinking they were drinkers and dispel any suspicion they could be religious extremists." Agence France-Presse reports that 10 more suspects remain at large.

U.S. Central Command has released three unclassified videos of air strikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Watch them here, here, and here.

A new round of nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 group and Iran began in Switzerland yesterday. During the discussions, officials from Tehran asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about a letter signed by 47 Republican Senators, opposing any kind of agreement. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif noted, “We see the letter as a political move, but we need to know the U.S. government’s stance on this issue.” Since the release of the missive, Secretary Kerry has criticized legislators for their interference. The Times shares more.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that Bashar al-Assad’s government carried out a poison gas attack on the village of Sarmin in the country’s northwest region. Six people allegedly died as a result. Reuters has more on the attack and the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has accused the Syrian government of bombing civilian targets in the city of Raqqa. BBC News reports.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has a new media strategy, reports the Wall Street Journal. Following U.S. drone strikes on its members and their positions, the terrorist group is now sending news organizations photos of the attack and obituaries for the deceased. Previously, journalists received only radio silence, but AQAP has a new media liaison, who is looking to rival the strategies employed by the Islamic State and the U.S. government.

In advance of President Ashraf Ghani’s trip to Washington, the Afghan government remains unsuccessful in convincing the Taliban to participate in peace talks. The Wall Street Journal shares details.

The Times examines the rise of militias in Afghanistan: Armed and empowered by the United States Special Forces, local strongmen and their bands of thugs have begun kidnapping and extorting citizens from the communities they are supposed to protect. Says one victim, “For God’s sake, take these people away from us. We cannot stand their brutality.”

The Tunisian government announced today that it has broken up a jihadist recruiting cell that had been working to send militants into neighboring Libya. Reuters informs us that ten people have been arrested.

Russia announced today that it has no intentions of returning Crimea to Ukraine. A government spokesperson noted, "There is no occupation of Crimea. Crimea is a region of the Russian Federation and of course the subject of our regions is not up for discussion.” Reuters has the story.

Following a mysterious ten-day absence from the public view, Russian President Vladimir Putin has returned. Reuters points out that his reappearance coincides with major military exercises in the country’s Arctic North.

South Korea issued a clear directive to China today: Butt out of our security affairs. Seoul is considering installing an American ballistic missile defense system, which Beijing believes is meant to target them. During a news briefing today, a spokesperson for the South Korean Defense Ministry, noted, “A neighboring country can have its own opinion on the possible deployment of the Thaad system here by the U.S. forces in South Korea. But it should not try to influence our security policy.” The Times has more.

The Wall Street Journal informs us that Republican lawmakers are considering an increase to the funds allocated for the Defense Department’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). Such a move would allow legislators to provide increase financial support for the military, while remaining within the guidelines set by the 2011 sequester.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Marko Milanovic shared his thoughts on the British Parliament’s recently released report, entitled, “Privacy and Security: A Modern and Transparent Legal Framework.”

Jack explained how the Supreme Court’s decision in Zivotofsky v. Kerry could affect the Iran nuclear deal.

Steve Slick posted an update regarding the White House’s proposed new Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC).

Ben informed us of “the first Espionage Act convict to win himself a second conviction.”

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