Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Quinta Jurecic
Monday, October 19, 2015, 3:58 PM

Violence continues in Israel as tensions rise throughout the region. A Bedouin Arab Israeli gunman attacked a central bus station in Beersheba, killing a soldier and injuring another eleven other Israelis. Following the attack, an Eritrean asylum seeker was shot by a security guard who suspected the man was a second attacker. The man later died after being assaulted by a mob, the Post reported. The death count in the recent spat of violence continues to rise, leaving some forty-one Palestinians and nine Israelis dead.

Such lone-wolf attacks continue throughout the country. The Post tells us that four Palestinians wielding knives were killed by security forces on Saturday. In response to the uptick of lone-wolf attacks over the last month, Israeli military personnel have been deployed in city centers, and Israeli forces have erected a shallow cement wall between two neighborhoods in Jerusalem, sparking controversy and criticism. AP highlights the clash of narratives which divides Israelis and Palestinians. The Huffington Post has more.

Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas later this week. For his part, Kerry denounced the violence and suggested that “this is a human catastrophe unfolding before our eyes and it is a catastrophe that now threatens the integrity of a whole group of countries throughout the region.” The Times writes that Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also met with Netanyahu to discuss different issues. The two leaders expressed cooperation in dealing “with malign Iranian activities in the region,” as concerns about Tehran’s involvement in Syria grow.

In Syria, a top commander for the Khorasan Group, an al Qaeda off-shoot focused on perpetuating attacks against the West, was killed in a drone strike in the northwest part of the country. The Pentagon reported that it had killed Sanafi al Nasr, a Saudi citizen and highest-ranking leader of the group. Nasr is the fifth senior member of the group to be killed in the past four months. Nasr was described by the Pentagon as “a financial specialist who funneled money from donors in the Persian Gulf” to various al Qaeda networks, a logistics organizer for new recruits traveling from Pakistan, and “an active propagandist on Twitter.”

Syrian government forces are advancing on Aleppo, bolstered by their assortment of allies. A spokesman for a moderate Islamist rebel group said that “the offensive is being led by regime-allied Iranian fighters.” In response to the renewed vigor of Assad’s forces, U.S.-backed rebel forces have reportedly received “new supplies of U.S.-made anti-tank missiles.” The missiles are a critical component of their arsenal in their fight against Syrian forces, yet rebel commanders told Reuters that the supplies did not match the scale of the assault. Meanwhile, the Guardian suggests that this battle for Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, will trigger a new wave of refugees. Already, the BBC reports that thousands of Syrians have fled the city without adequate shelter or medical care.

Could Russia’s intervention into Syria already be prompting blowback? According to Russian intelligence agents, the country has arrested a man plotting to blow up a train station in the southern part of the country. This is their second announcement of a foiled terror plot in two weeks.

Al Jazeera reports that dozens of ISIS fighters were killed in Hama by airstrikes from unidentified planes. Based on the location of the strikes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights notes that the planes were likely Russian or Syrian.

Cold War-Coalition? In addition to his other allies which have enabled his latest advances, Bashar al Assad might have a new ally in Cuba. The Daily Beast reports that Cuban paramilitary and Special Forces units are on the ground in Syria, highlighting Russia’s historic ties with Cuba.

Finally, the Times outlines the overlapping and confusing conflicts driving Syria’s civil war.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces are on the advance against the Islamic State on three different fronts. The AFP carries the story, confirming that Iraqi security forces are clearing pockets of resistance in Baiji, and slowing closing in on Ramadi and Hawijah.

According to Reuters, despite Russian reassurances to the contrary, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu maintains that the drone struck down by Turkish forces was Russian-made. Davutoğlu expressed hope that Russia “will adopt a more careful stance and Turkish-Russian relations will not be negatively affected.”

Elsewhere, in a sweep targeting those with suspected connections to last week’s bombings in Ankara, Turkey has detained dozens of suspected ISIS recruits bound for Syria and Iraq.

The Times reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has “explicitly linked accelerating Turkey’s effort to join the European Union to Turkish cooperation in clamping down on the flow of refugees from Turkey to Europe,” highlighting the importance of Turkey’s cooperation as Europe attempts to mitigate the crisis. Though no agreement has been formalized, the current proposal would provide some $3.4 billion from Europe to help Turkey deal with around 2.2 million refugees.

Meanwhile, the closure and strict control of the Balkan borders has left thousands of refugees stranded without access to basic necessities. Following Hungary’s move to close its border with Croatia and reinstate its border controls with Slovenia, Croatia has begun diverting refugees into Slovenia, which itself then began suspending population movement in order to institute "’complete control’ over the flow.” According to the Times, Slovenia plans to use its army to help manage the flow of refugees to the Austrian border. As the crisis continues, al Jazeera highlights another refugee crisis in Italy where refugees hail primarily from a number of north African countries. Some activists are accusing Italian authorities of altering their decisions regarding refugee status by the nationality of the asylum-seeker.

Sudanese troops arrived in Yemen this weekend to fight alongside the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi-rebels. A Sudanese spokesman claimed that “Sudan is committed to restore legitimacy in Yemen.” The move comes as Saudi Arabia is expected to increase aid to Sudan from $11 billion in 2015 to $15 billion in 2016.

In Afghanistan, the Afghan defense minister claimed that Taliban fighters and Pakistani operatives had used Doctors Without Borders’ Kunduz hospital as safe haven, adding that a Taliban flag had been painted on one of the hospital’s walls. Doctors Without Borders immediately denied the allegations.

Greg Miller of the Washington Post responds to the latest conspiracy theory raising questions about the circumstances of Osama bin Laden’s death, this time featured in the New York Times Magazine. Miller writes that, contrary to the Times' piece, a lot actually is known about bin Laden’s death, remarking on the broad consensus “that bin Laden was killed in a raid by U.S. Special Operations forces conducted without the cooperation or awareness of the Pakistani government after a decade-long CIA manhunt.”

The Telegraph reports on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s new initiative to find extremists who have infiltrated British institutions. As Muslim leaders in the U.K. express concerns that new counter-extremist measures could risk alienating Muslim populations, the BBC outlines some of the measures within the counter-extremism strategy. British Home Secretary Theresa May expressed that “non-violent extremism could not go ‘uncontested’ as it [leads] to the erosion of women's rights, the spread of intolerance and bigotry, and the separation of some communities ‘from the mainstream.’”

On Sunday, U.S. and E.U. partners began preparations to lift sanctions against Iran, setting in place legal mechanism that will allow the countries to release funds to Tehran on the Iran Deal’s “Adoption Day,” the Post tells us. The sanctions will be lifted “only when all the agreed-upon steps are verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency — which will be called ‘Implementation Day.’” Reuters adds that sanctions pertaining to issues not related to Iran’s nuclear program will remain in place.

Sunday also marked the first phase of Egypt’s parliamentary election, which Egyptians greeted with a voter turnout of 10%. Reuters writes that the low turnout may point to growing discontent toward the rule of President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, as many younger Egyptians boycotted the vote in protest of what they see as a sham election. The government has closed public offices for half the day on Monday in order to encourage public employees to vote.

In northeast Nigeria, two female suicide bombers killed 12 people on Saturday. The style of attack was characteristic of Boko Haram.

Last month, the United States and China agreed to abstain from cyber-espionage aimed at securing economic advantage. But now, the Times tells us, a cybersecurity firm has accused Chinese hackers of continuing to attack a number of technology and pharmaceutical companies in the weeks following the agreement. The question, the firm suggests, is whether “the parties to the agreement discussed a time frame for implementation”--in which case the hacking might not violate the accord--“or, instead, expected it to be immediate.”

The Hill writes that the European Commission and the United States have “three months to come up with an alternative to an invalidated legal framework that allowed companies to shuttle personal data across the Atlantic" following the ECJ's ruling against the Safe-Harbor agreement.

After 18 months of delay, the 9/11 trial is once again moving forward… or is it? This morning, the presiding military judge was set to decide whether the trial could go on despite a completed FBI investigation into possible legal and ethical breaches by a member of one of the defense teams. But the proceedings came to a screeching halt when one of the defendants, Walid Bin Attash, unexpectedly asked the court whether he could fire his lawyer and represent himself instead. Bin Attash’s co-defendant, Ramzi bin al Shibh, also asked the judge about his right to waive attendance and decline to attend the trial proceedings. The Miami Herald has the story.

On Friday, the chief suspect in the Benghazi attacks appeared in federal court for the first time since January, CBS News reports. Ahmed Abu Khatallah requested that the court dismiss certain charges against him, though the presiding judge is unlikely to do so. The Justice Department is set to decide whether it will seek the death penalty against Khatallah by spring of 2016 and will likely set a trial date for some time in 2017.

A German civil rights group has filed a criminal complaint against a CIA officer alleged to have been involved in the torture of a German citizen. The group, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, submitted the complaint to a German court on behalf of Khalid El-Masri, whom the European Court of Human Rights found to have been mistreated by the CIA while he was interrogated in Afghanistan. The International Business Times writes that the Center is seeking an investigation against Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, the CIA official reportedly responsible for El-Masri’s mistreatment.

The Washington Post reports that federal regulators will require recreational drone owners to register their aircraft with the government. According to the Department of Transportation, a task force has until November 20th to present recommendations for the registry. The Department hopes to have the registry functioning by Christmas. The move comes as federal regulators look to create some form of mechanism to enforce FAA regulations regarding drone and aviation safety. The FAA previously reported that pilots are reporting more than 100 close calls with drones each month. Lawfare’s Herb Lin also discussed the latest developments in drone registration plans.

Parting shot: Speaking of drone regulations: ever wondered what would happen if you attached a Grim Reaper costume to a commercial drone and chased people around a park? With Halloween approaching, perhaps it’s time to revisit this one-of-a-kind spooky prank.

ICYMI:This Weekend, on Lawfare

Jeffrey Kahn shed light on the legal history behind the case of Colonel Abel, featured in Steven Spielberg’s latest film Bridge of Spies.

Cody posted this week’s Lawfare Podcast, which features a discussion about the future of surveillance reform in a post-Snowden world.

Carol R. Saivetz wrote this week’s Foreign Policy Essay, which looks at Russia’s support of Assad in Syria.

Herb Lin talked about the U.S. Department of Transportation’s plans to require drone registration from all drone purchasers.

Quinta read the Intercept’s “Drone Papers” and outlined what may have been missed in the initial frenzy of reporting.

Ben posted the "Fond Fair Wells" episode of the Rational Security Podcast.

Mirko Hohman discussed the new data retention law passed by Germany's Bundestag.

Zack Bluestone highlighted the latest verbal salvos between the United States and China over planned U.S. patrols in the South China Sea in the newest edition of Water Wars.

Herb Lin suggested that the U.S. military should to learn how to operate without electronic and cyber systems.

Charlie Dunlap wrote about President Obama’s War Powers legacy as it relates to drones.

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