Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, November 10, 2015, 4:34 PM

Meeting for the first time in thirteen months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama sought to put aside their differences of the specifics of the Iran nuclear deal, choosing instead “to highlight their shared goals of confronting Iranian misbehavior, countering terrorism, bolstering Israel’s security and strategizing over the crisis in Syria.” The two leaders also discussed increasing Israel’s military aid. With the current agreement between Israel and the United States is set to expire in 2017, Netanyahu sought an increase in annual aid from $3 billion to $4.5 billion. In remarks made to Israeli reporters, Netanyahu called the discussions "forward looking" and said that "the conversation was in very good spirits and very honest.”

With no sign that tensions in Israel will subside anytime soon, Netanyahu and Obama “reaffirmed their commitment to seeking elusive Middle East peace on Monday.” For his part, Netanyahu confirmed his desire to work towards a two-state solution. Back in Israel, a Palestinian was shot and killed after he tried to stab two guards in Jerusalem’s Old City. Shortly thereafter, two Palestinians, aged 12 and 13, stabbed an Israeli security guard. One of the boys was shot and wounded while the other was detained unharmed.

The New York Times writes that the Islamic State’s affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula has emerged as the prime suspect behind the crash of a Russian jetliner as Reuters reports that “communications intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies” reveal  that Russian authorities now believe that a bomb caused the breakup of the plane. Brookings’ William McCants points out that, if confirmed, the attack could prompt serious backlash by Russian forces against the Islamic State. Given that Russia has primarily targeted ISIS’s enemies in Syria, he argues that it is difficult to imagine the Islamic State’s central leaders designed an attack that could risk Russian retribution. Instead, it is more likely that the affiliate hatched and executed the attack on its own, raising serious questions as to how much control the group’s leaders actually exercise over its affiliates.

The Daily Beast's Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef report that some U.S. intelligence and military officials have admitted they’re optimistic the Islamic State's involvement in the downing of the Russian jetliner might prompt Russian military action against the group.

Egypt has launched its own inquiry into whether or not a bomb was responsible for the crash. Meanwhile, Nearly 11,000 Russians have been repatriated and the U.K. has flown 3,500 of its own tourists out of the region after flights to and from the area were suspended by both countries.

British intelligence officials have been the most outspoken officials in suggesting that a bomb was responsible for the attacks. On Monday, the U.K. announced plans to significantly increase counterterrorism staff across Britain’s three intelligence agencies. While the decision was made on eve of the crash, British authorities said the move comes as “a response to the changing nature of the terrorist threat.”

On the ground in Iraq, McClatchy reports that the offensives against Islamic State forces in Ramadi, Fallujah, and Sinjar have largely stalled. Even so, an unnamed adviser suggested that the Iraqi security position was better in Fallujah because U.S. Marines were “doing more than ‘mentoring’ Iraqi troops,” adding that “there’re a lot of bad guys in Fallujah getting shot in the head from pretty far away, outside the capability of the mentored troops.”

Syrian forces have retaken an air base in Aleppo, breaking a nearly two-year siege by ISIS militants. AFP tells us that insurgents killed at least 22 people in Latakia yesterday "when two mortar rounds struck residential neighbourhoods."

In anticipation of this weekend’s talks in Vienna, the New York Times writes that “one of the main points of contention will be to determine whom to include among opposition groups in future negotiations.” Worth noting is that no Syrian groups have been invited to this weekend's talks, in part, due to disagreements over “who is a terrorist and who counts as a legitimate opposition group.”  Additionally, parties to the talks remain divided over the future of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu argued that Bashar al Assad must leave power before refugees can return to Syria. Dismissing the notion that Assad could remain in power for a temporary transition period, Davutoğlu maintained that “the question is when and how Assad will go.”

Russia has finalized a contract to deliver advanced S-300 missile systems to Iran. Russia previously stalled the supply due to U.N. sanctions on the Iranian regime, but restarted conversations over the systems following the P5+1 agreement with Tehran. Former head of the Israeli Missile Defense Program Arieh Herzog said that the weapons system could jeopardize potential Israeli airstrikes in Iran and expressed concern that the missiles could end up in the wrong hands, including those of Bashar al Assad or other Iranian sponsored groups.

A Jordanian officer opened fire on fellow trainers in a police facility yesterday, killing a total of five people including two American contractors. Though the attack has not yet been connected to any known terrorist elements, it occurred on the tenth anniversary of a series of hotel bombings  across Amman that were coordinated by al Qaeda.

With United Kingdom set to hold a referendum on continued British membership within the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron has articulated a series of reforms that the U.K. would like to see enacted within the Union. The Washington Post reports that “Britain’s demands covered four broad themes — efforts to increase the E.U.’s competitiveness, a bigger role for national parliaments, safeguards for countries not using the common euro currency, and [...] the curbing of welfare payments to other E.U. citizens living in Britain.” While Britain’s euro-skeptics have suggested that Cameron’s proposal is soft on the issues, others are skeptical that Europe could make the proposed reforms.

The European Union border agency Frontex reported “1.2 million irregular entries to the European Union in the first 10 months of this year, four times more than in the whole of 2014.” Frontex suggests that the number could be lower given that refugees who exit and reenter the bloc are often counted twice. The AP continues to provide live updates on the refugee crisis in Europe.

Sweden has called upon its army to help manage the refugee flows and coordinate logistics. Sweden’s refugee and immigration agency predicts that as many as 170,000 refugees will arrive in Sweden by the end of this year. The country “is bearing a disproportionate burden of the European refugee crisis, due in part to its pledge in 2013 to provide permanent residency to almost any Syrian who reached Swedish soil.”

Following a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy party, according to the Washington Post, Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has vowed that she will be the country’s next leader, even if a constitutional provision bars her from being the country’s president. The election marks a major achievement in Myanmar’s democratization and observers from the Carter Center and the European Union have issued relatively positive reports on the conduct of the poll.

The Express Tribune of Pakistan reports that India is actively pursuing a contract for U.S. predator drones as the country races to counter Pakistan’s own armed drone, the Burraq. In September, the United States backed India’s inclusion in the Missile Technology Control Regime, which the Express Tribune describes as a “prerequisite for buying the drones” from U.S. manufacturers.  

Yesterday, U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia Judge Richard Leon issued an order of injunction against the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program as authorized under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act and extended under the USA Freedom Act. Judge Leon wrote that the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the law and that the program was “likely unconstitutional.” You can read the opinion here.

With the Senate set to approve the NDAA once again today, the Washington Post reports that President Obama may have missed his chance to force Congress to consider and potentially approve his plan to close Guantanamo Bay. Even so, a Defense Department official told reporters yesterday that the Pentagon is “very close” to delivering that very plan to Congress, suggesting that it will be delivered sometime this week.  

The New York Times reports that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s so called “Torture Report” has gone unread in several federal agencies, including the Pentagon, State Department, and CIA, at the direction of the Department of Justice. According to the Justice Department, reading the report could influence the outcome of several pending FOIA lawsuits, as a judge may determine that action made the document an executive branch record instead of a Senate record. The Times notes that Senate records are exempt from public records laws.

U.S. prosecutors have announced criminal charges against three men accused of running a series of hacking schemes that included the 2014 attack against JPMorgan Chase & Co. The men, Gery Shalon, Joshua Samuel Aaron, and Ziv Orenstein have been charged in a 23-count indictment that alleges crimes against at least nine financial institutions and media outlets including E*Trade, Scottrade, and News Corp’s Dow Jones unit. A fourth man, Anthony Murgio was also charged regarding an illegal bitcoin exchange. The Justice Department said that the men executed the attacks using a computer server in Egypt.

In a letter sent Monday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) demanded that 24 federal agencies share their policies and practices for using stingrays, a controversial surveillance device, also called a cell-site simulator. Defense One carries the story.

Parting shot: Don’t miss Jack Goldsmith’s review of Power Wars by Charlie Savage in The New Rambler.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Cody linked to a bipartisan letter signed by 35 U.S. House representatives calling on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to schedule a vote on an ISIS AUMF.

Cody also shared Judge Richard Leon’s opinion issuing an order of injunction against the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program in Klayman v. Obama.

Ben argued that if push comes to shove, a decision to close Guantanamo Bay without consulting Congress “would be a bold assertion of executive authority.”

Finally, Ken Anderson commented on Jennifer Daskal’s paper on “The Un-Territoriality of Data.”

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