FP's Situation Report: Congress funds Iron Dome big time; Amos steps into the breach; In Vienna, progress but still work to be done; A legendary Marine major, outted; No-fly for the F-35; and a bit more.
Congress ups Israel's Iron Dome funding. Iron Dome, the anti-missile system that is seen as so successful at preventing Hamas' rocket attacks from being effective that it is credited, in part, for having kept Israeli troops from mounting a ground invasion of Gaza, is getting major new funding from Congress. The infusion of cash will radically bolster the program even if can't guarantee peace in the region - even in the short term. FP's Kate Brannen: "...The additional money for Iron Dome cleared one of its final hurdles Tuesday, when a key Senate appropriations subcommittee unanimously voted to double the Pentagon's $175 million request for fiscal year 2015. The full committee will consider the defense appropriations bill on Thursday. Meanwhile, three other panels have already signed off on the funding expansion, making it all but certain the additional money will be provided. Iron Dome has received $720 million in American funding since 2011, when the United States became directly involved in the program."
"...Israel is reporting that Iron Dome has had a 90 percent success rate, though it has only been used against 27 percent of the Hamas rockets. Because of the high cost of each interceptor -- which the Washington Post pegs at roughly $20,000 a piece -- Israel only uses the system when its radars indicate that a rocket seems likely to hit a populated area. The Hamas rockets are thought to cost less than $800 each.
"The system isn't perfect -- on Tuesday, a rocket attack caused the first Israeli death since the eight-day military confrontation began -- but it has kept Tel Aviv and other major cities from being hit by Hamas. Israeli airstrikes on targets in Gaza, by contrast, have killed close to 200 Palestinians." More here.
And despite Iron Dome's success, Israel is pondering if a ground invasion is now necessary. Reuters' Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams this hour: "Israel urged the evacuation on Wednesday of several Gaza Strip areas where more than 100,000 people live, threatening ground operations after briefly holding fire under an Egyptian truce proposal that failed to stop Palestinian rocket salvoes. Authorised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet to escalate an eight-day-old offensive, the military said it had sent out evacuation warnings in northeastern Gaza." More here.
The International Crisis Group urges Israel to break the violent impasse by changing its policy toward Hamas in a new report. Israel must recognize how much its own stability depends on the stability of Gaza, the new report argues. The report assesses that a return to the "destructive status quo" is the most likely outcome in Gaza. But, there is an opportunity to pursue a more sustainable cessation of violence. The report recommends that Israel allow the reconciliation agreement signed in April by Hamas and the PLO a chance to work. The argument goes that if reconciliation is implemented, it offers the best chance of alleviating Gaza's misery and therefore reducing Hamas's incentives to fight.
Ofer Zalzberg, Senior Analyst for Israel/Palestine, told Situation Report's Sobel yesterday: "The report frames the structural reasons that led to the fighting: even before the kidnappings, the stage had been set by Hamas's inability to pay salaries and the water, energy and sanitation crisis in the Gaza Strip. Within this context, quiet-for-quiet cannot work since Hamas will continue to pry open Gaza. Merely ending violence is insufficient for lasting calm."
Nathan Thrall, Middle East Senior Analyst, added: "The biggest challenge in resolving this crisis is that there is no mediator both Israel and Hamas feel they can trust. The souring of relations between Egypt and Hamas since Sisi took power in July 2013 is the root cause of Hamas's isolation and Gaza's dire economic predicament. Egypt doesn't want to give concessions to Hamas in order to stop the fighting, and Hamas doesn't trust that any commitments Egypt makes will be honored."
Hamas' rejection of the cease-fire deal was a foregone conclusion. Ha'aretz's Amira Hass, here.
Why Israel is winning this war. CFR's Elliott Abrams for the Weekly Standard, here.
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As the Pentagon ponders an assessment of Iraqi security forces that now sits on the desks of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, there is some progress on the political front in Baghdad, even if the heavy lift that still needs to occur has yet to begin.
Iraq's parliament broke two weeks of political deadlock, electing a speaker, and taking a major first step toward forming a new government. Still on the to-do list? Find a new prime minister. The WaPo's Abigail Hoslohner: "...The election of a new speaker appeared to bring Iraq one step closer to forming a government led by someone other than Nouri al-Maliki, the controversial prime minister. Widespread opposition to Maliki, a Shiite Arab, among Iraq's Sunni Arab and Kurdish minorities, as well as some Shiite lawmakers, has been the main reason for the deadlock. 'There is no chance for Maliki,' Jawad al-Jubouri, a spokesman for the Shiite al-Ahrar party, said Tuesday night. 'All of the political blocs and the [Shiite] religious authority are telling him to leave.'" More here.
Into the (political) breach: Outgoing Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos says that the chaos in Iraq shows the costs of withdrawal. FP's Kate Brannen: "Stepping into an intensifying political debate, the head of the Marine Corps said the United States doesn't have the luxury of isolationism and said Iraq's deterioration may have been prevented if Washington had maintained a larger U.S. presence there. The comments from Gen. James Amos, the outgoing commandant of the Marine Corps., come amid sharp divides over who bears responsibility for the takeover of much of Iraq by Islamist militants and whether the United States should pull back from its leadership role on the world stage." More here.
The WaPo's summer intern just outted Marine Maj. Doug Zembiec, killed in Iraq in 2007, who was really working for the CIA at the time. Read that Page Oner by former Marine-turned-journo Thomas Gibbons-Neff, here.
And, in Afghanistan: A huge bomb goes off in a marketplace, killing as many as 42 in Paktika province. The BBC this hour, here.
Meantime: so are there positive developments coming out of the nuclear talks in Vienna - or not? We suggested yesterday that what Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had agreed to in principle - to freeze its ability to produce nuclear fuel - was a positive sign in the nuclear talks even if the U.S. wasn't yet getting near what it wanted. Still, Zarif's public comments indicated there was some new traction. A scan of the headlines this morning suggest there are still differences between the U.S. and Iran - and over how today's stories frame the issue.
The WaPo's Anne Gearan: " The Obama administration is reassessing whether a nuclear deal with Iran is possible despite wide differences over key issues and may seek to postpone a deadline looming Sunday to either complete an agreement or walk away from the landmark effort." More here.
The WSJ's Laurence Norman's lede: "Nuclear talks between Iran and six powers were set to extend past the July 20 target date as Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif cited significant progress Tuesday, while saying much work remains." More here.
The NYT's Michael Gordon and David Sanger: "... Mr. Kerry said that 'very real gaps' remained, but his tone - and his acknowledgment that Iran had complied with all of its commitments under a temporary agreement that took effect in January - left little doubt he wanted to extend the talks by weeks or months."
"...American officials are concerned about several major elements of Mr. Zarif's proposal. While it would essentially freeze Iran's capacity to produce enriched uranium for several years, Iran would be free to keep up research and development of highly sophisticated centrifuges, and put them in place after the agreement would expire. Mr. Zarif wants a short agreement of three to seven years. The United States and its allies insist on limitations on Iran for at least a decade, preferably longer." More here.
A light bulb moment: The NYTs gets an idea to rethink the military from Foreign Policy. From the NYT's "Room for Debate": "An article in Foreign Policy magazine argued that if we 'were starting fresh,' today's United States armed forces would look very different. It's an interesting thought, so Room for Debate asked other experts: What would the U.S. military look like if we could start from scratch?" With input from John Nagl, Todd Harrison, Tom Donnelly, Caitlin Talmadge and Kori Schake, here.
Here is Foreign Policy's "Control-Alt-Delete" piece on "Resetting America's Military" by Shawn Brimley and Peter Scharre, with a series of engaging, charts, graphs and other nifty-isms, from last month, here.
The F-35 won't go to Farnborough. Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby, yesterday: "I can confirm that the Department of Defense in concert with our partners in the U.K. has decided not to send Marine Corps and U.K. F-35B aircraft across the Atlantic to participate in the Farnborough air show. This decision was reached after a consultation with senior leaders and airworthiness authorities, despite the decision by airworthiness authorities to clear the aircraft to return to flight -- to limited flight." Read the transcript here.
Who's Where When today - Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. go to Capitol Hill to provide testimony at a HASC hearing about the budget/overseas contingency operations.
Also today, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) and Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE) will host an event on Capitol Hill, "Geopolitical Flashpoints in Oil Producing Countries: Implications for U.S. National and Energy Security." Reps. Gene Green (D-TX) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) will deliver remarks on energy security around the globe. They will be followed by a panel that includes Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and John Hannah, Former National Security Advisor to the Vice President. Steve Mufson of The Washington Post will moderate the discussion. http://bit.ly/1tvJDfQ
Does this story mean Hagel Chief of Staff Mark Lippert has a longer wait? Lippert, nominated to be the next top diplomat in Seoul, is awaiting confirmation, but there's no sign it's happening anytime soon. There's a NYT story today on the logjam of ambassador confirmations that focuses initially on U.S. ambassadors awaiting confirmation to African countries - just weeks before the big African summit in D.C. - but the issue applies to other ambassador noms, as well. Read the NYT's Andrew Siddons' piece here.
That bit is an excuse to put FP in re-run: here's our story from last week about how the White House might be bungling the historic African summit in early August. Read Lubold's story here.
Speaking of which, we got a note from a friend to Situation Report yesterday noting that Congress was holding a hearing today that is an example of how the U.S. sends the wrong signal to African countries: "Not to belabor a point, but one really can't make this stuff up! Two weeks before the start of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, instead of a hearing about trade with the continent, renewing the [African Growth and Opportunity Act], or other such, the House holds a hearing on the 'growing crisis of African orphans'"...
That 2 p.m. hearing today is the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations on orphans. Deets here.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's return to active duty raised a couple quick questions at yesterday's Pentagon presser - namely: are there any restrictions on him as the Army continues investigating the circumstances under which he disappeared from a combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan in 2009, leading to his capture by the Taliban?
Reporter question: "Are there any restrictions on his movements, given the ongoing investigation?
Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. Kirby: "No. I mean, he's an active-duty Army soldier. And just like any active-duty Army soldier, he's free to leave base. He's -- I mean, he's not under any particular restrictions. And I would remind you -- I mean, he's not been charged with anything."
Read the Onion's "Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Recaptured By Taliban After Wandering Off Texas Base," here.
Hackers, shooters, and storms threaten the U.S. power grid, a study says. FP's Shane Harris: "The United States' electrical grid is vulnerable to disruptive attacks by computer hackers that could shut off power to vital sectors of the economy and key public utilities, giving potential adversaries a new way of hitting the United States, according to a new study by a Washington think tank. The report by the nonpartisan Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill consider legislation that would beef up cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure like the power grid while also encouraging the government and private sector to share more information about cyberthreats and thwarted attacks. That legislation has been in the works for years but has been blocked by business interests that see mandatory security standards as an improper attempt by Washington to dictate how companies manage privately owned facilities in industries ranging from telecommunications to the financial and transportation sectors." More here.
On the WSJ op-ed page today, Patrick Cronin and Richard Fontaine argue in favor of a broader American security relationship with Vietnam, including arms sales, in light of growing Chinese assertiveness: "...How should the U.S. respond to China's coercive efforts in an effective and measured way? One answer lies in relations with Vietnam. Vietnam's capacity to resist creeping assertions of sovereignty is outmatched by Beijing's superior might. While Washington and Hanoi have taken modest steps to normalize military relations through joint exercises and strategic dialogue, the U.S. should take additional steps to bolster Vietnam's ability to defend itself. Most importantly, the U.S. should lift the existing ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam." More here.
Also today, there's a big House hearing on Capitol Hill about the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike program. Ahead of the hearing, Rep. Randy Forbes argues in National Interest that UCLASS and Naval projection go hand-in-hand: "...I believe the future air wing must comprise a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft that provide extended-range operations, persistence, stealth, payload, and electronic warfare. Central to this mix is the Navy's unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) system." More here.
Deets on the Subcomm hearing today at 2, here.
A Canadian killed in battle becomes a pitchman for Syrian jihadis. The NYT's Michael Schmidt: "Shortly after the video begins, a man in his 20s dressed in camouflage appears on screen and begins a recruitment speech. His pitch is fairly straightforward: Come join the fight - you don't need to be a radical to be a jihadi. He says he was just a normal teenager growing up in Canada, fishing and watching hockey, before he left it all for the battlefields of Syria... But while the young man in the video, Andre Poulin, cast himself as just a typical Canadian, the authorities there say he lived a far different life from the one he described.
"...The video is believed to be one of the first pieces of media in which the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - or ISIS, the group that controls large parts of both countries - used an English-speaking North American to try to lure others to fight on its side. It was distributed recently by a propaganda arm of ISIS, known for having one of the slickest and most aggressive media operations in the Islamic world, according to experts who track jihadist materials." More here.
Meanwhile, Libyan jihadists in Syria and Iraq returning home to fight Haftar. Al-Awsat's Abdul Sattar Hatita: "Libyan jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq are returning home to fight the breakaway militia led by Khalifa Haftar, who has recently emerged as a serious threat to the country's Islamists, security and military sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. The revelation came after former Libyan officials expressed fears of an expected Islamist onslaught in a bid to take over the capital, Tripoli.
A security source said: "Islamists have decided to bring the Libyan jihadists they had sent to Syria and Iraq in order to control Tripoli on [Thursday], particularly after they lost in the parliamentary elections." More here.
Assad is settling in for a third term. He was sworn in just today. AP, here.
The West should worry about a campaign that makes an autocratic regime with revisionist intent more effective. Joseph Bosco for the Diplomat: "Clean, transparent government is a basic tenet of Western political liberalism, so we are naturally inclined to support government reform efforts elsewhere. But in the case of the People's Republic of China, should we be rooting for Xi Jinping's version of an anti-corruption campaign to succeed, or to fail, in its intended purposes? Or should we hope it succeeds spectacularly in ways not intended by Communist Party leaders, as glastnost and perestroika did under Mikhail Gorbachev? Xi's campaign is designed to accomplish multiple Party objectives, none of which necessarily serve Western interests in regional peace and stability." More here.