FP's Situation Report: A ground invasion of Gaza looking more likely; Pakistanis tell Obama: rethink drawdown in Afg.; Russians are firing rockets in Ukraine; Dunford to the Hill today; Fixing the VA could cost billions; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel
Israeli officials say that an invasion of Gaza is likely. A ceasefire the U.N. is negotiating between Israel and Hamas doesn't appear to be preventing potential plans for Israel to mount a ground invasion of Gaza and could have implications for that region for months to come. The NYT's Jodi Rudoren: "...Though Israel initially set limited goals of halting the rocket assaults against it and degrading Hamas, the Islamist movement that dominates Gaza, the group's tenacity and surprisingly deep arsenal have led to widespread calls to expand the mission. The military official said only ‘boots on the ground' could eradicate terrorism from Gaza and indicated that Israel was even considering a long-term reoccupation of the coastal territory." More here.
AP's Ian Phillips and Maggie Michae on Egypt's role: "Egypt's foreign minister said Thursday that his country's proposal for a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas is gaining momentum, calling it the only viable way to stop an 'intolerable humanitarian situation' in Gaza. He also expressed frustration that 'Palestinian factions' - a clear reference to Hamas - did not share what he described as Egypt's 'desire ... to protect the Palestinian people in Gaza' by agreeing to the initiative. 'The only way to protect the people and to avoid additional bloodshed is acceptance of the plan,' Sameh Shukri said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press." More here.
Obama, in a statement at the White House yesterday: "...Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people. There's no country on earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets. And I'm proud that the Iron Dome system that Americans helped Israel develop and fund has saved many Israeli lives."
"...We're going to continue to encourage diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire. And we support Egypt's continued efforts to bring this about. Over the next 24 hours, we'll continue to stay in close contact with our friends and parties in the region. And we will use all of our diplomatic resources and relationships to support efforts of closing a deal on a cease-fire."
The five-hour humanitarian truce gave Gaza residents a brief respite from the violence. Reuters' Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem this morning: "Palestinians rushed to shops and banks on Thursday as a five-hour humanitarian truce agreed by Israel and Hamas came into force, hours after the Israeli military said it had fought off gunmen who infiltrated from Gaza. During the ceasefire, air raid sirens went off briefly in southern Israel and the military said three mortars landed in open areas, but the truce appeared to be generally holding. No group in Gaza claimed responsibility for the mortar fire and there were no reports of Israeli retaliation." More here.
The IDF released footage of a foiled Hamas infiltration near Kibbutz Sufa along the Gaza border on Thursday morning. See the video at the Times of Israel, here.
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Concerning violence in Afghanistan has the Pakistani government worried in the extreme about Obama's drawdown plans in Afghanistan. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "The Pakistani government is delivering a harsh new message to the Obama administration: The current chaos in Afghanistan means that the White House urgently needs to re-evaluate its plan to withdraw all American troops from the country by the end of 2016.
"...Despite the warming ties, however, a senior Pakistani official said Wednesday that his government was worried that the Obama administration would destabilize Afghanistan if it carried through with its drawdown plans, which would send at least 1.5 million refugees -- including unknown numbers of militants -- streaming across the border into Pakistan. The official said the administration had based its withdrawal plans on three conditions, none of which have yet been met: free and fair elections leading to a peaceful transfer of power; the quick signing of a bilateral security arrangement allowing U.S. troops to remain in the country; and building an Afghan army capable of taking responsibility for securing their country as the U.S. footprint shrinks." More here.
Airstrikes in Pakistan killed at least 50 people. Reuters: " The Pakistani military said its jets killed 35 suspected militants on Wednesday as part of an anti-Taliban offensive hours after another explosion nearby, which officials initially said was a U.S. drone strike, killed up to 20 people." Read that here.
Militants killed after the "audacious attack" on the Kabul airport. Reuters this morning, here.
This is how Kabul's most popular cop is trying to keep Afghans safe against the Taliban: An FP Slideshow here.
Meantime, Congress is deeply skeptical of funding for Syrian rebels. FP's John Hudson: "...The White House last month announced plans to provide moderate members of the Syrian opposition with $500 million worth of weapons, equipment, and training. Freeing up the money requires authorization from Congress, but after classified meetings this week, key lawmakers speaking to Foreign Policy -- including many Democrats -- remain deeply skeptical of the White House's plan.
"...At issue is the degree to which the United States should try to aid Syria's beleaguered rebels. The CIA is currently providing training and small arms to rebels in Jordan who have been vetted for potential ties to extremists while Washington allows Persian Gulf countries to provide anti-tank missiles. The new Pentagon program would supplement or replace the CIA program, which has been criticized as too modest to make an impact on the battlefield, where Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad has been steadily reclaiming lost territory. The money for the new program is contained in a supplement to the administration's ‘overseas contingency operations' (OCO) budget request. That money has long been used to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." More here.
At the same time, the scope of the training mission Washington is envisioning for the Syrian opposition is pretty small. After years of what critics would say was ambivalence coupled with indecision, the White House is gearing up a concept to begin training and advising moderate Syrian rebels. It's never been thought to be an easy task. But the package, still essentially under wraps, is smaller than expected and won't offer any quick support to fighters. The WSJ's Adam Entous and Julian Barnes: "...President Barack Obama promised in May to work with Congress to raise support for the moderates. But critics inside and outside the administration say the limited steps he is taking are too modest to make a difference on the battlefield, reflecting his own and the Pentagon's reluctance to get entrenched in another Middle East conflict.
"Military officials told congressional committees in closed-door briefings last week that the $500 million program could be used to train a 2,300-man force-less than the size of a single brigade-over an 18-month period that probably wouldn't begin until next year, said meeting participants.
"Pentagon officials said the small size of the training effort reflects the difficulty the Pentagon anticipates it will have finding moderate fighters in sufficient numbers that would be able to clear a U.S. screening process designed to weed out hard-line Islamists. "Fewer people are going to qualify and it's going to be a painstaking process," said a senior U.S. official briefed on the Pentagon's latest planning for the initiative." Read the rest of that here.
The Daily Star in Lebanon blasted the U.S.'s paralyzed Syria policy this week. "...Washington has been consistently and resolutely stuck to a policy of moving the goalposts - backward - when it comes to the Syrian conflict..." More here.?
Former Pentagon official and senior Hill staffer Roger Zakheim writes in defense of war funding for the Weekly Standard, here.
Snowdenfreude: An American crypto-company is making a killing off German anger about U.S. spying. FP's Shane Harris: "...Silent Circle, which sells encrypted mobile phone service that shields users' conversation from eavesdroppers, has seen a surge in sales to German customers since July 4, when Berlin announced the arrest of a 31-year-old intelligence service employee for allegedly passing secret documents to the United States....Silent Circle's sudden jump in sales suggests that German citizens, corporations, and government agencies are taking steps to keep their conversations away from the prying ears of American intelligence agencies. And, paradoxically, they're turning to an American firm to help them. The company was founded in 2012 by Janke, a former Navy SEAL, and Phil Zimmermann, who developed Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), one of the first widely available encryption programs to help average Internet users protect their personal information." More here.
The U.S. has badly underestimated how much anger there is in Germany over spying and it could get worse in the long run if the problem festers. AFP's Dan De Luce: "...Germany's dramatic decision last week to throw out the CIA station chief in Berlin took the Americans by surprise and conveyed a deep frustration with Washington, which has mounted for months since revelations of US eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone.
"...The Germans have a valid complaint to say 'this is too much, you've gone too far, you need to back off,' said [James] Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The alleged spying raised questions about whether the White House was keeping a close eye on what its intelligence agencies were up to inside an allied country, and whether it was worth the political cost, experts said." More here.
Our pick-up of FP's Kate Brannen's story on Israel's Iron Dome and how Congress is expanding funding for it prompted someone to email us this analysis of the anti-missile system. A look back at Peter Dombrowski, Catherine Kelleher and Eric Auner's analysis of the Iron Dome's strategic implications last summer for the National Interest, here.
Brannen's story on FP from this week, here.
Who's Where When today - Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos attends the II MEF change of command at Camp Lejeune, NC... Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work provides testimony at a House Budget Committee hearing about the budget/overseas contingency operations.
Rep. Robert Wittman (R-VA), Chairman of the HASC Subcommittee on Readiness, delivers remarks about how the Defense Department and Congress can maintain military readiness in a time of fiscal constraint at CSIS this morning. Deets and livestream here.
And Joe Dunford visits the Senate Armed Services Committee today for his confirmation hearing to be the Marine Corps' next top Marine. Gen. Joe Dunford, the former ISAF commander, is back from Kabul and is preparing to take over as Commandant of the Marine Corps if the Senate gives him the nod. He appears before the SASC at 9:30 a.m. today in Dirksen G-50.
Read Politico's Phil Ewing's story this week about how Dunford will inherit a "Corps in Flux." Read that bit here.
Also today, Grover Norquist and some members of Congress, including Reps. Lee, Burgess and Schakowsky, will call for an audit of the Pentagon. From a press release sent to SitRep: "Additionally, Members of Congress will discuss a new bill to encourage greater fiscal accountability and transparency at the Pentagon by imposing a 0.5% penalty for unauditable units while protection funding for personnel and critical national security needs. Representatives Burgess, Benishek, Lee and Schakowsky will introduce the bill on Thursday." That happens this morning at 9am at the House Triangle.
As the U.S. slaps additional sanctions on Moscow and Donetsk separatists, new evidence emerges that short-range rockets are being launched from Russia into Ukraine. If confirmed, the videos posted today could be the smoking guns that directly connect the Russian military with the weapons being used against the Ukrainian military on the other side of the border. Michael Weiss and James Miller for FP, here.
Oomph. Fixing the problems at the VA that led to the waiting-list scandal will cost $18 billion over three years. And the fix will require hiring about 1,500 doctors and 8,500 nurses and other clinicians, the acting secretary of the VA told Congress yesterday. The NYT's Richard Oppel: "...The acting secretary, Sloan D. Gibson, told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that the money was necessary to "meet current demand" for medical care for veterans by addressing problems that included "shortfalls in clinical staff" as well as not having enough space in clinics and hospitals to see patients on time.
"His dollar estimate drew immediate skepticism from leading Republicans, including Representative Jeff Miller of Florida, who is chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Miller: "Given that this figure seems to have magically fallen out of the sky today - after years of assertions from V.A. leaders at all levels that they had nearly every dollar and every person necessary to accomplish V.A.'s mission - it would be an act of budgetary malpractice to blindly sign off on this request." More here.
Hagel secretly told Congress that six Gitmo detainees are headed to Uruguay. The NYT's Charlie Savage: "...Mr. Hagel's formal determination that the transfer would be in the national security interest of the United States breaks a bureaucratic paralysis over a deal that has been waiting for his approval since March, but that stalled amid the political uproar over a prisoner exchange deal that secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from insurgents in the Afghanistan war.
"...The six detainees bound for Uruguay include a Syrian man who has brought a high-profile court challenge to the Pentagon's procedures for forcibly feeding detainees who are on a hunger strike. His transfer would most likely render that lawsuit moot, although there are several similar challenges.
"...Amid the political fallout, Mr. Hagel and his top military advisers had signaled reluctance to move forward with the Uruguay deal, along with another proposal to repatriate four low-level Afghan detainees that has been awaiting his approval since February, according to people familiar with the deliberations." More here.
Meantime: Political challenges arise with China's participation in the U.S.-led Rimpac exercises. The WSJ's Jeremy Page: "An unusual experiment in military diplomacy is under way in the waters off Hawaii, as the U.S. incorporates China into the world's biggest naval drills for the first time. The U.S.-led Rimpac drills-involving 22 nations this year-are always a huge logistical task. But with China joining, even as it tries to enforce maritime claims in Asia, organizers faced additional political and legal challenges.
"Among them: Would China allow its ships to be under Japanese command? Would the U.S. allow China to stage a commando raid on a ship? And could Chinese ships legally fire on an inflatable red target known as a ‘killer tomato'?
"...Including China was controversial partly because the drills also involve Japan and the Philippines, two U.S. treaty allies whose territorial disputes with China have threatened to flare into military clashes in the past two years. Then there is U.S. law, principally the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000, which forbids cooperation with China's armed forces that could give away U.S. military know-how. Nonetheless, China isn't just attending Rimpac-something it has sought since 2012 to enhance its naval skills and prestige, military experts say. It is also contributing the largest force after the U.S.: four navy ships, two helicopters, and 1,100 personnel, including divers." More here.
China suddenly withdrew its controversial oil rig from Vietnamese waters ahead of schedule. Beijing says the rig did its job -- and it may have, in more ways than one. FP's Keith Johnson, here.
A US Senate panel is calling on Hagel to reassess the value of an alternate power plant for the F-35 joint strike fighter. Defense News' John Bennett: "In the wake of an engine fire that grounded the F-35 fleet, a US Senate subcommittee wants senior Pentagon officials to consider reviving an effort to develop a second power plant. In 2011, the Pentagon ordered GE and Rolls-Royce to stop work on a second F-35 fighter engine, with the Obama administration calling it an example of wasteful defense spending. The department, in announcing a stop-work order three years ago, dubbed the F136 power plant program a ‘waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher departmental priorities.'" More here.