FP's Situation Report: Kerry lands in Israel to try to broker a cease-fire; Pentagon backs $225 million more for Iron Dome; U.S. intel community says no smoking gun linking Russia to shoot-down; the Navy’s Blue Angels clean up their act; and a bit more.
The U.S. is pressing Israel to wind down its offensive in Gaza. FP's Colum Lynch: "While the United States blamed Hamas for being the greatest obstacle to a cease-fire, American officials signaled that they aren't prepared to give Israel a free hand to continue its military campaign against the Islamist group.
"Speaking before the U.N. Security Council, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said a ‘cease-fire as soon as possible is essential.' Power's remarks came as Israel's military offensive against Hamas in Gaza reached the 15-day mark with no sign of winding down, fueling a growing wave of criticism that Israel has killed too many civilians in its battle against the militants." More here.
Secretary of State John Kerry's busy day in Israel. From State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki: "Secretary Kerry arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel, this morning to meet with officials to discuss the ongoing ceasefire efforts. He will also travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank, and will be meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu." The NYT's Michael R. Gordon with more on Kerry's agenda here.
SitRep Exclusive -- Hagel goes to Reid with Israel's request for $225 million more for Iron Dome. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is urging Congress to further boost funding for Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system. In a July 22 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Israeli government says it needs the extra $225 million to accelerate production of Iron Dome components "in order to maintain adequate stockpiles." The Iron Dome system has been in constant use over the last few weeks, shooting down Hamas rockets coming from the Gaza Strip. Hagel says the Pentagon fully supports Israel's request.
Already, Congress has indicated that it will double the Pentagon's request for $175 million for Iron Dome in 2015. This would bring Iron Dome funding to $575 million for next year.
There is one small catch. In 2015, 55 percent of production is supposed to move to the United States. "However, Israel assesses that it will take another two to three years to reach full production capacity in the United States, which would not address Israel's current shortfall," Hagel says in his letter. Therefore, Hagel asks that the $225 million be exempt from this requirement, meaning Israel would be able to use it all on domestic production, for which Rafael is the prime contractor.
Senate Democrats indicated Tuesday that they would support Israel's request and include the $225 million in an emergency funding bill they plan to unveil today, Reuters reports.
Flights and war zones ... It's becoming a theme. FP's John Hudson: "In a move likely to put a dent in Israel's vital tourism and export sectors, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibited all U.S. airlines from flying to and from Israel for up to 24 hours because of escalating violence between Israel and Hamas. The move came after a rocket strike landed about one mile from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, according to a statement by the FAA. Although the ban only applies to U.S. airlines, other major carriers, including Air France, Lufthansa, and KLM, have also canceled flights to Israel."
Netanyahu was not happy about it. "The flight ban was apparently distressing enough to the Israelis for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to raise the issue with Secretary of State John Kerry during a phone call on Tuesday. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed the nature of the phone call in a statement and insisted that the FAA's notice ‘was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers.'" More here.
And here's a handy-dandy map from WaPo on "where the FAA has issued flight advisories and prohibitions for U.S. aircraft as of July 22."
And despite the FAA ban on U.S. flights to and from Israel, former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg hops on an El Al flight to Tel Aviv to show "show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel." Read it on the Times of Israel, here.
"They killed 25 to get one ..." Stories of civilian deaths in Gaza like this one in Khan Younis, where more than 20 members of the Abu Jamaa family were killed during one F-16 air strike, are haunting and challenge Israel's claim that it does all it can to prevent civilian deaths. Sharif Abdel Kouddous with more for FP.
Who's controlling the media war? Mashable's Colin Daileda writes: "Reports of Palestinian civilian deaths and the destruction of homes and hospitals have spread rapidly on Twitter and Facebook. As of this writing, Twitter users have tweeted the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack more than 4 million times over the past month. By comparison, the hashtag #IsraelUnderFire has been used less than 200,000 times." More here.
And The NYT's Jodi Rudoren: "The competing efforts by Israel and Palestinian officials to control the narrative of this conflict are made that much more complicated by the hundreds of reporters on the ground providing almost instantaneous reports of the fighting and the resulting casualties and by the thousands of bloggers, activists and others blasting out information and opinions on social media." More here.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Abbas backs Hamas's conditions for a ceasefire. Reuters' Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem: "In a move that could effectively turn Abbas into the main Palestinian point person for any Gaza truce, his umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Wednesday formally supported core conditions set by the Hamas-led fighters. These demands include the release of hundreds of Hamas supporters recently arrested in the nearby West Bank and an end to the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has stymied the economy and made it near impossible for anyone to travel abroad. Egypt has tried to get both sides to hold fire and then negotiate terms for protracted calm in Gaza, which has been rocked by regular bouts of violence since Israel unilaterally pulled out of the territory in 2005." More here.
For FP, Aaron David Miller analyzes the various potential endgames in Gaza, and offers his clear-eyed assessment of the most likely outcome: "Perhaps the best we can hope for would be a clean cease-fire deal brokered by the Egyptians that, once accepted, might begin to provide some economic benefits for Gaza: perhaps with Qatar paying the salaries of 43,000 Hamas employees, Cairo doing more to regularize the crossing at Rafah, and the Israelis allowing more imports in and exports out of Gaza. The International Crisis Group laid out something very close to this in its most recent report ... When it comes to Gaza, don't dream about demilitarization or economic miracles. In fact, forget the endgame. Right now, summoning the urgency, the right mediator, and a deal to stop the killing will be hard enough." Read more of Miller's assessment here.
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Who's Where When today - Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work is meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy ... Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno participates in a conversation with The NYT's David Sanger about "the Army's role in defending the nation against today's security and fiscal challenges" at the Aspen Security Forum this evening...
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Brett McGurk and Elissa Slotkin, performing the duties of the principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the "Terrorist March in Iraq: The U.S. Response" at 10:30 a.m.
Breaking - Reports are coming in that Pro-Russian rebels have shot down two Ukrainian military planes. Reuters with the initial report here.
There is still no smoking gun linking Russia to the shoot-down of Flight MH17: FP's Shane Harris: "In a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, three senior intelligence officials laid out the evidence and showed that the Obama administration is no closer to decisively pinning the blame for the shoot-down on Moscow or Russian President Vladimir Putin. A mountain of circumstantial evidence points to the Russian-backed separatists. But ‘there's no Perry Mason moment' in the intelligence, said one official." More here.
Meanwhile, the public evidence continues to mount. The Guardian's Shaun Walker in Torez, a Ukrainian town near the crash site, interviewed people there who said they saw "a Buk missile launcher in the vicinity of the crash site last Thursday ... Many in Torez did not want to speak about the Buk or claimed not to have heard anything about it. Others said the missile's journey through the town had been a talking point in recent days, but people were scared of divulging too much to outsiders. None of those who reported sightings of the Buk wanted their names published." More here.
For Obama, the take-down of the plane in Ukraine illustrates the dangers of arming rebels elsewhere. The NYT's Peter Baker: "Not long after a passenger jet exploded in midair and plummeted to the ground in Ukraine last week, escalating a volatile crisis pitting the United States and Europe against Russia, President Obama's thoughts turned to Syria. The Malaysia Airlines flight seemed to have been shot down by a sophisticated Russian antiaircraft system provided to insurgents who mistook the airliner for a military transport. In a conversation with aides, the president said this was why he refused to send antiaircraft weapons to Syrian rebels. Once they are out of a government's control, he said, the risk only grows." More here.
Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said the U.S. should be sending arms to Ukraine on Twitter yesterday, and then stuck to his guns when challenged. The WaPo's Dan Lamothe, here.
EU leaders expand sanctions options but hold off on targeting industries. FP's Jamila Trindle: "Despite calls for an arms embargo against Russia in light of the downing of a Malaysian jet over Ukraine last week that killed nearly 300 people, the European Union on Tuesday chose to stick with incremental measures to push Moscow to rein in Ukrainian separatists. By stopping short of targeting broad sectors of the Russian economy, European leaders effectively limited U.S. options too. Without Europe on board, any additional U.S. pressure will be far less powerful." More here.
Jonathan Lachman begins today at OMB after five years at DoD. Lachman, chief of staff to Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, left the Pentagon last week to start a new chapter at the White House's Office of Management and Budget, where he begins today as the associate director for national security programs and will be working to "implement the President's national security, development and veterans priorities," Situation Report is told.
He's been at the Pentagon five-count'em-five years, where he served three deputy secretaries, including Ash Carter, Christine Fox, who was acting, and then Work. Earlier this week, Lachman sent an email to friends and colleagues thanking them for what they do and expressing how grateful he was for having worked alongside them: "...I cannot think of a more dedicated and talented group of men and women, military and civilian, than you, who have sacrificed so much to defend our nation and build a safer, more secure world for our children. You have led and run this institution with great vision and purpose; you have shown resilience and grit in the face of adversity; you have exercised sound and wise judgment in the most challenging of circumstances; and you have acted with courage and compassion throughout."
Maliki loses Iran's backing for another term. The WSJ's Nour Malas in Baghdad: "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is losing political support for his bid for a third term from core backers, including the country's Shiite religious establishment and ally Iran, say Iraqi officials. The shift, officials said, is prompting members of the premier's own alliance to reconsider their support and dimming the prospect of his stay in power." More here.
After a devastating loss at the polls, Libya's Islamists are getting desperate. Mohamed Eljarh for FP: "On July 21, Libya's Higher National Elections Commission (HNEC) announced the results of the country's second parliamentary elections since the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime three years ago. It amounts to a devastating defeat for the Islamists. The announcement comes at a critical moment. Rival militias are continuing their fight over control of the international airport in Tripoli, which they have turned into a battleground amid the threat of full-scale civil war. The battle for the airport and the issuing of the election results might seem to have little connection at first glance. In fact, they are intimately linked." More here.
The Pentagon is spending more on procurement and research this year than initially expected. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio and Holly Rosenkrantz with an exclusive, here.
NDU President Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin steps down. Thomas E. Ricks with the scoop for FP here.
How'd Bob McDonald do yesterday? The nominee to become the next secretary of the VA appeared before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee for his confirmation hearing. Military Times' Leo Shane III was there: "If confirmed, McDonald promised dramatic reform moves within his first 90 days on the job. He mentioned quarterly video conferences with regional officials, a new physicians review board to evaluate health care delivery, expanded digital records and processing, and an open invitation to whistleblowers to help shape changes in operations." More here.
The Blue Angels try to clean up their act ... Navy Times' Mark Faram and Meghann Myers with the exclusive: "In the wake of a high-profile misconduct investigation of the Blue Angels, the Navy's top aviator announced sweeping changes to the flight demonstration squadron's unique structure - changes officials hope will yield a better-run squadron.
"The Blue Angels will get an executive officer for the first time in the squadron's history and the member selection process will be overhauled to include more oversight from personnel officials, Vice Adm. David Buss, the head of Naval Air Forces, ordered as part of changes announced Tuesday.
"The Blues' XO will be a designated aviator, Buss said, but will not fly as part of the team, instead focusing on travel, training and other administrative programs." More here.
From one dapper guy to another: Defense News's Marcus Weisgerber has declared: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is the best dressed in President Obama's cabinet (and he's got the photos to prove it.) Weisgerber, who recently traveled with the secretary to Florida and Alabama, writes that on the trip, "Hagel showed off vibrant style ... The dress code for civilians, per the SecDef's official itinerary, was listed as casual. While jeans would have been acceptable for a day that included touring aircraft hangars and flying on Army Blackhawk helicopters, Hagel wouldn't be caught dead in denim." More on Hagel's sartorial sense, including a pretty fabulous collection of socks, here.
Congrats to CNN's Elise Labott: CNN announced it's promoting Elise Labott to global affairs correspondent, covering U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. Since joining CNN in 2000, Labott has served as a state department producer and foreign affairs reporter. Her full bio is here.