National Security

FP's Situation Report: Sharpening rhetoric about the IS, but no war plan yet; John Allen: do it "NOW;" GAO says Bergdahl swap illegal; DOD throws cold water on ice bucket challenge; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The killing of American journalist Jim Foley has created a new momentum for tackling the Islamic State in Iraq - and Syria - in a more effective and comprehensive way, even if the White House is still grappling with what form that effort would take.  Gen. Marty Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, seemed to agree yesterday that the Islamic State represents a far more dangerous threat than al-Qaeda ever did - a sentiment long held by analysts and military experts, and an argument made by a number of prominent people recently. But even as President the administration's rhetoric seems to be setting the stage for a long haul in Iraq, it's not yet clear what President Barack Obama will agree to do to meet the threat. And now that Obama has said repeatedly that he won't put American "combat boots on the ground," he and his advisers will have to determine how to deepen a U.S. and coalition effort in Iraq and Syria that will mean doing just that without reversing himself on that point.

Many believe a focused effort doesn't have to mean putting several thousands of troops onto the battlefield, but it does mean inserting more specialized forces to ensure an expanded airstrike campaign is effective. But while that is happening in limited form now, the call to expand the effort is awaiting a presidential nod.

Also yesterday, Dempsey made clear that only attacks inside Syria - the origin of the Islamic State - can defeat the militants. "Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border," Dempsey said yesterday.

FP's Kate Brannen: "U.S. military operations in Iraq may be limited for now, but the rhetoric in Washington is heating up. On Thursday, it boiled over at the Pentagon, where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel painted a new and more dangerous picture of the threat that the Islamic State poses to Americans and U.S. interests.

"The group ‘is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They're beyond just a terrorist group,' Hagel said in response to a question about whether the Islamic State posed a similar threat to the United States as al Qaeda did before Sept. 11, 2001.

"‘They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They're tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything that we've seen,' Hagel said, adding that ‘the sophistication of terrorism and ideology married with resources now poses a whole new dynamic and a new paradigm of threats to this country.'

"Hagel's comments added to the mismatch between the Obama administration's increasingly aggressive rhetoric and its current game plan for how to take on the group in Iraq and Syria, which so far involves limited airstrikes and some military assistance to the Kurdish and Iraqi forces fighting the militants. It has also requested from Congress $500 million to arm moderate rebel factions in Syria. But for now, the United States is not interested in an Iraqi offer to let U.S. fighter jets operate out of Iraqi air bases." More here.

Full transcript of the Hagel Dempsey presser yesterday, here.

ICYMI: John Allen backs Obama's airstrikes against ISIS but calls for an urgent American and international response and uses capital letters to do it.  Allen for Defense One, his BLUF: "...The president deserves great credit in attacking IS. It was the gravest of decisions for him. But a comprehensive American and international response now - NOW - is vital to the destruction of this threat. The execution of James Foley is an act we should not forgive nor should we forget, it embodies and brings home to us all what this group represents. The Islamic State is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated. If we delay now, we will pay later." More here.

The Islamic State has conquered much of Iraq with the help of Saddam's cronies. Now the men America once discarded could help win the country back. FP's Shane Harris: "The Islamic State has conquered broad swaths of Iraq thanks to a surprising alliance with secular veterans of Saddam Hussein's military. But now that partnership is fraying -- giving Washington its first real opportunity to blunt the terrorist group's advance without relying solely on American airstrikes or ground troops.

"The group of ex-Hussein loyalists, known alternatively as the Naqshbandi Army or by the acronym JRTN -- the initials of its Arabic name -- helped the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, win some of its most important military victories, including its conquest of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. It has also given the terrorist army, which is composed largely of foreign fighters, a valuable dose of local political credibility in Iraq. JRTN, which was formed as a resistance group in 2006, is made up of former Baathist officials and retired military generals, and is led by the former vice president of Hussein's revolutionary council, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who was once one of the most-wanted men in the country during the U.S. occupation." More here.

The incongruity of Obama's summer vacation and golf outings with the horrors of the Middle East fuel his critics, the NYT's Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

The Islamic State will likely force the Pentagon to rethink its budgeting, Hagel said. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber, quoting Hagel: "[Y]ou're constantly shaping a budget to assure that resources match the mission and the mission and the resources match the threat... [Y]ou're shifting [money] all the time on what you think is going to be required... "We've had to move assets over the last couple of months...to accomplish what we accomplished in Iraq. That costs money, that takes certain monies out of certain funds. So it's a constant, fluid process as you plan for these." More here.

Foley's brutal death at the hands of what British officials assume but have not yet confirmed was a British citizen is quietly creating a coalition of the willing, including some Arab states. The FT's editorial page on Britain's problem with jihadism:  "...David Cameron's government is right to check whether it is doing enough to counter Isis and its misguided supporters. One looming question is whether the UK should join the US in air strikes to prevent Isis forming a hardened caliphate. But whatever Mr Cameron decides, he will want to re-examine whether the UK has sufficient legal powers and resources to thwart violent Islamists at home." More here.

With crises brewing in Ukraine and the Middle East, the transatlantic alliance needs a shot of fresh energy. Jim Stavridis for FP on what should be on the table at the upcoming NATO summit in Wales, to include the "new relationship with Russia" and the need for European nations to spend more on defense, but also: "...The third agenda item is a strategy for the Levant and Near Middle East. The rise of the Islamic State and the ongoing crisis in Syria will ultimately send hundreds of trained jihadists first to Europe then to the United States." More here.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Alsheikh blasted Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants as "enemy number one" of Islam. From the Saudi Gazette, here.

Why can't British intelligence prevent men like James Foley's killer from fighting in Iraq -- or coming home? Alex Massie for FP: "...Richard Barrett, formerly head of the MI6's counterterrorism operations, expressed confidence that Foley's murderer would be identified and dealt with -- one way or another - ‘sooner or later.' British intelligence officers are using voice-recognition technology to assist the quest to identify the man, but Barrett added that the sickening nature of these crimes means that the search for his identity will not be confined to the intelligence community.

"...But identifying ‘Jihadi John' and stopping him is a different matter. Military action against the Islamic State might suppress the threat the organization poses in the Middle East, but it could further radicalize other British Muslims who would interpret airstrikes against IS as another ‘war on Islam.' Gains in one arena might easily be offset by setbacks in another. Yet doing nothing is not an attractive option either." More here.

Foley's death re-energizes the debate over paying ransoms, the WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum, Jennifer Leitz and David Gauthier-Villars, here.

Reuters this morning: Iraqi and Kurdish forces try to recapture IS-held towns, here.

ICYMI - Why Hillary Clinton is gambling with her hawkish foreign policy posture. Nicholas Lemann for the New Yorker, here.

A year ago, a chemical weapons attack killed hundreds of my neighbors and friends. But the greatest tragedy is Obama's refusal to punish the murderer in Damascus. Qusai Zakarya for FP: "...I am a survivor of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons attacks of Aug. 21, 2013. One year ago today, my heart stopped for 30 minutes after I inhaled nerve gas launched by Assad regime forces on my hometown of Moadamiya, a suburb of Damascus. The scene outside my front porch that morning was like something from Judgment Day.

"But the worst sadness of my life did not come the day my friends died. It came three weeks later, watching a livestream of President Obama. I learned from that speech that the United States would make a deal with Russia to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, instead of striking at Assad for his atrocities. I had to translate this news into Arabic for my friends -- we cried harder than we had on Aug. 21, because we knew that Assad now had a green light to kill all the Syrians he wanted, so long as he did not use sarin gas." More here.

Baghdad cautions that unauthorized oil purchases could be funding IS. Al-Awsat's story: "...In a statement on Wednesday, Iraq's Oil Ministry said: ‘International purchasers [of crude oil] and other market participants should be aware that any oil exports made without the authorization of the Ministry of Oil may contain crude oil originating from fields under the control of [ISIS]. The only seller of Iraqi crude oil authorized by the Ministry of Oil is [Iraq's state-owned oil company] SOMO.'

"The statement urged buyers to ‘exercise caution' and to consider that any purchases of Iraqi crude made without the authorization of SOMO ‘may expose them to sanctions for contributing to the financing of terrorist activities.'
An informed source told Al-Awsat: "ISIS was indeed selling Iraqi crude from captured refineries and oilfields. He said the crude was being sold to Kurdish traders in the border regions straddling Iraq, Iran and Syria, and was being shipped to Pakistan where it was being sold ‘for less than half its original price.' He added that many oilfields and refineries in the country remained outside government control." More here.

The GAO says the Pentagon broke the law when it traded Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners. Military Times' Chuck Vinch: "The Defense Department broke the law when it transferred five Taliban detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar in exchange for former prisoner of war Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Government Accountability Office said Thursday.

"In a seven-page opinion, the GAO said a provision of the 2014 Defense Appropriations Act bars defense officials from using taxpayer funds to transfer any prisoner from Guantanamo unless the secretary of defense gives Congress at least 30 days' advance notice. The Pentagon made the transfer May 31. In response to the GAO legal opinion, defense officials acknowledged that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent written and telephonic notice to congressional leaders on May 31 and June 1 and 2." More here.

Who's where when today - Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is in South Korea. He meets with Service Component Commander, Parliamentary Senior Vice Minister of Defense Ryota Takeda, participates in a joint presser with Vice Minister of Defense, meets with Parliamentary Senior Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Nobuo Kishi, and attends a formal dinner hosted by VMOD...

Johns Hopkins University's Michael Vlahos on how Americans understand war, here.

Don't look now but Libya is falling apart.  FP's Siddhartha Mahanta, here.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is anointed Thailand's interim prime minister. The FT's Michael Peel in Bangkok: "General Prayuth Chan-ocha tightened his junta's grip on Thailand on Thursday, as the country's puppet parliament named him prime minister, three months after the May 22 coup. High quality global journalism requires investment. In a surreal session in Bangkok's once disputatious legislature, MPs handpicked by the military, including many serving officers, stood up one by one to confirm the putsch leader as their choice without debate or dissent.

"While Gen Prayuth has not been formally appointed and was not even present at the vote, it is widely expected he will take on the post as part of the junta's widening efforts to reshape Thailand's turbulent politics and stuttering economy." More here.

DoD throws cold water on the 'Ice Bucket Challenge.' Military Times' Jeff Schogol: "The Defense Department has declared war on the ALS "Ice Bucket Challenge," the Internet phenomenon in which people get doused with ice water to raise money to combat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"Even former commander in chief President George W. Bush has accepted the challenge, but the DoD Office of General Counsel has issued an edict that current service members and Defense Department employees cannot have ice dumped on them while in uniform - including civilian uniforms.

"...Earlier this week, the Blue Angels posted video on their Facebook page of the team being drenched with bone-chilling ice and cold water, but the video appears to have been removed. And on Tuesday, the creator of the popular Terminal Lance comic, Maximilian Uriarte, called on Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos to take the challenge. So far, no word from the Amos camp." More here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: A failed rescue operation for Foley, U.S. refused ransom request; Iraqis offer up airbases; John McLaughlin on why IS is scarier than AQ before 9/11; Bob Work works it in Guam; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The U.S. military endeavored to rescue Jim Foley and other hostages, and may have missed them by mere days. As some media outlets sniffed out news of a failed rescue attempt of Foley and others, the Obama administration confirmed that indeed it had launched a commando operation in Syria but had come up empty handed. FP's Kate Brannen and Elias Groll: "Nearly two years into James Foley's captivity at the hands of Islamist militants and shortly before his execution, U.S. Special Forces troops attempted to free the American journalist and a group of other American hostages. That operation failed when the captives were not to be found where U.S. intelligence assessments had indicated they would be. On Tuesday, Islamic State militants released a video depicting Foley's beheading.

"Details on the nature of the unsuccessful operation remained sparse late Wednesday. When American forces landed in eastern Syria -- most likely in Raqqa province, where Foley is thought to have been held and killed -- they came under heavy fire. The elite troops killed a number of militants, and one of the pilots involved in the operation sustained a minor injury when his aircraft came under fire, a senior administration official told Foreign Policy." More here.

The White House put out an unusual statement defending the "timing" of its announcement/confirmation of the rescue effort, saying it never intended to disclose the operation. NSC spokesperson Caitlin Hayden: "...An overriding concern for the safety of the hostages and for operational security made it imperative that we preserve as much secrecy as possible. We only went public today when it was clear a number of media outlets were preparing to report on the operation and that we would have no choice but to acknowledge it."

A U.S. official told SitRep that the WaPo was first: "a number of outlets were gathering details right around the same time but I'd say in a photo finish the [Washington Post] has it.... Can't stress enough how much we did not want to talk about this operation. We did so because of unauthorized disclosures of classified information."

Jeff Stein for Newsweek on why most rescue attempts fail, here.

ISIS pressed for a ransom before killing Foley. The NYT's Rukmini Callimachi: "[ISIS] pressed the United States to provide a multimillion-dollar ransom for his release, according to a representative of his family and a former hostage held alongside him. The United States - unlike several European countries that have funneled millions to the terror group to spare the lives of their citizens - refused to pay." More here.

Some European governments pay ransoms - should the White House pay for Steven Sotloff, whom IS has threatened to kill? James Traub unpacks the ethical and operational dilemmas for FP, here.

But British officials are scrambling to find out more about who the man was who killed Foley. And if the answer is that he was a British citizen, that will underscore the threat the Islamic State poses to the West - and to the U.S. There are as many as 400 British Muslims who are suspected of fighting with militant groups; there are as many as 100 American citizens with U.S. passports who are also thought to be fighting. That's been known for some time. But the situation in Iraq, coupled with the execution of Foley could motivate the U.S. and its allies to widen the mission in Iraq - and even Syria. The WSJ's Margaret Coker and Nicholas Winning: " The possibility of involvement by a British national in Mr. Foley's death underscores what for many U.K. officials has become their top national security threat: that some of the estimated 400 British Muslims suspected of fighting with jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq could come home radicalized and threaten their homeland with terror attacks." More in the WSJ here.

Obama, using stronger rhetoric even if U.S. officials insist the scope of the military mission in Iraq has not widened: "...From governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies... Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security and a common set of values that are rooted in the opposite of what we saw yesterday. And we will continue to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and civility." The rest of Obama's statement yesterday about the murder of Jim Foley, here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Baghdad is open to letting U.S. warplanes fly from Iraqi bases. FP's Dreazen and Lubold: "Iraqi officials have given their American counterparts clear signals that Baghdad is willing to let U.S. fighter jets operate out of Iraqi air bases, a move that would allow planes to stay airborne longer and deliver more strikes. But the Obama administration, at least for now, doesn't seem all that interested.

"The back-channel discussions over the bases, which have not previously been reported, highlight the White House's uncertainty about escalating its low-level air war against the Islamic State. President Barack Obama proudly pulled all U.S. troops out of Iraq in late 2011. He has repeatedly stressed that the military campaign there that began Aug. 8 will be limited in both scope and duration. With broad swaths of Syria and Iraq under Islamic State control, key U.S. allies are pressing the administration to step up the fight. Taking off from Iraqi bases would make it much easier to do so because it would put the American aircraft closer to their targets.

A senior military official: "Everything is harder when you're doing it from the outside." Full story here.

As Iraqis ask for more assistance from the U.S., they also say insurgents are retreating - and slipping back into Syria. The WSJ's Nour Malas in Erbil: "Iraqi officials say U.S. airstrikes have driven some ground commanders of the Sunni radical group Islamic State from northern Iraq across the border into Syria. Buoyed by a victory over the insurgents at Mosul Dam this week, the Iraqi military renewed efforts to retake Tikrit, a key Sunni city. But the operation appeared to stall on its second day Wednesday." Read the rest here.

John McLaughlin on why the Islamic State is a greater threat than Al-Qaida before 9/11. Former acting CIA director McLaughlin, writing for Ozy, his BLUF: "The bottom line is that none of these things marks the beginning of the end for the IS. In fact, the more appropriate characterization may be Winston Churchill's famous quote about the vastly different battle in 1942, when he said that the fight against the Nazis had only reached 'the end of the beginning.'" Read the rest here.

Kurds are discussing senior posts in the new Iraqi government. Rudaw's Sangar Abdulrahman: "Iraq's outgoing foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari said Kurdish delegates are heading to Bagdad to negotiate ministerial posts in the new Iraqi government, and called for Kurdistan rights and demands to be respected.?

Zebrai, a Kurd, in an interview: "The decision of the Kurdish leadership and all the Kurdish parties is that we should participate in the next government, but it must be based on our rights. We won't take part without a clear plan."

On Iraq's new prime minister Haider al-Abadi's position toward the Kurds, Zebrai said: "It's too early to judge him.?We know him and the role he plays now will be different from (his) role in Parliament. Now he has a responsibility and needs to form the government within a month. Otherwise, someone else might be named (prime minister)." More here.

As extremism spreads in the Middle East, there are some pockets of stability.  FP's David Rothkopf interviews Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh: "When asked to point out some areas in which [Judeh] sees signs [of progress], he says, ‘The new government in Iraq is a step in the right direction. Of course it is too early to assume any final outcomes, but they are at least trying to address the vital issue of inclusiveness in the government. And the international community is trying to support them. You will see more signs of support in the near future too, I believe.'" More here.

ICYMI - For George W. Bush it was "Mission Accomplished." For Barack Obama, it may be "mission creep." TIME's Michael Crowley on the U.S. operation in Iraq, here.

Vocativ's Adi Kochavi and Matan Gilat go inside the data ISIS keeps on the attacks it launches. Kochavi and Gilat to Situation Report: "One thing is abundantly clear: ISIS is a more potent force than ever before. Of particular note, given Tuesday's gruesome beheading video, will be the gradual increase in assassinations (the red line in the graph below). ISIS has been tracking them since late 2011. We broke down the data into quarters, and in Q1 of 2011, they counted 94 executions. Two years later, in Q1 of 2014, that number had more than quadrupled, to 399 assassinations over a three-month period." More here.

Iran speaks more softly but keeps building bigger sticks. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "While Iran's military has toned down its rhetoric about military capabilities and exercises, it continues a low-profile buildup of weapons in and near the Strait of Hormuz, according to a classified Pentagon assessment.
"‘Iran's military strategy is defensive' and designed to ‘deter an attack, survive an initial strike, retaliate against an aggressor and force a diplomatic solution' while avoiding major concessions, says the unclassified executive summary of a congressionally mandated Pentagon report submitted to lawmakers on July 7." More here.

NYT reporter Matt Rosenberg is ordered to leave Afghanistan for refusing to name his sources for a story about unnamed officials seizing power. The WaPo's Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul: "...Rosenberg, 40, who has covered Afghanistan for three years, was summoned Tuesday by the attorney general's office and asked to name his sources for the article published in that day's Times..." More here.

The article that got Rosenberg in hot water with Karzai, here.

SitRep corrects the record - we noted in a story the other day that SitRep had exclusively reported the news Aug. 11 that Wendy Anderson, deputy chief of staff to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, was headed to Commerce. Must have been too much beach sun. In fact, Politico's Mike Allen had reported it in Playbook, unbeknownst to us, the Friday before, on Aug. 8. Apologies for the false claim.

A laden Who's Where When today - Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon and meeting with Greek Minister of Defense Dimitrios Avramopoulos at the Pentagon at 1:45 p.m... Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is in South Korea.  He visits Camp Humphreys, medical campus and family housing, CP Tango, recognizes service members and government civilians, visits Osan AB, speaks with troops at a Troop Event, conducts a media engagement with local press and departs for Japan in the evening... Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey conducts a Town Hall on Facebook and answer questions from the force and the public about issues of importance to the military family at 1:45 p.m... Navy Secretary Ray Mabus meets with Chilean Minister of Defense Jorge Burgos in Santiago, Chile.  He also speaks to Marines in Valparaiso, Chile, as they continue their participation in the ongoing exercise Partnership of the Americas... Chief Information Officer Defense Information Systems Agency David Bennett delivers remarks on Information Technology Consolidation at the 2014 FedScoop Lowering the Cost of Government with IT Summit at the Newseum at 8:35 a.m...

Yesterday, at Marine Corps Day at Nats stadium, Commandant Gen. Jim Amos threw out the first pitch at the Nats-Diamondbacks game. Amos and other senior leaders participated in pre-game activities, a retired Marine officer sang God Bless America, the Quantico Marine Band played the National Anthem, children of Marines were "the starting eight" on the field when the Nats players took the field at the beginning of the game, and the Silent Drill Platoon and Marine Color Guard performed.  Then, the Nats pulled out a 3-2 win in the bottom of the ninth.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work plugged the "rebalance to Asia" at a Q&A with troops in Guam yesterday. Citing the redeployment of troops in the Pacific, strengthening alliances and partners in the region, and economic measures like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Work said, "Now we have a good plan."

Work told a story about a Marine patrol in Afghanistan that finds an IED attached to a donkey cart.  The sergeant decides to unhook the donkey, which, in turn, leads the Marines directly to the terrorists who planted the bomb.  After they apprehend the culprits, the lieutenant asks the sergeant how he knew to follow the donkey.  The sergeant, in Work's words, replies: "Sir, I was born on a farm. I was raised on a farm... I've been following jackasses my whole life."

Work was making the point that the U.S. military will never become a "hollow force" because of the high quality of its people.  "It's not the generals; it's the enlisted force. You have always been the backbone of the American military," he told the troops.  Read the full transcript, here.

About those sailors who cheated on their nuke tests - there are more of them than initially reported.  FP's Kate Brannen: "It turns out that a Navy cheating scandal at a nuclear power training site in Charleston, South Carolina, is much bigger than originally feared. Senior Navy officials said in February that roughly 20 sailors had cheated on their qualification exams. Now, 78 enlisted sailors are implicated and the Navy is kicking out at least 34 of them, according to the military. Meanwhile, 10 of the sailors remain under criminal investigation. So far, the cheating appears to be limited to this unit in Charleston, but it dates back to at least 2007, according to an internal Navy investigation." More here.

Palestinians say an Israeli airstrike missed a top Hamas commander in the Gaza Strip. The WaPo's William Booth and Orly Halpern: "Palestinians on Wednesday accused Israel of attempting to assassinate the top Hamas military commander in the Gaza Strip as the hopes for a cease-fire were dashed by a day-long exchange of taunts and threats, alongside escalating rocket fire and airstrikes that left 22 Palestinians dead. In a brief news conference outside the headquarters of the Israel Defense Forces, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that all combatants in the Palestinian militant factions were legitimate targets.
"Hamas, though, was not backing down. In a televised statement Wednesday, a masked representative for the Hamas military wing, known as the Qassam Brigades, warned that Hamas rockets would begin to strike Israel's strategic interests, including Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, on Thursday morning." More here.

It's not too late for Israel to pursue a UN Security Council resolution that would, in the long run, change the reality in Gaza. Ha'aretz's diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid: "The collapse of the Cairo talks over a long-term truce in Gaza was a failure foretold. One needed to be extremely optimistic or totally clueless about the diplomatic realities to think that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's most generous positions would meet the minimum demands of Hamas leader Khaled Meshal.

"...It's not too late for Israel to initiate a resolution in the UN Security Council that resembles Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War. Such a resolution would not just bring an end to the war in Gaza, but also would establish international mechanisms and launch a long-term process to change the reality in Gaza in a way that would serve Israel and its allies and isolate the Hamas and its patrons." More here.

A profile of the Palestinian General Intelligence Services chief who could be Abbas' successor. FDD's Grant Rumley for the National Interest, here.

Ukrainian troops press rebels in their eastern strongholds. The NYT's Andrew Kramer: "With street fights and artillery barrages, the Ukrainian military pressed its advance on Wednesday on the two eastern provincial capitals held by pro-Russian separatists in a day of violence that killed 52 civilians and Ukrainian soldiers and an unknown number of rebels.
"In one of the heaviest artillery attacks yet on the center of Donetsk, the larger of the capitals, shells struck street kiosks and residential apartment buildings near the stadium of the Shatyorsk soccer club, in the city's heart. Fighting on the outskirts, particularly around the strategic town of Ilovaysk, a transportation hub, has also flared in recent days." More here.

Have cuts in defense spending hurt U.S. national security interests? Dov Zakheim for FP: "The National Defense Panel originally was established by the Congress to provide a non-partisan evaluation of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The members of the 2014 panel, chaired by former Secretary of Defense William Perry and retired General John Abizaid pulled no punches in its assessment of the 2014 QDR. Its language bordered on the harsh, and its critique of the Obama administration's policies lacked all subtlety.

"The bipartisan panel, which included Michèle Flournoy, under secretary of defense for policy in the first Obama administration, and retired General James Cartwright, once regarded as President Obama's ‘favorite general' took the administration to task for emphasizing notions such as the primacy of ‘nation building at home' and the utility of ‘leading from behind.' To the contrary, the panel pointed out early in its report that the current international order ‘is not self-sustaining; it requires active, robust American engagement.' Acknowledging that there is a cost to American global leadership, the panel nevertheless pointed out that such a cost was ‘nowhere near what America paid in the first half of the 20th century when conflict was allowed to fester and grow until it rose to the level of general war.'" More here.