Situation Report

Hagel embraces Israel, literally; Forklifts for nukes?; Dempsey reiterates growing relationship with PLA, talks friction points, too; Boston and Chechens have a history; Ash to Harvard tonight; and a little bit more.

Hagel embraces Israel, literally; Forklifts for nukes?; Dempsey reiterates growing relationship with PLA, talks friction points, too;  Boston and Chechens have a history; Ash to Harvard tonight; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

New: An explosion outside the French embassy in Libya appears to be the first terrorist attack in Tripoli since the removal of Muammar Qaddafi. Read about it here. 

The Israelis just said today that the Syrians have used chemical weapons, joining Britain and France and adding more pressure to the Obama administration to act, according to a new report in the NYT. Israeli Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, research commander in the intelligence directorate of the IDF: "The regime has increasingly used chemical weapons… The very fact that they have used chemical weapons without any appropriate reaction…is a very worrying development, because it might signal that this is legitimate."

Meanwhile, on the way to Saudi today, Hagel made a brief stop in Jordan. The Jordanians have become Washington’s new best friend, or perhaps it is the other way around. But as they endure sustained instability from next-door neighbor Syria, the Jordanians have been holding the U.S. close. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with the chief of defense, Gen. Mashal al-Zaben, and Prince Faisal bin al-Hussein during a brief stopover there today. While King Hussein of Jordan will soon visit Washington soon, today’s visit was an opportunity for the Jordanians to meet Hagel and the U.S. defense team and discuss "ongoing military cooperation to prepare for contingencies as a result of instability in Syria," a defense official told Situation Report this morning.

Earlier today, in Israel, Hagel observed an IDF unit at Camp Adam that trains bomb-sniffing dogs. It was the same unit that has trained with the U.S. Marine dog teams, some of which are deployed to Afghanistan.

Hagel also met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. At a joint event, Hagel reiterated his support for Israel — a point he has been trying to stress since his bruising confirmation fight earlier this year: "This is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever. I’m committed to continue to strengthen this relationship, secure this relationship, and as you know, one of the main reasons I’m here is to do that. I’ve had very good conversations the last two days with your Defense Minister. I had a good conversation with President Peres yesterday. I was able to take a long tour up in the north and the eastern borders here, and once again it reminds me of the dangers and difficulties and challenges."

…and of the importance of opera. The WSJ’s Adam Entous, who is on the trip, along with Josh Mitnick, report on a very surprise moment in an otherwise very scripted visit, where Hagel kissed and hugged an opera singer at an event at a Jerusalem hotel. The WSJ: "The Americans were taken aback when an opera singer suddenly started to perform between courses. One of the songs was ‘Jerusalem of Gold,’ which has become an anthem associated with the Israeli victory in the city during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. For some Palestinians, the song has come to symbolize the Israeli occupation. Top Israeli officials joined in to sing the lyrics in Hebrew, and afterward Mr. Hagel got up from his chair and approached the performer, Sivan Goldman, a soprano who has appeared with the Israeli Opera and Philharmonic." Then, Hagel told the singer: "Congratulations, you moved me so much. Please let me give you a kiss and a hug," according to Goldman, who added: "everybody was so shocked." Then, when the opera singer was brought out for an encore, Defense Minister Ya’alon matched Hagel’s gesture, hugging and singing the soprano himself, according to the WSJ.

Tonight, Hagel will sit for a "working dinner" with Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia’s deputy premier and minister of defense, and he will stay overnight in the kingdom. No word on the entertainment.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report where we just don’t buy it: a new report says that reporters have the worst job in America. We’ll quote Gob: "C’mon!"  Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings, and military stories of success or excess.

Later this week, Hagel will visit Egypt, where Pentagon underlings have been quietly building the mil-to-mil relationship under President Mohammed Morsi. The meeting will be the first since Leon Panetta visited as defense secretary in August and declared Morsi "his own man," as the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron reminds us. Baron: "In the months since Panetta’s 45-minute meeting with Morsi, U.S. military officials largely have stayed quiet, as Egypt’s transition endured additional violent protests in December and ongoing constitutional challenges to Morsi’s authority. This week, senior defense officials revealed the Pentagon has just been quiet, not idle." In November, Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, and Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, director of strategic plans and policy, attended the Military Coordinating Committee meeting in Cairo.  Read the full post, here.

Wait, what? Silly rules are causing airmen to handle nuclear bombs…with forklifts? Killer Apps’ John Reed reports that a Defense Science Board report says that arcane safety procedures are actually making some aspects of the way the Air Force handles its nuclear weapons more dangerous. Reed: "Perhaps the best example is that nuclear weapons maintainers aren’t allowed to use the hoists designed to lift B-61 nuclear bombs onto Weapons Maintenance Trucks because ‘the end of the bolt [securing the hoist to the truck] is flush with the outer surface of the nut while technical data require that two threads show beyond the surface of the nut,’" according to the report. Reed writes that while this condition has existed since the trucks were introduced 22 years ago and has resulted in no problems, the Air Force recently barred units from using the hoists due to their failure to meet technical safety specifications. The alternative? "An awkward process entailing the use of a forklift to move the weapon into the truck and the manhandling of the 200-pound tail section." Reed’s full story, here.

Dempsey visits China, day two. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey spent his second full day in China, meeting with President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, as well as Gen. Chang Wanguan, the minister of national defense and Gen. Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission at what’s known as the Bayi Building at the Ministry of National Defense, Situation Report is told. At each of his visits, Dempsey has noted the "extraordinary reception and hospitality" that he has received as the PLA and the Chinese people mourn the lives lost by the ear
thquake in Sichuan. Dempsey has reiterated the importance of alliances as the U.S. and China take steps to "accelerate cooperation," we’re told. Dempsey toured Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and earlier today met with State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

Col. Dave Lapan: "In each of the meetings, Gen Dempsey discussed strengthening US – China military-to-military relationships, improving cooperation in areas such as anti-piracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and medical support. He and the senior Chinese leaders also discussed improving senior military-level communication channels between the U.S. and China, developing ‘rules of behavior’ to prevent or minimize misunderstandings or accidents when US and Chinese military forces operate in proximity to one another, and improving strategic understanding of one another’s goals and future roles." And: "General Dempsey and the Chinese leaders also had candid discussions on points of friction between the two countries and militaries, in order to better understand one another’s perspectives."

Situation Report corrects – We demoted Col. Dave Lapan, Dempsey’s spokesman in yesterday’s edition by inadvertently referring to him as a "lieutenant colonel." Egad! We know better. Apologies for the oversight.

Last week was not Boston’s first brush with the Chechen war. The bombings in Boston may or may not lead to a substantive link to the war in Chechnya, but apparently Islamists in Massachusetts have been helping militants in Chechnya for some time. Writing on FP, J.M. Berger writes this morning: "During the 1980s and into the 1990s, Islamist foreign fighters operated robust recruiting and financing networks that supported Chechen jihadists from the United States, and Boston was home to one of the most significant centers: a branch of the Al Kifah Center based in Brooklyn, which would later be rechristened CARE International." [Berger notes that CARE International is not the same as the legitimate charity by the same name.]

"Al Kifah sprang from the military jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Through the end of the occupation, a network of centers in the United States helped support the efforts of Afghan and Arab mujahedeen, soliciting donations and recruiting fighters, including at least four from Boston who died in action (one of them a former Dunkin Donuts employee). When the war ended, those networks did not disappear; they refocused on other activities. In Brooklyn, that network turned against the United States. The center’s leaders and many of its members helped facilitate the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and they actively planned and attempted to execute a subsequent plot that summer to blow up the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels in New York, which would have killed thousands."

And this: How do IEDs amount to WMDs? Tim Noah says that the Justice Department’s claim that the IEDs used in Boston amount to a weapon of mass destruction is just kind of ridiculous. Writing on FP: "Give me a break. Even granting that the language of the law is not the same as the language of everyday speech, it’s ridiculous to call the bombs that went off in Boston "weapons of mass destruction." If any old bomb can be called a WMD, then Saddam most definitely had WMDs before the United States invaded Iraq 10 years ago. And if an IED is a WMD, then Iraq actually ended up with more WMDs after the U.S. invasion than before (and isn’t entirely rid of them yet)." Justice’s criminal complaint against the bombing suspects, here. Speaking of Boston: Ash returns to his Harvard roots tonight. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the Kennedy School of Government tonight on — what else? — the budget and strategic choices tonight at 6 p.m. in an event moderated by Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a professor in the school of government. We’re told that Carter will outline and focus on what issues the Pentagon will be facing after the Iraq and Afghanistan era – both in terms of strategy and budget." Deets here.

Hageling

Haaretz: Pro-Israeli patriots won’t be fooled by Hagel’s fiendish psychological warfare.
LAT: In Israel, Chuck Hagel has a one-word refrain: "friend." 

Pivoting

  • BBC: North Korea: defectors adjust to life abroad.
  • WaPo (blog): North Korea official response to Boston bombing cites conspiracy site World Net Daily.
  • CS Monitor: Nuclear North Korea entreats Mongolia to help it feeds its people. 
  • NYT: U.S. and China put focus on cybersecurity.  

Noting

  • US News: Special Forces, Army, to get new XM25 Punisher rifle.
  • The Nation: Military presence in East Asia "stabilizing:" Dempsey.