Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

FP’s Situation Report: Israel revives a controversial home destruction policy; Congress limits the Pentagon’s response to Ebola and the Islamic State; Hope fades for a nuclear deal between Iran and the West; and much more.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Following the gruesome synagogue killing of four ultra-Orthodox men Tuesday, Israel revives a controversial home destruction policy. Home destruction was abandoned a decade ago, but spiraling violence that has claimed 11 lives prompted Israeli officials to revive it. Wednesday, Israeli forces destroyed the home of a Palestinian man who ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Following the gruesome synagogue killing of four ultra-Orthodox men Tuesday, Israel revives a controversial home destruction policy. Home destruction was abandoned a decade ago, but spiraling violence that has claimed 11 lives prompted Israeli officials to revive it. Wednesday, Israeli forces destroyed the home of a Palestinian man who killed two pedestrians with his car. According to reports from the region, fear now grips Jerusalem.

The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren: "Jewish mothers publicly demanded security guards posted outside schools, the defense minister rescinded plans to relax roadblocks in the occupied West Bank, and the mayor of Ashkelon barred Arab workers from construction projects at his city’s kindergartens…Palestinians, too, were worried, about the possibility of revenge attacks, about security forces under pressure being overzealous and about a crackdown that included new checkpoints blocking off some of their East Jerusalem neighborhoods." More here.

Soon after the revival of the destruction policy (plans to revive the policy were announced Monday, prior to the synagogue attack) reports questioned whether it would lessen tensions. However, as Palestinian leaders blamed Israeli policies for the escalation in violence, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became resolute and vowed more demolitions.

More on Israel below.

Congress limits the Defense Department’s response time to the Ebola crisis and Islamic State fight. There are growing concerns that Congressional budget battles and the long legislative process would make it difficult to pay for the operations. This includes funding for training Syrian rebel groups, a key part of the administration’s Islamic State policy.

FP’s Kate Brannen: "Although the Pentagon has deployment authority, once in Iraq, the troops cannot conduct the training mission without specific approval from Congress. That’s because the training of foreign militaries — or in the case of Syria, foreign rebel groups — requires Congress to sign off on the plans and the funding. More here.

A DoD official said that both the Islamic State and Ebola missions were examples of how the legislative process plays out in real time. Both crises have moved fast, while the political process on Capitol Hill does not. Many who have criticized Obama for not moving fast enough are slowing things down.

More on the Islamic State below.

Prospects for a nuclear deal between the West and Iran by the November 24 deadline appeared to fade Wednesday. Both U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said there might not be a complete deal in place by Monday. However, that doesn’t mean the agreement is dead.

FP’s David Francis: "British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond…said…there might be enough progress to extend the deadline again. Talks were extended to Nov. 24 in July, after a July 20 deadline for a deal passed." More here.

Yesterday, some lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed reservations about another extension. However, the alternative — the talks collapsing — would destroy what has, in recent weeks, appeared to be progress. According to the Associated Press, Secretary of State John Kerry is now headed to Vienna to join negotiations taking place there.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of the Situation Report.

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Who’s Where When Today

John Kerry is traveling to Vienna. 10:00 a.m. U.N. Security Council meets on peacekeeping operations. 11:00 a.m. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey delivers the keynote address at the Center for a New American Security Conference on the "Civil-Military Divide and the Future of the All-Volunteer Force." Tonight Obama announces executive action on immigration.

What’s Moving Markets

The New York Times David Jolly on more problems in the eurozone: "The eurozone economy is losing momentum, with activity dropping to a 16-month low amid a manufacturing slowdown in Germany and more weakness in France, a private-sector survey showed on Thursday." More here.

Defense News‘ Paul McLeary: "The top U.S. military official on Wednesday made the case for growing the base defense budget significantly over the $535 billion spending cap imposed by Congress for fiscal 2015." More here.

Bloomberg’s Rich Miller, on how low oil prices benefit the United States: "Surging U.S. oil production enabled America and its allies to impose tough sanctions on Iran without having to worry much about the loss of imports from the Middle Eastern nation." More here. 

Writing for Foreign Policy, Rüdiger Frank on Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea: "[M]y September 2014 visit with a small group of Western tourists to the Special Economic Zone of Rason, in the northwest of the country near the Chinese border, was mind-boggling. Here is what North Korea could be, even without risky reforms: more open, more human, more approachable." More here.

Bloomberg’s Evgenia Pismennaya and Irina Reznik, on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stunning new anti-corruption policy: "The policy, which Putin plans to announce during his annual address to parliament next month, calls for a crackdown on inspections and other forms of bureaucratic bullying that cost businesses tens of billions of dollars a year in bribes and kickbacks." More here.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno argues that sequestration limits the Army. From Defense One‘s Ben Watson: "Ray Odierno is prepared to make his case to Congress that the constraints of sequestration reflect a completely different world than the one Pentagon planners see today and into the future." More here.


The Washington Post’s William Booth and Ruth Eglash on growing fears of a religious war: "The threat — perhaps more accurately the dread — of an incipient but deadly ‘religious war’ was expressed by Muslim clerics, Christian leaders and Jewish Israelis one day after a pair of Palestinian assailants, wielding meat cleavers and a gun, killed five Israelis, including a prominent American Israeli rabbi, in a Jerusalem synagogue." More here.

The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky asks if the violence in Jerusalem could lead to the third intifada: "It might. It’s not as if the first two were announced by press release and started on appointed Day X. They were sparked by events. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s hideous attack, such an event seems virtually inevitable. It almost doesn’t matter what it’s called. Just call it bleak." More here.

The Atlantic’s Adam Chandler asks if the revival of the demolition policy would stop future attacks: "While the policy is meant to have a psychological effect for a would-be attacker whose family would be left homeless, some suggest house demolitions are also designed to offset the economic benefits of committing an attack." More here.

The Islamic State

The New York Times’ Tim Arango on the fight for Kobani: "For Washington, Kobani is a crucial public test of President Obama’s strategy of combining American air power with local ground forces. For the Islamic State, it is a test of its image of inevitability and invincibility, and a tool for recruiting jihadists." More here.

The Los Angeles Times’ Carol J. Williams on Westerners in Islamic State beheading videos: "The Paris prosecutor’s office said 22-year-old Mickael Dos Santos, from the Paris suburb of Champigny-sur-Marne, had been identified from the video in which the beheading of 15 Syrian soldiers was conducted before the camera and the severed head of American aid worker Peter Kassig was also shown." More here.

Defense One‘s Gordon Lubold on how U.S. strategy in the Middle East is expected to change: "Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who returned from the Middle East on Sunday, said he was ‘encouraged’ by what he saw during his trip to Baghdad. But amid concerns that the Obama administration lacks a coherent war strategy or is scrambling to build a better one against the Islamic State, Dempsey said the U.S. has a solid strategy but it will adapt accordingly. For now, it’s sound." More here.

Could the Islamic State buy a nuke? Roll Call’s Tim Starks: "Outgoing House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said Wednesday that he worried that ISIS could be amassing enough cash to buy a nuclear device." More here.


The Associated Press‘ Matthew Lee says Kerry is on his way to join nuclear talks in Vienna: "State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry would be going to the Austrian capital from Paris to ‘check in’ on the talks. It was not yet determined how long he would stay in Vienna, leaving open the possibility that he might not remain until Monday’s deadline for a deal." More here.

The Associated Press‘ Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper, on how Kerry is in diplomatic overdrive to get a deal done: "Despite his efforts, though, signs increasingly pointed to Monday’s deadline passing without a deal and the negotiations being extended a second time." More here.


John Tefft follows Michael McFaul as U.S. ambassador to Russia — and is greeted by Putin with a warning not to interfere in Russia’s affairs. Timothy Heritage and Gabriela Baczynska report for Reuters. More here.

Writing for Foreign Policy, James Stavridis on why the European-U.S. trade deal needs to get done. "Flying under the international radar is one of the most potentially important agreements ever negotiated across the broad Atlantic: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), also known as the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA)." More here.

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the chorus of attacks on Putin, her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier tries to keep the diplomatic channels open. German media speculate if this is a good cop/bad cop game or if the German government is divided over how to deal with Russia. Matthias Brügmann, Thomas Sigmund and Siobhán Dowling report for Handelsblatt. More here.

Reuters’ Natalia Zinets and Gabriela Baczynska report that Ukraine won’t talk directly with pro-Russian separatists: "Speaking at a government meeting, [Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk] declared Kiev would not speak directly to the separatists and repeated the phrase slowly in Russian for emphasis, saying: ‘We will not hold direct talks with your mercenaries.’" More here.

From the Economist: "Merkel’s new toughness towards Putin frightens many German Social Democrats who are subscribed to the Ostpolitik of former Chancellor Willi Brandt — the policy of open dialogue with the East that they believe made Germany’s reunification possible." More here.

Torture Report

FP’s John Hudson: "The White House is fiercely resisting the release of a 6,300-page Senate report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, Senate aides tell Foreign Policy, raising fears that the public will never receive a full accounting of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture practices." More here.

CIA Reform

The Washington Post‘s Greg Miller: "CIA Director John Brennan is considering sweeping organizational changes that could include breaking up the separate spying and analysis divisions that have been in place for decades to create hybrid units focused on individual regions and threats to U.S. security, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said." More here.

NSA Reform

The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage on how the NSA could continue collecting phone records even as a reform bill dies: "If the summer arrives and the program is facing a shutdown, Mr. Obama could invoke the provision to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to keep it going." More here.

The Guardian‘s Spencer Ackerman reports NSA reform might not be dead. "Legislation to divest the National Security Agency of its mass collection of U.S. phone records has died. But when the next Congress convenes, the White House intends to revive it." More here.


From Khaama Press: "The Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has possibly passed away amid reports that the group has divided into three different parts." More here.

From Al Jazeera: "Four Taliban fighters who attacked a compound housing foreign workers in the Afghan capital have been killed in a failed assault there." More here.

Top Foreign Policy Lessons

Writing for Foreign Policy, Stephen M. Walt on the top five foreign policy lessons of the last 20 years.


Writing for Foreign Policy, Laurie Garrett on what it’s like to be back from Liberia: "The first checkpoint (of many) was staffed by a woman dressed in protective gear from head to feet, whose instructions were barely audible through her mask." More here.  

The Wall Street Journal‘s Andrew Morse on the growing death toll from the virus: "More than 5,400 people have died from the Ebola virus, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, as the three hard-hit countries in West Africa continue to experience ‘persistent’ transmission." More here.

The New York Times‘ Donald G. McNeil Jr. on problems with the global response to Ebola in Liberia: "The detailed accounts of high-level meetings obtained by The New York Times, the most recent from Monday, lift the veil on the messy and contentious process of running the sprawling response to Liberia’s epidemic, one that now involves more than a hundred government agencies, charities and donors from around the world." More here.

Mental Health

From Dan Lamothe at the Washington Post, the legacy of Clay Hunt: "The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America Veterans Act calls for independent evaluations of all mental health-care and suicide-prevention programs in VA and the Defense Department, a student loan repayment program that would offer up to $120,000 per year to recruit psychiatrists who commit to working for VA, and a program that would take back unneeded prescription drugs from patients at VA facilities." More here.

Think Tanks

A new report from CNA Corporation: "Nuclear weapons may create greater space for smaller powers to engage in coercive attacks and even limited military operations at lower levels of escalation." More here.

And finally, writing for Foreign Policy Lauren Bohn on why it’s time to start talking about toilets. More here.



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