The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Monday, April 9, 2018

Syria and Russia Accuse Israel of Strike on Assad Airbase

A missile strike on an air base in central Syria was carried out by Israeli warplanes in the early hours of Monday morning causing multiple casualties, according to the Syrian and Russian governments, amid fears of renewed regional confrontation. Israeli officials have not commented about the strikes.

The raid on the T4 airfield in Homs province comes as tensions rise over possible U.S. military action in Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb late Saturday. At least 40 people were killed, including families found in their homes and shelters, spurring calls for international action.

Syria’s state news agency initially blamed Monday’s strike on the United States. It backtracked following Pentagon denials. “At this time, the Department of Defense is not conducting airstrikes in Syria,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

President Donald Trump said over the weekend that Syria would pay “a big price” for the alleged chemical attack in Ghouta and vowed Sunday a “strong, joint response” with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron. “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price…” Trump tweeted. It wasn’t clear whether Monday’s strikes were a direct response to the chemical attack. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Associated Press, Guardian
New York Times: As Trump Seeks Way Out of Syria, New Attack Pulls Him Back In
Washington Post: Trump’s Real Syrian Policy Is Hypocrisy
The Atlantic: The Terrible Cost of Obama’s Failure in Syria
CNN: How Trump Might Counter ‘Animal Assad’


Is Trump sowing the seeds for ISIS 2.0?: “Trump is sending a clear message to Mr. Assad: As long as we can claim victory over the Islamic State, we don’t care what you do, or what Russia or Iran does,” said Janine di Giovanni in the New York Times. The message has already been received, in fact. In parts of Damascus, I was told, Iranian military officials are buying up real estate using Syrian businessmen as their front, turning it into an Iranian mini-fief within Syria.”

Trump’s military escalation in Somalia is spurring hope and fear: “In Mogadishu’s markets, parks, and beaches there is a sense of security not known here for decades, and the government of Somalia largely credits the United States and the African Union with providing it,” said Jane Ferguson in the New Yorker. “But it is unclear how long that security will last.”

Will we stop Trump before it’s too late? “Today, we are in a new era, testing whether the democratic banner can remain aloft amid terrorism, sectarian conflicts, vulnerable borders, rogue social media and the cynical schemes of ambitious men. The answer is not self-evident,” said Madeleine Albright in the New York Times. “Fascism — and the tendencies that lead toward fascism — pose a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II.”

15 years later, Iraq is a modest success: “It’s far from a utopia,” writes Karl Zinsmeister in the Wall Street Journal, “but its democracy is evolving with coalitions across ethnic and religious lines.”

Editor's Picks


John Bolton faces a baptism of fire on Monday, his first official day as President Trump's national security adviser. The brutal chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, outside Damascus, presents Bolton with an immediate crisis that will highlight the biggest questions surrounding his appointment, offering an early examination of how his vision of the robust use of U.S. power abroad will ally with Trump's own hawkish instincts. CNN, Wall Street Journal
New York Times: In Bolton, Trump Finds a Fellow Political Blowtorch. Will Foreign Policy Burn?

Citing a growing threat that terrorists will use drones for surveillance or as weapons, the Trump administration is asking Congress to give the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice the power to track, reroute or destroy the devices. The draft legislation would free safety and security officials from those agencies, and their contractors, from laws against intercepting electronic communications.

Among the specific “facilities and assets” where authorities could interfere with or take down drones are Secret Service protection missions; operations to protect federal judges and witnesses; efforts to secure Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection vessels; and Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities. Those facilities would be subject to what the proposed legislation calls a “risk-based assessment” as well as regulations and guidance that would be shielded from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Washington Post

National security spokesman leaves White House: National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said Sunday that he plans to leave the White House. His departure coincides with the arrival of new national security adviser John Bolton. Anton said he plans to join Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center, the conservative school’s Washington, D.C. outpost, as a writer and lecturer. Politico, Reuters

Chicago’s top prosecutor to oversee FBI document release to House: The Justice Department on Monday is expected to name Chicago's top federal prosecutor, US attorney John Lausch, to oversee the FBI's production of documents to the House Judiciary Committee, after President Donald Trump angrily accused it of “stalling” the release. The documents concern alleged FISA abuses, Hillary Clinton’s emails, and other matters.  CNN

Manafort’s lawyers want Mueller to name alleged accomplices: Lawyers for Paul Manafort asked a federal judge Friday to order special counsel Robert Mueller to release the names of alleged accomplices accused of helping Manafort commit crimes. Washington Post



North Korea has told the United States that its leader, Kim Jong-un, is willing to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, administration officials said on Sunday, the first direct confirmation that he intends to participate in an extraordinary meeting with President Trump about his nuclear program. The North delivered its message in secret talks between its representatives and American officials as they prepare for the summit meeting, which is expected to take place next month. New York Times,
New York Times: The Word that Could Help the World Avoid Nuclear War

The Trump administration levied sanctions Friday against more than three-dozen Russian individuals and entities, targeting senior Russian government officials as well as some of President Vladimir Putin’s closest business allies and the companies they own.

They include Oleg Deripaska, a 50-year-old metals magnate said to be worth $5.8 billion. Deripaska had business ties with Paul Manafort, who served as Trump's campaign chairman for several months in 2016. Also on the list is 36-year-old Kirill Shamalov, a petrochemical executive whose fortune reportedly soared to nearly $1.5 billion after he married Putin’s daughter Katerina in 2012. Recent unconfirmed reports suggest the marriage has collapsed.

Among the businesses sanctioned is a state-owned weapons company that supplied military equipment to the government in Syria, which Moscow backs. The sanctions bar the individuals or entities from using U.S. financial systems or doing business with any U.S. citizens or companies, and freezes any assets they may have in the United States.
Wall Street Journal, Politico, Los Angeles Times

China installed military jammers on Spratly Islands: China has installed equipment on two of its fortified outposts in the Spratly Islands capable of jamming communications and radar systems, a significant step in its creeping militarization of the South China Sea, U.S. officials say. Wall Street Journal

A Conversation With David Phillips & Ahmet Yayla

Moderated By Assaf Moghadam
Monday, April 9, 12:30PM
Fordham Law School


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Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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