U.S. President Barack Obama announced Thursday that he has authorized targeted airstrikes and humanitarian aid drops in Iraq. Obama said he has directed the U.S. military to conduct strikes if fighters from the Islamic State advance toward the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil, where U.S. diplomats, military advisors, and other citizens are based. Over the past week, Islamic State fighters have overtaken about six towns in northern Iraq, as well as the Mosul dam, in an offensive that has brought the militants about 30 miles from Erbil. Fighters led by the Islamic State seized the town of Sinjar over the weekend, forcing about 200,000 civilians to flee, trapping about 40,000 members of the minority Yazidi community in the mountains nearby. On Thursday, U.S. planes began dropping food and water on Mount Sinjar, and Obama said he had authorized airstrikes, if necessary, to break the siege. No airstrikes had been conducted by late Thursday, but they would mark the first significant battlefield role for the United States in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011. Obama maintained, however, "As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Islamic State fighters seized a Syrian army base in Raqqa, one of the government's last outposts in the northern province, Thursday night. Most of the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front fighters have pulled out from the Lebanese town of Arsal, on the border with Syria, after Sunni Muslim clerics brokered a truce following days of fighting between the militant groups and the Lebanese army. The Lebanese government said it is deploying an additional 12,000 troops to the area. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon for the first time in three years saying he intended to oversee a $1 billion Saudi grant to aid the army in addressing security concerns. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reported that while Jordan has allowed over 607,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict to enter the country, it has denied entrance to Palestinians from Syria, returning over 100 since the beginning of 2013.
- Israel has resumed strikes on Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket fire after parties failed to negotiate an extension to a 72-hour cease-fire.
- Libya's new parliament has called for a U.N. supervised cease-fire and has increased its powers to act against warring militias.
Arguments and Analysis
'Not Just Iraq: The Islamic State Is Also on the March in Syria' (Charles Lister, The Huffington Post)
"But the Islamic State is not only making such gains in Iraq. After approximately a year of extremely minimal confrontation with the Syrian government, the Islamic State is now also in the midst of a major offensive against Syrian Arab Army (SAA) facilities in northeastern Syria.
Beginning in mid-July, the Islamic State re-initiated offensive operations against Syrian government targets, beginning with an attack on the Al-Shaer gas field in Homs governorate, which was captured on 17 July, resulting in the death of at least 270 people -- soldiers, security guards, and civilian staff. As well as being a major source of natural gas, the facility was a large military base and the Islamic State is thought to have captured 15 tanks and a vast arsenal of additional light and heavy weaponry from the facility before withdrawing on 26 July."
'Israel: Worlds apart' (John Reed, Financial Times)
"Israel's Operation Protective Edge has stoked a conformist, conservative and frenetically patriotic atmosphere that brooks little dissent. Leftist Israelis liken it to the anticommunist 'red-baiting' of McCarthyism in the US in the early 1950s.
Protests are accepted grudgingly, and in some cases suppressed. Anti-war activists have held demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities over the past month in which they say police failed to protect them from violent or abusive pro-war demonstrators, and in some case were abusive themselves.
Some have been punched, threatened or taunted with shouts of 'Traitors!' or 'Go to Gaza!' Israeli police arrested 14 protesters last Saturday for staging a demonstration they said was illegal, an assertion the protesters vigorously dispute."
'(In)discriminate language on Gaza' (Evgeny Finkel and Sarah E. Parkinson, The Washington Post)
"Though Marc Lynch recently lamented that political scientists are having ‘the same arguments in the same terms' when it comes to Israel-Palestine, other discourses have evolved. We have spent the weeks since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Gaza tracing shifts in the employment of three related concepts: The distinction between combatants and noncombatants; the difference between discriminate and indiscriminate violence; and genocide. All of these terms have been deployed for years in human rights and activist circles, as well as in the daily lives of millions of Palestinians and Israelis. What is new is the increasingly commonplace usage of these terms in media, political, academic and lay discourse."
-- Mary Casey
SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images