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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 31, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Reports of Israel Airstrikes Threaten to Expand Syria's Conflict

Israeli aircraft struck Syrian territory (WashPost) on Wednesday for the first time since 2007 in a move that highlights the risk of the country's civil war spilling over into a wider conflict. Conflicting reports abounded regarding the target and its location, with some officials pointing to the border with Lebanon, while the Syrian army said Israeli jets had bombed a defense research center near Damascus. Russia expressed concern (al-Arabiya), saying such a strike would be an unacceptable violation of the UN Charter.


"Israelis believe they cannot influence the shape of the outcome in Syria and they are focused on the worst-case scenario, which is that there could be proliferation of chemical weaponry or a transfer of them to Hezbollah," says David Makovsky in this CFR interview.

"This Israeli operation can thus be seen as in one sense pre-emptive, but also as a warning to the Syrian authorities and to Hezbollah. Quite how Hezbollah may respond is unclear," writes Jonathan Marcus for the BBC.

"The Assad regime is struggling to keep its power in the face of revolt. If the government falls, Israeli officials fear, the country could be taken over by Islamist radicals, which could spark new hostilities between two countries that are technically at war but have been relatively peaceful for the past half-century," writes Olga Khazan for the Washington Post.



China Sentences Tibetans

A court in China handed heavy sentences (Reuters) to two Tibetans for inciting eight people to self-immolate in anti-Chinese protests, the first time punishment has been doled out over such protests. Nearly 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest against Chinese rule.

SOUTH KOREA: South Korea increased pressure (Yonhap) on North Korea Thursday to call off the nuclear test the North has threatened to conduct, saying it that it will face "grave consequences" otherwise.

VIETNAM: Forced confiscation of land is becoming a headline issue (AP) in Vietnam, as farmers angry with forced government takeover of land have protested over the policies. The Communist government has pledged to revise land laws this year to make them more equitable.



Suspected Militants Killed in Pakistan

PAKISTAN: Nine suspected militants were killed in airstrikes (Dawn) conducted by Pakistani security forces in the upper Orakzai tribal region in an ongoing military offensive.

This CFR Backgrounder outlines Pakistan's new generation of terrorists.



Iran to Install More Enrichment Equipment

Iran has told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans to install more sophisticated equipment (NYT) at its principal nuclear enrichment plant, which would enable it to accelerate the processing of uranium.

CFR's Ray Takeyh discusses the nuclear dispute between Iran and the United States in this op-ed.



France Backs Possible UN Peace Force

France's defense minister said he supports the idea of sending a UN peacekeeping force (BBC) to Mali, a statement that comes as the French troops continue to secure the northern town of Kidal. France has deployed some 4,500 troops during the three-week offensive against militant Islamists.

This CFR Backgrounder delves into al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

LIBYA: UK Prime Minister David Cameron arrived for a surprise one-day visit to Tripoli (Guardian), Libya, to deliver a statement of support for the new Libyan government.



Spanish Party Denies Slush Funds

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been ensnared in a growing scandal over secret cash payments (FT) to ruling party politicians after a newspaper published what it claimed to be accounts showing such payments. Rajoy's Popular Party denied that its leaders received special payments outside their normal salaries.

FRANCE: French President Franรงois Hollande faced the first protest (Bloomberg) by public workers after three of the country's unions called for government employees to take to the streets.



Russia to Be Venezuela's Top Oil Partner

Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA signed a series of gas development (LAHT) and import agreements with Russian state-controlled Rosneft, solidifying an alliance that will see Russia become Caracas's top oil partner by 2021.

COLOMBIA: Peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels were put at risk Wednesday (MiamiHerald) after rebels defended the recent kidnapping of two policemen.



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