National Security Brief: January 19, 2012

— Some Taliban commanders in Afghanistan said they are ready for talks with the U.S. — but not Hamid Karzai’s western-backed central government — on ending the war there.

— With hints that Syria dodges sanctions by shipping its oil to Iran for international sale, the U.S. Treasury Department is cracking down by targeting ships and insurance companies involved in moving the oil.

— “Growing indications that a deeply divided international community is either unable or unwilling to intervene to halt the violence in Syria are fueling an armed rebellion that risks plunging the country, and perhaps the region, into a wider war,” the Washington Post reports.

— Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, warned Wednesday that Western support for anti-government movements in the Middle East and North Africa — particularly in Iran and Syria — could result in “a very big war that will cause suffering not only to countries in the region, but also to states far beyond its boundaries.”


— The heretofore amorphous Russian opposition, backed by celebrities and intellectuals, is working to bring coherence to its nascent protest movement with the launch of the League of Voters umbrella group.

— The editor of the Jerusalem Post said in a recent speech that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told him that Israel’s two greatest enemies are the New York Times and the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.

— Ahead Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey’s arrival in Israel, a senior U.S. official said that sanctions on Iran are effective, contrasting with a recent statement by Netanyahu that the current sanctions regime against Iran will not curb its nuclear program.

— The Pentagon is preparing new initiatives to combat the growing number of sexual assaults in the military but Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) criticized the plan, saying “The core of the flawed system remains in place — unit commanders will continue to have complete and total discretion over incidents of assault in their unit.”