Tensions ease on Israeli border; Deadline pushed for Jordanian swap; Mil Comp recommendations out this morning; Obama says good-bye to Hagel; Slipper jokes; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson

The Israeli Defense Minister said Israel has received an important message from Hezbollah this morning as tensions ease slightly on the border after two Israeli soldiers were killed. Al Jazeera: “Moshe Yaalon said that Israel has received a message from the Lebanese group Hezbollah that it was backing away from further violence, a day after the worst deadly clashes in years erupted along the border. Yaalon said on Thursday that Israel received the message through the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), saying that Hezbollah was not interested in further escalation.

“The Israel-Lebanon border, where two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish UNIFIL peacekeeper were killed in an exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel, appeared quiet early on Thursday.” More here.

The WaPo’s William Booth and Hugh Naylor: “…Immediately following the attack, Netanyahu vowed that whoever was behind it would “pay the full price.” Besides Hezbollah and Iran, Netanyahu, in the midst of a competitive election campaign, said Israel also held the governments of Lebanon and Syria—which Hezbollah is backing in its civil war—responsible for any attack originating from their territories.” More here.

Hezbollah has M-1 Abrams tanks? A video uploaded to YouTube shows a Hezbollah convoy with some familiar American gear headed to the front lines to fight ISIS. The Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss: “At one point in the video, a transport truck is shown carrying an M1 Abrams tank. The Hezbollah Brigades’ flag is flying over the tank and other US-made vehicles… It is unclear if the Hezbollah Brigades seized the M1 from an Iraqi Army unit that dissolved in the face of the Islamic State’s onslaught, or if the Iraqi military gave the militia the tank.” More here.

Meantime, the Islamic State seems to have pushed back a deadline for the swap of the Jordanian pilot for the jidhadist. Reuters this morning: “An audio message purportedly from a Japanese journalist held by Islamic State militants said a Jordanian air force pilot also captured by the group would be killed unless a woman jailed in Jordan was released by sunset on Thursday.

“The message appeared to postpone a previous deadline set on Tuesday in which the journalist, Kenji Goto, said he would be killed within 24 hours if the Iraqi would-be suicide bomber in prison in Jordan was not freed.

The latest audio recording, which could not be verified by Reuters, was posted on YouTube early on Thursday. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that chances were high it was Goto’s voice in the recording.” More here.

Why Sajida? The NYT’s Rod Nordland and Ranya Kadri: “…As the crisis dragged on, the question that baffled Jordanians and terrorism experts alike was, as one analyst put it, ‘Why Sajida?’She has no value whatsoever, no social, no political, no security value whatsoever,’ said Linda Maayeh, a Jordanian journalist who covers extremists, and who interviewed Ms. Rishawi in prison, through her lawyer.

‘If ISIS wanted her, they would have asked for her from the first day,’ Ms. Maayehsaid.” More here.

State’s Jen Psaki tried to swat away questions about why the U.S. government was not big on Jordan doing the swap when the Obama Administration last year did just that for Bowe Bergdahl. That transcript, here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief, Defense One’s new, first-read national security newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe to The D Brief, reply to this email and let us know, subscribe here or send us a holler at glubold@defenseone.com. Please send us your tips, your tidbits, your scoops and stories, your think tank reports and best of all your candy, but send it to us early for maximum tease. And whatever you do, we hope you’ll follow us @glubold and @natsecwatson.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Hagel at Hagel’s farewell ceremony yesterday, per Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber: “…He’s a man of character, the type of character that was forged by a working class upbringing that valued hard work and perseverance. He’s been tested in the crucible of combat, and honed his career during a life of service to the nation. His resolve is simply as solid as steel. But his love of his country is even stronger: a truism embodied in the shrapnel that still resides in his chest, a permanent reminder of his sacrifice for America.”

Read below for Weisgerber’s reporting on the farewell ceremony for SecDef Hagel, who will remain in office until his successor is confirmed.

For to us a divisive debate will be born: This morning, the edgily-named Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission unveils its long-awaited recommendations on how to overhaul the military’s personnel system. Defense One’s Lubold and Molly O’Toole: Overhauling the U.S. military’s compensation system is a little like  reforming the U.S. tax code: most agree it has to be done, but there’s neither agreement over how to do it nor a profusion of political will to get it done.

“Indeed, few experts think that the list of 15 recommendations contained in a report due to be released Thursday will ever be executed. But there’s also consensus that it will begin a much-needed debate about how to update a multi-billion dollar military compensation system that hasn’t seen significant change in decades.”

MOAA’s Norb Ryan to The D Brief on the recommendations: “We’re looking for something that is responsible, something that will sustain the benefit, but it’s all under the crucible to make sure we can keep people coming in.”

Navy Chief of Personnel Adm. Bill Moran to The D Brief on what needs to happen: “Regardless of the ultimate outcome, I’m hopeful that the commission’s effort challenges those of us in leadership to look at the future differently, and to more thoughtfully consider the needs of our future force… I believe that the debate must advance beyond pay and compensation to consider how we manage people writ large.”

Read the rest of Lubold and O’Toole’s preview story, here.

Who’s up to what today – The Senate Banking Committee meets on the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015” at 10 a.m. … US Army Europe’s Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges and Brig. Gen. Markus Laubenthal—the first German officer to serve as Chief of Staff of U.S. Army Europe—brief the Pentagon press corps via VTC from Germany at 11 a.m. … and at 2 p.m., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a classified briefing on the campaign against ISIS—with Nicholas Rasmussen of the National Counterterrorism Center; Under Secretary Of Defense For Policy, Christine Wormuth; Special Presidential Envoy For The Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, (ret.) Gen. John Allen; and the Joint Staff’s Vice Director For Strategic Plans And Policy Maj. Gen. Steven Shepro… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno heads to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama to visit Army Materiel Command and Space and Missile Defense Command.

The Joint Chiefs argued that sequestration is too blunt an object that cuts into the kind of stability necessary to strategic planning, even for unexpected contingencies. But, that doesn’t mean the legislative body is any more likely to grant the Pentagon any breathing room. Our own Molly O’Toole reports from Capitol Hill: “During the hearing, military officials rattled off statistics that indicate the services have, by several measures, reached new lows: An Air Force whose fleet is as small and old as it’s ever been. An Army at its lowest troop levels in decades… But no lawmaker presented a path toward an agreement that would lift sequestration, and both members of Congress and the White House have pointed fingers at each other.” More here.

Read the Army’s Odierno’s opening statement, here.

Read the Air Force’s Welsh’s opener, here.

Read the Navy’s Greenert’s opening remarks, here.

Read the Marines’ Dunford’s statement here.

And read the transcript of the whole hearing right here.

Tweet of the times: @philewing: “if strident hearings about the Perils of Sequestration were going to sway #ThisTown, why didn’t the 50,000 before this have any effect?”

The Enzi obstacle: The biggest hurdle in the way of lifting sequestration appears to be Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Wyoming Republican Sen. Michael Enzi, who says he’s drawing a line in the sand when it comes to boosting spending beyond the current caps. NYTs Jonathan Weisman, here.

Mac Thornberry’s House Armed Services Committee rounded out their final seven subcommittee rosters yesterday. Catch the comprehensive lineup, here.

A breakthrough in our understanding of Gulf War illness? Maybe. Army Times’ Patricia Kime reports on a promising link discovered between the use of anti-nerve agent pills and soldiers’ genetics, here.

Offsetting: Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work put some more meat on the bones of the Pentagon’s “offset strategy,” its initiative to identify technologies to best adversaries on the battlefield of the future. From Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber: “Speaking at the Center for a New American Security Transatlantic Forum yesterday, Work said the Pentagon’s 2016 budget proposal, which goes to Capitol Hill on Monday, would make targeted investments in high-priority research-and-development and procurement projects. This includes new technologies, including: unmanned undersea vehicles, sea mining, high-speed strike weapons, an advanced new jet engine, rail gun technology and high-energy lasers.

“Earlier in the day, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition boss who is Work’s right-hand man on the offset strategy, said DOD’s new budget would include an Aerospace Innovation Initiative. ‘The intent is to develop prototypes for the next generation of air dominance platforms, X-Plane programs, if you will,’ Kendall told the House Armed Service Committee. The goal is to develop systems that will be used on the aircraft after the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Jet engine development is part of the project too.”

Kendall teases new Air Force and Navy “X” planes: The Pentagon’s “weapons man” Frank Kendall told lawmakers at a HASC hearing on acquisition reform that DOD expects to unveil a joint effort with DARPA to determine what will be needed to build a 6th generation fighter jet. DODBuzz’s Kris Osborn, here.

Are Taliban fighters using SIGAR data to get the upper hand on the Afghan security forces? They could, and that’s why U.S. reports on ANSF size, readiness and attrition rates are now all classified. Matthew Rosenberg for the NYTs: “Initially, the coalition also tried to classify the number of American troops in Afghanistan, a figure that was publicly announced last year by the Obama administration… Though the coalition did not end up going that far, it did classify nearly every piece of data used by the inspector general to assess the Afghan security forces… ‘The classification of this volume of data,’ the inspector general said in its report, ‘is unprecedented.’

“…Some of the information could certainly be seen as demoralizing, such as the attrition rates within Afghan forces. But the potential for embarrassment is not considered a legitimate rationale for classifying information, and both Republican and Democratic members of Congress have expressed skepticism about [coalition commander] General Campbell’s move.” Read the rest, here.

The NYTs Editorial Board this morning on ISAF’s Campbell’s decision to classify some data SIGAR sought: “The threats that Afghan and American troops face in Afghanistan remain all too real. But it strains credulity to believe that insurgents would become more proficient fighters by poring over lengthy inspector general reports about an increasingly forgotten war.” More here.

Your long read for Thursday: Winding down the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is an almost incomprehensibly tall—and often very expensive—order, writes Fast Company’s E.B. Boyd. That here.

Following an August encounter with a Chinese fighter jet, the Pentagon says it has to establish terms with China on air-to-air engagements before expanding defense ties with Beijing. WSJ’s Julian Barnes and Jeremy Page: “Top U.S. and Chinese naval officials had proposed the U.S. send an aircraft carrier on a visit to China, but Pentagon officials have deferred any decision until work on an air-intercepts agreement is complete, officials said… The delay, which doesn’t affect existing military-to-military exchanges, reflects concerns among some U.S. politicians and military officials that an expansion of defense ties with Beijing over the past 18 months hasn’t stopped China from trying to enforce its territorial claims in Asia.” More here.

Beijing’s emerging hand in a possible Kabul-Taliban peace deal suggests a larger foreign policy role for China in the future, former intel analyst Gabriel Alvarado writes for intelligence and natsec blog OvertAction, here.

Meantime, Beijing is quickly building airstrips in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Los Angeles Times’ David Cloud: “Beijing insists the reclamation projects are an internal matter taking place on Chinese territory, and recently said it needs a base in the South China Sea to support radar and intelligence gathering.” More here.

A former Marine was among the nine killed Tuesday during an attack on a hotel in Tripoli. WaPo’s Dan Lamothe: “A private security contractor, [David J. Berry, 33] was a Marine Corps veteran who had served in Special Operations units and performed counterintelligence. He had been working in Libya for nearly a year.” More here.

The military bid farewell to SecDef Chuck Hagel Wednesday evening a ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance. From our man on the scene, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber: “With a who’s who of Pentagon officials in attendance, the former sergeant turned secretary said his service in uniform 48 years ago helped mold him. ‘The lessons from my time in uniform about trust, responsibility, duty, judgment, and loyalty to your fellow soldier, these, I have carried with me throughout my life,’ Hagel said.

Hagel’s leave-taking is a little awkward since President Obama forced him out. Still, there were hugs all around between Hagel and Obama, who returned from a trip to India and Saudi Arabia only 13 hours earlier. ‘From sergeant to secretary, you’ve always been guided by one interest: what you believe is best for America,’ Obama said. ‘And I thank you for your friendship and your counsel, and all of us thank you for your character and your integrity.’ The two walked out of the ceremony with their arms draped around each other.”

Uncle Joe Jokester: Vice President Joe Biden provided the comic relief, telling a story about a trip he and Hagel took to Erbil, Iraq as Senators before the 2003 war. They entered the country from Turkey in the backseat of a car. “They told us for a couple hour drive ‘make sure you lie down in the seat as often as you can, because you don’t want to be seen,’” Biden said. On the drive, Hagel decided to call his mother, who died about a month later. “We’re riding through the mountains in northern Kurdistan, and you’re on the phone, got the cellphone, and called your mother.” Hagel had to poke some fun back at the Veep, recalling that phone call: “I remember you wanted to speak with her,” Hagel said. “And hours and hours later …”

DC Seen at the ceremony: The usual suspects of service secretaries, chiefs, combatant commanders, senior enlisted and Hagel’s front office and personal staff. We also spotted: Secretary of State John Kerry, Bob Work, Gen. David Rodriguez, Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser, Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Chief Master Sgt. Bill Turner, Rear Adm. John Kirby, Carl Woog, George Little, Derrick Chollet, Robert Hale, Richard Lugar, Rudy de Leon, Richard Lugar, Todd Harrison, Bill Lynn, Evelyn Farkas, Jim Miller, Jamie Morin, Frank Kendall, Mike McCord, Michael Linnington and Heidi Shyu. 

And of course any tribute to Hagel would not be complete without a snazzy SecDef fashion reference, this one courtesy of POTUS. Let’s flashback to trip then Sens. Obama and Hagel took to Iraq. “Chuck wore these pair of sort of Hush Puppy bedroom slipper shoes out into the desert and the flaps started opening up and his toes were sticking out, but I’m going to skip that story,” Obama said. “He then ended up buying me a pair, which I have never worn, I am proud to say.”

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