Fdd's overnight brief

April 10, 2019

In The News


Iran’s leaders Tuesday warned the United States of serious repercussions after it designated the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. President Trump on Monday announced the decision against the Revolutionary Guard, Iran’s most potent military force, describing the move as a way to “expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime.” – Washington Post

President Trump’s declaration that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a foreign terrorist organization is the first time the United States government has designated a part of another country’s military as that type of threat. In doing so, Mr. Trump took broad aim at a pillar of the Iranian state, which exerts enormous influence in politics and the economy as well as in Iran’s internal and external military policies. – New York Times

Iran has named career diplomat and ex-nuclear negotiator Majid Takht Ravanchi as its ambassador to the United Nations, state media said, as it tries to salvage a nuclear deal with world powers after the unilateral U.S. withdrawal. – Reuters

Iran said on Tuesday it would press ahead with the launch of three satellites into orbit this year despite a U.S. move to curb Tehran’s ballistic missile program which Washington says has been advanced by the satellite activity. – Reuters

Iranian lawmakers dressed in paramilitary uniforms chanted “Death to America” as they convened Tuesday for an open session of parliament after the White House designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization. – Associated Press

Amos Yadlin writes: Concomitantly, a Security Council resolution is needed to address the issues of ballistic missiles, terror and malign Iranian interventions throughout the Middle East. To that end, it is necessary to continue the pressure on Iran from all directions, create a broad international coalition, and clarify in reliable and convincing fashion that not only are all options against Iran “on the table,” they also are ready to use and the will to do so is real. – The Hill

Omer Carmi writes: Whatever the case, the IRGC is unlikely to act without the approval of the Supreme Leader, who controls Iran’s national security portfolio. Khamenei is known for his calculated and cautious approach to decisionmaking. Although some in the regime will urge him to escalate, the experienced ayatollah surely knows that doing so could serve as a readymade casus belli for Washington. – Washington Institute

Ilan Berman writes: This week’s designation represents an acknowledgement that “Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft,” as the White House statement puts it. The Administration has thereby confirmed what the world – and the Iranian people – have long known. And it has gone a long way toward reassuring regional allies that they are not alone in confronting the threat. – Radio Farda


A double bomb attack Tuesday in the northern Syrian city of Raqa, a former bastion of the Islamic State group, killed 13 people, mostly civilians, a war monitor said. – Agence France-Presse

One year ago, a chemical attack allegedly carried out by the Syrian government on the embattled nation’s Douma district left at least 43 people dead. Two years ago, more than 100 – mostly women and children – perished in another apparently government-helmed chemical onslaught in Idlib’s Khan Sheikhoun district. – Fox News

Kyle Orton writes: As the regime of Bashar Assad appears to be consolidating in Syria, many Israelis have concluded that their government’s handling of the crisis was generally laudable. – Haaretz


Trying to reverse a stinging setback, Turkey’s ruling party on Tuesday demanded a redo of last week’s election for mayor of Istanbul, the country’s largest city and long a source of power and prestige for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – New York Times

Two U.S. senators on Tuesday introduced a bipartisan bill requiring the imposition of sanctions on Turkish officials responsible for the detentions of U.S. citizens and local consulate staff in Turkey, a statement on the legislation said. – Reuters

The leaders of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees warned Turkey on Tuesday that it risked tough sanctions if it pursued plans to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense systems, and they threatened further legislative action. – Reuters

President Tayyip Erdogan said the delivery of Russian S-400 missile defense systems may be brought forward from July, the Sabah newspaper reported on Wednesday, sticking to a purchase which has put Turkey at odds with NATO ally the United States. – Reuters


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in a position Wednesday morning to fend off a strong election challenge by a former army chief after a hard-fought race that underlined Israel’s rightward drift and tested voters’ support for a leader facing corruption allegations. – Wall Street Journal

Israel’s parliamentary election on Tuesday brings an end to a neck-and-neck campaign that saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the veteran politician of the Israeli right and one of the country’s longest-serving leaders, facing the strongest challenge in years. […] But Israeli elections are complicated and unpredictable, with many parties vying for votes and at times forming opportunistic alliances to secure a parliamentary majority. – New York Times

Airbnb said Tuesday that it had reversed its decision to remove listings of properties located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. – New York Times

Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be headed toward a historic fifth term as Israel’s prime minister on Wednesday, with close-to-complete unofficial election results giving his right-wing Likud and other nationalist and religious parties a solid majority in parliament. – Associated Press

A clear majority of Palestinians if given the opportunity would favor the Palestinian Legislative Council to hold both presidential (86.9%) and parliamentary (82.8%) elections, according to a recent study conducted by members of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation. – Jerusalem Post

Shalom Lipner writes: The onus, by default, will thus fall on Trump. If the president comes out forcefully against annexation, Netanyahu can report unhesitatingly to Israelis that his hands are tied. But if Trump appears to consent to Israel annexing the West Bank — a break with decades of U.S. policy — that would force Netanyahu to choose between feeding his coalition’s appetite or risking the survival of his government. – Washington Post


A battle for control of the Libyan capital remained deadlocked for a fifth day on Tuesday, as the city’s last civilian airport resumed flights after an airstrike and the United Nations canceled a long-planned peace conference scheduled for later this month. – New York Times

With renegade eastern commander Khalifa Hifter at the gates of the Libyan capital, the United Nations and Western and Arab governments have called for a halt to the fighting — to no avail. By Tuesday, the urgency for a cease-fire grew: Dozens have been killed, thousands have fled their homes or remain trapped by fighting, and Tripoli’s only functioning airport was hit by an airstrike, shutting it down and dimming hopes for a U.N. peace conference scheduled for this weekend. – Washington Post

The United Nations on Tuesday postponed a Libyan national conference aimed at drawing up an election roadmap because of fighting raging near the capital, in another setback to peace efforts. The move came as the North African country’s warring parties faced mounting international pressure to halt violence that has caused thousands to flee and left several dozen people dead. – Agence France-Presse

Giorgio Cafiero and Theodore Karasik write: Unfortunately for Libyans, the prospects that their country’s crisis will be resolved this year through a UN-led peace process have diminished significantly this month. A major risk for the country, as well as the rest of Africa and Europe, is that extremist groups such as ISIS will emerge as the true victors of Hifter’s offensive, given their successful track record of exploiting chaos, unrest, and power vacuums. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Welcoming Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi at the White House on Tuesday, President Trump delivered a diatribe against what he called “bad laws” and a legal system that “never, ever rules for us,” venting over a recent appeals court decision that scuttled his attempt to stem the flow of migrants into the country. – Washington Post

President Trump on Tuesday held a call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, where the two leaders discussed Iran and “the importance of human rights issues.” – The Hill

Sabina Henneberg writes: Washington should support Algerians in their search for national consensus on how to move beyond the Bouteflika era. U.S. policymakers should also praise Algerian authorities for the restraint they have shown toward protestors given the devastating consequences that forcible repression could cause. In addition, officials should remember that the Algerian army shares Washington’s interest in maintaining a strong counterterrorism relationship; both partners should look for ways to maintain this cooperation even in the face of major institutional shifts. – Washington Institute

Katherine Zimmerman writes: Washington should also encourage partners to develop or restore relationships with individuals who have chosen to support the Houthis politically during the civil war but who might not entirely believe in their cause. […] Splintering the Houthi movement in this fashion could begin to diminish the group’s influence in Yemen. Reducing the Houthis’ strengths would increase the prospects of an acceptable negotiated settlement to the war and a political resolution in Yemen. – RealClearWorld

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s president, who played peacemaker by bringing the North Korean regime to talks with his U.S. ally, now faces the challenge of persuading both sides to make concessions he argues can help get Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear arsenal. – Wall Street Journal

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called a full meeting Wednesday of a top committee of the ruling Workers’ Party to address what he described as the “prevailing tense situation”, state media reported. – Agence France-Presse

A U.S. Army air and missile defense unit in South Korea recently devised its first counter-drone defense plan to protect a garrison area as the threat of enemy unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, becomes more likely. – Military.com


The European Union-China summit here Tuesday was meant to bolster cooperation, especially against controversial policies of President Trump. Instead, it is highlighting differences, led by growing trade tensions. – Wall Street Journal

China is planning new steps that could put a stop to making Bitcoin there, a move that could cut off one of the world’s largest sources of the popular but unstable cryptocurrency. – New York Times

From the Altai Mountains to the Pacific Coast, logging is ravaging Russia’s vast forests, leaving behind swathes of scarred earth studded with dying stumps. The culprit, to many Russians, is clear: China. – New York Times

China is the greatest threat to America’s assets in space, and that threat will only increase should the U.S. not adapt its war-fighting approach in orbit, the head of the Pentagon warned Tuesday. – Defense News

The U.S. sent a fighter-jet-carrying warship to join drills near the disputed Scarborough Shoal for the first time, sending a pointed message to China as tensions simmer over territorial claims in the region. – Bloomberg

Charles Kraus writes: But Xinjiang should be a priority today. There are millions of people being victimized by the Chinese Communist Party’s extrajudicial detentions, and entire cultures may be under threat. The human rights crisis in Xinjiang shows no sign of slowing. In fact, the Chinese Communist Party appears emboldened to continue operating its camps. – Washington Post

James G. Stavridis writes: A similar dynamic is playing out underwater. How can the U.S. address the security of undersea cables? There is no way to stop Huawei from building them, or to keep private owners from contracting with Chinese firms on modernizing them, based purely on suspicions. Rather, the U.S. must use its cyber- and intelligence-gathering capability to gather hard evidence of back doors and other security risks. – Bloomberg


A military contractor initially thought to have died in a car bombing that killed a group of American service members this week survived the attack, the U.S. military said Tuesday. The man, an Afghan national, was part of a convoy targeted by a suicide bomber on Monday near Bagram air base, a major hub for foreign forces in Afghanistan. – Washington Post

Dozens of Afghan forces and Taliban fighters were killed in overnight fighting across Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday, as violence intensified ahead of another round of peace efforts to end the 18-year-old war. – New York Times

Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to the State Department Monday that accused Secretary Mike Pompeo of blocking the agency’s Afghanistan envoy from testifying in front of the panel. – The Hill

South Asia

His country nearly went to war with a neighboring enemy six and a half times its size. Militants lurk in religious schools and in the countryside. And with inflation soaring and debt ballooning, his finance team is scrambling, desperate to secure a multibillion-dollar rescue package to avoid economic collapse. But Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, is apparently feeling confident about his first eight months in office — so much so that he invited a group of foreign journalists for an informal, hourlong chat on Tuesday in Islamabad, the capital. – New York Times

Five people were killed Tuesday in a massive roadside bomb attack on a political convoy in India, police said, just two days before voting begins in the country’s national election. – Agence France-Presse

Mohammed Sinan Siyech writes: The following four issues deserve a place on the bilateral agenda. First, Delhi should prioritize negotiations for the protection of Indian expatriate workers in Qatar, many of whom have experienced various forms of labor abuse. Second, India could seek to collaborate with Qatar on developing a cleaner and more energy efficient environment. Third, in light of the popularity of Bollywood among Qataris, India should seek to boost its “soft power” influence through additional avenues of cultural exchange. – Middle East Institute


The Japanese military said on Wednesday that it had found parts of a fighter jet that crashed into the Pacific on a training exercise, but that the pilot was still missing. – New York Times

Kazakhstan’s interim president called snap elections Tuesday, […]even as its first president maneuvers to hold on to power from behind the scenes. Nursultan Nazarbayev’s decision to step down after almost three decades in power came at a time of rising public discontent, growing tensions among the elite and a balancing act between the country’s two biggest neighbors, Russia and China. – Wall Street Journal

Maldives former president Mohamed Nasheed, whose party won a landslide in the archipelago’s parliamentary election, on Tuesday pledged to conduct a thorough probe into deals with China. – Reuters


The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Russia violated the rights of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny by placing him under house arrest in 2014 and imposing other restrictive measures on him. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin says Russia will dramatically increase its presence in the Arctic region by building new ports and other facilities and expanding its fleet of icebreaker vessels, as the competition for the area’s natural resources intensifies. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Tom Ball writes: From the Kremlin’s perspective, integration is a logical step. With recession looming, why bother spending money propping up an ailing regime which could simply be absorbed? Belarus is also a keystone in Russia’s defensive strategy, buffering against NATO’s increasing presence in eastern Europe. Since the interference in Ukraine, Lukashenko has resisted Russian attempts to build military bases in his country, much to Putin’s chagrin. A union would do away with that problem. – The New Republic


What happens this week with Brexit — whether Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal, or gets more time to sort out a smooth departure — may come down to French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron has taken the hardest line among European leaders on Brexit. He presided over a compromise last month that gave Britain until April 12 to deliver a clear plan for Brexit or face leaving without a safety net. – Washington Post

European Union leaders are preparing to grant British Prime Minister Theresa May more time, at a summit Wednesday, to win backing in Parliament for an agreement to leave the bloc. – Wall Street Journal

Theresa May’s request for a short Brexit delay has been torn up, putting the EU on track to instead extend Britain’s membership until 2020. – The Guardian

France and Germany expressed concern over the independence of Polish courts at a meeting of European Union ministers on Tuesday, keeping up pressure on Warsaw to drop changes to the judiciary that the EU believes undermine the separation of powers. – Reuters

British and Dutch spy agencies have heavily restricted the amount of intelligence they share with Austria, mainly because of ties between the ruling far-right Freedom Party and Russia, an Austrian opposition lawmaker said on Tuesday. – Reuters

German police on Wednesday raided offices belonging to Islamic organizations suspected of financing the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which is on the European Union’s terrorism blacklist, the interior ministry said. – Reuters

After enduring four decades of communism and producing renegade directors such as Roman Polanski, the National Film School in the Polish city of Lodz has a long tradition of refusing to kowtow to authority. So when rector Mariusz Grzegorzek made his annual speech to open the academic year, he decided to fire a warning shot. “We’re witnessing a dismantling of many extremely important cultural institutions,” he said. – Bloomberg

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Instead, Orban could have broken entirely with the EPP and attended a meeting in Milan, hosted on Monday by Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s nationalist, anti-immigrant League party. Salvini is trying to set up a strong Euroskeptic faction in the European Parliament, bringing together nationalist forces now scattered among four different factions. – Bloomberg

The Americas

The Trump administration laid out ways to move more aggressively against Central Americans seeking asylum in the U.S., including stepping up pressure on Department of Homeland Security officials, amid a fresh setback in the courts and continued resistance on Capitol Hill. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads this week to Latin America to press the Trump administration’s call for a political transition in Venezuela, underscoring the mission by visiting a city on the troubled country’s border, the State Department said. – Wall Street Journal

El Salvador’s incoming president Nayib Bukele said on Tuesday he would not be inviting the leaders of Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela to his June 1 inauguration after criticizing them as illegitimate rulers. – Reuters


Is the dream of one global internet still alive? Increasingly, moves by governments to filter and restrict content are threatening to fragment the system created with the promise of connecting the world with a largely unified body of content. – Agence France-Presse

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) introduced a bill Tuesday to prevent social media platforms from tricking users into handing over their personal data. – The Hill

Facebook and Google on Tuesday sought to reassure lawmakers that they are cracking down on white nationalism and extremist content online before a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. – The Hill

Facebook will change its terms of service to clarify how consumer data is being used for targeted advertisements, following pressure from European regulators. – The Hill


Private sector companies and government agencies announced April 9 that they would be teaming up to institute a cybersecurity talent pipeline to address the general lack of cybersecurity professionals in the United States and specifically a lack of young cyber talent in the government. – Fifth Domain

The Air Force has decided to start accepting KC-46 tankers from Boeing again after the discovery of foreign debris halted production for the second time, the service’s top weapons buyer said Tuesday. – Defense News

As the U.S. Air Force whittles down potential locations for the headquarters of the new U.S. Space Command, Colorado is emerging as an early front-runner — at least according to an Air Force memo obtained by CNN last Friday. – Defense News

Welcome to what top Shanahan staff have internally dubbed “Space Week,” a three-day stretch where Pentagon officials will lay out their competing views for the future of the department’s space architecture, as Congress launches its own debate about whether those plans should be adopted and how. – Defense News

In what will likely be her final speech at Space Symposium before departing in May, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson used her time to deliver a scathing blow to the newly established Space Development Agency. – Defense News

The general in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been nominated to be the country’s second-highest-ranking military officer, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced Tuesday. – The Hill

Long War

While devoted followers of the Islamic State, a man and woman bought a 5-year-old Yazidi girl in Iraq to use as a slave, then let her die of thirst in the scorching heat, the German authorities contend. The trial of the woman began on Tuesday — one of the highest-profile cases against a female member of the terrorist group. – New York Times

Less than a month after 50 Muslim worshipers in the city of Christchurch were fatally shot in terrorist attacks on two mosques, New Zealand passed a law banning most semiautomatic weapons on Wednesday — a measure supported by all but one of Parliament’s 120 lawmakers. – New York Times

Samuel Ramani writes: Meanwhile, by bringing home the children of ISIS fighters from Iraq and Syria, Russia is trying to actively help shape international humanitarian assistance policies. Although Western sanctions and economic stagnation have prevented Russia from becoming a major humanitarian aid donor, it still tries to influence international humanitarian aid policy by taking stands on human rights issues that the United States tends to downplay or ignore. – Washington Post

Alexander Guittard and Ryan B. Greer write: We have seen how difficult it is overseas to confront terrorism where ideologies that encourage violence have tacit political or social support. Coming to terms with the fact that we have a terrorism problem and that it is homegrown will prove equally difficult. First, it requires a strong repudiation from political leaders of the far-right and white nationalist fringe. Then we must move past thoughts, prayers, and condemnations — and act swiftly and comprehensively to counter this threat before the next attack claims more innocent lives. – The Hill

Trump Administration

Attorney General William Barr said he would deliver the special counsel’s still-secret report to Congress within a week and vowed to explain his reasons for blacking out parts of the roughly 400-page document, a pledge that did little to mollify demands from Democrats for full access to the report. – Wall Street Journal

Attorney General William Barr has assembled a team to review controversial counterintelligence decisions made by Justice Department and FBI officials, including actions taken during the probe of the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

President Donald Trump is sending a clear message to the economic policy makers gathering in Washington for the IMF and World Bank’s spring meetings: My trade wars aren’t finished yet and a weakening global economy will just have to deal with it. – Bloomberg