Fdd's overnight brief

April 11, 2019

In The News


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left open the possibility on Wednesday of entering a conflict with Iran without first seeking explicit congressional approval, telling senators “there is no doubt there is a connection” between Al Qaeda and Iran. – New York Times

U.S. President Donald Trump will increase pressure on Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, but he declined specific comment on whether the administration would continue sanctions waivers for countries that import Iranian oil. – Reuters

The Navy isn’t anticipating changes in how it deals with the naval branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) as it operates in the Persian Gulf, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told USNI News on Wednesday. – USNI News

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the United States had made “a vicious move” in designating the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization, and Tehran vowed to take action against US forces in the region. – Reuters

Iran is going to open business offices in some of the strategic countries in the region including Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon, IRNA reported on Tuesday quoting the minister of industry, mine and trade. – Al Bawaba

Michael Rubin writes: The Iranian public is angry. Strikes are frequent but limited in duration and scope. The reason is fear: On one hand, Iranians want change, but, on the other, they fear protracted action or government reprisals will leave them penniless and their families hungry. A strike fund could reassure them that, if they take to the streets, their families will not starve. And, while sanctions cost billions and military action even more, a strike fund can be measured in just millions. – Washington Post

Omer Carmi writes: The nuclear deal allows Iran to conduct limited R&D on advanced centrifuges so long as it does not accumulate enriched uranium, in accordance with Tehran’s “enrichment R&D plan.” Specifically, it allows the regime to test the IR-6 model on “single centrifuge machines and intermediate cascades” (i.e., sets of connected centrifuges), and to commence “testing of up to thirty centrifuge machines” in mid-2024. – Washington Institute

Sean Durns writes: The decision to designate the IRGC is unique. Never before has the U.S. State Department classified a branch of a foreign government’s military as a foreign terrorist organization. But Iran is not, by any measure, ruled by a normal government. Indeed, in order to understand why designating the IRGC makes sense, one must first understand the Islamic Republic. – Haaretz

Long War

Pentagon prosecutors have made a renewed effort to charge three prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay wartime prison with conspiring in two deadly terrorist bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2003. – New York Times

She was thousands of miles from Syria when the call came, but the voice on the line took her back. The caller spoke in Arabic, addressed Melkeya by name, threatened her. “I know who you are,” he said. “Just you wait.” Her first thought: ISIS. In 2014, the Islamic State swept through Melkeya’s hometown in northern Iraq, killing and kidnapping thousands of Yazidis, an ancient religious minority group, in what the United Nations called a genocide. Many ended up in Syria, where the fighters claimed a capital. – Washington Post

Iraq has offered the US-led coalition to put hundreds of accused foreign jihadists on trial in Baghdad in exchange for millions of dollars, three government sources have told AFP. – Agence France-Presse

Hugo Kaaman writes: In all of its different forms, the SVBIED has repeatedly proven to be the most potent military asset fielded in battle by ISIS. As a result, the group has dedicated an incredible amount of time and resources to the research, development, manufacture, and use of SVBIEDs since the declaration of the caliphate. This has resulted in a wide array of innovations, all hallmarks of the adaptability of the SVBIED. – Middle East Institute


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers Tuesday that if NATO ally Turkey acquires the Russian S-400 air defense system, it will not receive the F-35 fighter jet, and he left the door open for sanctions. – Defense News

Turkey’s foreign minister says his country could look “elsewhere” if the U.S. doesn’t deliver F-35 fighter jets. – Associated Press

Tired of the constant crises emanating from Turkey, top U.S. lawmakers from both parties are pushing a potentially pivotal change to Washington’s approach to the world’s newest hot spot, the Eastern Mediterranean, aiming to parry Russian influence there and threatening to jettison a decades-old security relationship with Ankara. – Foreign Policy


The apparent victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in Israeli elections clouds prospects for the Trump administration’s yet-to-be-released peace plan and could further undermine bipartisan support for Israel in Congress, according to analysts. If Netanyahu succeeds in forming the next government, he is expected to annex parts of the West Bank as part of a possible deal with coalition partners to get the law changed in a way that would give him immunity from prosecution on corruption and bribery charges. – Washington Post

President Trump congratulated Benjamin Netanyahu for what Trump called the long-serving Israeli prime minister’s probable victory in a close reelection contest, saying Wednesday that a Netanyahu victory increases the chances for a peace agreement. “He’s been a great ally, and he’s a friend,” Trump said of Netanyahu, who campaigned for a fourth consecutive and fifth overall term on the strength of his bond with the U.S. leader. – Washington Post

Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on Wednesday to be on his way to a fifth term as prime minister of Israel, solidifying the sense across the Arab world that the dream of a Palestinian state is more remote than ever — as is the chance that the United States will help create it. – New York Times

His army nickname was Benny Huta, a Hebrew pun that translates as “Benny Chill.” And in his first-ever run for office, Benny Gantz never let anyone see him sweat, no matter the live-television gaffes, embarrassing leaks or rumors about personal improprieties that occasionally tripped up his candidacy for prime minister. – New York Times

An Israeli public relations firm aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party said it was behind the placement of some 1,200 cameras in predominantly Arab polling stations, and claimed the tactic helped lower Arab voter turnout in the election Tuesday. – New York Times

Iranian President Hassan Rohani on Wednesday called the Israeli election “meaningless,” adding that if one was to hold real elections in the area, Palestinians, not the occupiers, should be the ones going to the polls. – Haaretz

Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee, said on Wednesday that “the search for security and stability is a right of all peoples, but not at the expense of undermining the stability and security of the other, but rather by implementing the law and international legitimacy.”- Arutz Sheva

Danielle Pletka writes: What will it all mean? Israel’s enemies, Bibi-haters, devotees of the peace process, and sundry others will decry Israel’s latest democratic vote as a decision to install a dictator; after all, who has five terms? This is ridiculous; Israel is the epitome of democratic, with dozens of parties, including Arab parties, a free press that borders on chaotic, and a genuine horse race for political power. Donald Trump will view the election results as a foreshadowing of his own race in 2020. The real question, however, is what will the Palestinians do?  – American Enterprise Institute

Saudi Arabia

The oldest son of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Wednesday appeared to defend the crown prince suspected of orchestrating his father’s killing as well as the family’s decision to accept compensation worth millions of dollars from the Saudi government. In an apparent reference to those payments, Salah Khashoggi said on Twitter that “acts of generosity and humanity come from the high moral grounds” maintained by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and are “not admission of guilt or scandal.” – Washington Post

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to confirm a retired four-star general, John Abizaid, as the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, filling an important diplomatic post that has been vacant for more than two years. U.S.-Saudi relations are in turmoil after the murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor killed by kingdom agents in October while he was in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. – Associated Press

The number of Saudis detained over the past week in a fresh wave of arrests has risen to 14, people close to them said, even as Riyadh faces intense international criticism over the murder of a journalist and the trial of prominent women activists. – Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition carried out air strikes in Yemen against two Houthi targets in Sanaa, the capital, early on Wednesday, its spokesman said. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi of Egypt was in Washington this week, and the headlines of Egyptian newspapers and media channels — and also those from the White House — are emphasizing cooperation and shared interests in the region. Predictably, up until the Trump-Sissi Oval Office meeting, there had been absolutely no mention of Sissi’s moves to consolidate power through constitutional amendments and Egypt’s democratic struggles. – Washington Post

The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group on Wednesday weighed in on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in Israeli elections, saying it would likely herald even closer ties between Israel and the United States. – Times of Israel

Lebanon’s Hezbollah raised the prospect of retaliation by Iran and its allies over U.S. sanctions, saying on Wednesday that all options were on the table were Washington to take steps that “threaten our nation.” – Reuters

Trump’s move last month has caused concern among Lebanese officials that it would mean also recognizing the occupied Chebaa Farms and nearby Kfar Chouba hills, captured along with the Golan, as Israeli territory. Lebanese President Michel Aoun said the U.S. recognition undermines Lebanon’s claim to the territory. – Associated Press

Lawmakers from Russia, Iran and Turkey are calling for Syria’s territorial integrity to be preserved as remarks from Israel and the United States have renewed long-standing land disputes and after U.S. President Donald Trump had recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. – Associated Press

Eastern-based forces battled troops loyal to the Tripoli government in the outskirts of Libya’s capital on Wednesday as thousands of residents fled the fighting. – Reuters

France on Wednesday blocked a European Union statement calling on Khalifa Haftar to halt his eastern forces’ offensive in Libya, diplomatic sources said, in the latest example of how the bloc’s internal divisions have undercut its global sway. – Reuters   

Egypt has pulled out of the U.S. effort to forge an “Arab NATO” with key Arab allies, according to four sources familiar with the decision, in a blow to the Trump administration’s strategy to contain Iranian power. – Reuters

Turkey warned on Wednesday that it could buy jets and additional air defense systems from Russia if it cannot get Patriot missile shields and F-35 jets from Washington, raising the prospect of ever deeper defense ties between Moscow and a NATO member. – Algemeiner

Korean Peninsula

Kim Jong Un said North Korea should prove its self-reliance and deliver a “telling blow” to the hostile foreign forces who mistakenly believe sanctions will bring his country to its knees. The comments, reported by state media Thursday, represent Kim’s first official, defiant response to the breakdown of the second U.S.-North Korea summit in February, and were delivered to a plenary session of officials from the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. – Washington Post

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed Wednesday that United States–led measures to target North Korea would have a major negative economic impact. – Newsweek

The Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend the mandate of the U.N. panel of experts monitoring sanctions on North Korea, with Russia urging its members “to correct” the negative impact of the tough measures on the lives of ordinary citizens. Adoption of the resolution was delayed for weeks over Russia’s demands that the committee address the humanitarian impact of sanctions. – Associated Press

Sebastien Roblin writes: The extent of the remaining infiltration tunnels and the role they would actually play in North Korean military strategy remains a mystery. South Korea currently possesses far superior conventional-warfare capabilities, so North Korean strategy has shifted away from invasion to a deterrence strategy using ballistic missiles, heavy artillery and chemical and nuclear weapons to threaten terrible damage to civilian targets. – The National Interest


Chinese authorities defended the razing of Muslim neighborhoods and the mass use of digital surveillance in the capital of China’s Xinjiang region, saying the measures are designed to promote development and security for locals – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. and China have agreed on an enforcement mechanism for their potential trade deal, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, suggesting one of the key stumbling blocks toward an accord had been cleared. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. and Chinese negotiators are discussing adding a concession on cloud computing to their trade agreement that would give foreign companies greater access to the $12 billion Chinese market, people familiar with the talks said. – Bloomberg

Chinese media have reported that a prototype laser weapon is being tested by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). – Jane’s 360

Coal-powered plants, mobile networks, major bridges, roads and railways: Chinese investments have been booming throughout Central and Eastern Europe’s cash-strapped developing countries, even as European Union officials scramble to counter Beijing’s mounting economic and political influence on the continent. – Associated Press

South Asia

The invitation for foreign journalists to interview the prime minister and military officials and to visit the site of the Indian airstrike came on the eve of the Indian elections and in the midst of a domestic economic crisis that has left Pakistan desperate for international support. – Washington Post

Pakistan’s push to curb armed militant groups in the wake of a standoff with India that brought the nuclear-armed neighbours close to war reflected an urgent need for stability to meet growing economic challenges, Prime Minister Imran Khan said. – Reuters

The most recent military standoff between India and Pakistan has exposed longstanding gaps in the latter’s defenses that now appear to be receiving renewed attention. – Defense News

Tom Rogan writes: Since 2001, the conflict in Afghanistan has cost the lives of 4,410 U.S. service personnel and wounded just under 32,000 others. Hundreds of other allied personnel have also lost their lives there. Three more Americans joined them last week. – Washington Examiner


President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan welcomed American dignitaries on Wednesday in the face of rising tensions with China, saying the self-ruled island needed to protect itself “from new, sophisticated threats coming from across the strait.” – New York Times

Standing up through the sunroof of a van, Prabowo Subianto leans down to shake hands and accept cash — sometimes bags of it — from tens of thousands of cheering supporters clogging up roads and sitting on rooftops. All of them are trying to get a glimpse of the man they want to be Indonesia’s next president. – Bloomberg

Michael Mazza writes: Countering CCP influence operations during an election year requires a delicate political balancing act. The United States can offer modest assistance in supporting the integrity of Taiwan’s democracy without intervening to support either party. – Global Taiwan Brief


The United States has named Russia in a list of nearly three dozen countries where it warned its citizens risk being kidnapped across the globe. – Newsweek

George P. Shultz, William J. Perry and Sam Nunn write: The U.S., its allies and Russia are caught in a dangerous policy paralysis that could lead—most likely by mistake or miscalculation—to a military confrontation and potentially the use of nuclear weapons for the first time in nearly 74 years. – Wall Street Journal

Neil Hauer writes: The obvious impetus for Russia’s recent focus on Rukban/Tanf is the region’s position outside of Syrian government control. In 2018, the Kremlin managed to engineer the return of all rebel-held pockets in central and southern Syria to Damascus’s grip. This was accomplished through a simple formula: Russian military police were deployed to the areas, ensured a general cessation of conflict, and began liaisons with local rebel commanders.  – Middle East Institute

Janusz Bugajski writes: The reparations initiative can contribute to a concerted European defense against Russia’s continuing seizure of neighboring territories. It would signal that Moscow will also be indebted for its current occupation of parts of Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. Truth and justice will ultimately prevail over the Kremlin’s deceit and criminality. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig expects to be indicted in the coming days on charges stemming from work he performed for Ukraine in 2012, Mr. Craig’s legal team said. – Wall Street Journal

European Union leaders agreed to postpone Brexit until Oct. 31 to allow British Prime Minister Theresa May more time to try to get the U.K.’s Parliament to approve the country’s divorce deal with the bloc. – Wall Street Journal

Gen. Gordon Messenger, the U.K.’s vice chief of the Defence Staff, said in a recent interview that he believes the missiles and bombs currently in stockpile might have a longer shelf life than current standards dictate, and that the Ministry of Defence is working on new ways to use that information. – Defense News

Latin America

Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday urged the United Nations to revoke the credentials of Venezuela’s ambassador to the world body, portraying him as a loyalist to the country’s disputed president, Nicolás Maduro, and to a government that has allowed crime, violence and starvation to rise. – New York Times

Venezuela told OPEC that the country’s oil output sank to a new long-term low last month due to U.S. sanctions and blackouts, deepening the impact of a global production curb and further tightening supplies. – Reuters  

China is distributing intrusive tools of surveillance and social control throughout Latin America to “surround the United States” with potential threats, warns a top senator. Washington Examiner

Nicholas Kristof writes: American liberals sometimes sympathize with the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, out of instinctive resistance to President Trump. Don’t. Maduro has been a catastrophe for Venezuelans, and Trump is right to join Canada and more than 50 other countries in recognizing the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. – New York Times

Julio Borges writes: I was a member of the opposition coalition that participated in the talks with Nicolás Maduro’s government between 2017 and 2018. For more than a year we tried to work out a deal that would put an end to the chaos deepening in Venezuela. But no solution is viable as long as the country remains tethered to Cuba. – New York Times


Sudan’s state news media said Thursday that the military would make an important announcement. The statement comes as protests against the rule of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the country’s authoritarian leader, have engulfed the nation. – New York Times

An uprising against Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir that started in December has hit a critical phase, as cracks begin to show in the unity of the country’s security forces that represent the cornerstone of the president’s 30-year-old regime. – Wall Street Journal

Loyalists of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir called for a support rally in Khartoum on Thursday as protesters demanding his resignation massed outside army headquarters for a fifth straight day. – Agence France-Presse

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir plans to step down, Arabiya reported on Thursday, following months of anti-government protests. – Bloomberg  


U.S. national security officials told a private-equity firm partly backed by a Russian billionaire named in the Steele dossier to sell its stake in Cofense Inc., a cybersecurity firm used by major corporations, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal

Facebook on Wednesday ramped up its battle against misinformation, taking aim at groups spreading lies and adding “trust” indicators to news feeds. Moves outlined by Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen were described as part of a strategy launched three years ago to “remove, reduce and inform” when it comes for troublesome content posted at the leading social network’s family of services. – Agence France-Presse

Securing the vast data-sharing network used by the Department of the Navy and its industrial base will require a significant investment of time and expertise from the department, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer told lawmakers on Wednesday. – USNI News

A congressional hearing on online hate turned into a vivid demonstration of the problem Tuesday when a YouTube livestream of the proceedings was bombarded with racist and anti-Semitic comments from internet users. – Associated Press

Nearly 200 million people who had sensitive information snatched from their Yahoo accounts will receive two years of free credit-monitoring services and other potential restitution in a legal settlement valued at $117.5 million. – Associated Press  


These discreet maneuvers are just the most real sign of the militarization of space, several US experts told AFP. The United States, Russia and China are certainly capable of destroying enemy satellites using missiles, and probably by deliberate collision too. They may also be developing lasers to blind or damage satellites. –  Agence France-Presse

The Navy plans to drop all criminal charges against two officers for their roles in the 2017 fatal collision of USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), USNI News has learned. – USNI News

The Department of the Navy expects to sign a contract with Lockheed Martin for the CH-53K heavy lift helicopter “in the next coming weeks,” after a pause and a program restructuring effort that sought to rebalance risk and reward between the government and contractor. – USNI News

Vance Serchuk writes: The present moment contains unsettling parallels. While the United States, China and Russia are all now rushing to build sophisticated arsenals that incorporate breakthrough technologies, no one can fully explain, or even quite conceive of, what a conflict involving these new weapons at scale would look like. – Washington Post

Trump Administration

Attorney General William P. Barr said Wednesday he thinks intelligence agents conducted “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016 — a startling assertion by the nation’s top law enforcement official as he prepares to release a comprehensive report detailing the special counsel investigation of Russia’s election interference. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump called the probe into his campaign’s Russia links an attempted “coup” Wednesday, while his attorney general promised to investigate FBI “spying” on the president. More than two weeks after the Mueller probe wrapped up, apparently putting him in the clear, Trump is far from resting easy. – Agence France-Presse

The Senate held a successful test vote Wednesday night to approve David Bernhardt to be President Trump’s next head of the Interior Department. – Washington Examiner

Top Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are joining in an effort to force a vote on a bill that targets Israel boycotters. – Arutz Sheva

Ali Soufan writes: Unfortunately, Mar-a-Lago appears wide open to such operations. Zhang’s arrest is only the latest in a string of indications that the club is far from secure. Mar-a-Lago may present the worst counterintelligence nightmare the country has faced since the Cold War. – Washington Post