Fdd's overnight brief

April 16, 2019

In The News


The U.S. terrorism label for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard formally took effect on Monday, amid a battle between the Trump administration and some in Congress over waivers on oil and nuclear sanctions that are due to expire or be extended early next month. – Associated Press

The biggest buyers of Iranian oil are said to be putting their purchases on hold as they wait to see whether the White House will extend waivers allowing them to keep buying the crude. – Bloomberg

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Monday that normalizing relations with Israel goes against the Quran and Islamic faith. Speaking at the closing ceremony of a Quran competition in Tehran, Khamenei criticized “certain Islamic nations” that are not adhering to Muslim principles, he claimed. – Arutz Sheva

In the aftermath of multiple US presidential candidates pledging to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal if elected, former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin warned against that on Monday, advocating instead for an “Iran deal 2.0.” – Jerusalem Post


Turkey’s purchase of a Russian air defense missile system should not trigger U.S. sanctions because Ankara is not an adversary of Washington and remains committed to the NATO alliance, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Monday. – Reuters

Turkey has taken its case for buying a Russian air-defense system directly to President Donald Trump, in a last-ditch effort to defuse tensions between the two NATO allies. – Bloomberg

Editorial: It’s time for NATO to call Turkey’s bluff. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said once again last week that his controversial plan to purchase a Russian missile-defense system is a “done deal” — even though the U.S. had warned that this could give Russia access to NATO’s air-defense secrets. – Bloomberg

M. Bahadir Gulle writes: Turkey can face the danger of becoming a new Venezuela if it cannot finance its current account deficit. In such a case, Erdoğan will inevitably adopt a more nationalist and discriminatory discourse to keep his base solidified. […]The risk of a permanent break off from the West will loom. Losing the support of the West will force Erdoğan to get closer to authoritarian regimes like Russia and China. – Washington Examiner


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began trying to form a government Monday that would continue supporting him if he is charged with corruption and won’t splinter over the disagreements that fractured his last coalition. – Wall Street Journal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday his reelection and stressed the need to work toward a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Agence France-Presse

Some three dozen senior former European politicians published a call on Sunday for the European Union to reaffirm its commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians and reject any Trump peace plan that does not address Palestinian demands. – Times of Israel

Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, is prepared to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with no preconditions, PA Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki said in an interview with the Russian news agency Sputnik. – Jerusalem Post

Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said that cutting US aid Israel should be a policy consideration on Capitol Hill following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection, drawing rebuke from Jewish Democrats. – Times of Israel

President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan reportedly might not include the establishment of a Palestinian state. – Algemeiner

Katherine Bauer and Ghaith al-Omari writes: Such a reversal, in addition to stabilizing PA finances, would give Abbas a political victory. Yet while effective in the past, the same approach is less certain to work this time around. For Israel, the basis for partial withholding of the funds is enshrined in the law and enjoys Israeli consensus across the political spectrum. Moreover, in the past, Israel’s decision to withhold all the funds mobilized the international community to reject the action and support the PA both financially and diplomatically – Washington Institute

David Makovsky writes: If the U.S. peace plan is revealed but falters, he may push for selective annexations near the 1967 ceasefire lines. Yet here too, he would not actually implement such measures without Washington’s approval—the same reason why he has avoided formally annexing even a single inch of the West Bank during his previous terms. And if annexations do occur, they would stem from a conscious decision on his part, not from domestic forces beyond his control. – Washington Institute

Amos Harel writes: The meeting between the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, and the leaders of other Palestinian factions a few days before Israel’s April 9 election has provided a large number of details about the understandings that are taking shape between Hamas and Israel with the mediation of Egyptian intelligence. – Haaretz

Daniel B. Shapiro writes: One of those costs could be in U.S. and Israeli relations with Arab states, which presents the second issue for decision. Saudi, UAE, and other Gulf state leaders have made clear their appreciation for Trump’s strong stand against Iran. They are also closely aligned with Israel on the issue, have permitted a range of gestures of normalization, and deemphasized the Palestinian issue’s importance. – Haaretz


Libya is on the verge of an all-out war involving a rogues’ gallery of militias, many of which are little more than criminal gangs armed with heavy weapons. The country slid into chaos after the 2011 uprising, in which rebels overthrew and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi and looted his vast arsenal. – Associated Press

At least 146 people have been killed since a Libyan military commander launched an offensive on the capital earlier this month, the U.N. said Monday, as Italy called for an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of his forces. – Associated Press

Eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar tried to stage a coup by issuing an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame said on Monday with Libya’s top rivals locked in military confrontation over the capital Tripoli. – Reuters

Ben Fishman writes: All nominally support the U.N. peace process, but with varying levels of conviction. The United Kingdom is outspoken but with waning influence. French President Emanuel Macron was the first leader to invite Haftar to a western capital, convinced early in his presidency that he could solve Libya’s political stalemate. […] Italy has maintained a strongly pro-Tripoli stance, given its energy interests in western Libya, but its ultimate priority is keeping the Central Mediterranean route closed to illegal migrants. – The Hill

Middle East & North Africa

Egyptian lawmakers are preparing to set in motion a national vote that could allow President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to remain in power until 2030, cementing the ex-general’s authority over the Arab world’s most populous nation. – Wall Street Journal

The United Nations’ Security Council should consider “stronger measures” if there was no progress in the coming weeks on a deal between Yemen’s warring parties on a key port, Britain said on Monday, as the U.N. mediator admitted it was “taking longer than we had hoped.” – Reuters

The U.S. Air Force’s F-35A variant has officially deployed to the Middle East. Air Forces Central Command announced Monday that F-35 fifth-generation fighters from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, have deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates to keep watch in the region. – Military.com

Walter Russell Mead writes: Another spring, another set of political crises in the Arab world. This time autocratic rulers, long past their “sell by” dates, have fallen in Algeria and Sudan. In both countries, factionalized ruling elites, insulated for decades from political pressures other than backstairs intrigue, now scramble to satisfy angry throngs of protesters without any idea how this can be done. – Wall Street Journal

Jon B. Alterman writes: Even so, it would be a mistake to assume that the falls of Bouteflika and Bashir are merely isolated incidents. Algerian and Sudanese protestors seized on conditions that continue to prevail throughout the Arab world, and in most cases, they have not improved since the events of 2011. Corruption of every sort remains rife, economic conditions are worsening, and young people look with a combination of anger and envy at government officials. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Korean Peninsula

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said on Monday that he wanted to meet again with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, making the overture three days after Mr. Kim dismissed Mr. Moon’s mediating efforts between the North and the United States as “officious.” – New York Times

U.S. President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday brushed aside North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s demand for Washington to show more flexibility in nuclear talks by year-end, with Pompeo saying Kim should keep his promise to give up his nuclear weapons before then. – Reuters

Russia is preparing for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s first summit with President Vladimir Putin, setting the stage for consultations between the long-time allies after Kim’s nuclear talks with the U.S. broke down. – Bloomberg

Richard Lawless and Nicholas Eberstadt write: The Trump administration’s determination to navigate these same waters with North Korea is laudable. But the prospect of future North Korean provocations designed to teach the United States a lesson should never be discounted. This will be particularly true if the current North Korean ruler becomes frustrated with a negotiating process that is not delivering the results that regime requires. – American Enterprise Institute


Donald J. Trump has referred to China as “our enemy.” He has called it “a major threat.” “Remember,” he once wrote on Twitter, “China is not a friend of the United States!” Some people in China have their own label for the polarizing American president: savior. – New York Times

A Chinese woman must remain jailed following charges she lied to authorities after entering President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, a judge ruled Monday, saying he deemed her a flight risk. U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman appeared swayed by federal prosecutors’ argument that Yujing Zhang — who made her way through Mar-a-Lago’s security last month carrying multiple electronics, authorities said — had ulterior motives in accessing the president’s club. – Washington Post

The United States will push its allies at a meeting in Prague next month to adopt shared security and policy measures that will make it more difficult for China’s Huawei to dominate 5G telecommunications networks, according to people familiar with the matter and documents seen by Reuters. – Reuters

China’s ambassador to Chile has derided U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying he “lost his mind” when he blamed China for the meltdown in Venezuela. Xu Bu made the remarks in an interview published Sunday in the Chilean newspaper La Tercera following Pompeo’s attack on China last week while visiting four South American nations. – Huffington Post

Tyler Cowen writes: The global economic development initiative that China calls “One Belt, One Road” is considered one of Beijing’s major instruments in its geopolitical conflict with the U.S. But it’s unlikely to do much to boost Chinese power as it helps most of the world. – Bloomberg

Collin Meisel and Jonathan D. Moyer write: While power transitions in and of themselves are contentious business, one can imagine the added drama injected by the Chinese Communist Party as it strives to maintain power — both internally and on the world stage — wary of seeing China return to its much lamented 19th century status as “the sick man of Asia.” To be sure, even as the nation declines, Chinese leaders will have extensive material capabilities and a vast network of relational influence at their disposal should a power struggle ensue. – War on the Rocks


The Kremlin has opened a flashy new cultural hub in the Afghan capital. Again. When Moscow built its first one, the House of Science and Culture in the 1980s, Red Army troops were waging war in the country against U.S.-backed mujahideen fighters. Now, as the American war in Afghanistan winds down, Russia has resurrected the building on the same site as its Soviet predecessor, which was bulldozed six years ago. – Washington Post

For many women in Afghanistan, peace talks between the United States and the Taliban are evoking the darkest days of their lives, when the group stripped women of their most basic rights. The Taliban regime banned girls from going to school. Women were forbidden from working. They had to be covered head to toe when venturing outside and accompanied by a male relative, even if that meant their baby boy. Showing a wisp of hair would get them whipped by vigilantes. – Washington Post

Women will be included for the first time in the Taliban delegation to peace talks in Qatar this month, the movement’s main spokesman said on Monday, ahead of the latest round of meetings aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan. – Reuters


A suspected murder-suicide involving a U.S. sailor and a Japanese woman has inflamed decades-long relations between thousands of U.S. troops and Okinawans, many of whom resent the American presence there. The sailor fatally stabbed an unidentified woman on the island, southwest of mainland Japan, before turning the knife on himself, Stars and Stripes reported. Police found their bodies Saturday. – Washington Post

Now, after steering Indonesia since 2014 without the corruption scandals that dogged his predecessors, Mr. Widodo is trying to convince voters in this fourth most populous nation of 260 million people to award him a second, five-year term on Wednesday. That is despite a shortfall in economic growth, persistent inequality, the rising power of Islamist hard-liners and his administration’s illiberal drift. – Wall Street Journal

Japan’s economy minister said he had “frank and good” trade talks with his U.S. counterpart on Monday, but stressed that currency rates should be discussed in a different context, between finance ministers. – Reuters

Taiwan is not intimidated by China’s military drills this week, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday, after the latest Chinese military maneuvers were denounced by a senior U.S. official as “coercion” and a threat to stability in the region. – Reuters

A U.S. surveillance plane and a recently commissioned Japanese submarine rescue ship are now scanning the ocean floor in search of a downed F-35A. Over the weekend, Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force identified the pilot of the F-35A as Maj. Akinori Hosomi. His F-35A crashed into the Pacific Ocean Tuesday evening, about 85 miles east of Misawa Air Base, the fighter’s home field located in the northeastern part of Honshu, Japan’s main island, according to U.S. 7th Fleet. – USNI News

Ross Tapsell writes: Placing little trust in social media platforms to remove offending content, the government has threatened to ban Facebook and block WhatsApp in Indonesia. Mr. Joko has instructed security forces to clamp down on citizens who spread fake news. The police have made numerous arrests, including of important members of the Muslim Cyber Army, for sharing posts online that, according to the head of the police’s cybercrime directorate, were “either provocative or simply false.” – New York Times

Chris Horton writes: The scene is, on the surface, a familiar one. A populist candidate with unexpected momentum captures nonstop media attention and sees a surge of support online, much of it connected to accounts originating from a rival country. Could he become president? – The Atlantic

John Lee writes: Beijing’s kinder face reappeared only when Park’s successor, Moon Jae-in, agreed to the “three nos”: no further US anti-ballistic missile systems, no integration into a region-wide US missile defence system, and no trilateral military alliance with the US and Japan. These are sovereign decisions that should never be subject to the agreement of another country. Dr Mahathir and Abe offer the better standard in terms of dealing with a great power which is both an indispensable economic partner and a troubling strategic presence. – New Straits Times


When the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries met in Vienna in December, it was in danger of imploding. […]With negotiations teetering on the brink of failure, rescue came from an unlikely place—Russia, which isn’t even an OPEC member. President Vladimir Putin agreed to cut Russian oil production in league with OPEC, provided that Iran was allowed to keep pumping. – Wall Street Journal

Malta has refused a new Russian request to use its airspace to fly military aircraft from Syria to Venezuela this month, BuzzFeed News has learned. The move comes weeks after Malta, a member of the European Union, approved a similar Russian request, and Russian military planes and personnel were spotted on the airport tarmac in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, as the country continues to experience protests and political unrest. – BuzzFeed

If there’s one thing Russian Helicopters wants you to know about the Mi-26, it is that this monster of a machine is the largest helicopter in the world. Bigger than the Chinook, and bigger than the Sea King. When it comes to helicopters, the Mi-26 rules the skies, and Russia is looking to leverage this unique capability to dominate the heavylift market. – Defense News


The guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG-71) entered the Black Sea over the weekend, the fourth time in 2019 a U.S. Navy ship entered the body of water. Ross is “conducting maritime security operations and enhancing regional maritime stability, combined readiness and naval capability with NATO allies and regional partners,” according to a statement released Monday by U.S. 6th Fleet. – USNI News

A man in northern France said he stabbed his neighbor because he “wanted to kill a Jew.” The attack, first reported on April 8, occurred in Bourdon, a commune in the Somme department in northern France, on April 5, the French-language 20 Minutes news website reported. – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Colin Shindler writes: Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to Julian Assange’s forced exit from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London last week was to laud him as a twenty-first century folk hero for exposing “evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan” – and to call on the British government to oppose extradition to the U.S. […]That kneejerk support was hardly surprising. It follows the pattern that Corbyn has always pursued – to “expose” the inanities and immorality of Western capitalism at all costs, whilst ignoring or appeasing all other injustices. Not least, accusations of anti-Jewish racism. – Haaretz


Visiting Africa to promote female economic development, Ivanka Trump on Monday sought to spotlight laws and customs that hold women on the continent back, from restrictions on property ownership to gender-based violence. – Associated Press

Sudanese protest organisers on Monday demanded the new military council be scrapped, as demonstrators kept up calls for a civilian government at a sit-in outside army headquarters. – Agence France-Presse

Sudanese protesters on Monday welcomed the “positive steps” taken by the ruling military council, which held talks with opposition leaders over the weekend and released some political prisoners. – Associated Press

Mai Hassan and Ahmed Kodouda write: The ascension of Burhan, then, suggests the consolidation of power by the military faction aligned with this Middle Eastern bloc and the further strengthening of Sudan’s alliance with them. The takeover is thus a rebuke to Qatar and Turkey, whose governments each have links with the Muslim Brotherhood in the region and who have an interest in the Sudanese Islamist Movement reasserting itself in politics. – Washington Post


Venezuela accused Canada of supporting US President Donald Trump’s “war adventure” Monday after Ottawa announced new sanctions on top officials in President Nicolas Maduro’s government. – Agence France-Presse

Tom Rogan writes: At the same time, Colombia, Brazil, and Latin American states are reluctant to take bolder action, for fear that the Trump administration lacks the commitment to see the mission through. But Maduro sees Vladimir Putin taking tentative, but significant, steps to reinforce his regime. And he knows Russia succeeded in saving Bashar Assad in Syria. All of this gives the possibly insane presidential pretender the confidence that he might, just might, pull through and survive. – Washington Examiner

Erin Dunne writes:  Now, the U.S. is in a bit of a pinch. It wants to end the crisis, but it can’t negotiate with Maduro after declaring his leadership illegitimate. Added to the mess are increasingly troubling ties between Moscow and Caracas that saw Russian troops landing in Venezuela earlier this spring. Far from simply upending the government of one country, Washington is now engaged in a diplomatic dance for influence in Latin America with familiar agitators Russia and Cuba. – Washington Examiner


A December 2017 criminal complaint against Julian Assange unsealed Monday details the case federal prosecutors have prepared against the WikiLeaks founder, including chat transcripts they relied on to accuse him of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to try to break into the Defense Department computer system. – Washington Post

Ecuador said on Monday it has suffered 40 million cyber attacks on the webpages of public institutions since stripping Wikileaks founder Julian Assange of political asylum. – Agence France-Presse

William Alan Reinsch writes: More sinister is when we don’t provide the data voluntarily but have it stolen from us by hackers, or when we provide it willingly only to discover later on that the authorized recipient was unable to protect it from intruders, and it ends up either in the hands of criminals or in the public domain. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Navy has a new Offensive Missile Strategy that replaces an older and narrower plan and tackles offensive lethality in a three-pronged fashion: sustaining current systems, enhancing current systems and developing next-generation weapons to address future threats. – USNI News

The Navy’s next force structure assessment likely will add significant numbers of large and medium-sized unmanned surface vessels to meet the challenges of a new era of Great Power competition, experts in maritime strategy and budget said on Monday. – USNI News

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has selected Jonathan Rath Hoffman, currently at the Department of Homeland Security, as the Pentagon’s new assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, Defense News has learned. – Defense News

The U.S. Army, so far, has not been impressed with lightweight precision munitions offered up by industry for its unmanned aircraft systems, but the service is continuing to look for smaller weapons that fit the bill. – Defense News

The U.S. Army’s aviation program office has decided not to modernize certain platforms, but rather divest or sustain them as part of an effort to realign resources toward the service’s vision for its future force, the Army’s program executive officer for aviation told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual summit. – Defense News

Rhys McCormick, Samantha Cohen, Gregory Sanders, and Andrew Philip Hunter write: Defense Acquisition Trends, 2018: Defense Contract Spending Bounces Back is the latest in an annual series of report examining trends in what DoD is buying, how DoD is buying it, and whom DoD is buying from. This report analyzes the current state of affairs in defense acquisition by combining detailed policy and data analysis to provide a comprehensive overview of the current and future outlook for defense acquisition. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Long War

The fate of children raised by foreign fighters in the Islamic State has become an international issue following the collapse of the group’s caliphate over the past year. Facing a slow government response to issues surrounding her family, an Australian woman decided to take matters into her own hands. – Washington Post

A rift emerged Monday between New Zealand’s government and the Red Cross over the humanitarian organization’s decision to name a New Zealand nurse who was kidnapped by the Islamic State five years ago — and who her employer believes could still be alive. – New York Times

An Adelaide woman has been jailed for three years after she was found to be a member of the Islamic State terror group. Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif communicated with other members and organised a trip to join Isis before she was arrested, lied to police and showed no remorse for her involvement. – Associated Press

Trump Administration

House Democrats issued subpoenas Monday for records from Deutsche Bank and other financial institutions, seeking information regarding President Trump’s business ventures as several congressional panels took steps to intensify their scrutiny of the president’s personal accounts and corporate dealings. – Washington Post

Attorney General William Barr expects to provide special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to Congress and the public on Thursday, a Justice Department official said, as members of both parties and the White House prepared themselves for an escalation of partisan combat. – Wall Street Journal

The Interior Department’s internal investigators have begun probing allegations of conflicts of interest involving Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, they confirmed Monday, just four days after the Senate confirmed the former corporate lobbyist to lead the agency. – Associated Press