Fdd's overnight brief

April 17, 2019

In The News


Iranian authorities have a new target in their bid to calm the country’s economic turmoil: meat-market manipulators. […]The food crisis is deepening a divide in Iran’s polarized political leadership. Officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, blame inflation, smuggling and U.S. sanctions for the shortages. – Wall Street Journal

The Instagram accounts of several Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders have been blocked, the Tabnak news website reported Tuesday, with the photo-sharing website saying it was complying with US sanctions. – Agence France-Presse

Instagram social media platform has blocked pages that belonged to Iran’s Islamic Revolution guard Corps (IRGC) and Qassem Soleimani the commander of its Qods force, following the U.S. designation of the force as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization”, FTO. – Radio Farda

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

Jason Rezaian writes: There is growing consensus within the West about the need to block the travel and finances of Iranian regime officials and their families, a move the U.S. and European allies have discussed, but never implemented. If the Trump administration is serious about putting an end to Tehran’s “malign activity,” it should work with our allies to develop a realistic plan to do so. A multinational approach is the best way to get Iran to fall in line, but it will only happen with Europe and the United States operating from the same playbook. – Washington Post


Syria and Iran said Tuesday the United States is waging “economic terrorism” against countries that have different opinions and should pursue its aims through diplomacy instead. – Associated Press

Syrians in government-controlled areas who have survived eight years of war now face a new scourge: widespread fuel shortages that have brought life to a halt in major cities. – Associated Press

A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago. – Reuters

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has visited Damascus ahead of a new round of talks next week in Kazakhstan toward ending Syria’s eight-year war. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


The U.S. and Turkey failed to break a deadlock in talks over Ankara’s plans this summer to deploy a Russian air-defense system the Pentagon says could jeopardize U.S. fighter aircraft in the region, officials said. – Wall Street Journal

The party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey applied to the country’s election commission on Tuesday for a rerun of the Istanbul mayor’s race, after two weeks of appeals and recounting of ballots still showed the opposition candidate ahead. – New York Times

Turkey “expects” the Trump administration to grant it waivers from U.S. sanctions related to its purchases of Iranian oil and Russian air defenses, a top aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Soner Cagaptay writes: The U.S.-Turkey relationship is facing a crisis. This is because, unlike in the past, Ankara has no powerful friends in Washington. And if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan purchases the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system, a deal to which Washington vehemently objects, this will cause a historic rupture between allies […]This time, with Russia signaling its readiness to provide Turkey with weapons and security in Syria, and Putin wooing Erdogan daily, a rupture will be deeper and last longer. – The Hill

Selçuk Colakoğlu writes: Turkey’s Eurasianist foreign policy lacks a full-fledged strategy that can realistically be expected to yield positive outcomes for the country, especially when compared to its Kemalist pro-Western counterpart. Despite its rhetorical allure, the anti-Western stance has not translated into a sustainable and prosperous economic model for Turkey. […]Turkey needs to forge and refresh regional partnerships and alliances as much as possible rather than fuel enmities and rivalries. The path to Turkey’s regaining and extending its influence regionally and globally lies in recommitting to a pro-Western axis underpinned by a Kemalist foreign policy. – Middle East Institute


An advocate for Human Rights Watch must leave the country by May 1, an Israeli court ruled on Tuesday, upholding a deportation order issued under a contentious law that bars entry to foreigners who have publicly called for a boycott of Israel or its settlements in the occupied West Bank. – New York Times

The World Bank called on Israel to relax restrictions on imports to the Palestinian territories that can have both civilian and military applications, saying such limits are harming the Palestinian economy. – Bloomberg

The IDF confirmed on Wednesday morning that the home of Ofra terrorist Salah Barghouti was demolished overnight. The operation was conducted in cooperation with the Border Police and the Civil Administration. – Jerusalem Post

The new Palestinian Authority prime minister on Tuesday accused the United States of declaring “financial war” on his people and said an American peace plan purported to be in the works will be “born dead.” – Associated Press

The Lebanese government warned the Hamas terror organization to be wary of Israeli attempts to assassinate senior Hamas officials, News 12 reported. According to the report, the warning was sent after Lebanese security channels observed an increase in Israel’s security activities in Gaza’s cities and “refugee camps.” – Arutz Sheva

US Coordinator for counterterrorism, Nathan Sales visiting Israel said the key to security in the region lies in Tehran. Following President Donald Trump’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as an international terror organization, they have become “‘radioactive”, Sales said. He added, ‘anyone doing business with them will be suspected of funding terror’, thereby dealing the organization a massive blow. – Ynet

Palestinian political researcher Sheikh Ahmad Al-Khatwani said in an address he delivered at the Al Aqsa Mosque that Istanbul had been conquered just like the Prophet Muhammad had predicted, and that Rome will also be conquered according to Muhammad’s predictions. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Hamas’s violent repression of the social and economic protests against it, that broke out on March 14, 2019 across the Gaza Strip, has been harshly criticized both in Palestinian society and outside of it; criticism was particularly harsh in the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi press featured op-eds and columns justifying the protests and accusing Hamas of terrorism, oppression, and unbridled lust for power and control. […]The following are translated excepts of articles in the Saudi press criticizing Hamas. – Middle East Media Research Institute

John Haltiwanger writes: Since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected last week, a number of Democrats have called for a radical reassessment of the historic US-Israel partnership. For the first time in decades, prominent politicians in Washington are calling for serious daylight between the US and Israel over concerns linked to Netanyahu’s recent marriage to the far-right in his country. – Business Insider

Simon Henderson writes: U.S. efforts to promote normalization may or may not be helped by the eventual release of President Trump’s “deal of the century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace. For now, the best way forward appears unchanged: keep cultural and trade contacts between Israelis and Gulf states low profile, but continue expanding diplomatic, security, and military cooperation. – Washington Institute

Maj. Gen. Yair Golan writes: It is not in Israel’s interest to destroy Hamas but rather to bring about regional calm and decrease the potential threat from the Gaza Strip in the future. Success is dependent on Israel’s interactions with the enemy, that is, the very low probability of good voluntary cooperation and sincere friendship. Therefore, Israel shod adopt a generous policy, as is fitting for the powerful, and if this policy does not pan out and Hamas reacts offensively, then security policy should be especially forceful. In addition, we ought to examine what steps are dependent on ourselves, as well as actors other than Hamas, that can advance Israeli interests. – Ynet


Egyptian lawmakers on Tuesday approved sweeping changes in the country’s constitution to extend President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s rule and give him unprecedented powers, cementing his authoritarian grip on the Arab world’s most populous nation. – Washington Post

For years, Egypt watched as conflict in Libya threatened to spread instability to the border. Now, General Khalifa Haftar – who led Libyan military forces in eastern Libya for years – is set to take the Libyan capital and unify much of the country. This could be a major success for Egypt, not only in securing its border and finding a partner to work with in Libya, but also for its regional role. – Jerusalem Post

Osama Gaweesh writes: As the world watches the peaceful revolution that is changing Sudan in awe and amazement, it is clear that in Egypt, Sudan’s neighbour to the north, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is getting nervous. […]Blocking websites increases the desire to reach them; targeting social networking sites encourages their users to devise more ingenious and effective means to use them to their advantage; and arresting activists pushes their friends to blog more about them. I sometimes wonder if Sisi and his regime realise we are living in 2019. No matter how hard they try, we will always find a voice to express our discontent, whether it is on the streets or online, he cannot silence us. – The Guardian


President Trump vetoed a bipartisan resolution on Tuesday that would have forced an end to American military involvement in Saudi Arabia’s civil war in Yemen, rejecting an appeal by lawmakers to his own deeply rooted instincts to withdraw the United States from bloody foreign conflicts. – New York Times

United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash hailed President Donald Trump’s veto of a congressional resolution that sought to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. – Reuters

Dave Harden and Michael Knights write: The United States has strong incentives for mitigating Yemen’s humanitarian disaster, which is not only an affront to U.S. values and global leadership, but also a threat to U.S. interests. The crisis is gravely damaging Saudi and Emirati relations with the U.S. Congress, while Iran is strengthening its foothold in the area and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is developing new safe havens in deprived communities. Supporting the UN-led peace process and de-escalation efforts at the Red Sea ports remains vital to these interests, but taking economic actions that benefit the Yemeni people directly is at least as important. – Washington Institute


Recent clashes between rival Libyan militias for control of the capital Tripoli have displaced nearly 20,000 people, the U.N. said Tuesday, and prompted the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to warn that she could investigate and possibly prosecute new offenses. – Associated Press

A proposed U.N. resolution demands that all parties in Libya immediately de-escalate the fighting and commit to a cease-fire. – Associated Press

At least four people were killed in heavy shelling in the Libyan capital Tripoli, an official said on Wednesday as Europe and the Gulf were divided over a push by eastern forces commander Khalifa Haftar to seize the city. – Reuters

Chaos in Libya following General Khalifa Haftar’s offensive has increased the risk of terrorist presence on migrant boats headed for Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said, adding the country’s ports would remain closed. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Eleven Saudi women’s rights activists were due back in court Wednesday in a trial that has drawn international criticism, just days after campaigners reported a new crackdown on their supporters. – Agence France-Presse

The Gulf state of Bahrain Tuesday jailed 138 people and revoked their citizenship for plotting to form a “terror” group with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the public prosecutor said. – Agence France-Presse

The United States Air Force has sent several F-35 jets to the Middle East, marking the first operational deployment of the US stealth fighters to the region. According to an official USAF press release, an unspecified number of F-35As Lightning IIs landed at the al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, along with maintenance and support personnel from the Active 388th Fighter Wing and Air Force Reserve 419th Fighter Wing based at Hill Airforce Base in Utah. – Jerusalem Post

Zachor Legal Institute, an Israeli advocacy and legal group, filed a lawsuit to compel Texas A&M University to share information regarding its funding.  In May, the think tank filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, or an appeal for Texas A&M to disclose its funding sources, specifically Qatar or its proxies. Instead of complying with the request, Qatari lawyers from the Qatar Foundation, a state supported NGO, intervened. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

Satellite images from last week show movement at North Korea’s main nuclear site that could be associated with the reprocessing of radioactive material into bomb fuel, a U.S. think tank said on Tuesday. – Reuters

North Korea has dispatched teams to neighbouring China to track down and kill, if necessary, as many as seven members of the Ministry of State Security who have fled in a snowballing series of defections, according to dissident media. – Telegraph

A former North Korean soldier whose dramatic escape across the world’s most heavily fortified border made international headlines said he doesn’t blame his fellow soldiers for shooting him. – Newsweek


China plans to gamble on the bulk deployment of its untested “Hualong One” nuclear reactor, squeezing out foreign designs, as it resumes a long-delayed nuclear program aimed at meeting its clean energy goals, government and industry officials said. – Reuters

High on the list of President Donald Trump’s priorities as he tries to close a trade deal with counterpart Xi Jinping is making sure China faces consequences if it doesn’t live up to its promises. Yet in pursuing that goal Trump may also be giving China a new cudgel to use on American companies and striking another blow to the international rule of law. – Bloomberg

James Stavridis writes: How can the U.S. prepare to face a rising Chinese challenge in the Arctic?  First, by working with the NATO allies in improving wide-area surveillance and situational awareness of both Russian and Chinese operations. […]With all the rising security tensions across the globe, the last thing we need to be worrying about is true military conflict in the polar regions, north and south.  But keeping that peace means working with allies to keep an eye on what China and Russia are up to on the Arctic ice. – Bloomberg

Edward Lucas writes: Western countries have barely woken up to the threat from the Kremlin. Now they have to face a much greater menace from a far more serious adversary: the Chinese Communist Party. The regimes in Russia and China are not allies. In some regards, they are rivals. But they have similar goals. Both want a world of murky bilateral arrangements in which business comes first, and principles are just for show. […]The sooner we show ourselves willing to defend ourselves, symbolically and practically, the less the chance of the real nightmare – that Russia and China start pooling their resources and tactics. – Center for European Policy Analysis


New Zealand police on Wednesday released a detailed timeline of their response to the March 15 shootings that left 50 dead at two Christchurch mosques, confirming they arrested the suspected shooter 18 minutes after receiving the first emergency call. – Associated Press

A reporter critical of Pakistan’s powerful army and intelligence services is being prosecuted for “cyber-terrorism,” global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Tuesday, slamming the case for trying to “intimidate” Pakistan’s journalists”. – Agence France-Presse

Senior Taliban leaders said Tuesday that women would not be part of their delegation at upcoming talks with U.S. officials and Afghan representatives, contradicting an earlier report that they would be included for the first time. – NBC News


A Moscow court on Tuesday convicted a retired Norwegian border guard on spying charges and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. – Agence France-Presse

Russia’s communications watchdog has given social media companies Twitter and Facebook nine months to move Russian users’ data onto servers in Russia, the Interfax news agency reports. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Poland’s foreign ministry says Russia is expelling an employee of Poland’s consulate in the Siberian city of Irkutsk. – Associated Press

Following the annexation of Crimea, the conflict in Ukraine, incidents of Russian military jets approaching Swedish aircraft around the Baltic and the 2014 sighting of a mystery sub –- suspected to be Russian, which Moscow denied — near Stockholm, Sweden has scrambled to beef up a military that was cut back after the end of the Cold War. – Agence France-Presse


Today, Brexit dominates. And on one particular point, Pelosi is emphatic: Don’t mess with the Irish peace accord. The speaker said Tuesday that she had warned Prime Minister Theresa May, Conservative pro-Brexit hard-liners and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that if the churn of Britain’s messy break with the European Union in any way weakens the Northern Ireland peace pact known as the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement, the U.S. Congress will block any trade deals Britain might seek with the United States. – Washington Post

Poland is nearing a deal with the U.S. to establish an American military base in the former Communist bloc country, according to people familiar with the matter — an outpost the Poles see as a deterrent to Russian aggression and that the Kremlin would likely consider a provocation. – Bloomberg

Shahin Vallee writes: Macron has missed his chance to secure a leadership position in Europe and be seen as a credible agent of change. This wouldn’t have happened if he’d earlier on accepted some friction in the Franco-German relationship[…].One opportunity he could still seize would be to refuse to back Germany and its scandal-ridden car industry in the tariffs row with the US. That could yet be a turning point. So far, Macron’s ill-judged focus on those perceived bilateral interests has taken precedence over his transformation agenda. That has cost him and the European project dearly. He needs to revamp his strategy. – The Guardian

Przemysław Osiewicz writes: The EU’s political and economic potential will also take a hit after Brexit. The UK’s influence in some Arab states, especially in the GCC, was beneficial not only for the UK itself, but also for the Union as well. At the moment all signs suggest that third parties like the U.S., China, and Russia can only benefit from Brexit. The weaker the EU becomes, the better for other powers — and this seems particularly true in the case of the EU’s engagement in the Middle East. – Middle East Institute


Yet again, a confrontation between military and civilians — the forces battling to forge Sudan’s future — had ended in an uneasy stalemate. The specter of revolutions past hangs over Sudan’s uprising. Some worry that the country, one of the largest and poorest in Africa, could be condemned to the fate of Libya, where the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi after 40 years of rule plunged the country into a chaotic spiral from which it has yet to recover. – New York Times

The United States will not remove Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list until the country’s leadership and policies change and the military no longer holds power, a U.S. official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A United States airstrike killed a senior leader of the extremist rebels of the Islamic State in Somalia group involved in attacks in northern Somalia, U.S. military and a Somali official said Monday. – Associated Press

United States

Turing Award winner Judea Pearl has renounced his status as a distinguished alumnus of New York University, following the school’s decision to award its Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter — which orchestrated an ongoing boycott of Zionist student clubs — for “extraordinary and positive impact on the University community.” – Algemeiner

Despite high expectations from a White House gathering for select Jewish leaders on Tuesday night, the event was a pre-Passover reception and did not address the forthcoming peace pan that administration officials have been preparing to unveil, according to sources who were there. – Times of Israel

A New York City Council member on Tuesday charged a community group in the borough of Queens with having carried out “a grotesque act of antisemitism” when its supporters demonstrated next to the Long Island synagogue of a real estate developer with whom they were in conflict. – Algemeiner

Latin America

The Trump administration plans to intensify pressure against Cuba by allowing U.S. nationals to lodge claims against foreign companies that do business there, a senior U.S. official said, setting up a fresh front in the U.S.’s widening economic rift with Europe. – Wall Street Journal

After denying for years that Venezuelans were suffering a humanitarian crisis, the government allowed the Red Cross to send in 24 tons of medical equipment on Tuesday, marking the beginning of a large-scale relief campaign intended to ease malnutrition and the spread of disease in the crisis-stricken country. – New York Times

President Nicolás Maduro’s government puts its dwindling resources into ensuring that the capital, Caracas, gets as much light and water as possible to keep its poor from revolting. Maracaibo, a sweltering city near the border with Colombia, has, in contrast, become the face of the nation’s meltdown. – Wall Street Journal

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has met obstacles at nearly every turn since he declared presidential powers in a bid to end socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s rule, and his visit to this once-thriving oil center was no different. He was forced to take a boat to outmaneuver police roadblocks and reach throngs of supporters waiting to hear him speak in the sweltering heat in Maracaibo, a city now infamous for its blackouts. – Associated Press


A study by researchers at Ben Gurion University used a tiny computer, a couple ports, and deep learning to gain access to CT scans, and then fed them false information. A video of the test shows a range of possibilities, from adding a single polyp to the scan image, to filling a scan with 472 new growths, to perhaps most ominously of all, erasing evidence of a cancer-like growth from the scan entirely. – Fifth Domain

The Department of Defense’s cyber warriors have started using the first cyber training platform developed by the military specifically for their needs. The Persistent Cyber Training Environment will allow the operational cyber force to conduct large scale training as well as to rehearse for specific missions. Such a capability for cyber forces does not currently exist. – Fifth Domain

John DeSimone writes: The State Cyber Resiliency Act lends needed support to local governments as they continue to ward off attacks. In the interim, states should begin the cyber hardening process. This includes written guidelines and security standards and educating government employees and local communities through the power of public/private partnerships. Regardless of whether the bill is ultimately passed, the federal government must focus on local and state security: we must have resilient infrastructure at all levels of government — and especially at the state and local level, which are most vulnerable to malicious actors. – The Hill

Patrick D. Gaul writes: Global cyber capabilities are proliferating at an unprecedented rate and posing additional strategic risk to the United States and private industry alike. […]With the Cybersecurity Advisory Committee Authorization Act of 2019, Katko continues to be a leader in bridging the cybersecurity gap between the public and private sectors. His work of protecting the U.S. from cyberattacks is critical to our national security, and we urge Congress to pass this important industry-agnostic, bipartisan bill. – The Hill

Paul Scharre writes: Earlier this year, the White House released the American AI Initiative, and the U.S. Department of Defense rolled out an AI strategy. But the emerging narrative of an “AI arms race” reflects a mistaken view of the risks from AI—and introduces significant new risks as a result. For each country, the real danger is not that it will fall behind its competitors in AI but that the perception of a race will prompt everyone to rush to deploy unsafe AI systems. […]AI promises to bring both enormous benefits, in everything from health care to transportation, and huge risks. But those risks aren’t something out of science fiction; there’s no need to fear a robot uprising. The real threat will come from humans. – Foreign Affairs


Bell’s experimental V-280 Valor tiltrotor, built for a U.S. Army technology demonstration, has flown for the first time with an integrated system that provides the pilots and aircrew a 360-degree view through the skin of the aircraft. – Defense News

An Arizona-based construction company demonstrated Tuesday for two senators, six congressmen, top Army Corps of Engineers officials, and former Kansas State Secretary Kris Kobach how it can install 218 miles of border fence, paved roads, and technology on the southern border at a fraction of the time and cost the Trump administration has planned. – Washington Examiner

Naval forces worldwide are pushing the idea of anti-torpedo torpedoes, with varying success, aiming to translate the promises of missile defense technology into undersea warfare. – Defense News

Deterrence was the watchword among U.S. Air Force leadership during last week’s Space Symposium, and officials stated in strong terms that the United States is prepared to enact a show of force to prove its ability to respond to threats in space. – Defense News

The Navy’s long-discussed overhaul of sailor training kicked-off last week, when a group of Operations Specialists joined a pilot program for the service’s new Ready, Relevant Learning scheme, Moran said during an event hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. – USNI News

The National Defense Strategy Commission identified Electronic Warfare (EW) as a critical capability to ensure the U.S. military remains competitive. In its FY2019 and FY2020 Defense Budget overview documents, the Department of Defense (DOD) identified EW as a priority to improve platform and network survivability; provide advanced jamming techniques to disrupt radars, communications, and command and control systems; and provide measures to defend the space domain and maintain power projection forces. – USNI News

Bryan McGrath writes: As the United States winds down from two regional land conflicts that have dominated the 21st century, great power competition with China and Russia rightly dominates defense planning and operations. Consequently, American seapower must once again evolve to meet the challenges of sustaining America’s prosperity and security in a multi-polar world. […]Renewed great power competition calls for a closer look at the Navy and Marine Corps team’s operational approach, one that stresses the integrated nature of American seapower and leverages a tried and tested command and control (C2) structure. –  Center for International Maritime Security

Long War

A federal court dealt a major blow to the Guantanamo Bay military commissions Tuesday, throwing out more than three years of proceedings in the case against the alleged mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. – Washington Post

Italian news agency ANSA says authorities have arrested an Italian convert to Islam and a Moroccan resident who met over the Internet and were preparing to fight with Islamic State in Syria. – Associated Press

German authorities have arrested a man suspected of joining the Islamic State group in Syria and later helping send another new recruit for IS from Germany to Syria. – Associated Press

A Russian court on Tuesday granted parole to a Moscow student who was sent to prison for trying to join the Islamic State group in Syria. – Associated Press