Fdd's overnight brief

April 18, 2019

In The News


President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday that Iranian armed forces were not a threat against any regional country, as Tehran held an Army Day military parade to unveil its latest military equipment amid rising tensions with the United States. – Reuters

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday Turkey is looking into establishing new trade mechanisms with Iran, like the INSTEX system set up by European countries to avoid U.S. sanctions reimposed last year on exports of Iranian oil. – Reuters

Iran increasingly wants to take advantage of discussions in the US in which Netanyahu has been condemned for his policies by Democratic presidential candidates. With discussions about “foreign allegiance” and “dual loyalty” already percolating, Iran hopes to present the US administration as having a “Netanyahu First” policy, which is supposed to be in contrast to an “America first” policy that Trump had once promised. – Jerusalem Post

A new Trump administration report on international compliance with arms control accords provoked a dispute with U.S. intelligence agencies and some State Department officials concerned that the document politicizes and slants assessments about Iran, five sources with knowledge of the matter said. – Reuters

Farzin Nadimi writes: On March 25, France announced that it would halt Mahan Air’s four weekly flights to and from French airports beginning on April 1. The move followed Germany’s January ban on flights by the Iranian airline, a decision based on security concerns and Mahan’s involvement with illicit activities conducted in Syria by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Even amid this growing pressure, however, Iran’s airline industry has found ways to skirt certain sanctions and continue operating. […]A closer look at the industry’s current status provides more insight into such loopholes, and whether they can be closed. – Washington Institute

Omid Shokri Kalehsar writes: On paper, Turkey and Iran should be natural partners when it comes to energy. On the one hand, Turkey has a growing demand for oil and gas and lacks significant domestic resources, making it highly reliant on imports. On the other hand, Iran has huge hydrocarbons reserves — the world’s fourth largest for oil and second largest for gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In reality though, things are more complicated. – Middle East Institute


Turkish election officials Wednesday certified the victory of an opposition candidate in the race for mayor of Istanbul, despite a determined effort by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party to appeal the results of the vote. – Washington Post

Turkey’s central bank has bolstered its foreign currency reserves with billions of dollars of short-term borrowed money, raising fears among analysts and investors that the country is overstating its ability to defend itself in a fresh lira crisis. – Financial Times

Turkey’s lira fell to a six-month low against the dollar this week as President Recep Erdogan’s ruling AK Party formally requested a new election for the city of Istanbul, where current tallies show it lost by a slim margin in local elections last month. The move spells more trouble ahead for a massive economy already rocked by volatility, political tensions and diplomatic standoffs and whose currency crash last year set off a run on emerging markets. – CNBC

A lawmaker from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition was injured when police fired water cannon to disperse protests against results of the March 31 local elections in southeastern Turkey, a Reuters witness at the demonstrations said.- Reuters


Benjamin Netanyahu said he would use a fifth term as prime minister to unite Israel following a hard-fought election campaign that divided the country over his ability to lead despite looming corruption charges. – Wall Street Journal

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, told a group of ambassadors on Wednesday that all sides would have to compromise for his long-awaited Middle East plan to work, while also promising that Israel’s security won’t be compromised. – Newsweek

Israel’s president on Wednesday nominated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to head the next government, after he won the backing of a majority of members of parliament following an April 9 election. – Reuters

Israel’s U.N. ambassador said Wednesday he believes his government will take no action on annexing Jewish settlements in the West Bank until after the Trump administration releases its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. – Associated Press

Amid swirling speculation about the Trump administration’s so-called “deal of the century” for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, US Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt on Tuesday urged patience before its unveiling. – Algemeiner

Against the backdrop of U.S. President Trump’s March 25, 2019 recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, and the 40th anniversary of the peace accords between Israel and Egypt, the Arab press, and especially the Egyptian press, published articles criticizing the Arabs’ and Palestinians’ handling of the conflict with Israel. […]The following are excerpts from the articles. – Middle East Media Research Institute


President Trump’s veto of legislation designed to disentangle the United States from a punishing war in Yemen sets the stage for a continued stalemate in the conflict, former officials and analysts said, with civilians likely to pay the highest price. – Washington Post

The U.N. Security Council expressed “grave concern” Wednesday that agreements reached four months ago by the warring parties in Yemen have not been carried out and called for their implementation “without delay.” – Associated Press

Editorial: President Trump isn’t known for eloquent defenses of his foreign policy, but on Tuesday he stood up for a crucial American principle. His veto of a congressional demand that the U.S. withdraw support from the Saudis in their war in Yemen keeps responsibility for foreign policy in the White House, where it belongs. – Wall Street Journal

Middle East

A new report in CNN reveals the extent of the ISIS detainees now held in Syria after tens of thousands surrendered in the last several months of fighting. ISIS was largely defeated in Baghouz in March and around 60,000 of its members were taken into custody. Although ISIS sleeper cells still pose a threat, a much larger challenge is now posed by the detainees. – Jerusalem Post

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi made his first visit to Saudi Arabia since taking office six months ago, meeting King Salman during the stop on a regional tour that has also seen visits to Cairo and Tehran in recent weeks. – Reuters

Some 205 people have been killed, including 18 civilians, and 913 wounded in two weeks of fighting near the Libyan capital of Tripoli, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia will host the 15th annual G20 Leaders’ Summit on November 21 and 22, 2020 in its capital Riyadh, Saudi press agency (SPA) said on Wednesday. – Reuters

In his March 14, 2019 column in Al-Sabeel, the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Jordan, Jamal Al-Shawahin urged the Palestinians to launch a new, armed intifada in order to remove the feeble, conciliatory rule of the Palestinian Authority (PA), to thwart U.S. President Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century, and to prevent the Jews from actualizing their plot to Judaize Jerusalem. […]The following are translated excerpts from Al-Shawahin’s Al-Sabeel column: – Middle East Media Research Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea test-fired a new type of tactical guided weapon at different targets, marking “an event of very weighty significance,” the country’s state media reported, as the Kim regime signals a firmer stance toward the U.S. following the breakdown of denuclearization talks. – Wall Street Journal

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry no longer wants to talk to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asking for him to replaced in nuclear talks with someone who “is more careful and mature in communicating,” state media reported on Thursday. – Washington Post

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un may finally be ready to meet for the first time, as Russia seeks to extend its influence and North Korea tries to hedge its bets after the failed summit with President Trump. – Washington Post

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to meet U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on April 26 to discuss trade and efforts to contain North Korea’s nuclear program, a U.S. official said on Wednesday. – Reuters


A Queens woman who worked for Air China at John F. Kennedy Airport pleaded guilty Wednesday to acting on behalf of the Chinese government by placing unscreened packages on a flight from New York to Beijing. – Washington Post

Chinese authorities recently declined to issue a visa for Donald Trump’s confidant Michael Pillsbury after the U.S. president’s administration strengthened scrutiny on visiting Chinese experts, according to Axios on Wednesday. – Newsweek

Marion Smith writes: Does your retirement plan or investment portfolio undermine human rights in China? For millions of Americans, the answer is yes. They unwittingly hold or benefit from investments in companies that enable the Chinese Communist Party’s oppression and imprisonment of the Uighur people. – Washington Post


Hopes are high here that a first-ever meeting Friday between the Taliban and a large delegation of prominent Afghan figures will prove a turning point in a U.S.-led peace process that has dragged on inconclusively for months – Washington Post

A meeting between the Taliban and Afghan politicians and civil society aimed at ending more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan has been postponed, officials and diplomats said on Thursday, citing Taliban objections to the size of the Afghan delegation. – Reuters

Afghan security forces have inflicted less torture and mistreatment of prisoners detained in conflict in recent years but “horrendous” practices persist despite new laws, the United Nations said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Jonathan Burks writes: Three American Marines and a civilian contractor were killed in Afghanistan last week, the latest casualties in America’s longest foreign war. After almost 18 years of fighting, the U.S. still seems to have no clear goals, no clear measures of success or failure, and no clear prospect of victory in Afghanistan or the broader war against terrorism. To refocus and make good on the nearly 7,000 American lives lost combating this threat, Congress should mandate a comprehensive review of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. – Wall Street Journal

South Asia

Voting began in the second phase of India’s general elections Thursday amid massive security and a lockdown in parts of the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir. – Associated Press

Indian refiners are increasing their planned purchases from OPEC nations, Mexico and the United States to make up for any loss of Iranian oil if the U.S. enforces sanctions more harshly from next month, sources and company officials said. – Reuters

India’s highest defense procurement body, the Cabinet Committee on Security, has approved purchase of 464 Russian T-90MS main battle tanks for $1.92 billion, but it’s unlikely the Ministry of Defence will sign a contract unless Russia agrees to boost local industrial co-operation for the tanks. – Defense News

Sameer Lalwani and Emily Tallo write: With voting underway in India’s general election, February’s Kashmir conflict is likely to weigh on the minds of voters, especially given last week’s social media uproar over the reported downing of a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet during the crisis. – Washington Post


A Baluch insurgent group on Thursday claimed responsibility for killing 14 people in southwest Pakistan, it said in a statement emailed to reporters and newspaper offices. – Reuters

Husain Haqqan writes: Germany’s ambassador to Pakistan, Martin Kobler, is returning home after having become the favourite diplomat of the country’s establishment and the large number of Pakistanis who consider a positive image more important than the positive realities. […]Kobler certainly made a certain type of Pakistani feel good about his or her country. But did he really advance German interests in Pakistan, which was his principal job, or even help Pakistan, which he might have been trying to do? – The Print

Max Frost writes: Since March, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has been focused on oil and gas. An ExxonMobil-led consortium is in the final stages of an offshore drilling project in the Arabian Sea, and Khan thinks that Pakistan may soon hit the “jackpot.” But if he is serious about addressing the rot at Pakistan’s core, the platform on which voters elected him, an oil discovery could be a tragedy. Pakistan needs drastic and systemic reform. An oil bonanza will enable the government to postpone needed fixes indefinitely, leaving Pakistan yet another victim of the resource curse. – The Diplomat


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s warnings about Brexit, the Irish peace pact and implications for U.S. trade with Britain have triggered some tense talks in private meetings between a congressional delegation and British conservatives seeking an exit from the European Union. – Washington Post

A senior German official said on Thursday the European Union had no choice but to threaten tariffs on U.S. imports in a dispute over aircraft subsidies, but he hoped trade tensions would not affect talks with Washington over a broader trade agreement. – Reuters

The Greek parliament voted on Wednesday to launch a diplomatic campaign to press Germany to cough up billions of euros in damages for the Nazi occupation of the country in World War Two, an issue Berlin says was settled long ago. – Reuters

The British government has launched a competition to test a large, unmanned submarine’s ability to gather intelligence and perform other roles. – Defense News

German authorities are dismissing President Donald Trump’s threat to cut off intelligence if they don’t take steps to keep equipment made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co. out of the nation’s fifth-generation mobile network, according to four people with knowledge of the matter. – Bloomberg

Vladimir Kara-Murza writes: Last week, leaders of far-right parties from several European Union countries assembled in Milan to announce the creation of a nationalist alliance for the upcoming parliamentary elections. The group, known as the European Alliance for People and Nations, aims to win the largest bloc of seats in the European Parliament and already includes members from Germany, Italy, Finland, Denmark, Austria and France. […]Europe’s far-right parties share something else, too: a staunch affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin. – Washington Post

Anna Sauerbrey writes: Environmental issues produce the same fundamental cleavages as migration. Both migration and environmental policies are aiming at global and moral goals that citizens profit from only in the abstract, while the costs are immediate. Accepting asylum seekers is a global moral responsibility; the “costs” — overcrowded kindergartens and schools, neighborhood tensions — are local. – New York Times


Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has not been seen since he was deposed as Sudan’s president last week, has been moved to a prison in the capital where he once confined those who challenged his nearly 30-year rule, according to two former advisers. – New York Times

Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council ordered the central bank to review financial transfers since April 1 and to seize “suspect” funds, state news agency SUNA reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Uganda will consider offering asylum to ousted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir despite his indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC), a foreign affairs minister said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, a rebel group in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, said on Wednesday it was ceasing all hostilities until July 31 as a “goodwill gesture” after the overthrow of president Omar al-Bashir. – Reuters

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has offered to help mediate a political transition in Sudan after the fall of autocratic president Omar al-Bashir to weeks of popular protests, Kiir’s office said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Nandita Balakrishnan writes: The ruling council has ruled out extraditing Bashir to The Hague to face International Criminal Court war crimes and crimes against humanity charges, claiming it will prosecute him in Sudan. That’s hardly surprising given the complex war crimes that the Sudanese military committed in Darfur — and the likelihood that members of the new junta were involved. – Washington Post

The Americas

The Trump administration extended sanctions to the Central Bank of Venezuela on Wednesday, cutting off the bank’s access to United States currency and limiting its ability to conduct international financial transactions in order to further squeeze the finances of the government led by President Nicolás Maduro. – New York Times

The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed new restrictions on dealing with Cuba amid a broader toughening of its Latin American policy, limiting nonfamily travel to the island and how much money Cuban-Americans can send to relatives there, and allowing exiles to sue for property seized by the Castro government. – New York Times

There’s no wall or checkpoint or regular guard at the end of Roxham Road — just a footpath to the border. In recent years, this trail has been the busiest unauthorized crossing into Canada, a well-known back door for tens of thousands of people seeking asylum in a country that projects itself as a haven for refugees. Canada has largely tolerated their arrival. But with an increasingly close election on the horizon, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — a global figure of welcome for refugees — is signaling plans to crack down. And they’re asking the United States to help. – Washington Post

Alan García, the former two-time president of Peru, died Wednesday morning after shooting himself as police attempted to arrest him in the wide-ranging corruption scandal that has implicated scores of leaders in Peru and Latin America. – Washington Post

The European Union and Canada said they were prepared to defend their companies’ interests in Cuba before the World Trade Organization, after the Trump administration opened the door to billions of dollars in lawsuits against foreign firms that do business there. – Wall Street Journal

The return of conservatives to power in oil-rich Alberta adds another province to a growing bloc of opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and his government. – New York Times

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Wednesday that no one could rip the island away from Cubans, after the Trump administration lifted a ban on U.S. lawsuits for the use of properties seized by Cuba’s government since its 1959 revolution. – Reuters

A Guatemalan presidential candidate was arrested in Miami on Wednesday and charged with an elaborate plot to use drug cartel money to win the election and assassinate rivals, according to U.S. officials, two months before voters head to the polls. – Reuters

A group of lawmakers in Bolivia is facing backlash after it sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting he work to intervene in their country’s upcoming election in order to block President Evo Morales from running. – Newsweek

Michael Taube writes: Alberta returned to its conservative roots on Tuesday night. While it wasn’t a huge surprise, it could very well be the final nail in the coffin for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his reelection bid this fall. – Washington Post


The Air Force is creating a cadre of specialized defensive cyber teams that will protect critical Air Force missions and installations. – Fifth Domain

Eli Lake writes: As Julian Assange awaits his extradition hearing in the U.K., the debate over what to call him and his organization, WikiLeaks, is once again important. – Bloomberg

Richard Ford writes: If there’s a true constant in our industry, it’s a brutal rate of change. Attack techniques come and go, and my inbox is stuffed with new Indicators of Compromise (IoCs) that lure defenders into a never-ending game of chasing their own tails. Whenever one is caught in a vortex like this, it’s a good idea to try to change the game. – Fifth Domain


The Air Force has a new science and technology strategy, and it’s built around the idea that it needs to generate leap-ahead capabilities like the 1950s-era Century Series that spawned six new fighter jets in five years. – Defense News

The Air Force expects the price of its next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile to increase in the short term to pay for improved infrastructure, such as an overhaul of the existing silos, the head of Air Force Global Strike Command said Wednesday. – Defense News

Legacy programs built for the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are looking less like vital capabilities and more like bill-payers for the Army, as the service transitions towards a focus on conflict with Russia and China. – Defense News

A pair of California lawmakers are concerned that the Defense Department’s focus on the newly established Space Development Agency could erode the progress of its legacy space technology procurement arm, the Space and Missile Systems Center. – Defense News

Pentagon leaders have become increasingly interested in the need for innovation, meaning the new technology that comes from Silicon Valley but also the game-changing advantages that can come from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. – C4ISRNET

Long War

The frantic hunt for an armed young woman considered a threat to Columbine High ended Wednesday near the base of a mountain 40 miles west of the school. Sol Pais, an 18-year-old who was the target of a nearly 20-hour manhunt, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said. – Washington Post

ISIS-affiliated terrorists in Afghanistan, noted for their brutality in a brutal land, pose the top threat for spectacular attacks in the United States, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official. – USA Today

The European parliament voted on Wednesday to fine firms like Facebook, Google and Twitter up to 4 percent of their turnover if they persistently fail to remove extremist content within one hour of being asked to do so by authorities. – Reuters

Anti-terrorism police foiled a planned attack in Seville, leading to the arrest of a jihadist suspect in Morocco, Spanish police said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Trump Administration

The Justice Department plans to release a lightly redacted version of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s 400-page report Thursday, offering a granular look at the ways in which President Trump was suspected of having obstructed justice, people familiar with the matter said. – Washington Post

After more than two years of criminal indictments and steady revelations about contacts between associates of Donald J. Trump and Russia, we already know a lot about the work done by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. This is everything we knew before the release of the special counsel’s report. – New York Times

House Democrats’ investigations into President Donald Trump’s finances and potential money laundering tied to Russia have prompted them to demand documents from nine banking giants, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Energy Secretary Rick Perry is planning to leave the Trump administration and is finalizing the terms and timing of his departure, according to two people familiar with his plans. – Bloomberg