Fdd's overnight brief

April 22, 2019

In The News


Iran’s supreme leader has replaced the top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, state media reported Sunday, two weeks after the Trump administration designated the elite force of the Iranian military as a foreign terrorist organization. – New York Times

The State Department is expected to announce the end of waivers for countries to import Iranian oil on Monday, part of the Trump administration’s effort to drive Iran’s exports to zero, people familiar with the decision said. The U.S. had previously granted eight countries a 180-day waiver to continue to buy Iranian crude despite U.S. sanctions, provided that each took steps to reduce purchases and move toward ending imports. The deadline for renewing the waivers was set to fall on May 2. – Wall Street Journal

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Iran on Sunday to discuss security and regional issues, Iranian state TV reported, a day after Islamabad urged Tehran to act against militants behind killings in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. – Reuters

The United States has largely carved out exceptions so that foreign governments, firms and NGOs do not automatically face U.S. sanctions for dealing with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards after the group’s designation by Washington as a foreign terrorist group, according to three current and three former U.S. officials. – Reuters

Josh Rogin writes: It’s unlikely the Iranian regime will ever sit down with the Trump administration to negotiate a better deal or fundamentally change its behavior. Starting next month, though, it will at least have less oil money to spread terrorism and mischief around the Middle East and the world. – Washington Post

Alireza Jafarzadeh writes: The foreign terrorist organization designation gives U.S. officials an additional tool for prosecuting Americans who help the Iranian regime. It puts Iran’s regime in a defensive position and demoralizes the Guard and its proxies. It will dry up resources used to train and fund Guard militias. The New York Times reported that even before the terrorist designation, the existing U.S. sanctions had hindered Tehran’s funding of its terror proxies. – Washington Examiner


French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday hosted representatives of the Kurdish-led force that defeated Islamic State (IS) extremists in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Turkey’s foreign ministry. – Agence France Presse

Islamic State attacks on the Syrian army and allied militias in central Syria have killed 35 soldiers over two days, a war monitor said early on Saturday. Although Islamic State lost its last territorial enclave in Syria at Baghouz near the Iraqi border last month to U.S.-backed forces, it still has fighters holding out in the remote central desert. – Reuters

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met senior officials from his ally Russia in Damascus on Friday and Saturday to discuss upcoming peace talks, renting out Tartus port and trade between the two countries, state media in Syria reported. – Reuters

Brandon Wallace writes: ISIS lost its last zone of territorial control in Syria on March 23, 2019, but its resurgent campaign continues to gain momentum across Iraq and Syria. ISIS is expanding its support zones and scaling up its attack campaign in key cities including Ar-Raqqa City, Mosul, and Fallujah as well as rear areas in Northern Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan. – Institute for the Study of War


Turkish authorities have detained two men suspected of illegally gathering intelligence on behalf of the United Arab Emirates and are investigating them for a possible connection with last year’s murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkish state media said Friday. – Wall Street Journal

Four Turkish soldiers and 20 armed assailants were killed on Friday in clashes between the military and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) near the border with Iraq, Turkey’s defense ministry and military said. – Reuters

If U.S. officials were to expel Turkey from the multinational group that builds the F-35 Lightning II, Turkish defense officials said they likely would pursue Russian fighter jet technology. – Defense News

Russia doesn’t have to corrupt the information ecosystem in Turkey to manipulate it because its ecosystem has already been plagued by the systematic use of fake news and disinformation and is therefore ripe for external manipulation. Russia’s ongoing influence over both pro-government and pro-opposition digital media in Turkey will give Moscow the upper hand in any future crisis or emergency. – Foreign Policy


The Arab League has pledged $100 million per month to the Palestinian Authority to make up for funds withheld by Israel because of payments made to the families of Palestinian attackers and prisoners. – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan will not involve giving land from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula to the Palestinians, an American envoy said on Friday. – Reuters

Jason Greenblatt, the US Special Representative for International Negotiations, on Friday told Sky News that the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership is adhering to old concepts that do not promote peace. – Arutz Sheva

Hamas on Friday called on the UN to speed up a plan to funnel Qatari aid into Gaza as part of an Egyptian-brokered truce with Israel, AFP reported. After a severe flare-up between Israel and Hamas last month the ceasefire was reportedly hammered out amid fears of escalation, though Israel has not publicly commented on the reported agreement. – Arutz Sheva

The national and Islamic forces in the Ramallah district, the supreme coordinating body of the Palestinian Authority organizations, oppose any proposal to return to direct bilateral negotiations with Israel. – Arutz Sheva

Arab leaders are pressuring the Palestinian Authority to accept the peace plan drawn up by the Trump administration, which is expected to be released this June, a source within the Palestinian Authority claims. – Arutz Sheva

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas struck a pessimistic note Sunday, accusing President Donald Trump of hypocrisy when it comes to two-state solution and criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for aiding Hamas after demanding that he snub the group. – Ynet

French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu via a letter on Thursday over his election victory and expressed hope that the new Israeli government will work toward a “two-state solution”. – Arutz Sheva

France demanded that Israel stop the freezing of tax revenues of the Palestinian Authority and transfer all the funds collected for the PA to Ramallah including the amounts paid by the PA to terrorists and their families. – Arutz Sheva

Khalil al-Haya, a member of the Hamas political bureau and a senior member of the movement in the Gaza Strip, praised the impact of the “Palestinian struggle” against Israel, including the ‘March of Return,’ in light of the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas. – Arutz Sheva

The Israel Police announced on Sunday that the Central Unit of the Northern District of the Israel Police prevented the smuggling of dozens of pistols and submachine guns from Jordanian territory into the state of Israel. – Arutz Sheva

The Israeli military again outsmarted the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. This happened in the early hours of Saturday April 13 when the Israeli air force (IAF) warplanes attacked Iran-related targets in Masyaf and Umm Haratayn in the Hama Province in north-west Syria. – Arutz Sheva

Jon Lerner writes: It’s a new era because Haley challenged and disproved some important basic assumptions about Middle East policy. It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests such as opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows such as UNRWA. Even if future U.S. administrations revert back to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproven. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure. – Commentary Magazine


President Trump’s outreach to a rogue Libyan general could push oil prices higher, the head of the country’s United Nations-backed government said Sunday. Mr. Trump spoke last week with militia leader Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive earlier this month to seize the Libyan capital of Tripoli, signaling a potential reverse of longstanding U.S. support for the U.N.-recognized government. The two men discussed a “shared vision” for the country in a phone conversation, the White House said Friday. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump on Friday abruptly reversed American policy toward Libya, issuing a statement publicly endorsing an aspiring strongman in his battle to depose the United Nations-backed government. – New York Times

Forces backing Libya’s unity government battled to push back an offensive by strongman Khalifa Haftar on Sunday as his troops approached the gates of Tripoli after air raids overnight. – Agence France Presse

Explosions shook the Libyan capital Tripoli late on Saturday after an air strike, residents said, in an escalation of a two-week offensive by eastern forces on the city held by the internationally recognized government. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, reinstated nationality to 551 people stripped of their citizenship by courts in the Gulf Arab state, state news agency BNA said on Sunday. Since a 2011 uprising, Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has prosecuted hundreds of protesters in mass trials, banned the main opposition groups and revoked citizenship from hundreds of nationals. – Reuters

Iraq hosted senior parliamentary officials from arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran on Saturday as Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi sought to bolster his country’s nascent role as a mediator in the region. – Reuters

Four alleged Islamic State militants were killed on Sunday when authorities thwarted an attack on a state security building in Saudi Arabia’s central Riyadh province, authorities told state media. – Reuters

Aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen on Saturday attacked a camp containing drones near Yemen’s presidential palace in the Houthi-controlled capital, Saudi state TV reported. The Saudi-led coalition backs the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which was ousted from power in Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014. – Reuters

Egyptians were voting Saturday in a referendum that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former coup leader who presents himself as a rock of stability in a turbulent region. Despite protests from human rights groups, the three-day plebiscite is expected to approve sweeping constitutional changes that will extend Sisi’s rule of the Arab world’s most populous country until at least 2024. – Agence France Presse

Korean Peninsula

North Korea dismissed President Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, as “dim-sighted” on Saturday, after he said the North would have to show more evidence that it was ready to give up nuclear weapons before Mr. Trump would hold another meeting with its leader, Kim Jong-un. – New York Times

North Korea’s modest provocations in recent days reveal a pivot in its strategy after the failed Hanoi nuclear talks: escalate tensions to convey its frustration but keep its actions measured enough to ensure the U.S. and South Korea don’t abandon diplomacy. It is a new riff on an old playbook for North Korea. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said U.S. diplomatic efforts will continue toward the goal of denuclearization of North Korea, a day after a North Korean official said it no longer wanted to deal with him in talks. – Reuters

U.S. authorities have arrested a former U.S. Marine who is a member of a group that allegedly raided the North Korean embassy in Madrid in February and stole electronics, two sources familiar with the arrest said on Friday. – Reuters

When South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited the White House this month, U.S. President Donald Trump used the meeting to tout that the Asian nation plans to buy a large amount of American weapons systems in the years ahead. – Defense News


China’s so-called Belt and Road initiative has been the subject of relentless media coverage. But Beijing’s flagship program of outward investment in several ways has been outmatched by Japan’s near-silent efforts. – Wall Street Journal

China is delaying the release of a controversial measure that would restrict foreign companies from taking certain data out of the country, as US-China trade talks reach a critical stage. – Financial Times

China will show off new warships including nuclear submarines and destroyers at a parade next week marking 70 years since its navy’s founding, a senior commander said on Saturday, as Beijing flexes its increasingly well-equipped military muscle. – Reuters

Warships from India, Australia and several other nations arrived in the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao on Sunday to attend a naval parade, part of a goodwill visit as China extends the hand of friendship despite regional tensions and suspicions. – Reuters

David Fickling writes: The fact that the U.S. and China are strategic competitors shouldn’t cause Washington to overreact to China’s attempts to improve its covert knowledge. There’s certainly good reason to strengthen counterintelligence activity and even attempt to turn some double agents (hopefully with more care than was applied in the case of Katrina Leung). But that shouldn’t change the fact that open societies ought to be rather relaxed about the fact they leak information through their pores. – Bloomberg


Suicide bombers and gunmen stormed a high-rise government office building in a busy section of Kabul on Saturday, killing at least four civilians and three members of Afghan security forces in an hours-long battle that ended with all the assailants dead. – Washington Post

On Saturday, about 20 Afghan emigres from Europe and the United States, including three women, privately met Taliban representatives in Doha, the Qatari capital. They said they spoke for more than six hours with the group’s chief negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, and a dozen other insurgent representatives. – Washington Post

Jeanne Shaheen was facing down Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — and not too pleased about it. The senator asked Pompeo to push the Afghan government and the Taliban to include Afghan women in peace talks. But he wouldn’t fully commit to doing so. – Politico

Talk of peace in Afghanistan is ramping up, with the United States and the Taliban negotiating and Kabul preparing to host hundreds of ethnic, religious, and tribal leaders to settle on a road map for ending nearly 18 years of war. – Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe

Pakistan has warned that an escalation in hostilities could derail U.S.-led peace efforts in Afghanistan, although it apparently refrained from condemning Taliban insurgents for unleashing their annual spring offensive in the neighboring country. – Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe

South Asia

Within a few hours on Sunday, suicide bombings hit three Catholic churches and three upscale hotels in the Indian Ocean island nation of Sri Lanka, still recovering from a quarter-century civil war in which the suicide bomb was pioneered. The death toll in the attacks rose to 290, with about 500 people wounded, a police spokesman, Ruwan Gunasekera, said. – New York Times

Sri Lanka blocked several social media networks in the wake of terrorist attacks on Sunday, including Facebook and the messaging service WhatsApp. The extraordinary step reflects growing global concern, particularly among governments, about the capacity of American-owned networks to spin up violence. – New York Times

As the authorities investigate the bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, their focus has centered on National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a little-known group that experts said promotes Islamic terrorist ideology. – New York Times

The Sri Lankan police have arrested 24 people in connection with a series of devastating suicide bombings at hotels and churches on Easter Sunday that left nearly 300 people dead and more than 500 injured. – New York Times

The deadly attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday highlighted how easily religious coexistence can be ripped apart in a region where secularism is weakening amid the growing appeal of a politics based on ethnic and sectarian identity. – New York Times

The suicide bombings on the holiest day of the Christian calendar, when churches see their highest attendance of the year, were widely viewed as targeting Sri Lanka’s small Christian community, a minority that regularly faces discrimination. – Washington Post

After condemning the series of deadly bomb attacks on Sri Lankan churches and luxury hotels on Sunday that killed more than 200 people, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told voters that they needed to elect him to a second term as only he can beat the “terrorists” threatening India. – Reuters

Police in Sri Lanka said Monday the investigation into the Easter Sunday bombings will examine reports that the intelligence community failed to detect or warn of possible suicide attacks before the violence. – Associated Press

Krishnadev Calamur writes: When Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war ended in an equally brutal fashion a decade ago, there was hope that the island nation could leave its past behind. The Easter Sunday bombings, the first attacks of this scale since the war, are a reminder of how fragile the peace the nation achieved really is. The attacks on churches and hotels, which killed more than 200 people, came at a crucial juncture: The country is still struggling to reconcile its past while building a new future. – The Atlantic


When Russians celebrate Orthodox Easter on April 28, leaders in Moscow will send their annual messages of kinship to fellow Orthodox Christians around the world. In Syria, however, the bonds are part of a wider strategy endorsed by the Kremlin. – Washington Post

Maria Butina, who has admitted to working as a Russian agent to infiltrate an influential U.S. gun rights group and make inroads with conservative activists and Republicans, asked the court to sentence her to time served ahead of her April 26 sentencing, according to court documents. – Reuters

Editorial: There is no reason to expect the Russians would stop at what they did before; Moscow can be expected to exploit other vulnerabilities its hackers identified. Mr. Mueller’s report found that they infiltrated a company that made commonly used voter roll software, and seem to have penetrated Florida election administration networks. Just one election administration hack in a close swing state could throw the country into chaos. – Washington Post


Theresa May will return from the Easter break on Tuesday, seeking to breathe fresh life into talks with the opposition Labour party as both sides search for a Brexit breakthrough that can avert the need to hold “unwanted” European elections. – Financial Times

The EU’s top privacy official has urged Donald Trump’s administration to adopt an equivalent to Europe’s tough new privacy law as a precursor to broader talks between Brussels and Washington on the transatlantic sharing of data by big business. – Financial Times

Ukraine entered uncharted political waters on Monday after near final results showed a comedian with no political experience and few detailed policies had dramatically up-ended the status quo and won the country’s presidential election by a landslide. […]The United States, the European Union and Russia will be closely watching Zelenskiy’s foreign policy pronouncements to see if and how he might try to end the war against pro-Russian separatists that has killed some 13,000 people. – Reuters

Blue and White co-leader Yair Lapid slammed “Polish hatred of Jews” on Sunday in response to reports that residents of the southeastern Polish town of Pruchnik created an effigy of a haredi Jew, beat it and burned it. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Some German politicians contend that Berlin’s involvement in Nato operations around the world shows that its contribution is greater than the low headline number for defence expenditure suggests. But the problem goes deeper. The Social Democrats, desperate to reverse their electoral decline, would rather promise more social spending than seek to persuade voters of the need for a bigger defence budget. In the Trump era the party is more than ever tempted to woo voters inclined to pacifism with the siren song of anti-Americanism. – Financial Times

Andrew Davies writes: Three years after the referendum, Britain is still a member of the EU and Parliament has taken “no-deal” off the menu. The only choices left for MPs now are to vote for her agreement or abandon Brexit altogether. – Washington Examiner


Armies from Rwanda and Uganda are massed on hilltops along the 100-mile border, in a tense standoff between two of the West’s key regional security allies that threatens to upend East African economic integration. – Wall Street Journal

On Thursday, the Islamic State’s news agency claimed the group’s first attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo[…]. The attack took place in a region troubled by violence in a part of the world long outside government control, the kind of terrain that has proved to be fertile ground for ISIS. If the group succeeds in planting its flag here, it would not only expand its reach into a new part of the continent, but it would also do so far outside the grasp of international forces. – New York Times

Sudanese protest leaders Sunday suspended talks with military rulers, after the army failed to meet their demand for an immediate transfer to civilian rule. – Agence France Presse

Heavily armed militiamen attacked a hospital treating Ebola patients in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday, killing a senior World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist and injuring two others, officials said. – Reuters

Gunmen attacked a Malian army base in a dawn raid on Sunday, killing 11 soldiers and burning the camp in west-central Mali, the army and a local lawmaker said. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Central Mali has in the past few years been overrun by jihadists with links to al Qaeda. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said on Sunday they had agreed to send Sudan $3 billion worth of aid, throwing a lifeline to the country’s new military leaders after protests led to the ousting of president Omar al-Bashir. – Reuters

The Americas

With Venezuela in flames, China and Russia are seeking claims in the rubble. But the United States has been caught flat-footed, and the Pentagon is struggling to develop ways to blunt the countries’ influence in Latin America since President Trump has antagonized and distanced himself from nations in the Western Hemisphere. – Washington Post

Mexico said on Saturday it had “deep concern” about armed groups that intimidate and extort migrants on the border, shortly after the ACLU and Democratic senators called for a probe into such citizen efforts to block migrants from crossing. – Reuters

A Cuban diplomat involved with negotiations between Cuba’s government and the Obama administration that led to a warming of U.S.-Cuba relations for the first time in decades said that President Trump’s efforts to reverse President Obama’s efforts will fail. – The Hill


After months of no-comment, the CEO of Bell Flight’s parent company revealed that Bell will offer a conventional helicopter for the Army’s new scout, the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft. That’s a stark contrast from the high-speed, long-range V-280 tiltrotor that Bell is  pushing for the larger Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, or from the propeller-plus-rotors compound helicopters that rival Sikorsky is offering for both FLRAA and FARA. – Breaking Defense

West Virginia National Guard officials have unveiled the latest tool in a battalion’s arsenal — UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. The Journal reports the nine helicopters will be used by aviators at Company C, 1st Battalion, 150th Aviation Regiment. – Associated Press

Mike Pietrucha and Jeremy Renken write: The scope of changes that the U.S. Air Force must undertake to meet the direction of the National Defense Strategy is difficult to overstate. Recent clear-eyed assessments of threats from great powers like Russia and China, combined with the opportunity to reduce U.S. military investment in the Middle East has given the service’s planners a window of opportunity to let intentional design, rather than events, drive how it organizes, trains, equips, and presents its force. – War on the Rocks

Long War

A Bosnian national suspected of fighting for Islamic State in Syria has been transferred to Bosnia and put in detention, Bosnia’s prosecutor’s office said on Saturday. – Reuters

The authorities in Kosovo said on Saturday that more than 100 of their citizens, mostly women and children who were relatives of jihadists, had been flown home from Syria under heavy security with the assistance of the United States. – Associated Press

An Iraqi court has sentenced four people to death by hanging for belonging to the Islamic State militant group and committing terrorist crimes in Iraq and Syria, a judiciary statement said on Sunday. The four men, wanted by Iraqi authorities, were handed to Iraq by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the statement said. – Reuters

Trump Administration

Top House Democrats said Sunday they will decide soon whether to pursue impeachment against President Donald Trump, while Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani argued that it would have been OK for the president to have accepted Russia’s help during the 2016 election. – USA Today

Donald Trump’s top lawyer on Sunday attacked “calumny, lies and distortions” in the Mueller investigation report, and said there is “nothing wrong” with taking hacked information from Russia. – Agence France Presse

Deep-pocketed Republicans who snubbed Donald Trump in 2016 are going all in for him in 2020, throwing their weight behind a newly created fundraising drive that’s expected to dump tens of millions into his reelection coffers. – Politico