Fdd's overnight brief

April 23, 2019

In The News


The Trump administration surprised the oil world Monday with a tightened ban on Iranian oil. The move shook leading oil-producing nations as well as the biggest buyers of crude, many of whom had been expecting a renewal of U.S. exemptions to the ban put in place last fall. – Wall Street Journal

Oil prices surged to a nearly six-month high after the Trump administration said it would end waivers that allow countries to import Iranian oil, part of a U.S. campaign to deprive Iran of a major source of revenue. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration said Monday that it will start imposing sanctions on a handful of countries, including key U.S. allies, unless they stop buying oil from Iran after waivers expire next month. – Washington Post

Iran’s president says a new joint security force will be formed with Pakistan to combat militants based along the two countries’ shared border. – Associated Press  

Goldman Sachs expects the United States’ decision to end waivers from sanctions on imports of Iranian oil to have a limited impact on prices, even though the timing of the halt is much more sudden than expected. – Reuters

Any move by Iran to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz in response to the United States ending oil waivers for purchases of Iranian oil would be unjustified and unacceptable, a senior administration official said on Monday. – Reuters

The U.S. struck yet another blow against Iran on April 22 when the White House announced it would end all sanctions exemptions for countries that import Iranian crude oil. “We’re going to zero,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said during a press conference on the policy change. – Bloomberg

Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway vital for global oil shipments, if the country is prevented from using it, a senior military official said on Monday in what appears to be a response to the U.S. plan to end waivers on Iranian oil exports. – Bloomberg

Iran said it’s holding “intensive” talks with its partners in the region and beyond to contain the fallout from the Trump administration’s decision not to renew waivers that let countries buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions. – Bloomberg

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s center in Vienna, Austria announced in a lethal homophobic video on YouTube that homosexuality spells the end of humanity. The Center of Islamic Culture Imam Ali’s video targets children and is part of a series that launches attacks on liberal, western values and societies. The Austrian paper Kurier reported the video was deleted on Friday after being online for three months. – Jerusalem Post

US Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) issued a statement applauding the Trump administration’s decision to end oil waivers for Iran. “I applaud President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo for announcing this morning that the Trump administration will finally end oil waivers for Iran. – Al Arabiya

Editorial: Mr. Trump’s Iran strategy thus involves some political risks, especially considering how tightly oil prices are linked with public feelings of economic well-being. No President wants to run for re-election with rising gasoline prices. Yet the Trump Administration, to its credit, shows no signs of backing down. If Iran wants sanctions eased, it can stop spreading terror and renegotiate the nuclear deal. – Wall Street Journal

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Neither North Korea nor Iran has given up much in their nuclear standoffs with the Trump administration. But even as the countries have played hardball, the Trump administration has continued to take diametrically opposite approaches with each one. – Jerusalem Post

Patrick Clawson writes: Further, Iran can test its centrifuges “with or without uranium” so long as it “does not accumulate enriched uranium”—which begs the question of what constitutes accumulation. Presumably Iran would argue for the technical nuclear meaning (combining the “tails” after an enrichment run) rather than the common meaning (having a large stock of enriched material). If so, the restriction is toothless. To prevent Iran from exploiting such ambiguities, any new waivers need tight wording and clear definitions. – Washington Institute

Patrick Clawson writes: As with the nuclear issue, the debate about energy and port waivers would be better informed if all of them were published. While the current waivers have served U.S. interests, they would work better going forward if they were appropriately revised. Ending the oil waivers runs some risks in terms of keeping energy markets stable and ensuring continued international cooperation on other areas of Iran policy. – Washington Institute  

Tom Rogan writes: In a rare double-up deployment close to Iran, the U.S. Navy currently has two carrier strike groups in the Mediterranean Sea. Just a few days sail from the Arabian Sea, the Stennis and Lincoln carrier strike groups conducted joint exercises last week. – Washington Examiner


The Trump administration is offering rewards of up to $10 million each for information that disrupts the finances of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah organization. – Associated Press

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed on Monday that Israel was not ready for a full-scale war with the Lebanese terrorist group, walking back previously reported comments in which he said a conflict with the Jewish state was likely this summer. – Algemeiner

Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah denounced the series of terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka that claimed the lives of 290 people on Easter Sunday, Maariv reported. – Jerusalem Post  


A group of Turkish journalists said they face prison time after their convictions were upheld, a measure of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s unrelenting crackdown on the media despite recent pledges to forge unity in the highly polarized nation. – Wall Street Journal

A former prime minister and close ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan strongly criticized the ruling AK Party on Monday, blaming policy changes and an alliance with nationalists for its poor performance in Turkey’s local elections last month. – Reuters

Malvyn Ingleby writes: The former mayor of Istanbul understands like no other what this might entail for his future grip on power. “If we lose Istanbul, we lose Turkey,” Erdoğan is reported to have said. Turkish electoral history teaches that control over municipalities is the key to success in subsequent national elections. Above all, voters demand efficient local services and economic benefits, the two cornerstones of the AKP’s own success. – The Atlantic  


The Hamas terror group has infiltrated the Palestinian Authority security framework in a wide-ranging operation over the past year and recruited senior PA defense officials to spy for it. – Ynet

Palestinian Authority (PA) Vice Chairman Mahmoud Aloul on Monday said that if Israel continues freezing tax funds, the PA will cease security coordination with Israel and retract its recognition of the State of Israel, Israel Hayom reported. – Artuz Sheva

Israel has been selling military equipment to Ukraine for over two decades, and with the election of Jewish comedian and novice politician Volodymyr Zelensky, there is a good chance to increase defense ties between the two countries. – Jerusalem Post

France should be protesting the Palestinian Authority for rewarding terrorism and not Israel for trying to curb it, MKs said Monday in response to the diplomatic row over France officially protesting the Israeli policy to freeze payments to the PA. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli officials are concerned about the growing number of Democratic presidential candidates who are promising to reverse President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. – Haaretz  

Emanuel Miller writes: It should be obvious to anyone that while the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement portrays itself as “merely” anti-Zionist, it is in actuality a movement frequently fueled by antisemitic intent and often supported by antisemitic individuals. – Algemeiner

Daniel Krygier writes: While Israel is a small country, its history and dreams rival those of global powers. Just two days after the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet crashed into the surface of the moon, SpaceIL chairman Morris Kahn announced the launch of Beresheet 2. – Algemeiner

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia said on Monday it had arrested 13 individuals in connection with planning attacks in the kingdom, a day after security forces said they had thwarted an attack north of the capital, state news agency SPA reported. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia said on Monday it would coordinate with other oil producers to ensure an adequate crude supply and a balanced market after the United States said it would end waivers granted to buyers of Iranian oil. – Reuters

Simon Henderson writes: One ‎monarch, Saud, was forced to abdicate in 1964 under family pressure. The next, Faisal, was assassinated in 1975 ‎by a nephew. King Khalid followed, but he was just a figurehead. And so on until the thirty-three-year-old ‎phenomenon known as MbS, a modernizer who has quickly gained notoriety for his reckless administrative ‎style. Whether he ultimately ascends the throne will entail plenty of plot twists, but it also holds serious ‎implications for the kingdom, the future of the region, and U.S. interests. – Washington Institute


Yemen’s Houthi forces have missiles that could be fired at Riyadh, Dubai and Abu Dhabi should violence escalate in the main Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, where a fragile ceasefire is now in place, the leader of the Houthi movement said on Monday. – Reuters

An international rights group says the widespread use of land mines by Yemen’s Houthi rebels not only kill civilians but block aid to the most needy, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. – Associated Press

Eleonora Ardemagni writes: In addition to a clear issue of institutional legitimacy, the skirmishes over the meeting in Sayoun also shed further light on Hadramawt’s centrifugal forces. The governorate is de facto split politically into two distinct territories, with competing military forces and different external backers, one Saudi and the other Emirati. – Middle East Institute


A self-styled Libyan army slowed down its push on the country’s capital over concerns for civilians caught up in the violence, as the U.N. refugee agency said Monday that the fighting for Tripoli has displaced more than 32,000 people. – Associated Press  

Eastern Libyan forces said on Monday they would intensify an assault on Tripoli, the capital in the west of the country that is held by the internationally recognized government, as the death toll in a battle now in its third week rose to 254. – Reuters

The leader of Libya’s internationally recognized government said foreign backers have been arming strongman Khalifa Haftar since he launched an offensive to take the capital, Tripoli, and warned of a proxy war. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will soon visit Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin, according to Pyongyang state media, marking the isolated Asian regime’s first public acknowledgment of a planned summit between the two countries’ top figures. – Wall Street Journal

The head of a shadowy North Korean dissident group wanted by US authorities for his connection to the raid on Pyongyang’s embassy in Madrid in February is in hiding from North Korean hit squads, his attorney told CNN on Monday. – CNN

Japan on Tuesday dropped the push to apply “maximum pressure” on North Korea from its official foreign policy, an apparent softening of Tokyo’s position as major powers engage with Pyongyang. – Agence France Presse  


The Chinese people love peace and countries should not threaten each other with the use of force, President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday as he kicked off a large-scale naval parade marking 70 years since the founding of China’s navy. – Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s grand Belt and Road Initiative is getting a makeover to tone down government rhetoric and tighten oversight, after allegations of corruption and a lack of sustainability dogged some of its highest-profile projects. – Bloomberg

William Alan Reinsch writes: In attempting to produce an agreement on a prescription—a course of action for dealing with China—the most frequent recommendation is that we ought to work together—form a coalition to meet the China challenge collectively rather than individually. There is wisdom in that; China has demonstrated in the past that it does not like to be an outlier, and consistent, sustained pressure from many sources at a high level can alter their behavior. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Afghanistan’s president over the weekend to express Washington’s disappointment over the indefinite postponement of Afghan talks with the Taliban, according to a statement released Monday. – Associated Press  

Talks between the United States and the Taliban over Afghanistan’s future remain risky but necessary to reach a political settlement to end decades of war, a leading expert in South Asia security affairs said Monday. – USNI News

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack at the communications ministry in the Afghan capital Kabul that killed seven people, the militant group’s Amaq news agency said on Sunday. – Reuters


Sri Lanka’s government has information indicating the plotters of Easter bombings that killed more than 300 people were reacting to the New Zealand shootings that left 50 Muslims dead in March, the country’s defense minister said. – Wall Street Journal

Ten days before devastating bombings on Easter Sunday, a top Sri Lankan police official warned the security services in an advisory that a little-known radical Islamist group was planning suicide attacks against churches. Top government officials say the warning never reached them, and no action was taken against the group. – New York Times

Sri Lankan officials said on Monday that the coordinated bombings of churches and hotels across the country on Easter Sunday had been carried out by National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a little-known radical Islamist group, with help from international militants. – New York Times

Sri Lanka’s president gave the military sweeping police powers starting Tuesday in the wake of the Easter bombings that killed nearly 300 people, while officials disclosed that intelligence agencies had warned weeks ago of the possibility of an attack by the radical Muslim group blamed for the bloodshed. – Associated Press  

Myanmar’s top court on Tuesday rejected the appeal of two Reuters reporters sentenced to seven years in jail for breaking the Official Secrets Act, in a landmark case that has raised questions about the country’s transition to democracy. – Reuters

India will get additional supplies from other major oil producing countries to compensate for the loss of Iranian oil, India’s Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A rift between Sri Lanka’s president and prime minister, which sparked a crisis last year, came under scrutiny on Monday a day after a series of deadly bomb blasts, with questions over how the government handled a recent warning of an attack. – Reuters

Tunku Varadarajan writes: Many new mosques have sprung up, particularly in eastern Sri Lanka, and many Muslim women now wear the niqab, a garment that has never been a part of Sri Lankan Muslim culture. There has also been tension detected within the Muslim community, between old-style Sri Lankan Muslims who follow a syncretic version of Islam and well-funded Wahhabi advocates who insist on a more fundamentalist faith. – Wall Street Journal


Antisemitic vandals in Moscow caused extensive damage but no injuries or fatalities when they attacked a yeshiva in the Russian capital last Friday night, as Jews around the world celebrated the Passover holiday. – Algemeiner

Alan Berger writes: It is hardly surprising that coverage of the Mueller report centers on the domestic political effects of the special counsel’s findings. But we Americans would be making a serious mistake if we overlook the international repercussions of a Kremlin influence operation that historians may recognize as Vladimir Putin’s American putsch. – The Boston Globe

Nathan Hodge writes: On Sunday, Ukrainians overwhelmingly threw their support behind a political newcomer, actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, to become the country’s next President. […]A vote for Zelensky does not necessarily mean a return to Russia’s orbit, however. Polls show that anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine is high: Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and efforts to broker a lasting peace in Ukraine have faltered. – CNN


The World Jewish Congress has condemned as anti-Semitic the revival of a folk tradition of burning an effigy of Judas in the Polish town of Pruchnik. – Reuters

Theresa May is fighting to keep her job so she can complete the defining task of her premiership and take the U.K. out of the European Union — but her hopes of success now rest with her arch rival Jeremy Corbyn. – Bloomberg

Talks between the government and Labour on Brexit will resume later as MPs return to Westminster following the Easter break. Cabinet ministers will meet senior opposition figures in an attempt to solve the impasse by finding a deal that could win the support of MPs. – BBC  

Member of Parliament for the UK’s Labour Party Grahame Morris became the focus of controversy on Monday after he retweeted a video that he falsely claimed showed IDF soldiers assaulting Palestinian children. – Algemeiner

Anshel Pfeffer writes: Ukraine is unlike any Western democracy. Its issues are existential. It is a young and unstable nation in the grip of an aggressive neighbor, which doesn’t consider it a legitimate country in its own right. Poroshenko was right in his campaign to highlight the uncertainties in Zelensky’s policies when it comes to Ukraine’s attempts to distance itself from Russia’s shadow and align itself more closely with NATO and the European Union. – Haaretz

Donald N. Jensen and Brian Whitmore write: Zelenskiy must prove himself as a war leader. Dealt a difficult hand following the Minsk ceasefire talks, Poroshenko nevertheless built up the Ukrainian armed forces, which effectively fought Russia to a draw in Donbas. Poroshenko resisted Moscow’s efforts to force the occupied territories of the Donbas back into Ukraine—as an effective Trojan Horse—on Russia’s terms. Thus the Kremlin is glad to see Poroshenko go but could test Zelenskiy’s resolve by targeted military action in eastern Ukraine. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) and opposition forces appeared on a collision course on Monday amid deepening differences over demands for civilian rule more than 10 days after the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir. – Reuters

Laying their strategy on the table to play a major role in Sudan after long-time regime leader Omar Bashir was overthrown, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are announcing major investments in the country. The latest plan is for $3 billion in aid to be sent to Sudan, including a $500m. investment to the central bank, according to The National in the UAE. – Jerusalem Post

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis (WMEC-910) is halfway through a 90-day mission to Africa’s Atlantic coast and already the crew has helped enforce fishing rights, combat smuggling and piracy and rescue two fishermen who had been declared dead. – USNI News

United States

Before the F.B.I. arrested Larry Hopkins, the leader of the right-wing militia that detained migrant families in the New Mexico desert, he’d had so many run-ins with the law that his police record stretched across much of the United States. – New York Times

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is standing by his criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the US goal in the Middle East must be to try to bring people together and “not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing, dare I say, racist government.” – Associated Press

A bipartisan bill has been proposed in Congress that would require the secretary of state to submit annual reports reviewing the educational material used by Palestinian Authority and UNRWA schools in Palestinian territories. – Jerusalem Post

The Americas

In an arid, lunar-like landscape in the sunny highlands of northern Argentina, South America’s largest solar farm is rising, powered by funding and technology from China. – Reuters

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that speeding up the flow of goods on the U.S. border is a matter of urgency and that slowdowns are detrimental to both economies, after bottlenecks have held up trade following a row over migration. – Reuters

Walter Russell Mead writes: No U.S. president before Mr. Trump has been willing to impose sanctions that alienate powerful allies to this degree over Caribbean policy. That Washington is pressing ahead suggests how high a priority Venezuela has become for the administration. If Russia continues to back Mr. Maduro, this crisis could escalate dramatically. And once again—60 years after Fidel Castro stormed into power in Havana—Cuba will be right in the middle of it.- Wall Street Journal


The United States is an Arctic Nation, and the United States Coast Guard has served as the lead federal agency for homeland security, safety, and environmental stewardship in the Arctic region for over 150 years. Since Revenue Cutters first sailed to Alaska in 1867 to establish U.S. sovereignty, the Service’s role has expanded, including representing American interests as a leader in the international bodies governing navigation, search and rescue, vessel safety, fisheries enforcement, and pollution response across the entire Arctic. – USNI News

The Pentagon’s research office wants to send robots into space to inspect and repair the nation’s satellites. – Defense One

Boeing is preparing to build F-15 fighter planes for the U.S. Air Force at its St. Louis County plant even though the military branch hasn’t bought the jet in over a decade. – Associated Press

Long War

A Wisconsin woman used hacked Facebook accounts to provide lessons in making bombs and poison on behalf of the Islamic State militant group, prosecutors said Monday. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Unlike the 20th century where the machinery of state-sponsored genocide sought to remake society by murdering millions, our century is dominated by the slow but persistent mass murder of smaller groups of people by terrorists. […]Our terminology for terror is generally trapped in the previous century and addresses a different set of threats than those we face today. We talk about “militants,” “insurgents” and “blasts.” We send “thoughts and prayers.” But none of this pulls the wool from our eyes to reveal what is happening. This is generally because governments understand they have a difficult time stopping terror. – Jerusalem Post

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: While these challenges are much greater in the case of Syria – which remains deeply divided and involved in a civil war, both nations must cope with rebuilding their economies, creating more effective political structures, and improving their levels of Governance. They also must deal with ethnic and sectarian tensions that can lead to renewed civil conflict, Iran’s efforts to win added influence, the impact of Russian presence in Syria, and tensions with Turkey. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Trump Administration

The Kremlin on Friday rejected special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, calling it inconclusive in establishing any such meddling and damaging to U.S.-Russia relations. – Washington Post  

California Sen. Kamala Harris joined the call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment on Monday as five leading Democratic presidential contenders clashed in a series of prime-time town hall meetings that exposed deep divisions in a party desperate to end the Trump presidency. – Associated Press  

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday rejected calls to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump despite new voices in her caucus calling for the House to take that step in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. – Politico