Fdd's overnight brief

April 24, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


The Iranian parliament has overwhelmingly approved declaring the entire U.S. military “terrorist.” The Tuesday vote was an escalation from last week, when Iranian lawmakers voted to declare all U.S. troops in the Middle East terrorists. – Washington Examiner

Iranians, already hard hit by punishing US economic sanctions, are bracing for more pain after Washington abolished waivers for some countries which had allowed them to buy oil from Iran. – Agence FrancePresse

China signaled an intention to defy U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil industry on Tuesday, denouncing the loss of a waiver renewal as an unacceptable threat against “normal energy cooperation” with Tehran. – Washington Examiner

The United States has made a bad mistake by politicizing oil and using it as a weapon, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in a parliamentary session on Tuesday, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. – Reuters

The French government and the European Union both said they will abide by the terms of the Iran nuclear accord with world powers even after the latest U.S. move. France and its European partners intend to continue efforts to ensure that Iran derives economic benefits as long as Tehran complies with its nuclear obligations, the Foreign Ministry in Paris said. – Bloomberg

The most important issue for predicting whether the US’s upped-economic pressure campaign on Iran will work is probably knowing whether the US and China are about to strike a major deal ending their trade war.If they cut a deal in the coming weeks, the US’ removal of waivers for sanctions against countries who buy Iranian oil could really bring the Islamic Republic’s oil experts to close to zero and force Tehran to cut a new deal. – Jerusalem Post

Eli Lake writes: For now, however, Iran’s leaders appear to be waiting out the Trump administration with the hope that the next president will be a Democrat. After all, three leading candidates have pledged to re-enter the nuclear bargain if elected. Iran might therefore decide just to endure the economic pain inflicted by escalating sanctions on oil and other industries for another 21 months. This is why it’s unlikely there will be negotiations before 2021. Ironically, the best chance for advocates of a new bargain with Iran to get what they want is if Trump wins re-election. – Bloomberg


The Trump administration has asked at least 21 of its allies to provide troops and other logistical support in Syria to prevent an Islamic State resurgence, but nearly half so far have declined and others have agreed to provide only nominal support, U.S. and foreign officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Syria is experiencing a worsening fuel shortage as a result of Western sanctions, bringing some major cities to a near standstill and causing some of the war’s worst economic circumstances for President Bashar al-Assad’s loyalists. – Wall Street Journal

The Syrian Presidency says its official account on the social media site Instagram has been shut down, calling it an “unjustified” closure that is part of the war against the government of President Bashar Assad. – Associated Press


Just three weeks before Israel’s closely fought election, President Trump gave incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a political boost by recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. Now Netanyahu, who ended up winning, says he wants to repay him: by naming a new settlement there after him. – Washington Post

America’s ambassador to Israel says slow but steady progress is being made toward putting down a permanent U.S. diplomatic footprint in this city in the approach to the first anniversary of President Trump’s historic but divisive move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv. – Washington Times

The Palestinians’ outspoken resistance to U.S. mediation in the Middle East peace process is justified because President Trump broke a promise two years ago to avoid any moves before announcing his blueprint that unfairly favored Israel, according to longtime chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. – Washington Times

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has denied reports that the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist organization is planning for war with Israel this summer, saying that the IDF would not start a military conflict with the group because the Israeli home-front is not prepared. – Jerusalem Post

An Israeli cabinet minister condemned U.S. Democratic Party presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Tuesday for describing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as racist over its treatment of Palestinians. – Reuters

President Donald Trump’s long-delayed proposal to break a deadlock in finding a resolution to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is to be unveiled after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends in June, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The IDF early Wednesday morning, together with the Border Police and the Civil Administration, demolished the home of the terrorist who carried out a shooting attack near Ariel, killing a solider and a father of 12, according to the IDF Spokesperson. – Jerusalem Post

In a clear indication that the Trump administration’s peace plan will depart from the two-state solution as a framework for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian accord, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said on Tuesday peace efforts by previous administrations had “failed” and that the new proposal would be different. – Times of Israel

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

Michael Rubin writes: China’s reticence to treat Israel as normal is not a problem. Israel’s willingness to pretend that its bilateral ties do not impact broader Western security, however, is a problem. […]Simply put, if the United States was ever to fight a major war, it would likely be with China. That Israeli officials did not recognize that every Pentagon official and most members of Congress would see the sale as benefiting an army poised to kill Americans displayed tremendous self-deception. – The National Interest

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia said Tuesday it had executed 37 people convicted of terrorism-related offenses, bringing the number of executions there in the first four months of the year to 105, according to the Saudi interior ministry and Reprieve, a human rights group that tracks the use of the death penalty in the kingdom. – Washington Post

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, said he doesn’t dispute the CIA’s conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia was behind the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. – Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia and several of its allies have enough spare capacity to replace any loss in crude supply prompted by tighter U.S. sanctions on Iran, and most of it would be of similar quality, according to consultant Rystad Energy. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Egyptians overwhelmingly voted to extend President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s rule and expand his powers, deepening his hold over the Arab world’s most populous nation, according to results of a snap referendum announced Tuesday. – Washington Post

For an administration not exactly famed for strategic patience and deliberative policymaking, President Trump’s push for an impending Middle East “deal of the century” could be a notable outlier. Trump administration officials have spent the past two years quietly pursuing back-channel communications with wealthy Gulf Arab powers and Palestinian business leaders in preparation for the much-anticipated rollout of a major peace plan aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all. – Washington Times

At least 264 people have been killed and over 1,200 wounded in weeks of fighting on the outskirts of Libya’s capital, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, as African leaders called for an immediate ceasefire. – Agence FrancePresse

Thousands of Algerian students marched Tuesday through the capital calling for the overthrow of the “system” and trials for members of ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s inner circle. – Agence France-Presse

Lebanon is prepared to demarcate its maritime border with Israel under the supervision of the United Nations and with the same mechanism used for the Blue Line. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left Pyongyang on Tuesday for Russia’s Far East for his first summit with Vladi­mir Putin, as the Trump administration watches from the sidelines for any potential cracks in sanctions and other pressures on Kim’s regime. – Washington Post

Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia Wednesday ahead of the North Korean leader’s first-ever talks with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, a meeting designed by both sides to send Washington the message that there are other players when it comes to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. – Washington Post

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia by train on Wednesday, a day before his much-anticipated summit with President Vladimir Putin that comes amid deadlocked diplomacy on his nuclear program. – Associated Press

A former U.S. Marine accused of stealing electronics from the North Korean embassy in Madrid in a robbery of the diplomatic compound was ordered by a federal judge in Los Angeles on Tuesday to remain in U.S. custody pending possible extradition to Spain. – Reuters

North Korea’s economy has struggled because of its isolationist policies, yet the exact extremes of the country’s hardships are unknown, as the nation doesn’t release detailed data. We do know it’s a nation where the average worker takes home less than $2,000 a year, much of the population is undernourished, and citizens pay upwards of $17,000 to defect. Here are nine surprising facts about North Korea’s economy. – Business Insider

For Russian President Vladimir Putin, a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offers a chance to raise Moscow’s clout in the region and gain more leverage with Washington. While Russia’s ability to influence Kim’s position is limited compared to that of China, a dialogue with Kim could allow Putin to emerge as an essential player in the North Korean nuclear standoff. – Associated Press

Patrick M. Cronin writes: The Hanoi Trump-Kim summit provides a clear warning: we have to be prepared to fall back on deterrence and containment. […]There are no guarantees in security. In general, however, the deterrence of war with North Korea and the containment of a North Korean dictatorship determined to flout international law and build weapons of mass destruction is both feasible and less undesirable than some alternatives, including war and appeasement.  – Council on Foreign Relations

Jeeyun Kwon writes: South Korea today is a multicultural society. Yet there remains steadfast opposition by some members of Korean society to accepting refugee applicants from Yemen. There have been strong public calls for these refugees to return to Yemen, despite the ongoing civil war and health crisis there. Notwithstanding various efforts by the Korean government to assuage the concerns of some of its citizens while fulfilling the country’s international commitments, the domestic debate in Korea over Yemeni refugees persists. – Middle East Institute


Orbiting 22,000 miles above Earth, a fleet of American-built satellites is serving the Chinese government in ways that challenge the U.S. Nine of these satellites have been part of efforts to connect Chinese soldiers on contested outposts in the South China Sea, strengthen police forces against social unrest and make sure state messaging penetrates far and wide, according to corporate records, stock filings and interviews with executives. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. authorities have charged an American engineer and a Chinese businessman with economic espionage and conspiring to steal sophisticated turbine designs to benefit the government of China and their personal business interests. – Washington Post

These images stirred speculation about Mr. Xi’s health among politically minded Chinese, foreign diplomats and China watchers, who quietly wondered if the Chinese leader, who turns 66 in June, had an ailment that caused him physical discomfort. Guessing games have played out on overseas Chinese news outlets and social media, where users offered theories from muscle sprains to gout. – Wall Street Journal

Freedom of navigation should not be used to infringe upon the rights of other countries, China’s navy chief Shen Jinlong said on Wednesday, taking a dig at the United States and its allies who have sailed close to disputed South China Sea islets. – Reuters

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will go to Beijing for trade talks beginning April 30, the White House announced Tuesday. – The Hill

China showed off a new naval weapon, the first of a new generation of hard-hitting destroyers, at a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy on Tuesday. – Business Insider

Tom Rogan writes: Thanks to his investments, China now retains ships and submarines that can operate far away from Chinese waters. […]All of this serves a clear strategic objective: establishing the military architecture to serve Xi’s mercantile empire. That is to say, establishing the architecture to displace and defeat U.S. efforts to defend our order against China’s aggression.We must get more serious about China’s growing threat. The U.S. Navy continues to overemphasize aircraft carriers as the linchpin of its naval-air battle doctrine. And the U.S. military command responsible for China-related operations continues to lack the tools it needs to win. President Trump should urgently remedy these issues. If not, he may preside over China’s global hegemony. – Washington Examiner

Eli Lake writes: And yet Guterres is acting as if it’s business as usual with China. This week he will travel to Beijing to attend a forum to promote China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, an ambitious plan where China provides often-predatory loans to other countries to build ports, railways and other transportation infrastructure. [..]Such equivocation from the UN Secretary General is provocative. His hosts in Beijing must be delighted, as they proceed with their ethnic and religious cleansing in the western provinces, that he has accepted their invitation to celebrate their Belt and Road initiative. – Bloomberg

South Asia

The forces of the Islamic State may no longer control a swath of territory across Iraq and Syria, but the coordinated attacks in Sri Lanka demonstrated that the resilient group can still sow carnage beyond the borders of its former “caliphate.” – Washington Post

Days after a series of explosions at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that appeared to target Christians and foreigners and left more than 300 people dead, some details of who was behind the attacks and their motives are beginning to come out. […]But big, unanswered questions remain about how the attacks were possible and what links exist between the Islamic State and local extremists, if any. Here, we try to break these questions down. – Washington Post

The suicide bombers who carried out Sunday’s coordinated Easter attacks in Sri Lanka were inspired by Islamic State and may have received funding from the group, State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said in a news conference Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

Senior officials deliberately withheld intelligence about possible attacks on Sri Lanka, where a rash of suicide bombings on Easter Sunday killed at least 359 people, the leader of parliament said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The death toll from the Easter suicide bombings in Sri Lanka rose to 359, police said Wednesday, as the country’s leaders vowed to overhaul the security apparatus amid a series of intelligence lapses before the attacks. – Associated Press

Three days after the bombings of churches and luxury hotels that killed over 300 people in Sri Lanka, Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the atrocity. The claim was not unexpected. The bombings… had all the hallmarks of an Isis attack. […]But extremists like these would have needed significant assistance to put together such a complex operation. – The Guardian

Sadanand Dhume writes: For the region more broadly — especially for India and Bangladesh — the Sri Lanka attacks come as a warning. Islamic State may have lost its caliphate, but it has not lost its capacity to exploit local divisions and launch massive terrorist attacks aimed at capturing global attention. – American Enterprise Institute


Myanmar’s highest court ruled against two Reuters reporters on Tuesday, upholding their conviction for violating a state secrets law after they uncovered a military massacre. – New York Times

A Hong Kong court has sentenced democracy activists to prison terms of up to 16 months for their roles in demonstrations that led to a 79-day occupation of major roads in 2014. – New York Times

Afghan and international forces have killed more civilians in the war with the Taliban and other militants in the first three months of this year — the first time deaths caused by government forces and their allies have exceeded those of their enemies, a new U.N. report said Wednesday. – Associated Press


The British government is considering giving lawmakers a vote on a critical piece of Brexit legislation as early as next week, a change of tack as it tries to kick-start the country’s stuttering exit from the European Union. – Wall Street Journal

Amid widespread condemnation and anger at the killing of a journalist in Northern Ireland last week, a paramilitary group calling itself the New Irish Republican Army took the unusual step on Tuesday of admitting responsibility for the act and offering its “full and sincere” apologies to her partner, family and friends. – New York Times

Britain plans to welcome President Trump with the formality of a state visit in June, Buckingham Palace announced on Tuesday, two and a half years after first extending the invitation. – New York Times

It’s difficult to see what’s not anti-Semitic about the tradition that was filmed in the Polish town of Pruchnik over Easter. […]With anti-Semitic attacks on the rise across Europe, there was widespread condemnation this week over the “revival” of a tradition to which Jewish organizations reacted with “disgust and outrage.” The Polish Catholic Church soon joined the chorus of critics, alongside the Polish interior minister, who called the incident “idiotic.” – Washington Post

The Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the Bundestag submitted a bill in the second week of April to outlaw government support for the anti-Israel BDS campaign. – Jerusalem Post

The Jewish Community Council of Northern London is complaining about an increase in crime in the community targeted against Jews. – Jerusalem Post

Labour MP Grahame Morris apologized on Tuesday for tweeting a video the day before of what he claimed was the Israeli army “caught on camera beating up Palestinian children for the fun of it.” The IDF responded that the video was not of IDF soldiers, but a 2015 report from Vice News about Guatemalan soldiers beating civilians. – Jerusalem Post

Tom Rogan writes: It is welcome news that President Trump has accepted British Prime Minister Theresa May’s invitation, via Queen Elizabeth II, to host him for a state visit in early June. […]Still, there is little objective question that this visit is good news. The underpinnings of the special relationship are sustaining; involving intelligence cooperation, the military alliance, diplomatic coordination, and trade. Yet, presidents and prime ministers must be seen to celebrate that partnership. They must do so proudly and overtly. If not, the alliance’s moral importance might be lost on observers. If not, other actors will seek opportunity in the gaps. – Washington Examiner


Hundreds of protesters arrived on a packed train in Khartoum Tuesday to join a weeks-long sit-in outside army headquarters, as a top US official reiterated Washington’s backing for demands the country’s military council hand power to a civilian government. – Agence FrancePresse

African leaders at an emergency summit in Cairo urged Sudan’s military rulers on Tuesday to implement a democratic transition within three months, the Egyptian presidency said. – Agence FrancePresse

Al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali claimed responsibility on Tuesday for an attack on a military base that killed at least 11 soldiers, saying it was revenge for the massacre of some 160 Fulani civilians last month, the SITE Intelligence Group said. – Reuters

South Sudanese rebels warned the nation could plunge again into all-out civil war if there isn’t a six-month delay to properly prepare a power-sharing government that seeks to end one of Africa’s worst conflicts. – Bloomberg

A Chabad rabbi and his wife were violently assaulted during a home invasion at a Chabad House in Nairobi, Kenya before dawn early Wednesday morning. – Arutz Sheva

Emmanuel Balogun and Anna Kapambwe Mwaba write: Citizens have continued to call for an immediate civilian government — a request that the military council denied Sunday. In response, the AU Peace and Security Council released a communique stating unequivocally that Bashir’s overthrow qualifies as an unconstitutional change in government and demanding that the Sudanese military hand over power to civilians within 15 days or else it will be suspended from the AU. But will it? Given the AU’s past inconsistency, it remains unclear whether the union will leverage its capacity and mandate to offer strong support for the will of Sudanese citizens. – Washington Post

Sarah Feuer writes: The administration’s impulse to streamline peacekeeping missions and make them more effective is understandable, but conditioning MINURSO’s renewal on elusive political progress could precipitate just the sort of military confrontation the force was created to deter. Limiting MINURSO’s peacekeeping abilities would heighten the sense of insecurity in Morocco, the Polisario, or both, raising the likelihood they would resort to military action. And given North Africa’s current volatility, any escalation in Western Sahara could plunge the region into greater instability. To avoid this outcome and preserve the momentum of recent talks, Washington should endorse MINURSO’s renewal in the upcoming vote and take other confidence-building steps. – Washington Institute

Karen E. Young writes: Developing countries from Africa to the Middle East to Asia now have some interesting choices in development finance partners. Where the money comes from matters. […]Sudan’s windfall today will be tomorrow’s institutional challenge, to build open and rule-based markets that create jobs and provide food for its citizens. – American Enterprise Institute

The Americas

Mexico’s government has started detaining migrants marching in a caravan toward the U.S.-Mexico border, marking a policy shift as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador faces rising pressure from the Trump administration to stem the flow of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó — the two men who are claiming the presidency back home in their troubled South American nation — are now engaged in a full-blown global power struggle to control Venezuela’s diplomatic posts. From Washington to Berlin, Vienna to Panama City, their competing bids for legitimacy have set up an international tug of war between rival diplomatic corps claiming to be the rightful possessors of Venezuela’s foreign embassies, consulates, accreditation and access. – Washington Post

The House on Tuesday evening asked a federal judge to block President Trump’s plan to use Defense Department funds to build his long-promised wall along the southern border. – The Hill


Concerned about the potential for cyberespionage or even sabotage, the United States last month took the extraordinary step of telling the German government not to include the Chinese firm Huawei in its plans to roll out the next generation of Internet technology. If Germany ignores the advice, officials have warned, U.S. intelligence sharing could be at stake. – Washington Post

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Wednesday that she and French President Emmanuel Macron will host a meeting in Paris next month seeking to eliminate acts of violent extremism and terrorism from being shown online. Ardern said she and Macron will ask world leaders and chief executives of technology companies to agree to a pledge called the “Christchurch Call,” named after the New Zealand city where an attack took place last month. – Associated Press

Britain will block China’s Huawei Technologies from all core parts of the 5G network and access to non-core parts will be restricted, a security source said. – Reuters

The heads of the international “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agencies from the U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand will join the U.K. at a summit in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss ways to combat cyber-crime and terrorism, as the host nation mulls a partial or total ban on telecoms giant Huawei Technologies Co. over national security concerns. – Bloomberg

Joshua Tucker writes: In the aftermath of Sunday’s violent terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan government shut down access to social media sites as the investigation into the bombings proceeded. […]As stories proliferate about the links between misinformation on social media and violence, the temptation for policymakers to seek quick fixes in moments of crisis will undoubtedly grow, as well. That does not, however, mean that banning access to social media at these moments will reduce the risk of violence. – Washington Post

Bill Greenwalt writes: As U.S. technological dominance diminishes and the threat from China and Russia grows stronger, a true allied partnership will need to be formed — one that comes with fewer U.S.-mandated controls in order to incentivize greater defense-industrial collaboration. The establishment of such a partnership should not be not based on some muddle-headed call for cooperation for cooperation’s sake, but because it is in the United States’ national security interest to do so. – Defense News


The U.S. Army will rapidly develop and refine concepts for air-launched unmanned aircraft through a series of demonstrations over the next several years with plans for quick integration into formations, the head of the Army’s Aviation Development Directorate told Defense News. – Defense News

A former Pentagon acquisitions official has recommended to Congress a series of legal and regulatory changes to ease defense-industrial cooperation between America and its closest allies, including a stronger waiver for U.S. defense-export controls. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy is updating its protocols for pilots and other officials to report sightings of “unidentified aircraft.” – The Hill

The Marine Corps is learning how to incorporate its new F-35B Joint Strike Fighter jets into its island-hopping concept of Expeditionary Advance Base Operations, with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit rehearsing this concept recently in the Pacific. – USNI News

VT Halter Marine Inc. has been awarded a $745M detailed design and construction contract for the Coast Guard’s next-generation heavy icebreaker, according to a Tuesday Pentagon contract announcement. According to the announcement, the first-in-class ship will be built at the company’s Pascagoula, Miss. shipyard and is scheduled to deliver in 2024. – USNI News

Lockheed Martin is working through $2.5 billion in military contracts to develop a variety of hypersonic weapons in a bid to catch up with developments from China and Russia, company chief executive Marillyn Hewson said during a Tuesday earnings calls. The Pentagon has made moves to accelerate the development of hypersonic weapons in its latest guiding documents, and that has driven investment from the company, Hewson said. – USNI News

US Army soldiers will soon be deploying with game-changing new night vision goggles as the service wraps up the final round of testing this week. – Business Insider

Long War

Ten women repatriated to Kosovo from Syria at the weekend have been placed under house arrest on charges of participating in terrorist groups, a court said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney on Tuesday demanded justice for victims of an “epidemic of sexual violence” in conflicts, especially rapes and other abuses perpetrated by Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria. – Associated Press

David Ignatius writes: One disturbing aspect of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka was that the slaughter of 321 victims came at a time when the United States is suffering what might be described as terrorism fatigue. The wars against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are part of a painful past that policymakers and the public want to escape.  […]But the networks of violent extremists are still there, stretching to places most of us probably hadn’t even imagined, like Sri Lanka. – Washington Post

Trump Administration

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner played down the scale and impact of Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election and said the investigations into those efforts were more harmful to the country than the interference itself. – Wall Street Journal

As fallout from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report continues to unwind, Democrats are divided about how to respond, with some progressive House members and at least three 2020 candidates calling for President Donald Trump’s impeachment and others adopting a wait-and-see approach. – PBS

House Democrats have zeroed in on former White House counsel Don McGahn, a witness whose testimony could antagonize President Trump, as they adopt an aggressive posture in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. – The Hill

In an exclusive interview with The Washington Post, Trump said complying with further investigations was not necessary after the White House cooperated with Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice by Trump. – The Hill