Fdd's overnight brief

April 25, 2019

In The News


Iran’s foreign minister said Iran would continue to sell its oil despite expanded U.S. sanctions, and warned of unspecified consequences if the U.S. tried to block oil sales that go through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping channel. – Wall Street Journal

Asian companies that had provided a lifeline to Iran after the U.S. reimposed sanctions last year are pulling back, hurting the hobbled Iranian economy and leaving the Islamic Republic with less incentive to stay committed to a multination nuclear deal, Western diplomats say. The companies are reacting to the Trump administration’s moves this month to squeeze Iran’s oil exports and impose a terror designation on its paramilitary force. – Wall Street Journal

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be released from jail as part of a prisoner swap, Iran’s foreign minister has suggested. – Sky News (UK)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif does not believe U.S. President Donald Trump wants war with Iran, but he told Reuters on Wednesday that Trump could be lured into a conflict. – Reuters

Russia’s Foreign Ministry slammed America’s latest policy on Iran in a statement issued online Tuesday and reported by state news agency Tass. – Newsweek

Afghans have long sought better lives in other countries and a lack of jobs in Iran could also boost numbers trying to head further west to Europe. The latest drop in remittances from Iran is already having an impact on the economies of the Afghan provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor, an IOM report said in January. – Reuters

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 France-Presse

The Trump administration on Wednesday granted important exemptions to new sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, watering down the effects of the measures while also eliminating an aspect that would have complicated U.S. foreign policy efforts. – Associated Press

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blasted a group of four individuals looking to push their countries toward war with Iran. […]The hypothetical grouping included White House national security adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.- Newsweek

Editorial: If there’s one thing the huge (and growing) field of Democratic presidential aspirants largely agrees on, it’s that the U.S. ought to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. This week, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke became the latest to join the chorus. Unfortunately, going down this path would be a big mistake — and a missed opportunity. – Bloomberg


Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency may have tried to smuggle the body of legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen out of Syria some 40 years ago, according to a recording made by Cohen’s brother Maurice and discovered by Channel 12 news. – Times of Israel

Israel is a country facing multiple threats, but recently security forces have begun to concentrate on the possibility of terror attacks and other forms of violence against Israeli diplomats and officials overseas. – Algemeiner

Several leading Irish pro-Israel groups and leaders have signed an open letter condemning attempts by BDS groups and Irish LGBTQ activists to pressure the country’s Eurovision song contest contestant, Sarah McTernan, to boycott this year’s competition finals in Israel, which the signees accused of “pinkwashing.” – Los Angeles Times

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) unveiled on 15 April its OPAL network system for interconnectivity and data sharing, which company sources told Jane’s is already in service with several air forces. – IHS Jane’s

Ehud Yaari writes: If the Trump administration goes forward with its stated intention of presenting peace parameters this summer, the Palestinian political landscape could change substantially. Hamas will say no to Trump, secure behind Israeli ceasefire understandings, international economic assistance, and a likely boost to its prestige in Gaza. The PA is bound to say no as well, but from a position of weakness, isolation, and strained relations with Israel. This contrast would give Hamas room to accelerate its infiltration of the West Bank. For its part, Israel will likely let Washington absorb the negative Palestinian responses before issuing one of its own. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Turkey’s purchase of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is in jeopardy due to its order of a Russian air defense system, but Lockheed executives on Tuesday appeared unruffled by the dispute. – Defense News

Eastern Libya commander Khalifa Haftar has thrown much of his military forces into attacking Tripoli, but the outcome of the offensive could be determined by a separate battle — to keep open the parallel finance system that funds his soldiers. – Reuters

The United Nations refugee agency evacuated 325 African refugees on Wednesday from Qasr Ben Gashir detention centre in southern Tripoli because of deteriorating security and escalating violence.The refugees – mainly Eritrean, Sudanese and Nigerian – were taken to a detention centre in Zawiya, a town west of the Libyan capital, where they were at “reduced risk”, the UNHCR said in a statement. – Reuters

Returning from a visit to Moscow on 10 April, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems as “a done deal”, adding that their delivery could even take place ahead of schedule, in June rather than July. This follows the conclusion of a USD2.5-billion deal with Russia in December 2017 for the purchase of one S-400 battery, with an option for a second. – IHS Jane’s

Osama al Sharif writes: Jordan’s King Abdullah is mobilizing his people ahead of the expected June unveiling of President Donald Trump’s much touted Middle East peace plan. Since returning from a working visit to Washington in March, King Abdullah has been unusually vociferous in his defense of his position on the fate of East Jerusalem, especially the Hashemite custodianship of the Muslim and Christian holy places in the Old City, and his rejection of any plan that would undermine Jordan’s stability. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

Two months after a failed summit meeting with President Trump, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, met on Thursday with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, as Mr. Kim tries to rally international support for an approach to sanctions relief and gradual nuclear disarmament that the Trump administration opposes. – New York Times

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin for economic relief Thursday in talks meant to revive old ties between Moscow and Pyongyang and boost pressure on the Trump administration to soften its stance in negotiations over the reclusive state’s denuclearization. – Wall Street Journal

A summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin ended with a joint pledge to forge closer ties, but no public promise from Moscow of economic assistance to mitigate the pressure of sanctions. – Wall Street Journal

Pyongyang is growing bolder in its sanctions evasion in part because many countries — and their banks, insurers and commodities traders — have long failed to properly enforce the measures, North Korea experts said. And some sanctions specialists worry that mixed signals from the Trump administration may further undermine global enforcement. – Washington Post

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un say they have had fruitful talks about how to defuse a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. – Associated Press

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin gives an intriguing twist to the global diplomatic push to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea, which appeared to hit a wall after a summit between Kim and President Donald Trump collapsed in February. – Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that U.S. talks with North Korea would be “bumpy,” but expressed hope there would be several more chances to discuss how to move forward to the country’s denuclearization. – Reuters


Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has vastly expanded domestic surveillance, fueling a new generation of companies that make sophisticated technology at ever lower prices. A global infrastructure initiative is spreading that technology even further. […]Ecuador shows how technology built for China’s political system is now being applied — and sometimes abused — by other governments. – New York Times

Peru will sign a memorandum of understanding to join China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative in coming days, China’s ambassador said on Wednesday, despite recent warnings from the United States about the Beijing’s rise in Latin America. – Reuters

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) celebrated its 70th anniversary on Tuesday, with President Xi Jinping overseeing an elaborate naval parade that included Beijing’s newest guided missile destroyer. But as China once again displayed its growing military clout, the U.S. was nowhere to be seen. […]And for Chinese state media, the slight was evidence that leaders in Washington are becoming a little too sensitive. – Newsweek

The US Army Futures Command has defined China as its long-term pacing threat, the country with which the US Army must prepare to compete in the coming decades. The task is considerable for the well-armoured US Army, but for the US Marine Corps (USMC), China’s reliance on a family of heavily armed amphibious vehicles presents a significant challenge. – IHS Jane’s

Joseph Bosco writes: The new cold war with China is on. This week, China will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) by flaunting its naval might in a parade of ships off the port of Qingdao to impress and intimidate countries from the region and around the world. – The Hill


For the first time since the United Nations began documenting civilian casualties in Afghanistan a decade ago, more civilians are being killed by Afghan government and American forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents, according to a report on Wednesday. – New York Times

Afghan Taliban insurgents are battling fighters loyal to Islamic State over control of territory in eastern Afghanistan in some of the heaviest clashes over the past year between the rival militants, officials said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Russia, the United States and China will this week try to press Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents to hold talks with Afghan politicians and civilians, an important step in a process aimed at ending the Afghan war. – Reuters

Veterans and military families overwhelmingly support plans to fully withdraw troops from Afghanistan and similarly favor a complete U.S. military pullout from Syria, according to a new poll from a conservative activist group released Wednesday. – Military Times

South Asia

But on Wednesday the narrative of Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, one of Sri Lanka’s wealthiest spice traders, was ripped apart. Officials revealed he was in custody in connection with the devastating suicide attacks on Easter Sunday that killed more than 350 people. – New York Times

A day after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that killed more than 350 people, Muslims in some areas of Sri Lanka were facing a rising backlash. – New York Times

Security forces now stand at every corner, making searches and deploying other measures that were rare even during those days of bloodshed, residents say. As the government warns that some bombers — members of a local militant group whom the Islamic State has described as its “fighters” — might still be unaccounted for, families are concerned about their every move. A curfew has been imposed. – New York Times

Nine suicide bombers from mostly educated, middle-class backgrounds carried out the attacks in Sri Lanka that killed more than 350 people on Easter Sunday, the authorities said on Wednesday as they warned of an ongoing terrorist threat and continued making arrests. – New York Times

As evidence emerges that Islamist militant groups planned and carried out the Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 350 people in Sri Lanka, the country’s nervous Muslim communities are scrambling to show they share the nation’s shock and grief. – Washington Post

Authorities are starting to piece together profiles of the Easter bombing perpetrators, a group of well-off Sri Lankans police say includes two sons of a merchant family and a woman who detonated a bomb that killed herself and two of her children along with three police officers closing in on them. – Wall Street Journal

Sri Lanka banned drones and unmanned aircraft and set off more controlled detonations of suspicious items Thursday four days after suicide bombing attacks killed more than 350 people in and around the capital of Colombo. – Associated Press

As mourners buried the remains of Christian worshippers killed by the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, hundreds of Muslim refugees fled Negombo on the country’s west coast where communal tensions have flared in recent days. – Reuters

Sri Lanka’s president shook up the country’s top security establishment after officials failed to act on intelligence reports warning of possible attacks before the Easter bombings that killed over 350 people, his office said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Attacks against mosques, shrines and followers of Sufi sheikhs in Sri Lanka more than a decade ago point to early warning signs of fundamentalism taking root among a sliver of the country’s Muslims. – Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a television interview on Wednesday there was “every indication” that Sunday’s bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that killed 359 people were inspired by Islamic State. – Reuters

Sri Lanka deployed thousands of additional troops countrywide overnight to help police hunt for suspects in the Easter Sunday suicide blasts that killed nearly 360 people, a spokesman said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

One of the suicide bombers behind the Sri Lanka suicide attacks was former UK student Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed, according to security sources. – Sky News (UK)

Adam Taylor writes: From some angles, the terrorist attacks that devastated Sri Lanka on Sunday look vastly different from the one that took place in New Zealand last month. Still, some see connections between these events — Sri Lankan officials suggested the bombings on Easter Sunday may have been in retaliation to last month’s attack in Christchurch. Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said the Christchurch attack had some positive effects for Islamic communities. “The New Zealand attack opened the eyes of the world to the crisis the Muslims are facing,” – Washington Post

Siobhan O Grady writes: In large-scale studies of terrorist perpetrators, suicide bombers often come across as “awfully normal,” said Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago who researches extremism. “Your average suicide attacker is typically above-average-educated compared to the local society.” – Washington Post  

Emily Tamkin writes: The Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka stunned many, and not only because they marked the worst violence in the country in a decade. Or because the terrorists targeted Christians and foreign tourists, two groups that, for the most part, were spared during Sri Lanka’s three decades of civil war. Or because the attacks were coordinated, with explosives going off in three cities. – Washington Post

Jessica Trisko Darden writes: Women’s participation in terrorism should be expected, but it may not take predictable forms. The likelihood that women will participate in terrorist acts is higher in environments where women have historically been involved in armed conflict. This is true irrespective of the ideological orientation of a particular terrorist group. – American Enterprise Institute  

James Stavridis writes: The attacks were probably inspired, encouraged and possibly assisted by the so-called Islamic State, and — on a population adjusted basis — amounted to a 9/11 level attack on a multicultural and multireligious state, killing more than 320 people thus far across nine sites with hundreds more wounded. Welcome to Terrorism 3.0. A way to think about the evolution of global terrorism is a bit like new computer software releases — improving over the decades. – Bloomberg


President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia signed a decree on Wednesday simplifying the citizenship process for people in separatist-held regions of Ukraine, issuing a challenge to Ukraine’s president-elect that threatens to intensify the five-year war in the country’s east. – New York Times

Be careful what you write online in Russia: A judge might not wash your mouth out with soap, but a fine is now a possibility. A Russian court this week for the first time applied a law forbidding the use of obscenities to describe public officials, state symbols or government bodies. – New York Times

Russia’s leading defense officials have warned of growing conflict around the world and argued that the United States was the source of deteriorating global security. – Newsweek

Russia has launched its first submarine designed to launch the new Poseidon nuclear armed unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk. – IHS Jane’s

Tom Rogan writes: In a new challenge to Ukraine on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin offered Russian passports to residents of eastern Ukraine. Putin did so in order to consolidate his control over Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces (they call provinces “oblasts”) and give Russia a pretext to escalate against Kiev should it desire. Putin’s timing here is not surprising. […] While President Trump has done more than President Barack Obama in resisting Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, this latest act should meet tightened U.S. sanctions on Moscow. – Washington Examiner


The head of the Scottish government called for another referendum on secession from the U.K. within two years if Brexit goes ahead, saying independence would allow Scotland to keep its place in the European Union. – Wall Street Journal

When Volodymyr Zelensky, the Jewish comedian recently elected the president of Ukraine, announced that he was running, the chief rabbi for the eastern Ukrainian region where Mr. Zelensky grew up was shocked by the hostile reaction. – New York Times

President Trump’s trade war was supposed to make Europeans feel so much pain they would beg for mercy at the negotiating table. But it’s not working very well, according to a new study by the European Central Bank. – New York Times

Theresa May is preparing for her next Brexit battle, with a plan to give MPs a vote on the key piece of legislation to take the UK out of the European Union as early as next week. – Sky News (UK)

A contract for the construction of five new F-110 frigates for the Spanish Navy was signed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and state-owned shipbuilder Navantia on 23 April. – IHS Jane’s

Ukraine has completed one of the final trials of its Neptune land-based cruise missile, designed for coastal defence, and plans to soon field it to Ukraine’s naval and land forces, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced in April. – IHS Jane’s


Amid the chants praising the “revolution of the people,” a new slogan appeared this week at a massive sit-in protest in Sudan’s capital: “We do not want Saudi aid even if we have to eat beans and falafel!” But many within the protests fear that the powerful monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE are using their immense wealth to suppress democracy and support a “counterrevolution,” as they have been accused of doing elsewhere in the region. – Washington Post

Three members of Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council have resigned, but their resignations are yet to be accepted, the TMC said late on Wednesday. Lieutenant-General Omar Zain al-Abideen who heads the TMC’s political committee was one of the resigning members, the TMC said in a statement. The two others were Lieutenant-General Jalal al-Deen al-Sheikh and Lieutenant-General Al-Tayeb Babakr Ali Fadeel. – Reuters

Noah Smith writes: African industrialization has to be among the most important things happening in the world right now. The vast continent, with more than 1.2 billion people, is home to an increasing fraction of the human beings who are still mired in extreme poverty: […] But late doesn’t mean never. Rising labor costs in China, and the threat of U.S. tariffs, are finally causing manufacturers to diversify their supply chains. Some of their factories will go to Vietnam and Bangladesh, two rising stars of the developing world. But those countries won’t be big enough to replace China, which means that if manufacturers really want to keep costs down, many will have to look to Africa. – Bloomberg

United States

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  

Federal officials are scrutinizing the U.S. government’s Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty news service, established to promote democratic values abroad, after complaints it has distributed foreign propaganda favorable to authoritarian regimes in Central Asia, according to the network, its employees and an internal State Department memo. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump said Wednesday the US is sending armed soldiers to the southern border after Mexican soldiers recently “pulled guns” on US troops, escalating his war of words with Mexico on immigration. – Agence France-Presse

Melissa Dalton, Hijab Shah, Tommy Ross, and Asya Akca write: The United States increasingly relies on allies and partners to accomplish shared security objectives around the globe. In recent years, a greater emphasis has been placed from burden sharing to burden shifting—enabling allies and partners to assume responsibility for their own security challenges through security sector assistance. Amid reforms being undertaken by the U.S. government to adapt security sector assistance policy and processes, greater clarity is needed on how to connect policy goals of oversight and accountability to planning, operations, doctrine, and training across the security assistance enterprise. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Clay R. Fuller writes: Too often, agenda-driven politicos in both the United States and Europe have substituted rhetorical fealty to creaking international institutions when new thinking is imperative. Whether it is the WTO that the People’s Republic of China has bent to its will, or the NAFTA that has failed to keep up with modern trade, or the United Nations that can no more make peace than regulate itself, or the NATO some of whose members no longer remain committed to either financing or believing in the organization’s mission, it is time for a radical refresh of the free world’s structures and mission. – American Enterprise Institute


Amnesty International’s Hong Kong office has been hit by a years-long cyberattack from hackers with known links to the Chinese government, the rights group said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

James Andrew Lewis writes: The question is whether a partial ban on Huawei to keep it out of sensitive areas and the telecom core will work to reduce risk. The only answer is “not proven.” Both core and edge functions will become more important as 5G enables many more things than your phone—self-driving cars, telemedicine, smart cities, and the likes—and letting Huawei in, even at the edge, could provide China with opportunities for mischief. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Carrie Cordero writes: The policy debate about how technology companies collect, retain, handle, share, and sell user data and provide access to users should be broader than privacy considerations; it should also take into account the national security implications of protecting data collected by the private sector. In other words, privacy legislation directed at 21st-century technology platforms and internet companies is not just about privacy; it is also important to address modern-day national security threats. – Center for a New American Security


The National Security Agency has recommended that the White House abandon a surveillance program that collects information about U.S. phone calls and text messages, saying the logistical and legal burdens of keeping it outweigh its intelligence benefits, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal

Foreign adversaries are “quite successfully taking our stuff,” one of the Defense Department’s top counterintelligence officials acknowledged Wednesday. “Are we winning in this challenge, in this competition for technological advantage?” William Stephens, the director of counterintelligence at the Pentagon’s Defense Security Service, said. “It’s not a very American thing to do to say that we’re not. It’s certainly not to say that we’re losing. But the challenge is clear. Our losses are quite profound.” – Washington Examiner

With the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter dominating defense markets in the United States, United Kingdom, and several other NATO nations, aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin is looking abroad for buyers of its older F-16 Fighting Falcon. – Washington Examiner

General Dynamics’ Electric Boat shipyard is nearly done with the detail design of the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, the company CEO said today. – USNI News

The Japan-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is already considering how next year’s arrival of new amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) will affect operations in the forward-deployed amphibious force. – USNI News

The US Army on 23 April awarded contracts to five contractor teams for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft-Competitive Prototype (FARA-CP) programme, according to a service statement. – IHS Jane’s

At a time when the US Army is moving out with plans to field the next-generation of ground combat vehicles and helicopters, it is also examining what will be required of the network to support these weapons systems. – IHS Jane’s

Long War

New Zealand’s prime minister said on Wednesday that she would meet with French leaders next month in hopes of forging an agreement between governments and technology companies aimed at eliminating violent extremist content on the internet. – New York Times

Turkish authorities have arrested a suspected Islamic State member they believe was planning to attack a World War One commemoration at Gallipoli attended by hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders, police said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Australia’s prime minister on Thursday played down any potential link between the arrest of a suspected Islamic State group member in Turkey and a World War I battle commemoration attended by hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders at the Gallipoli peninsula. – Associated Press

When Ahmed Khalil ran out of work as a van driver in the Iraqi city of Mosul three years ago, he signed up with the Islamic State group’s police force, believing the salary would help keep his struggling family afloat. […]In Mosul and elsewhere across Iraq, thousands of families — including Khalil’s widow and children — face crushing discrimination because their male relatives were seen as affiliated with or supporting IS when the extremists held large swaths of the country. – Associated Press

On 23 April 2019, in Makhachkala, Dagestan, and Grozny, Chechnya, the Russian Federal Security Service (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, FSB) detained five alleged members of the Islamic State, who were allegedly planning terrorist attacks against law enforcement assets, and seized arms, ammunition, and improvised explosive device (IED) components. – IHS Jane’s