Fdd's overnight brief

April 3, 2019

In The News


Three of eight importers granted waivers by Washington to buy oil from Iran have now cut their shipments to zero, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, adding that improved global oil market conditions would help reduce Iranian crude exports further. – Reuters

Britain, France and Germany accused Iran of developing missile technology in contravention of a UN resolution, and called for a full UN report on recent activities, according to a letter released Tuesday. – Agence France Presse  

Hezbollah has built a new missile factory in Beirut with the help of Iran, a Channel 13 report revealed on Monday night. Israeli intelligence reportedly shared the new information with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who warned Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri of the secret facility on his state visit to Lebanon in March and expressed his concern about the threat the terrorist organization poses to the country. – Jerusalem Post  

Sky News reports Iran committed a wave of cyber attacks targeting key parts of Britain’s national infrastructure in a major assault last December. – Arutz Sheva


A humanitarian crisis is erupting in northeastern Syria as tens of thousands of people who fled intense fighting in last month’s decisive battle against the Islamic State are flooding into a desperately overcrowded tent camp atop a rocky hill here. More than 73,000 people, mostly women and children, are now packed into the sprawling al-Hol camp, under the control of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces. – Washington Post  

A US-backed force said Tuesday it was chasing Islamic State group jihadists in eastern Syria, as coalition warplanes pound the militants more than a week after their “caliphate” was declared defeated. The Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by warplanes of a US-led coalition, dislodged IS fighters from their last redoubt in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border on March 23, following a months-long offensive. – Agence France-Presse

With the ISIS caliphate all but defeated and routed out of Syria, strongman Bashar Assad is using all means necessary to re-consolidate control over his war-ravaged country, targeting civilian infrastructure within rebel-held territory. – Fox News  


The Turkish ruling party’s apparent loss of the country’s two biggest cities risks disrupting its well-honed system of political patronage and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ability to fix an ailing economy. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. general nominated to lead American forces in Europe said Tuesday that if Turkey buys the Russian S-400 air defense system, it “should not get” the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from the United States. – Defense News

Editorial: The danger is that Mr. Erdoğan will respond with more harassment of opponents and destructive economic policies like interfering with the central bank. The AKP now says it will challenge the results in Istanbul and Ankara. The opposition is rightly suspicious, given Mr. Erdoğan’s crackdown on the free press and political opposition. It’s encouraging to see signs of life from Turkey’s often lackluster opposition, and the West should call Mr. Erdoğan out if he refuses to accept this democratic result. – Wall Street Journal

Eli Lake writes: Turkey’s elections on Sunday were a political earthquake for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist coalition. His party lost control of Ankara and Istanbul, where Erdogan was mayor from 1994 to 1998. Kurdish nationalists won contests in eight provinces despite a government campaign of state intimidation and persecution. […]It’s unsurprising, then, that Erdogan’s AK Party has challenged the results of elections in Ankara and Istanbul, asking for a recount. In a functioning democracy, this maneuver might be considered normal. In Turkey, it’s a sign of something more ominous. – Bloomberg  

Tom Rogan writes: The U.S. must only allow F-35 exports to the most reliable allies. Yes, the F-35 has had its growing pains. But the jet now stands as the world’s most versatile strike jet and the world’s second finest air superiority jet overall. Erdogan thought he could have his Russian cake and eat American, too. The U.S. is right to educate him of his error. – Washington Examiner  

Elizabeth Teoman writes: Erdogan uses the semblance of democratic legitimacy provided by contested elections to obfuscate the increasingly authoritarian nature of his control over the Government of Turkey. Erdogan has lauded past elections as global “lessons in democracy” despite mounting concerns from election and human rights monitors.[4] Turkey also will not currently hold new elections until 2023. – Institute for the Study of War

Benny Avni writes: The question for America and its allies: Provided he accepts the ­results, will the shellacking force Erdogan to reassess his dreams of restoring Turkey’s lost Ottoman glory, with himself reigning as sultan? And will he rethink his ever-growing ties with ultra-nationalists at home and anti-Western forces in the region? […]For now, the would-be sultan seems more likely to tighten alliances with fellow anti-Western dictators. – New York Post


Israel’s national election is becoming particularly vicious and personal as campaigning enters its final week, highlighting how the battle for Israel’s premiership remains closely contested. – Wall Street Journal

In a charged election campaign that has been heavy on insults and short on substance, Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians has been notably absent from the discourse. – Associated Press

A terrorist attempted to stab an Israeli driver while stuck in a traffic jam at the Bitot Junction near the village of Huwara, located south of Nablus in the West Bank on Wednesday morning. – Jerusalem Post  

“You will see your sons only if you accept the terms of the Resistance,” read a Hamas-attributed post released on Tuesday threatening the families of IDF Lt. Hadar Goldin, St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed. The tweet featured pictures of family members of the four captured Israelis. Later on Tuesday, the Al-Qasam Brigade released a music video on their Twitter titled “A Message from Captivity” targeted towards the families of Israelis captured by Hamas. – Jerusalem Post  

Israel’s envoy to the United Nations on Tuesday hailed the passage of a General Assembly resolution on hate crimes that was amended to include a specific condemnation of antisemitism as “an Israeli achievement at the UN and a crushing loss to the forces of hatred.” – Algemeiner

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Tuesday that his organization has given Israel a series of demands regarding its security prisoners who are set to begin a hunger strike next week. – Ynet  

Despite their claims to have stopped officially encouraging and supporting the armed struggle against Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Fatah movement are in fact persisting in this activity. This is manifested in continued payments to the families of terrorists who have been killed and to imprisoned and released terrorists – even at the cost of salary cuts for PA employees – and in declarations by PA and Fatah officials that the payments will not stop under any circumstances. – Middle East Research Institute

Michael Singh writes: The Trump administration is right that American aid to the Palestinians provides Washington with leverage, but it is applying that leverage to the wrong end. Few observers believe that Mr. Abbas is interested in negotiating with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump, having rebuffed their less conservative predecessors or, even if negotiations resumed, that a peace deal could be reached at this time. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia

The children of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi have received tens of thousands of dollars and millions in real estate from the rulers of the kingdom as compensation for the murder of their father by a team of Saudi agents, according to a person close to the family and a former Saudi official familiar with the arrangement. – New York Times

Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., pressed Energy Secretary Rick Perry Tuesday to disclose specific details of a “secret” nuclear technology export agreement with Saudi Arabia. – Washington Examiner

Simon Henderson writes: Riyadh declares its nascent nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes but wants to retain the right to enrich and reprocess. An additional argument made by individual Saudis is that, if Iran is allowed to enrich under the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear accord — which still exists even though President Trump withdrew the United States last year — why can’t Riyadh? – The Hill

Middle East & North Africa

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika submitted his resignation Tuesday night, ending his two-decade rule following weeks of massive demonstrations against his continued political aspirations, the state news agency reported. – Washington Post

On March 23, 2019, the Lebanese anti-Hizbullah Al-Modon daily reported that during February 2019, Iran had evacuated its bases and weapons depots near the Damascus International Airport. It explained that this move was based on understandings with Russia and was aimed at preventing further attacks by Israel in the region. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Richard Hall writes: The Islamic State’s caliphate is no more. Four years after its fighters captured large swathes of Iraq and Syria and declared its intention to spread jihad around the world, the terror group no longer holds any territory. But as one extremist Islamic state falls, another one endures. Over the past few years, a group that was formerly part of Al Qaeda has cemented its power in northern Syria and now rules over some 3 million people. – The Independent

David Wearing writes: If British support makes Saudi violence possible, that violence is British violence as well, making the UK significantly culpable for its human cost. […]In Yemen, Britain has helped to create the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. This is a matter of incontrovertible fact, and of grave urgency. It is long past time for this country to face up to its responsibilities, and to the true nature of its role in the world. – The Guardian

Korean Peninsula

A South Korean ship is being held at a domestic port over suspicions that it illegally provided oil to heavily sanctioned North Korea, Seoul officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press  

The United Nations atomic watchdog said on Tuesday that if a deal was reached with North Korea to give up its nuclear program then it would be ready to send in inspectors within weeks – if asked – to verify and monitor denuclearization. – Reuters  

Ken E. Gause writes: This would be difficult to pull off if North Korea had to agree to denuclearize on the front end; Kim could more easily agree to a phased process that shows results for sacrifices made. Viewed this way, it is not surprising that Kim balked at President Trump’s “grand bargain” offer in Hanoi. The trust to make a deal just does not exist. – The Hill

Tom Rogan writes: Unfortunately, President Trump’s exaggerated sense of friendship with Kim, and Kim’s continuing deference to his hardliner adviser Kim Yong Chol, mean that Putin’s gambit is likely to succeed. The North Koreans will respond warmly to the idea of Russian support and Putin’s consolidation of their rejection of U.S. interests. – Washington Examiner


Secret Service agents arrested a Chinese woman after she bypassed layers of security and gained access to the reception area of President Trump’s Florida resort this past weekend, saying they found she was carrying two passports and a thumb drive containing malicious software, according to court documents. – Washington Post  

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is putting new attention on potential security threats from China, a challenge for an alliance whose members have conflicting attitudes about Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

Current and former Pentagon leaders are warning about the risks to future military operations posed by allies in Europe and Asia using Chinese technology in their 5G wireless telecommunications networks. – Washington Post

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will resume negotiations with his U.S. counterparts in Washington on Wednesday as both governments push for an agreement to end their protracted trade dispute. – Bloomberg  

A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer said he was blocked on vague national security grounds from leaving the country to participate in a U.S. State Department-sponsored studies program. – Associated Press  

The United States will not send high-level officials to attend China’s second Belt and Road summit in Beijing this month, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday, citing concerns about financing practices for the project. – Reuters  

President Trump said Tuesday that he called Chinese President Xi Jinping a “king” during a 2017 visit to China, and that the communist leader “liked that.” – Washington Examiner

Seth Cropsey writes: There is insufficient evidence to conclude that China is preparing to initiate hostilities against either Taiwan or Japan. But China’s rulers have not ruled out force to, as they put it, “reunify” Taiwan with the PRC. And practice drills that simulate military movements in an actual conflict are standard armed force tactics. They provide an aggressor with important information about a potential opponent’s intelligence skills, command and control, response times, and tactical dexterity. – Hudson Institute


When India’s Election Commission announced last month that its code of conduct would have to be followed by social media companies as well as political parties, some analysts scoffed, saying it lacked the capacity and speed required to check the spread of fake news ahead of a multi-phase general election that begins April 11. Just weeks later, the commission is indeed struggling to cope with the fake news swirling on Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms, and even for its staff to spot it before it has spread across India, observers said Tuesday. – Associated Press

The United States on Tuesday criticized Brunei’s decision to implement Islamic laws that would allow death by stoning for adultery and homosexuality and urged it to ratify and implement the United Nations Convention Against Torture. – Reuters  

As tensions continue to simmer between India and Pakistan, the U.S. has cleared New Delhi’s request to buy 24 new MH-60R Seahawk multi-mission helicopters. The sale comes with an estimated price tag of $2.6 billion, according to a Tuesday announcement from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. – Defense News

Vinay Kaura writes: Amid concerns that Khalilzad may have given too much ground to the Taliban, thereis talk of “contingency plans” to protect America’s security interests if negotiations fail to produce results, meaning military options are still on the table. The Trump administration has been hoping for success in the peace talks but does not seem willing to sign a deal with the Taliban from a position of weakness. – Middle East Institute


Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday broke with her own party, appealing to the opposition to work with her on a plan in a move that could keep Britain closely tied to the European Union after the country leaves the bloc. – New York Times

He flew across the ocean to celebrate NATO’s 70th anniversary with the largest and most important member of the military alliance. So to outsiders it appeared to be an awkward moment on Tuesday for Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, as he sat stiffly by while President Trump criticized German defense spending and predicted that the United States would get along with Russia. – New York Times

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will skip a meeting of Group of Seven ministers this week in France, the State Department said Tuesday, amid persistent tensions between Europe and President Donald Trump. Officials did not explain Pompeo’s absence. But the move comes amid a long list of disagreements, including the US rejection of international agreements on ending Iran’s nuclear program and fighting climate change. – Agence France-Presse

Ecuador President Lenin Moreno said that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has repeatedly violated his asylum conditions at the country’s embassy in London. – Washington Examiner

Thomas L. Friedman writes: And yet Britain is ruled today by a party that wants to disconnect from a connected world. The notion that the U.K. will suddenly get a great free-trade deal from Trump as soon as it quits the E.U. is ludicrous. Trump believes in competitive nationalism, and the very reason he is promoting the breakup of the E.U. is that he believes America can dominate the E.U.’s individual economies much better than when they negotiate together as the single biggest market in the world. – New York Times

Scott Cullinane: writes: The time has come for NATO and American leaders to say publicly what has long been known privately: that the actions of the current Hungarian government, both at home and in their relations with Ukraine, run counter to their longstanding commitment to NATO and do not keep faith with the commitment the United States has made to Hungary. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: May is likely to get her Brexit withdrawal extension, and when Brexit comes, it is likely to be on soft terms. Which, thanks to EU regulations, means we can forget a near-term U.S. trade deal. – Washington Examiner


President Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Africa Command said Tuesday that terrorist organizations remain the top threat in Africa, but Russia and China are both after access and influence on the continent, which probably will be to the detriment of U.S. interests. – Washington Post  

Dozens of Malawians have opted to be repatriated following attacks on foreigners last week in Durban, officials from Malawi and South Africa said Tuesday. Some 300 Malawians were displaced following the spate of deadly violence, which prompted condemnation by South Africa’s government and raised fears of a resurgence of xenophobic bloodshed. – Agence France-Presse

Islamic State carried out the kidnapping and killing of a Canadian citizen in Burkina Faso in January, the group’s weekly newspaper Al-Naba said, claiming responsibility in its latest issue without providing evidence. – Reuters  

United States

A Bronx home-health aide who plotted to pose as a humanitarian nurse to join ISIS was slapped with 20 years behind bars Tuesday. – New York Post

Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is reportedly facing an investigation into whether she improperly used campaign funds while working as a state legislator. – Washington Examiner

Polish nationalists protested in New York City against a bill designed to help Holocaust survivors and their descendants reclaim lost property in Poland. Hundreds of people participated in the protest on Sunday in Foley Square and some employed anti-Semitic rhetoric. – Arutz Sheva  

Latin America

A pro-government lawmaking body installed by President Nicolas Maduro voted on Tuesday to strip the opposition leader Juan Guaidó of parliamentary immunity, paving the way for his potential arrest. – New York Times

The Mexican government said Tuesday there are significant slowdowns at U.S. border crossings, particularly at three of the eight between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas. The slowdowns have been caused by a U.S. decision to re-assign some 2,000 border officers who normally check vehicles at border crossings to deal with growing crowds of migrants. – Associated Press

Sean Kelly writes: The U.S. and Brazil have been attempting to deepen their space collaboration for years, though progress had been stalled due in part to Brazil’s collaboration with countries like China. Most prominently, the two countries have coordinated on an Earth observation satellite series, the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellites (CBERS). The TSA arrangement will challenge Brazil’s ability to coordinate with China on future space launches. – The Hill

Moises Rendon writes: The role of the United States and the international community to help Venezuela get back on its feet will be essential. Venezuela will encounter a broad range of numerous recovery and reform tasks in the wake of its current crisis. However, the international community cannot count on simply “turning on the oil faucet” as a quick fix for the Venezuelan economy, as it will take years to recover oil production levels. Therefore, external partners will need to help Venezuela, particularly within the initial response phase. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Russian authorities are seeking unprecedented control over the internet with a new law that would more effectively filter information coming into the country and allow Russia to cut itself off from global online traffic in a crisis. – Wall Street Journal

Current and former Pentagon leaders are warning about the risks to future military operations posed by allies in Europe and Asia using Chinese technology in their 5G wireless telecommunications networks. – Washington Post  

Hundreds of ads on Facebook promised U.S. homeowners that they were eligible for huge state tax breaks if they installed new solar-energy panels. There was just one catch: None of it was true. – Associated Press

Tim Maurer writes: With American society on edge ahead of the 2020 election, such scenarios could have devastating consequences for the census as an institution. The federal government must make protecting the census from cyberattacks a top priority. Senior officials have at times highlighted the topic but preparations are still behind schedule. – The Hill

Leon Panetta and James Talent write: The threat of a destructive cyber attack that could cost lives is growing every day. Facing limited resources and adversaries that range from nation states to terrorists, government cannot do this alone. There must be a partnership of government and the private sector if the United States is to effectively defend itself from a cyber Pearl Harbor. – The Hill


President Donald Trump praised NATO countries for increasing their financial contributions to the Western alliance, but he hounded them to pay even more, saying America still shoulders a disproportionate share of the cost of protecting Europe. – Associated Press

The Air Force has once again halted deliveries of the KC-46 Pegasus tanker from Boeing after more foreign object debris, or FOD, was found in some closed compartments of the aircraft. – Air Force Times

The U.S. Army plans to take another year to pick an Active Protection System for its Stryker combat vehicle, according to the military deputy to the Army acquisition chief. – Defense News

Lead congressional Democrats have proposed a bill to raise statutory budget caps for two years, with $733 billion for defense in fiscal 2020—but it’s likely to spark a fight with the White House. The bill released Tuesday re-set spending limits to $664 billion for fiscal 2020 and $680 billion in fiscal 2021, with $69 billion in cap-exempt Overseas Contingency Operations funding in each year. – Defense News

Adversaries are creating systems to keep U.S. forces at bay, including long-range missiles, advanced radar equipment to sense incoming assets and non-kinetic means of engagement, such as cyber and electronic warfare. This has made the Army realize it needs a long-range penetrating capability to thwart these so-called anti-access area denial areas – C4SIRNET

The U.S. Air Force is preparing for the next A-10 Warthog contract to re-wing more of the close-air support aircraft. The next contract for the “A-10-Thunderbolt II Advanced-Wing Continuation Kit,” known as “ATTACK,” is going through source selection and is expected to be awarded this fall, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Monday. – Military.com

As the Navy advances plans for a 10-ship “ghost fleet,” leaders are assessing how much decision-making power to give large unmanned vessels that can operate without any humans aboard. The Navy wants $400 million in fiscal 2020 to build two “large unmanned surface vessels.” Budget documents show service leaders plan to request $2.7 billion to build 10 of the ships over the next five years. – Military.com