Fdd's overnight brief

April 9, 2019

In The News


The Trump administration escalated a pressure campaign against Iran on Monday by designating the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, the first time an element of a foreign state has been officially named a terrorist entity. – Wall Street Journal  

Iran designated U.S. forces in the Middle East as a terrorist group in response to the Trump administration branding Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. – Wall Street Journal  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday thanked US President Donald Trump for designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, claiming the dramatic move to further isolate Tehran came at his request. – Times of Israel

Editorial: The Trump Administration said Monday it will designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization. While this will upset those who want to do business with Iran, it’s a welcome recognition of reality. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The Trump administration has served the Iranian people and the cause of truth by dubbing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group. Listing the IRGC as a terrorist entity, foreign businesses will have to proceed far more cautiously in assessing whether they wish to do business with the IRGC’s front companies. As the IRGC loses business, other Iranian business interests will have an opportunity to fill the gap. – Washington Examiner

Brian Hook writes: While it is ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country, the United States, in the spirit of our own freedoms, will support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people. The next 40 years of Iran’s history would be marked then not by repression and fear, but by freedom and fulfillment for the Iranian people. – New York Times

Eli Lake writes: This is a point that the narrow nuclear agreement, by dealing only with Iran’s nuclear program and not its support for terrorism, tried to evade. Now the U.S. government has formally recognized that a key part of Iran’s military is legally indistinguishable from the terrorist groups it has been sponsoring for decades. Trump’s strategy, unlike his predecessor’s, begins with the premise that Iran is an outlaw state — and treats it as such until it changes its behavior. – Bloomberg  

David Albright and Andrea Stricker write: By not acting more quickly, the IAEA lost a golden opportunity to make progress on the fundamental question of whether Iran has been hiding equipment and materiel for a nuclear weapons program that it can draw on at a later date or use to refine hidden activities. We are not calling for superhero vigilantes in a nuclear inspection authority, nor instantaneous action, but acting within reason on credible information (such as containers leaving a suspicious site over months) should be something the world can count on from an international agency tasked with preventing proliferation. – Institute for Science and International Security

Kathy Gilsinan writes: The new terrorism designation means anyone doing business in Iran risks criminal prosecution in the United States on charges of material support to a terrorist organization. Even, theoretically, a European businessman just looking to invest in a laser-eye-surgery outfit. Or possibly, depending on what kinds of exceptions the policy allows, a U.S. security contractor working against ISIS remnants alongside Iraq’s powerful Shia militias—some of which are backed by the IRGC. This differs from the existing sanctions against the IRGC, which fall under Treasury Department authorities and mainly involve financial penalties for being part of or supporting the group. – The Atlantic  

Lela Gilbert writes: Among Iran’s many transgressions, surely the most egregious has been its clandestine project to produce a deliverable nuclear weapon – no doubt meant to undergird its ruthless efforts to “export the revolution.” For this and innumerable other reasons, the international community’s most urgent and pressing tasks in the Middle East should be to expose the ayatollahs’ deception, to further intensify financial pressure on the regime, and above all else, to ban the Iranian bomb. – Jerusalem Post  


The U.S. military said Monday that it is not preventing Syrians from leaving a remote displacement camp near an American base in Syria and is urging Russia and Damascus to help facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. – Associated Press  

Suicide bombers disguised as farmers struck an army position in western Syria on Tuesday in an attack that killed three people and all the militants, state-run media said. – Reuters

One of America’s main aims in Syria remains pushing Iranian forces and its militias out of the country, a top United States official told The National, adding that “there are a lot of tools we can use.” US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn said his country’s “priorities haven’t changed” in Syria, adding that “we continue to do our planning about the means we use to accomplish our strategic objectives”. – The National  

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he planned to discuss a possible Turkish military operation in Syria when he visits Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin on Monday, Russia’s RIA news agency reported. – Reuters


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday his country would forge ahead with the purchase of an air-defense system from Russia despite U.S. warnings that using the equipment would jeopardize Ankara’s role within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. – Wall Street Journal  

Turkey’s election authority has rejected a request by president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party for a full recount in Istanbul’s disputed mayoral election, one of its board members has said. – Financial Times  

A German newspaper says its longtime Turkey correspondent is having his media accreditation restored nearly a month after he had to leave the country because Turkish authorities refused to renew it. – Associated Press


An Israeli court sentenced a French citizen on Monday to seven years‘ imprisonment under a plea bargain in which he confessed to using a diplomatic car to help Palestinian gun smugglers. – Reuters  

Dov Waxman writes: The Israeli public’s desire to separate themselves from Palestinians in the West Bank, however, has been frustrated by the perceived failure of Israel’s unilateral withdrawals from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The possibility of a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank quickly lost its popular appeal. – Time


One day before Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s visit to the White House, senators from both parties sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday urging him to address “the erosion of political and human rights” in Egypt during his discussions with the autocratic leader. – Politico

Steven A. Cook writes: While the United States has a responsibility to its ally, it also has a duty to make sure its allies responsibly use the weapons Washington supplies to them (with the generous assistance of U.S. taxpayers). The United States also has a responsibility to ensure that when its citizens are hurt by the negligent or criminal actions of its allies, it holds those allies accountable. – Foreign Policy

Michele Dunne writes: Whether the Trump administration does do so or not, members of Congress should, via statements and conditions on military assistance. What the United States says and does still matters a great deal in Egypt—otherwise, why would Sisi even be coming to Washington now? At a bare minimum, members of Congress should signal their understanding of the plight of citizens of Egypt, where, as actor and activist Khaled Abol Naga said at a recent briefing, Sisi’s narrative is, “nobody cares about you anymore.” It’s time, at a minimum, to show he’s wrong. – Politico


Forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar carried out an airstrike against the Libyan capital’s only functioning airport, as the rogue military commander defied U.S. calls to halt an assault on Tripoli. – Wall Street Journal  

Clashes between a renegade eastern commander’s forces and pro-government militias escalated Monday, increasing the death toll and forcing thousands of residents of the Libyan capital to flee their homes while trapping thousands more. – Washington Post

Libya is on the brink of an all-out civil war that threatens to upend years of diplomatic efforts to reconcile two rival armed political factions. The French government, the European power closest to Haftar, insists it had no prior warning of his assault, which is now less than 20km from the capital, Tripoli. The outcome could shape not just the politics of Libya, but also the security of the Mediterranean, and the relevance of democracy across the Middle East and north Africa. – The Guardian

Salma Wardany writes: As fighting in Libya encroaches on the capital, the risk of new oil-supply outages from the OPEC member has risen. The country has been in disarray since Muammar Qaddafi, its head of state, was removed from office and killed in 2011. Oil output surged in recent months as a fragile peace took hold, but the latest battles are a reminder that reliable crude flows require a political solution to end eight years of strife. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

The hopes inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 soured long ago. But across North Africa, the reverberations are coursing through the region once again, shaking autocratic governments and posing new questions about the future. – New York Times

President Trump is considering signing legislation that would end the U.S. role in Yemen’s stalemated civil war after his advisers urged him to veto the bill. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. will deny entry to 16 Saudis over “their roles” in the murder of the columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as the administration seeks to sustain pressure on the kingdom to come up with a credible account of his death, the State Department announced on Monday. – Bloomberg  

Korean Peninsula

China and North Korea opened a new border crossing over the Yalu River, signaling aspirations for deeper economic ties between the neighbors even as Pyongyang’s trade remains crimped by international sanctions. – Bloomberg

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday confirmed the appointment of a pro-engagement academic as his new point man on Pyongyang, despite controversy over his outspoken support for cooperation with the nuclear-armed North. – Agence France-Presse  

Michael Peck writes: In July 1950, North Korea defeated the United States Army. This wasn’t supposed to happen. In the summer of 1950, America was still savoring the glow of absolute victory in World War II. […]If the only lessons of Task Force Smith was that inexperienced soldiers with poor training and equipment do poorly on the battlefield, or that a nation shouldn’t let its army lapse into decay, these would be mere clichés. – The National Interest


A Chinese woman charged with bluffing her way past security at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club will stay in jail at least one more week after prosecutors said in court Monday that she “lies to everyone” and authorities found a suspicious variety of electronics in her hotel room. – Washington Post

Ketian Vivian Zhang writes: In this light, President Tsai Ing-wen’s recent transit via Hawaii and meetings with senior U.S. leaders could be a contributing factor to China’s reactions. Barring an official invitation for the Taiwanese president to visit the United States, Chinese coercion regarding these transits probably will focus on Taiwan. China’s goal, most likely, is to deter Taiwanese leaders from transiting via the United States or meeting with senior U.S. officials in the future. – Washington Post

Mohamed A. El-Erian writes; China and the U.S. last week signaled substantial progress in their trade negotiations, as President Xi Jinping welcomed a “new consensus.” One question remains, however: Why has the U.S. opted to deal bilaterally with China rather than lead a coalition of Western nations that share the same concerns about some of the Asian giant’s trade practices? The answer to this question will be one of the leading issues in assessing whether a China-U.S. agreement is a decisive resolution to a conflict that has hung over the global economy or, instead, just a short-term cease-fire. – Bloomberg  

South Asia

Three American service members and one contractor were killed Monday after a bomb exploded near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Defense Department officials said. – New York Times

Both sides are making increasing attempts to control the flow of information, journalists say, after the conflict in Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region claimed by both India and Pakistan, escalated dramatically over the past few months. – Reuters

Huawei removed wi-fi transmitting cards from a Pakistan-based surveillance system’s CCTV cabinets after they were discovered by the project’s staff. Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) told BBC Panorama it had told the firm to remove the modules in 2017 “due to [a] potential of misuse”. – BBC


Tough talk about the need to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election is running into the reality that Congress’s enthusiasm for additional sanctions is waning. – Bloomberg  

Vladimir Kara-Murza writes: Of all the ways that Putin’s rule has transformed the country, perhaps the most troubling is its state-driven paranoia. It was also the most pervasive characteristic of the organization where Putin had spent his formative years, the KGB. […]The measure follows in the worst traditions of Russian state control over speech, from the Statute of Censorship under Nicholas I to the Communist-era prohibition on “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.” – Washington Post  

Alexey Khlebnikov writes: According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) recently published annual report, Russia’s share of global arms exports shrank by around one-fifth over the last decade, falling from 27 percent to 21 percent, while the U.S. share increased from 30 percent to 36 percent, widening the gap between the two major arms exporters. As Russia looks to reverse this decline, it is focusing on the Middle East, the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing arms market, as a way to boost its exports. – Middle East Institute  


The Trump administration moved on Monday toward imposing tariffs on about $11 billion in imports from the European Union, saying the move was justified by the bloc’s subsidies for aircraft manufacturer Airbus. – Wall Street Journal  

Matteo Salvini, the anti-immigrant politician who is the most powerful figure in Italy’s government, on Monday announced the formation of a new European alliance of populist and far-right parties ahead of critical European Parliament elections in May. – New York Times  

British Prime Minister Theresa May will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday to argue for a Brexit delay while her ministers hold crisis talks with the opposition to try to break the deadlock in London. – Reuters

European Union states are open to another Brexit delay to avoid the failure of a no-deal split but British Prime Minister Theresa May must come up with a precise plan of how she will use the extra time to ratify the divorce agreement, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said. – Reuters

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and EU institution leaders meet in Brussels on Tuesday for an annual EU-China summit set to be overshadowed by differences over trade and investment. – Reuters   

Hey, Europe: Don’t let Washington ruin our good thing. That was the message from China’s top representative to the European Union, who spoke to POLITICO in the run-up to a Beijing-EU summit Tuesday, taking place against a backdrop of growing tensions on trade and technology. – Politico

NATO’s cybersecurity arm is set to launch a four-day exercise April 9 that simulates the response to hackers sowing chaos in a fictitious country conducting national elections. – Fifth Domain  

Erin Dunne writes: When EU leaders meet Wednesday to determine the fate of Britain’s relationship with the EU, Brexit should become Brextension. One possibility, as floated by European Council President Donald Tusk, is a flexible extension that would allow Britain to leave the EU if and when Parliament reached a deal. For May, who is wary of agreeing to a long extension, that option would both enable her to avoid the characterization of being anti-Brexit while also giving lawmakers the breathing room they need. – Washington Examiner

Azita Raji writes: When NATO foreign ministers met in Washington to celebrate NATO last week, the Swedish foreign minister was no doubt raising her glass along with other ministers from the Enhanced Opportunity Partners program. NATO should look back with pride at the establishment of the Partnership for Peace, which became not just a launching pad for new allies, but a major initiative in the creation of a post-Cold War Europe that is “whole, free, and at peace.” – War on the Rocks

Bruno Macaes writes: American society and politics were too similar to Europe’s — in their values and aims — for Washington’s allies across the Atlantic to feel genuinely threatened by the extent of American power. This geopolitical limbo was comfortable enough. It allowed Europe to take a long holiday from history. It prevented a political union from becoming a necessity. That’s why China’s rise is so important. It sets the stage for a great historical drama, one that will feature scenes in Lisbon, Shanghai and everywhere in between. And this time, Europe won’t be able to rely on the U.S. being ready to sweep in with a deus ex machina. – Politico

United States

A Maryland man inspired by the Islamic State group plotted to ram a stolen U-Haul truck into as many pedestrians as possible at a popular convention and tourist destination just outside the nation’s capital, federal prosecutors said Monday. – Associated Press

A suburban Dallas teenager has pleaded guilty to plotting an Islamic State group-inspired mass shooting at a North Texas mall. A state judge sentenced Matin Azizi-Yarand to 20 years in prison Monday for solicitation of capital murder and making a terroristic threat, state and federal prosecutors announced. – Associated Press

Judith Kelly writes: But Pompeo and Bolton are holding firm, as well. Pompeo threatened, “We are prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the I.C.C. does not change its course.” Bolton is unlikely to back down. In November 2017, when talk of opening an investigation began, Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the United States should “strangle the ICC in its cradle” or at least tell the ICC prosecutor that “you are dead to us. Sincerely, the United States.” – Washington Post

The Americas

Canada is expecting foreign interference in its national election in October, and is considering stronger regulation of social media companies to ensure they block meddling in the voting, the minister responsible for election integrity said on Monday. – New York Times

Political repression and bleak economic prospects remain the primary reasons cited by Cubans for migrating from the Communist-ruled island, a Cold War foe of the United States. But some in Ciudad Juarez say news of the caravans also motivated them, giving them the impression the United States was accepting migrants. – Reuters

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday that he told U.S. President Donald Trump that he wants the United States to take part in a joint development program for the Brazilian Amazon region, though he did not provide details. – Reuters

Michael Shifter writes: Playing on domestic politics with Latin American issues may work for President Trump as he pursues a second term. Still, it is crucial not to completely lose sight of the national interest, which means investing wisely in Central America and cooperating closely with Mexico. Mr. Trump needs to stick with the broad coalition on Venezuela, eschew any suggestion of military action there and any reference to regime change in Cuba. – New York Times


Venezuela will “fulfill its commitments” to Cuba despite United States sanctions targeting oil shipments from the South American country to its ideological ally, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on Monday. – Reuters

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday he is working with the U.S. government to sow dissent within the Venezuelan Army. – Reuters

Iran’s second largest airline has begun direct flights to Venezuela, as the two countries cultivate closer ties in the face of US sanctions.Associated Press  

Joseph Micallef writes: The Maduro government has been very successful in maintaining the loyalty of the senior military leadership through a combination of money, food and power from a lucrative patronage network based on government largesse and black market and illegal activities that include narcotics trafficking and gun running. If the military ever abandons the government, there will be little that the Kremlin can do to avoid a collapse. Until then, Moscow will continue to double down on Nicolas Maduro. – Military.com


Soldiers, Marines and special operators have spent the past few weeks on live fire ranges and rushing through shoot house drills in small teams here all while seeing likely what is the immersive, interconnected future of close combat and potentially a way to finally merge technological advances to make the grunt as combat capable as the best trained fighter pilots. – Army Times   

A group of Senate Democrats want acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to reconcile official statements that troop deployments to the southern border are not hurting military readiness following a recent warning from the commandant of the Marine Corps that the deployments are causing problems. – Defense News

The Navy had waited until the last possible moment to start working on a new class of ballistic missile submarine to replace the early 1980s Ohio-class boats, and there just won’t be time for lengthy delays. […]Recent delays and a shakeup in the Virginia-class buying profile, along with a high-profile quality control issue right out of the gate on the missile tubes destined for Columbia have raised red flags and concerns about the submarine building enterprise and its ability to handle the mammoth $115 billion program without delays and major overruns. – Defense News  

Seth Cropsey writes: The large problem is that the military service best suited to deter China’s regional and global ambitions — the U.S. Navy — is not being funded at a level commensurate with the reemergence of great-power competition. The U.S. needs both enough ships to meet its global commitments and advanced technology to equip them. Cutting either to fund the other is like giving up your health insurance to replace a leaking roof. – National Review  

Trump Administration

President Trump continued to dismantle the leadership of the nation’s top domestic security agency Monday, as the White House announced the imminent removal of U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph D. “Tex” Alles, the latest in a series of head-spinning departures from the Department of Homeland Security. – Washington Post

Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) in a letter Monday to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that he would like to see Mueller testify during the week of April 22, calling it “undoubtedly the best way” for the American people to learn about “the full contours” of the investigation into Russian election interference in 2016. – Washington Post

President Trump is shaking up the top ranks of the Department of Homeland Security and has instructed White House advisers to take a more direct role implementing immigration policy in an effort to slow the rise in families illegally crossing the southern border. – Wall Street Journal