Fdd's overnight brief

August 1, 2019

In The News


The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a marked escalation of tensions between the two countries, citing what top officials called unacceptable provocations by Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Iran is prepared for dialogue if Saudi Arabia is also ready, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying on Wednesday. – Reuters

Sen. Ted Cruz is accusing “deep state” Obama loyalists of attempting to hamstring President Trump’s foreign policy agenda as it relates to Iran. – Washington Examiner

Iran’s defense minister said on Wednesday it was “normal” for the country to test missiles as part of its defense research, Iranian media reported, after Washington said Tehran had test-fired a medium-range missile last week. – Reuters

The government in sanctions-hit Iran on Wednesday approved a plan to remove zeros from the rial and rename the currency — something its people have long been doing to simplify transactions. – Agence FrancePresse

In the past few weeks, Iranian hardliners have strengthened measures against women who neglect to wear a hijab, according to Radio Farda. – Reuters

A commander of the HMS Montrose said on Wednesday that Tehran seems to be testing the Royal Navy’s resolve and responses in the Persian Gulf, according to Radio Farda. – Jerusalem Post

Iranian General Hossein Dehghan, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s advisor on defense affairs, said in a July 26, 2019 interview on the Al-Jazeera Network (Qatar) that Iran’s downing of an American drone in June 2019 proved that Iran is strong enough to take “significant measures” against the United States and that it would confront threats to its national security. – Middle East Media Research Institute

For the first time in six years, officials from Iran and the United Arab Emirates met in Tehran to discuss maritime security amid an increase in tensions in the Persian Gulf, both countries confirmed Wednesday. – Associated Press

James Jay Carafano writes: Don’t expect Iran to rush to the negotiating table, but clearly, they are thinking, planning and plotting for the day they might have to. Pompeo probably won’t have to pack for a trip to Tehran anytime this year. But flight plans are always subject to change. – Fox News


This cafe at the Liwan Hotel, a century-old mansion in the southern Turkish town of Antakya, used to hum with Syria’s hopes and fears. For the first few years of the war just across the border, Syrians opposed to their government met and networked here. – New York Times

Indonesia is investigating a report that a pregnant Indonesian woman who had joined Islamic State died after allegedly being beaten and tortured in a refugee camp in Syria, a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry said. – Reuters

Zvi Bar’el writes: Erdogan hasn’t yet commented publicly on the rising tension, as it could undermine his foreign policy toward Syria. A large-scale return of Syrian refugees would imply that Syria under President Bashar Assad is now a safe country. Thus keeping the refugees in Turkey lets him deny the Assad regime’s legitimacy. More importantly, it lets him keep fighting the Kurds in Syria and occupying parts of northern Syria. – Haaretz


Israel worked behind the scenes to ensure the United States blocked the sale of its F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey as part of its efforts to preserve its military qualitative edge in the region, Channel 12 reported Wednesday. – Times of Israel

Michael Rubin writes: Esper was correct to identify China as the greatest long-term strategic threat to the United States, but the job of the defense secretary is not only to address the long-term threats but also the short-term crises. If Esper wants to prevent a growing crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean or Syria, it is crucial he tell Akar there will be no buffer in Syria, and no more Turkish troops on Syrian soil. He should not fall victim to the Turkish game of staking out extreme, exaggerated positions in order to solicit supposed compromises that are equally untenable. The answer to Turkey must be no. The best way to address a bully is to stand up to him, not to appease him. – Washington Examiner

Ali Demirdas writes: The current state of Turkish-American relations is like a couple living separately but compelled to stay married for insurance and tax benefits. It takes all sides working together to save the marriage. In spite of the current challenges in the relationship with the US/NATO, Turkey is likely to continue to be a part of NATO. A divorce would prove too detrimental for both sides. – Jerusalem Post

Mark Simakovsky and Edward Fishman write: As with most arrows in the United States’ foreign-policy quiver, sanctions are more effective at altering future behavior than reversing past actions. By publicly threatening sanctions against buyers of Russian arms, CAATSA was designed to prevent transactions like Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 from ever taking place. In failing to implement the law effectively over the last two years, the Trump administration missed its opportunity to stop Turkey’s S-400 acquisition and has likely emboldened other countries to make similar deals with Russia. – Foreign Policy


President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is visiting Israel and Arab states this week as part of a push invoking the threat from Iran as a reason for Arab governments and other world powers to back a forthcoming peace proposal. – Washington Post

Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian on Thursday after he crossed the border from Gaza and fired at the troops, wounding three of them, the Israeli military said.- Reuters

Facebook Inc on Wednesday defeated an appeal by American victims of Hamas attacks in Israel, who sought to hold the company liable for providing the group a social media platform to further its terroristic goals. – Reuters

Israeli intelligence officials believe Hamas and Iran have come to an agreement for the Gaza-based terror group to open a war front against Israel from the southern coastal Strip in the event of conflict breaking out with Iran’s allies on the Jewish state’s northern border, according to a report Wednesday. – Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority officials said on Wednesday that Palestinians don’t need permission from Israel to build on their land. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia has looked into buying Israeli natural gas, according to a former member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, the latest sign of warming ties between two formally hostile nations. – Bloomberg

The villagers stated in the appeal that armed “rabble” headed by “an influential individual in Ramallah district” had burst into the village, and that gunmen had fired their weapons and thrown rocks and firebombs at their homes, shouting “racist and sectarian” ISIS-like slogans, including demands that they pay jizya […]The violent incident in question reignited previous criticism of treatment of the Christian minority in Palestinian society, and the PA’s lenience in dealing with anti-Christian activity, as well as the handling of this particular incident. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that people such as Palestinians have no other option than to “riot” because they are “marginalized” by Israel — drawing swift outrage from Jewish advocacy groups. – New York Post


Leaders of the Islamic State extremist group are aiming to consolidate and create conditions for an “eventual resurgence in its Iraqi and Syrian heartlands,” U.N. experts said in a new report. – Associated Press

At least seven members of Iraq’s security forces were killed and 16 wounded overnight in two separate attacks by Islamic State militants, police said on Thursday. – Reuters

Nina Shea writes: The U.S. continues to invest heavily in shoring up Iraq’s sovereign democracy. This month, it announced sanctions against abusive militia leaders and political figures in Iraq’s Nineveh province.  The new American ambassador, Matthew Tueller, met with Iraq’s justice minister to pledge support for human rights protection and has visited leaders in Nineveh to report the U.S. commitment of over $340 million to rebuild communities and protect minority groups attacked by ISIS.  These measures won’t succeed if Iraq follows Iran’s governing system of Islamic jurist rule. The question is: Will U.S. diplomats find their voice to defend before a largely Muslim audience, democracy, religious freedom and other basic rights? – Real Clear Politics

Alberto M. Fernandez writes: Even before 2014, the fate of Iraq’s religious minorities was a “canary in a coal mine,” a harbinger of brutal hatred to come. […]These are not solutions that can be provided by the West, and much less by regional bad actors looking to take advantage of Arab weakness. Those massive tasks on the horizon will range from climate change to renewed terrorist subversion to providing real economic opportunity, security, and social peace to rapidly growing populations. Like the fate of these tiny minorities in Northern Iraq, the region’s future balances on a knife’s edge. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Arabian Peninsula

Sens. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) introduced bipartisan legislation Wednesday seeking to punish the Saudi government for the October murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. – Washington Post

Iran’s top diplomat has accused Saudi Arabia of killing more than 3,000 U.S. citizens, while at the same time still being allowed a path to obtaining nuclear weapons. – Newsweek

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday the will of the people would prevail in Bahrain after protests there following the execution of two Shi’ite Muslim Bahraini activists over the weekend. – Reuters

A Yemen health official and witnesses say at least 40 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a missile attack and coordinated suicide bombings in the southern port city of Aden. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

The U.S. Navy’s protection mission in the Strait of Hormuz will apply strictly to American shipping while regional partners will shoulder most of the responsibilities in the region, according to a Navy admiral. – Washington Examiner

The family of a Libyan member of parliament and campaigner abducted by armed men two weeks ago fear she may have been subjected to torture and sexual violence. – The Guardian

Libya’s Government of National Accord has protested at what it said were “untruths” in UN envoy Ghassan Salame’s latest report on the conflict in the North African country. – Agence FrancePresse

In his July 15, 2019 column in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahhar, Emile Khoury wrote that the sanctions recently imposed by the U.S. on two Hizbullah MPs, Amin Sherri and Muhammad Ra’e, and on Hizbullah security official  Wafiq Safa, were directed more at the Lebanese government than at Hizbullah itself. […]The following are excerpts from Khoury’s column. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea said on Thursday that its leader, Kim Jong-un, attended the testing of a new type of large-caliber, multiple-launch, guided rocket system that could expand the North’s ability to strike South Korea and the American forces stationed there. – New York Times

A North Korean soldier defected by making a perilous midnight journey across the heavily fortified demilitarized zone into South Korea, defense officials in Seoul said Thursday, adding that they detained the man for questioning. – Washington Post

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers on Thursday that a North Korean diplomat who went into hiding in Italy last year is now under protection outside the country. – Associated Press

South Korea warned on Thursday that security cooperation with Japan might be hurt if it removes South Korea from its list of countries that face minimum trade restrictions, after talks failed to narrow their differences. – Reuters

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Wednesday North Korea’s recent missile tests did not violate a pledge its leader Kim Jong Un made to President Donald Trump, but Pyongyang had yet to say when working-level talks on denuclearization would resume. – Reuters

The United States does not plan to make changes to a military drill with South Korea, a senior U.S. defense official said on Wednesday, despite a series of North Korean missile launches intended to pressure Seoul and Washington to stop joint exercises. – Reuters

North Korea said Thursday leader Kim Jong Un supervised test firings of a new multiple rocket launcher system he sees as soon serving a “main role” in his military’s land combat operations. – Associated Press

A widespread anti-Japanese boycott has gained ground in South Korea since Tokyo on July 1 tightened its control of exports of three chemicals used to manufacture semiconductors and display screens — key export items for South Korea. The boycott could worsen as Japan is expected to expand its export curbs to other materials as early as Friday by removing South Korea from a list of countries granted preferential trade status. – Associated Press

Uri Friedman writes: For now, by downplaying these weapons tests and playing up his warm relationship with Kim, Trump appears intent on salvaging his signature foreign-policy initiative and signaling to the North Korean leader that the door to diplomacy remains open if and when he decides to give up nuclear weapons. The administration’s calculation seems to be that there’s no use in treating North Korea’s exercises in letting off steam as though they are five-alarm fires, and that an overreaction by Washington might only redound to North Korea’s benefit and disrupt what many U.S. officials probably view as a tolerable if far from ideal status quo. – The Atlantic


A powerful Chinese billionaire has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he evaded nearly $2 billion in tariffs as part of a conspiracy to smuggle massive quantities of aluminum into the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

China said it would stop granting individual citizens permission to travel to Taiwan as of Thursday, citing “the current state of cross-strait relations,” a move that sparked a rush at administrative offices nationwide as would-be visitors flocked to get their documents issued. – Washington Post

Plodding progress in trade negotiations between the U.S. and China this week is partly the result of a new tactic from Beijing, which increasingly thinks waiting may produce a more-favorable agreement. – Wall Street Journal

China’s claim that “most” inmates have been released from re-education camps in its Xinjiang region has been met with anger and scepticism by the Uighur diaspora which has launched a social media campaign challenging Beijing to prove it. – Agence FrancePresse

Chinese and US trade negotiators will bid to bring an end a year-long trade war that has seen both tariffs and insults flung between the world’s two largest economies when they meet for official talks in Shanghai Wednesday. – Agence FrancePresse

China’s top diplomat on Wednesday warned outside countries not to amplify disputes in the South China Sea, where recent Chinese maneuvering in the energy-rich waters has rattled regional states and drawn condemnation from the United States. – Reuters

Editorial: More than a dozen international human rights groups, including the United Nations, have pushed for Mr. Huang’s immediate release. Instead of arbitrarily imprisoning Mr. Huang for baseless crimes for which he has suffered enough, China should heed the calls for clemency. – Washington Post


But for civilians caught in Afghanistan’s spiraling conflict, the road between life and death is narrow — and often mined. When the bus arrived in a desert in restive Farah province, barren and quiet in the dawn light, it struck a roadside bomb. – New York Times

There has been a sharp drop in the size of Afghanistan’s National Defense Security Forces in the past few months due to changes in the way troops are counted and an effort to reduce the number of so-called “ghost” soldiers, a U.S. government watchdog said on Thursday. – Reuters

Dozens of passengers, mainly women and children, were killed in western Afghanistan early Wednesday when the bus they were travelling in hit a roadside bomb, officials said. – Agence FrancePresse

The Afghan government named a team on Wednesday to negotiate directly with the Taliban, in the expectation that Washington was on the cusp of agreeing to withdraw troops after 18 years of war, meeting the insurgents’ precondition for talks with Kabul. – Reuters

Fighting between the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and militant groups in Afghanistan such as the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) has intensified in recent months, with the NATO-led ‘Resolute Support’ mission registering a 9% increase in the number of enemy-initiated attacks (EIAs) between 1 March and 31 May, compared to the previous quarter. – Janes 360


The Trump administration offered guidance to officials to maintain a measured response to antigovernment protests in Hong Kong over fears that any public statements favoring demonstrators would derail U.S. efforts to get a trade deal with China. – Wall Street Journal

British and colonial-era flags being waved at Hong Kong’s anti-government rallies are a vivid rebuke to China’s rule but they have also stirred intense controversy among protesters who fear the symbolism plays into Beijing’s hands. – Agence FrancePresse

The mayor of Taipei City plans to establish a new political party, a move that could throw Taiwanese politics into turmoil five months before a crucial presidential election. – Bloomberg

Students in Australia have raised concerns that their personal data has been shared on Chinese social media after they showed support for protests in Hong Kong. – Business Insider

Michael Mazza writes: In order to ensure that US-Taiwan relations continue to advance in a productive fashion, the United States and Taiwan should negotiate and adopt a shared agenda for their bilateral relationship. – Global Taiwan Institute


One year after the West began sanctioning Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine, prompting a retreat of foreign capital, U.S. fund manager Michael Calvey appeared at an annual investor conference in St. Petersburg to deliver a contrarian message. – Wall Street Journal

Russian medical officials said opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was being treated for a mysterious illness, wasn’t poisoned, an assertion challenged by his doctor. – Wall Street Journal

The Russian defence industrial complex is still using imported parts from foreign manufacturers despite a ban on the practice, according to a statement made by Russian Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika that was reported by TASS. – Janes 360

The US Senate foreign relations committee has approved a bill that would sanction companies that help Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company, complete a controversial pipeline from Russia to Germany. – Financial Times


The U.S. ambassador to Germany launched a scathing attack on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government on Thursday for its reluctance to join a naval mission in the Strait of Hormuz, saying Europe’s biggest economy must assume more global responsibility. – Reuters

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain rose in the first half of the year, according to a charity on Thursday that cited alleged anti-Semitism in the opposition Labour party as a contributing factor. – Reuters

Swiss President Ueli Maurer played down prospects for quickly ending a standoff with the European Union over a stalled partnership treaty that has disrupted cross-border stock trading and strained ties with Switzerland’s main trading partner. – Reuters

New British Prime Minister Boris Johnson once passionately defended Israel at an Oxford Union debate, a top American pollster has revealed. – Algemeiner

Sean McMeekin writes: Americans and Britons have forgotten this sordid story. Poles have not. Without knowing this history, Westerners will never understand how Poles, like other Eastern Europeans who endured 45 years of Soviet occupation, view the world today. For Poland, World War II did not end in 1945 with a parade and a Paris kiss, but in the ruins of Warsaw ruled over by hostile conquerors who had stood by as the city burned. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: But the basic point here is that Germany could have acted to protect international law in a way that did not align Germany with Trump’s foreign policy. – Washington Examiner

Luke Coffey and Nile Gardiner write: The arrival of Boris Johnson at Downing Street, as well as a new British Defence Secretary, represents a tremendous opportunity for the United States to strengthen its partnership with the United Kingdom, America’s closest friend and ally. Johnson is the most pro-American Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher, and he is set to lead Britain into a new era outside the European Union, with the United Kingdom looking to enhance its transatlantic ties and adopting a more robust position on the world stage. U.S. and British leadership matters in an increasingly dangerous world, and now is a perfect moment to cement that partnership further. – Heritage Foundation


The reality is that Africa’s largest land force—a U.S. counterterrorism ally—is struggling against an insurgency that first flared a decade ago and is now rejuvenated by Islamic State and the return of fighters from Libya, Syria and Iraq. – Wall Street Journal

Negotiators from Sudan’s ruling military council and main opposition coalition have made progress on the sticking points in discussions on the transition from military rule and are set to hold direct talks within 48 hours, an opposition leader said. – Reuters

Islamic State said via its Amaq news agency that it killed or wounded more than 40 soldiers in the northeast Nigerian state of Borno in two separate attacks on Tuesday. – Reuters

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi will sign a peace agreement on Thursday to put a formal end to military hostilities with the main opposition party, Renamo, almost three decades after the end of a civil war. – Reuters

Latin America

Canadian gold mining company Crystallex would need to request an exemption to U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA before seizing shares in its U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, an adviser to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Wednesday. – Reuters

As Guatemala heads to the second and deciding round of voting of a tempestuous presidential election campaign in less than two weeks, one of the two remaining candidates emphasized his friendship for Israel in an interview published on Wednesday, declaring, “He who is Israel’s enemy is Guatemala’s enemy.” – Algemeiner

But when they arrived in Lima after journeying across South America they were met with a rising wave of xenophobia against Venezuelans like them arriving at the country’s border. – BBC


The Federal Bureau of Investigation is examining whether the woman charged with stealing data on millions of Capital One Financial Corp. customers from an Amazon.com Inc. cloud service successfully hit other targets. – Wall Street Journal

Scams aiming to steal people’s Social Security numbers have proliferated this year, adding to worries about identity theft created by this week’s hack at Capital One Financial Corp. COF 1.33% and other high-profile data breaches. – Wall Street Journal

Pearson PSO -2.77% PLC, the British maker of educational software, is warning school districts that a far-reaching data breach has exposed details on thousands of students, chiefly in the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

Former government officials and privacy campaigners are questioning demands by “Five Eyes” security ministers that high-tech communications systems should remain accessible to spies and official investigators. – Reuters

The Army Cyber Institute (ACI) at West Point serves as the service’s think tank, helping the Army identify and address key cyber problems to come. – Fifth Domain

Japanese corporation Fujitsu has announced the launch of a cyber defence facility in Canberra to provide services across the Oceania region. – Janes 360


Vice Adm. Michael Gilday supports the Navy’s vision for a larger and more lethal Navy that uses data to make decisions and incorporates industry’s technological advances rapidly, according to advance policy questions he submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee. – USNI News

The US Navy (USN) and US Marine Corps (USMC) will participate in a war game this August to examine ways the two can better leverage their capabilities in a military conflict. – Janes 360

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee sharply criticized the Navy’s failures with the new USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, saying that these missteps “ought to be criminal.” – Business Insider

Jennifer McArdle writes: Just as SOCOM innovated when supporting integrated training for special operations forces and conventional war fighters, a similar innovation should take place under the aegis of CYBERCOM today. – Fifth Domain

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: NATO is now caught up at the ministerial level in meaningless burdensharing exercises that do not serve its security interests, and that are mathematically and functionally ridiculous. Its ministers focus far too much on abstract spending goals, rather than needed force improvement and mission capabilities. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Missile Defense

The imminent collapse of a U.S.-Russia missile treaty is forcing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to grapple with a Russian missile system that can target Western European cities—without getting caught in an arms race. – Wall Street Journal

The United States will officially withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on Friday, clearing the way for a new arms race with Russia — and throwing China into the mix. – Agence FrancePresse

Hypersonic missiles have been a favorite topic of defense officials and legislators in recent years, but Sen. Angus King cautioned Wednesday that the United States is drastically underestimating the threat posed by these “nightmare” weapons. – Washington Examiner

Long War

Hamza bin Laden, the son of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and a rising figure in his late father’s violent Islamist group, is believed to have died, U.S. officials said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

A Jordanian man once considered a financier for Al Qaeda and a “henchman” of Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law was arrested in the Philippines in July, officials said on Thursday, reinforcing concerns that Islamic militants are making a base in the country. – New York Times

Holly Johnston writes: If Trump “knew the area well,” as he asserted to Ms. Murad last week, he would know that ISIS has far from disappeared. Without action, it is only a matter of time before history repeats itself, and more are killed. – Jerusalem Post

Trump Administration

Kelly Knight Craft, the United States ambassador to Canada, was confirmed on Wednesday to serve as the next ambassador to the United Nations. – New York Times

A heckler who interrupted a speech by US President Donald Trump during Tuesday’s commemoration of 400 years of American democracy is a new Palestinian American lawmaker from Virginia with a history of anti-Israel rhetoric. – Associated Press

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team overplayed their hand in prosecuting figures linked to the two-year-long Russia investigation, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. – Fox News

The House Judiciary Committee’s fight for grand jury material underlying former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report is unlikely to be resolved for at least two months. […]The Judiciary Committee on Friday filed an application in D.C. District Court to obtain the grand jury material underlying Mueller’s report on Russia’s election interference and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. – The Hill