Fdd's overnight brief

August 12, 2019

In The News


Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday condemned a U.S. blueprint to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and called on haj pilgrims to oppose it, Iranian state media reported. – Reuters 

Iran unveiled on Saturday what authorities said was a locally upgraded radar system with a range of 400 km (250 miles) that could help defend against cruise and ballistic missiles and drones. – Reuters

France said Friday that it “needs no permission” to work towards easing tensions between Iran and the US, after President Donald Trump accused his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron of meddling in the dispute. – Agence France-Presse

Argentine diplomat Rafael Grossi says inspectors monitoring Iran’s nuclear deal could benefit from more openness and suggested his country’s nuclear program holds a lesson for Iranian leaders. – Bloomberg 

White House national security adviser John Bolton plans to urge British officials to take a tougher line on Iran and Chinese telecom firm Huawei during a meeting in London this weekend, according to Reuters. – The Hill 

At least 10 political activists have been arrested in the Iranian city of Mashhad, after calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to resign from his position in an open letter back in June. – Jerusalem Post 

Any Israeli involvement in any maritime coalition in the Gulf is a “clear threat” to Iran’s national security and the Islamic Republic has a right to confront the threat, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Friday, according to a statement on the Foreign Ministry website. – Reuters 

European efforts to launch a barter-based trade conduit with Iran that would help offset the effects of U.S. sanctions on Tehran suffered a setback when its designated head bowed out at the last minute. – Reuters

The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s navy, Alireza Tangsiri, warned Sunday that “any illegitimate presence by the Zionists in the waters of the Persian Gulf could spark a war.” – Times of Israel  

An Iranian woman pleaded guilty in Minnesota on Friday to conspiring to facilitate the illegal export of communications technology from the U.S. to her home country. – Associated Press

Michael Knights writes: The pro-Iranian militias within the PMF do not represent all—or even most—of the Popular Mobilization Forces. As a result, U.S. officials would be wise to never publicly use the words PMF, Hashd, Shia militias, or any other collective descriptor because the popular mobilization, as a societal experience and as an institution, is viewed with reverence and respect by many Iraqis. – Combatting Terrorism Center


A Lebanese lawmaker affiliated with Hezbollah said on Sunday that Israel was preparing to wage war against the terror group. But Mohammad Raad, who leads Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said the group was ready to battle the Jewish state, according to Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV. – Times of Israel 

An official with Palestinian terror group Hamas on Saturday told a Lebanese newspaper that in the next major conflagration, should the Gaza rulers feel that Israel is trying to “break” the group, its regional allies will join forces with Hamas. […]“But if the enemy [Israel] tries to break the resistance, the rest of the axis will join the battle,” he went on, in reference to Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah. – Times of Israel 

Michal Kranz writes: As Hezbollah has set its sights on cross-sectarian, national-level power as a political party as well as a militant group, support from non-Shiite communities has become an ever more important part of its calculus. It has been able to capitalize on feelings of popular discontent among all of Lebanon’s sects and today enjoys more influence among Christians, Sunnis, and Druze than ever before. – Foreign Policy


A week after Syria’s government agreed to a cease-fire with rebel groups affecting the northwestern province of Idlib, air force jets hit multiple targets on Friday, humanitarian workers said, fueling international fears for millions of civilians crammed into the area. – New York Times  

In the weeks since Turkey’s government accelerated a crackdown on Syrian refugees, arresting thousands of people and deporting untold numbers back to Syria, the refugees and their advocates have warned that the policy could be fatal as the migrants were returned to a war zone. – Washington Post 

A Canadian citizen who had been held in Syrian prisons since last year and was freed after Lebanese mediation said on Friday that while imprisoned he had no idea if anyone knew he was still alive. – Associated Press

Syria’s army has captured a strategically important town in Idlib in the rebels’ last major enclave, a war monitor and a military media unit run by its ally Hezbollah reported on Sunday. – Reuters 

Eli Lake writes: The agreement in Syria shows that diplomacy can placate a truculent ally without abandoning those who have assisted in the U.S. fight against terrorism. And if the deal sticks, much of the credit will belong to Trump’s special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey. Still, for smaller groups such as YPG, the implications of America’s larger strategy are clear: We are grateful for your help in the fight against terrorism. But if you run afoul of one of our important allies, we will not protect you. – Bloomberg


Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians flared over the weekend after riots broke out at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites and Israel’s military foiled what it called a potential mass-casualty attack from Gaza. – Wall Street Journal   

The Islamic Jihad terrorist organization is calling for the escalation of the “intifada” and the fight against “the occupation” as the only way to break the “arrogance” and to respond to the “terror and aggression” of Israel. – Arutz Sheva 

The Israel Defense Forces overnight Sunday began preparations to demolish the homes of two Palestinian men suspected of stabbing to death 18-year-old Israeli Dvir Sorek last week near the West Bank settlement of Migdal Oz. – Times of Israel 

Jack Rosen writes: After the passage of three pro-Israel bills by the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the course of one week, I am reminded just how strong and deeply rooted American support for the state of Israel really is. Last month’s votes serve as irrefutable evidence that the attempts by some to paint Israel as a partisan and divisive issue has failed once again. They refute claims that Democrats have abandoned Israel and contradict the notion that American support for Israel should be curtailed. – Washington Examiner   

Shimrit Meir writes: The attempts by disgruntled members of the terror group to infiltrate into Israeli territory in order to carry out attacks are nothing but a tad inconvenient for the leadership, which would willingly claim any achievements as its own – even if it came at a cost of an arrangement with Israel. – Ynet


An uneasy truce took hold in Aden on Sunday after four days of fighting over control of the southern Yemeni city, as the unrest threatens to unravel international attempts to stabilize the country and further splits a U.S.-backed anti-Iran coalition there. – Wall Street Journal  

A Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen targeted its own allies with airstrikes Sunday, a day after southern separatists seized control of the strategic port city of Aden, threatening to fracture the Saudi alliance and open a new front in the five-year conflict. – Washington Post 

Yemen’s Houthis launched a drone attack against Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport, the movement’s Al-Masirah TV said on Saturday, citing a military spokesman. – Reuters

A senior Houthi official in Yemen and brother of the movement’s leader was killed because of infighting, the Saudi-led coalition said on Sunday, appearing to give a different version of events than the Iran-allied group. – Reuters 

Yemeni separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates began withdrawing Sunday from positions they seized from the internationally-recognized government in the southern port city of Aden. – Associated Press

Muneer Binwaber writes: In the aftermath of Arab coalition efforts to liberate southern Yemen from Houthi control, many of the liberated provinces mirror microstates, including the Al-Mahra and Marib provinces, which refuse to supply revenue to the government. Hadramout has formed its own military forces, as did Shabwa and Aden with the support of the Arab alliance, especially the UAE. […]As the past few years demonstrate, within the conflict developing between the STC and Hadi’s government oil is likely to play a major role in the calculations of both parties. And in the upcoming months, these considerations are likely to continue shaping the political fate of Hadramout and the surrounding regions of South Yemen. – Washington Institute


At least three United Nations staff members were killed in Libya after a bomb-laden vehicle exploded this weekend outside a shopping mall in the eastern city of Benghazi, a spokesman for the international body said. – Associated Press 

Libya’s internationally recognized government, which is facing a campaign by eastern troops to take the capital, has accepted a United Nations proposal for a ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha religious holiday, a statement said on Friday. – Reuters 

Rocket fire hit the Libyan capital’s sole functioning airport Sunday, violating a temporary truce between the unity government and forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, airport authorities said. – Agence France-Presse  

Middle East & North Africa

One of America’s staunchest allies in the Middle East and a driving force behind President Trump’s hard-line approach to Iran is breaking ranks with Washington, calling into question how reliable an ally it would be in the event of a war between the United States and Iran. – Washington Post 

A U.S. citizen who human rights activists say was allegedly tortured and raped in an Egyptian prison tried to kill himself in his cell, raising questions about his medical care, two human rights groups said Friday. […]Hassan, a limousine driver from New York, has been imprisoned since January 2018 on charges that he joined an Islamic State affiliate. – Washington Post 

A Marine Raider was killed Saturday by enemy small arms fire while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. Gunnery Sgt. Scott Koppenhafer, 35, of Mancos, Colo., died Aug. 10 in an incident that is still under investigation, according to a Pentagon announcement. – USNI News  

Saud Al-Sharafat writes: Regardless of the scenario adopted, the problem of returning Jordanian terrorists is likely to float to the surface in Jordan sooner or later. It is therefore better for Jordan to get its ducks in a row as soon as it is possible—before unauthorized or uncontrolled reentries forces it to do so in a way that endangers its national security, civil peace, and international relations. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

President Trump on Saturday appeared to side with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in renewing his objections to joint military exercises with South Korea, calling such drills “ridiculous and expensive” at a time when Pyongyang has been testing short-range missiles. – Washington Post 

North Korea said on Sunday that the two projectiles it fired a day earlier were a new type of missile, making this the third new short-range ballistic missile or rocket system the North has successfully tested in less than a month as Washington struggles to resume talks on denuclearization. – New York Times

President Trump said Saturday that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had offered a “small apology” for launching short-range missiles recently and wanted to begin a dialogue with Washington as soon as this month’s American military exercise with South Korea ends. – New York Times

There’s no question that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is in full control of his nation. But a recent change to how he’s being formally described in the North Korean Constitution may allow him even more diplomatic leverage as he steps with increasing confidence onto the world stage for negotiations over his powerful weapons program. – Associated Press 

North Korea said Sunday that leader Kim Jong Un supervised test-firings of an unspecified new weapons system, which extended a streak of launches that are seen as an attempt to build leverage ahead of negotiations with the United States while driving a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea. – Associated Press 

US President Donald Trump said Saturday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to resume denuclearization talks after US-South Korean war games end. – Agence France-Presse

South Korea moved to downgrade Japan from its list of most trusted trading partners while also seeking talks to end a months-long spat that has hurt economic ties between the two American allies. – Bloomberg 

There will not be inter-Korean talks unless South Korea and the United States end joint military exercises that set North Korea as an “enemy,” a senior official at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry said on Sunday. – Reuters


Pacific islands that were key World War II battlegrounds but largely neglected for the past 30 years are now back in the spotlight as China challenges traditional US supremacy in the region. – Agence France-Presse 

President Donald Trump said Friday he was not ready to finalize a trade deal with Beijing and signaled he might cancel talks set for September, raising the stakes in the intensifying US-China trade war. – Agence France-Presse 

Like a sleek Mercedes crunched between two freight trucks, Europe’s economy is being knocked off course by the conflict between the U.S. and China over trade. The bill for damages from the U.S-China collision could be painfully high, starting this week if new growth figures on Wednesday show that Europe’s economic motor, Germany, is stalled or shrinking. – Associated Press 

A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves. – Associated Press  

Huawei Technologies Co.’s billionaire founder intends to kick off a three- to five-year overhaul of the networking giant, creating an “iron army” that can help it survive an American onslaught while protecting its lead in next-generation wireless. – Bloomberg 

Even before the trade war, Xi Jinping’s plan to turn China into one of the world’s most advanced economies by 2050 was ambitious. His grand vision is now looking more aspirational by the day. As mounting pressure from Donald Trump adds to a slew of structural challenges facing China’s $14 trillion economy[…] the risk is that the country gets stuck in a “middle-income trap,’’ stagnating before it reaches rich-world levels of development. – Bloomberg 

Andy Puzder and Jim Talent write: Comprehensive reform from the Chinese Communist Party is unlikely in the near term. But the Trump administration has at least succeeded in substantially increasing the costs to the regime of its authoritarian and exploitative policies. For the first time in a long time, the pressure is really on Beijing, and the initiative in the national competition between China and the U.S. finally belongs to Washington. – Wall Street Journal 


After 18 years of war, the United States is once again preparing to unveil a plan for peace in Afghanistan. – New York Times 

The latest round of talks between the Taliban and the United States on a deal to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan has ended and now both sides will consult with their leadership on the next steps, a Taliban spokesman said Monday. – Associated Press 

Afghanistan’s president on Sunday rejected foreign interference as the United States and the Taliban appear to be closing in on a peace deal without the Afghan government at the table. – Associated Press  

Andrew C. McCarthy writes: We did not provoke this supposedly “endless war”; we were not itching to play savior. Our enemies attacked us. The war is “endless” because we have never committed to defeating them, while they are committed to continuing the fight. […]Yet we should remember this: No matter how deft the diplomacy that papers over a pullout, wars are either won or lost. For years, the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies have vowed to outlast us and drive us out. Now, we’re getting ready to leave and they are getting ready to rule. What would you call that? – National Review 

South Asia

The dispute over Kashmir has long been a flash point between India and Pakistan, with each nuclear-armed country holding the threat of retaliation over the other. But when India stripped the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir of its autonomy this week, Pakistan’s reaction appeared to be limited to high-level hand-wringing. – New York Times 

India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy leaves Pakistan’s leadership in a bind over how to handle jihadist groups that Pakistan’s military nurtured to liberate the disputed area. Islamabad is under international pressure to crack down on the extremists or face financial sanctions. Worst, attacks by those militant outfits could ignite armed conflict between India and Pakistan. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran’s armed forces chief of staff on Saturday cautioned Pakistan and India to avoid any “hasty decision” in Kashmir without considering the wishes of the region’s people, the semi-official Fars news agency reported. – Reuters  

Pakistan says it will move the United Nations Security Council with China’s support with a motion to condemn India for its decision to strip its portion of the Kashmir region of special status. – Reuters 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the nation Thursday night that he stripped the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir of its statehood and special constitutional status to free the disputed region of “terrorism and separatism.” – Associated Press


Two months of boiling antigovernment protests have divided Hong Kong’s people. Now, the unrest has pitted one of the territory’s best-known international brands against some of its own employees. The Chinese government has forced Cathay Pacific Airways, a longtime emblem of Hong Kong’s proud status as a global capital, to bar staffers who support or participate in the territory’s protests from doing any work involving flights to mainland China. – New York Times

Defying warnings from China of a crackdown if they continued more than two months of protests, young demonstrators blocked a vital tunnel under Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor on Saturday, barricaded a traffic intersection and set fires outside a police station in a shopping district popular with tourists. – New York Times

Hong Kong’s airport canceled more than 100 flights on Monday afternoon after thousands of demonstrators flooded the transportation hub, one of the world’s busiest, in a show of anger over the police’s response to protests the night before. – New York Times

While China might be exploiting fears of a bloody “Tiananmen” crackdown on Hong Kong’s protest movement, analysts say the potentially catastrophic economic and political consequences will deter Beijing from any overt boots-on-the ground intervention. – Agence France-Presse 

Companies are getting caught in the cross-fire of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy unrest, with Chinese state-run media inciting boycott campaigns against firms seen to be backing the protesters. – Agence France-Presse 

South Korea said Monday that it has decided to remove Japan from a list of nations receiving preferential treatment in trade in what was seen as a countermeasure to Tokyo’s recent decision to downgrade Seoul’s trade status amid a diplomatic row. – Associated Press

A split has opened in Australia’s ruling coalition government over a lawmaker’s comparison of the rise of China to that of Nazi Germany. – Reuters 


An approved street protest on Saturday in Moscow against the banning of opposition candidates in a city election drew about 50,000 people, a crowd far larger than the few thousand who recently demonstrated in the Russian capital, where heavy-handed policing typically dampens turnout. – New York Times

American intelligence officials are racing to understand a mysterious explosion that released radiation off the coast of northern Russia last week, apparently during the test of a new type of nuclear-propelled cruise missile hailed by President Vladimir V. Putin as the centerpiece of Moscow’s arms race with the United States. – New York Times 

Russia’s state communications watchdog has asked Google (GOOGL.O) to stop advertising “illegal mass events” on its YouTube video platform, it said on Sunday. – Reuters 

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has protested Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Crimea, where he attended a pro-Kremlin motorcycle club’s annual festival. – Associated Press 

 The Russian military says two of its nuclear-capable strategic bombers have flown a patrol mission over the Bering Sea, where they were escorted by U.S. fighter jets. – Associated Press


It was all part of the Jewish Culture Festival, a yearly event meant to celebrate the 1,000 years of Jewish life that had flourished in Poland before World War II, but had been erased by the Holocaust. […]This year, though, it took place against a backdrop of increasing xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Poland and across Europe. Its organizers did not shy from the topic. – New York Times

Polish officials joined war veterans on Sunday to pay tribute to a World War II-era underground force that collaborated with Nazi German forces toward the end of the war in their battle against the Communists, who were imposing control on the nation. – Associated Press 

British history has become a Brexit battleground. British voters’ decision three years ago to split from the European Union was fueled by a sense that the U.K. is fundamentally separate from its continental neighbors — a sceptered isle, rather than a European power. – Associated Press 

Matteo Salvini, who plunged Italy into turmoil by pulling out of a coalition government, could eventually take the country out of the EU, a former prime minister warned Sunday. – Agence France-Presse 

The 20th century was a complicated period of Lithuanian history. The country briefly gained its independence at the end of World War I only to be occupied again at the start of the next global conflagration. At the beginning of the 1940s, the region was home to a thriving Jewish population, with more than 250,000 Jews living within Lithuania’s modern-day borders. – Politico

The US has threatened to withdraw thousands of troops stationed in Germany amid a dispute with Angela Merkel’s government over defence spending. – Telegraph

Stanisław Zaryn writes: In recent years, Moscow has become more and more brutal in subordinating the countries of the region to its political and business goals. […]We must be aware of the nature and methods of the Kremlin’s actions. Narrowing down Russia’s hostile activity to spreading lies in the media is a losing battle. – Defense News


On July 24, shortly after a U.N. envoy left the mayor’s office in the capital of Somalia, a suicide bomber found her way in. The bomb killed at least six people and severely wounded Mayor Abdirahman Omar Osman[…]. In a statement Friday, Somalia’s security ministry said the woman and another female colleague had taken time off work a month earlier and are now believed to have traveled to territory controlled by the extremist group al-Shabab. – Washington Post 

As Muslims in Khartoum marked their first Eid al-Adha feast without Omar al-Bashir as a ruler in three decades, the mood was upbeat Sunday but the menu stayed frugal. – Agence France-Presse 

His time in America ended in late January 2017, less than a week after Trump’s inauguration, when he was put on a chartered flight full of deportees to Somalia. And in March of this year, Hassan died in a restaurant bombing in the Somali capital Mogadishu, killed in the sort of violence from which he’d fled in the first place. – The Daily Beast

The Americas

Former President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama has been found not guilty of political espionage after he was accused of spying on 150 people, including politicians, union leaders and journalists during his administration, and a court ordered his release. – Reuters  

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro said Friday the United States has approved the nomination of his son Eduardo as ambassador to Washington. – Agence France-Presse 

A Las Vegas man who reportedly wanted to shoot up area synagogues and a gay bar has been charged in federal court for possessing bomb-making materials. – Washington Examiner 


A retired nuclear submarine commander filed suit against the Navy to gain access to records classified for more than a half-century after the sinking of USS Thresher (SSN-593) – the Navy’s worst nuclear submarine disaster. – USNI News 

Texas A&M University System’s RELLIS campus in Bryan will be the new home to accelerator space, laboratories and offices for the four-star command. The announcement was made in a news release Thursday after the board of regents authorized the contract. – Defense News

New Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville is hoping to make major strides in building out a reformed and modernized land force. He spent the last several years deeply involved in laying the foundation. – Defense News

The Army wants to jam, spoof and hack enemy electronics with such subtlety the target doesn’t even realize what’s going wrong. That takes both high-tech equipment and highly trained personnel to use it. – Breaking Defense

Long War

The police in Norway said on Sunday that they were investigating a foiled attack at a mosque near Oslo as an attempted act of terrorism after a white gunman in a helmet and body armor opened fire but was overpowered before injuring anyone. – New York Times

The young woman said she thought she was going on vacation in Turkey, but instead found herself in Syria, tricked, she said, by her husband, who joined the Islamic State. She herself, she said, never subscribed to ISIS teaching. But back in Kazakhstan, government psychologists are taking no chances. – New York Times

A decade later, there is clear evidence that violence by white extremists is an undeniable and intensifying problem, especially after the racially motivated mass shooting in El Paso. But the question of how the government should attack domestic extremism, especially white supremacists, remains as politically fraught as ever, if for far different reasons, under President Trump. – New York Times

Republican Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise joined the chorus of voices calling for domestic terrorism to be made a federal crime in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. – Washington Examiner 

Bret Stephens writes: Hence the logic of U.S. nuclear deterrence, including the “extended deterrence” Republican and Democratic administrations furnished our allies for over 70 years. But that logic depends on maintaining a large, modern and calibrated arsenal that contains no gaps in a potential escalation cycle. Right now, the U.S. arsenal does have gaps, thanks to Russian treaty violations, is increasingly decrepit, thanks to delayed modernization, and may not be large enough in the face of not one, but two, major nuclear adversaries. – New York Times

Trump Administration

His trial, which starts Monday and is expected to last about two weeks, is widely viewed as a litmus test of the Justice Department’s growing effort to hold more foreign lobbyists criminally responsible for conduct the agency once treated as mere administrative infractions. – New York Times

Donald Trump’s push to restrict immigration is clashing with policy goals in ways that detractors and even some supporters say could hurt his 2020 reelection bid. It’s happened, they note, on everything from Trump’s effort to weaken Iran’s Islamist regime, to his attempts to strike a trade deal with Mexico, to his push to oust Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro. – Politico 

The FBI on Thursday released the bureau’s notes from its Russia probe interviews with Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official who has come under GOP fire for his ties to the Steele dossier. – The Hill