Fdd's overnight brief

August 13, 2019

In The News


But with tensions in the region running high and U.S. sanctions making daily life more difficult for Iranians, Dubai’s Iranian community is under pressure. Organizations that cater to them are struggling. – Washington Post

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday urged to international community to step up pressure on Iran, warning that time was running out before a UN arms embargo on Tehran expires. – Associated Press

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States on Monday of turning the Gulf region into a “matchbox ready to ignite”, according to Al Jazeera television. – Reuters

British warship HMS Kent set sail for the Gulf on Monday to join a U.S.-led mission protecting commercial shipping vessels in the region amid heightened political tension between the West and Iran. – Reuters

A once-successful Iranian businessman says he is lucky to be alive after being tortured by the Iranian authorities into a false confession of spying for Israel and assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists – a crime punishable by hanging. – BBC

Iran has criticized the massive amount of weapons sold by the United States and its partners to their Middle Eastern allies, warning such arms sales were destabilizing the region. – Newsweek

A federal US appeals court over the weekend overturned a previous ruling allowing the government to seize a Manhattan skyscraper claimed to be effectively controlled by Iran, pointing out problems with that verdict. – Associated Press

Iran said on Tuesday that Britain might free its oil tanker Grace 1 soon, after some documents were exchanged that would help the seized ship’s release. – Reuters

German exports to Iran fell by nearly half in the first six months of 2019, data showed on Monday, suggesting companies are scaling back business ties with Tehran to avoid trouble with the United States after Washington reimposed sanctions. – Reuters

Zvi Bar’el writes: This tension between Europe and the United States, and efforts to breathe new life into a diplomatic process, still does not ensure Iran a way out of its economic crisis. But in these troubled times, Iranians can at least enjoy the musical “The Sound of Music” which is now being performed on the stage of the Vahdat Hall in Teheran. – Haaretz


Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said in a recent interview on Euronews TV in France that while the Lebanese government’s partnership with Hezbollah has taken a toll on Lebanon’s relations with the West, it has helped Lebanon gain internal stability and maintain national unity. – Arutz Sheva

Matthew Levitt writes: One thing is blindingly clear: as Avi Weiss repeatedly emphasizes in his essay, a failure to hold Iran and Hizballah accountable now will only ensure further such plots in the future. – Mosaic Magazine

Mikey Stein writes: Though it is now known that Hezbollah, an Iran-sponsored terrorist group, was responsible for the attack, in 25 years, no Argentinian government has brought any of the perpetrators to justice. […]As long as we fail to show up for one another throughout the year, as long as we fail to be the People of Israel, we will continue to stand alone in the month of Av, suffering in isolation during the times when we Jews most need one another. – Jerusalem Post


Nearly three years have passed since President Bashar Assad’s forces gained full control of Aleppo, sweeping out rebels who had held the eastern half of the city through years of fighting. That victory made Aleppo — Syria’s largest city — a symbol of how Assad succeeded with crucial assistance from Russia and Iran in turning the tide of the long civil war, clawing back most opposition-held territory in the country’s heartland and ensuring Assad’s survival. – Associated Press

Turkey says a U.S. delegation has arrived in the country to set up a coordination center for a so-called “safe zone” in Syria, part of an agreement struck last week that appeared to avert a possible new Turkish incursion into Syria. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: While the United States wants the SDF to focus on stabilization and security, inevitably the SDF is concerned about Ankara’s threats and what a safe zone will mean. […]The approach to fighting ISIS has shown that current U.S. policy is primarily about working by, with and through local forces who help pinpoint and neutralize members of groups like ISIS. This policy is not focused on changing political systems and administering territory. – The National Interest


Soner Cagaptay and Deniz Yuksel write: It is yet to be seen if Erdogan will crack down on the new wave of rallies or try to co-opt and divide the opposition. Dissent has emerged even within his own party, with former AKP economic minister Ali Babacan, the wunderkind responsible for Turkey’s “economic miracle” in the 2000s, announcing that he will establish a new political movement. Whichever path Erdogan chooses, he will face an invigorated opposition seemingly bent on pushing Turkey’s democracy into a new phase. – Washington Institute

Michael Rubin writes: Either way, as the Trump administration and its Special Envoy on Syria James Jeffrey make life-and-death decisions that could impact the region for decades, no official should put the diplomatic nicety of taking Turkey at its word above a fundamental quest for truth. – The National Interest

Kaya Genc writes: Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the most baffling politician to emerge in the 96-year history of Turkey. […]It has taken him 16 years to forge what he calls “the new Turkey,” an economically self-reliant country with a marginalized opposition and a subservient press. – Foreign Affairs


A loud explosion was heard in northern Gaza Strip on Monday night, according to Palestinian media reports, after IDF forces have reportedly identified two drones that crossed from Gaza to Israeli territory and back. – Jerusalem Post

Israel’s defense establishment has decided to build another barrier in the Gaza envelope, this time a security wall against infiltration of terrorists into towns and communities located near the Gaza border. – Arutz Sheva

The Hamas terrorist organization on Monday accused the Palestinian Authority of providing security assistance to Israel and helping to thwart terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria. – Arutz Sheva

France’s representative Jewish organization on Monday demanded a parliamentary investigation into last week’s revelations by a former French intelligence chief that the country’s security services agreed a secret non-aggression pact with a Palestinian terrorist group. – Algemeiner

Ram Yavne and Ari Cicurel write: With neither Israel nor Hamas wanting another war, the fragile situation between them might seem the best that can be achieved. However, it doesn’t take much for low-grade conflict to escalate. Gaza’s deterioration requires more comprehensive economic and political steps if war is to be averted. – Bloomberg


The United Arab Emirates on Monday urged UAE-backed Yemeni southern separatists that took control of Aden, seat of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, to engage in dialogue to defuse the crisis. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdelaziz discussed the situation in Yemen with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nayhan, on Monday, state-run Saudi TV said. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates on Monday downplayed a rift with ally Saudi Arabia over Yemen after separatists it backs took control of Aden that was the base of the Saudi-backed government. – Reuters

The head of Yemen’s separatist movement said he was ready to take part in Saudi-brokered peace talks after clashes with pro-government forces killed dozens in second city Aden. – Agence FrancePresse

Samuel Ramani writes: As hostilities between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis continue unabated, and Yemen’s regional cleavages deepen, Russia could expand its diplomatic involvement in Yemen in the months to come. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The presence of Western forces in the Gulf is fuelling regional tension, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim said on Monday. – Reuters

Iraq’s interior ministry says a large explosion at an ammunition depot southwest of the capital, Baghdad, has injured 13 people, most lightly. […]The base houses a weapons depot for the Iraqi federal police and the mainly Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. The state-sanctioned PMF militias, which also receive backing from Iran, have fought alongside Iraq’s regular armed forces against the Islamic State group. – Associated Press

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen and Giorgio Cafiero write: It is difficult to read Oman’s embassy announcement and its timing as not being connected to the Bahrain workshop. […]Rather, it is rooted in Oman’s longstanding desire to facilitate dialogue in order to address — and hopefully resolve — political flashpoints in the sultanate’s volatile immediate and broader neighborhood. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

U.N. experts say they are investigating at least 35 instances in 17 countries of North Koreans using cyberattacks to illegally raise money for weapons of mass destruction programs — and they are calling for sanctions against ships providing gasoline and diesel to the country. – Associated Press

Stephen Biegun, the diplomat who has been leading efforts to revive stalled U.S. denuclearization talks with North Korea, is under consideration to be President Donald Trump’s next ambassador to Russia, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday. – Reuters

Ian Buruma writes: In a purely rational world, Japan would lead a democratic alliance with South Korea, Taiwan and much of Southeast Asia to balance the might of China. In a world fueled by historical passions, America’s retreat will almost certainly drive South Korea even closer to China, while Japan, possibly with a revised Constitution — and perhaps even, down the road, its own nuclear arms — might pull back behind its sea walls, hoping to be left alone by untrustworthy alien powers. Such a move might ensure peace for some time. […]But only a fool would bet on it. – New York Times


Arrests and deportations of foreign teachers in China have soared this year, lawyers, schools and teachers say, amid a broad crackdown defined by new police tactics and Beijing’s push for a “cleaner”, more patriotic education system. – Reuters

Facing another U.S. tariff hike, Chinese President Xi Jinping is getting tougher with Washington instead of backing down. – Associated Press

Michael Schuman writes: Looking forward, the inadequately educated workforce could be another impediment to Beijing’s plans to challenge the U.S. in technology, despite state subsidies and protection of favored industries. […]As the authors conclude, “China must significantly raise its level of human capital if it wishes to attain high-income status.” In the end, China can only be as competitive as its people. – Bloomberg

Dennis J. Blasko writes: This suggests that while the PLA has learned from the United States and other militaries and has adapted many lessons in reforms, it does not intend to replicate the structure and doctrine of any other military because of factors unique to China. Outsiders might see many developments that look like parts of the American system, but analysts must resist the temptation to mirror-image U.S. capabilities and intentions onto China. – War on the Rocks


As the United States appears to be nearing a deal with the Taliban on pulling its troops from Afghanistan, the country’s security forces are in their worst state in years — almost completely on the defensive in much of the country, according to local military commanders and civilian officials. – New York Times

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States raised the possibility Monday that his country might redeploy troops from the Afghanistan border to the Kashmir frontier, a shift that could complicate American peace talks with the Taliban. – New York Times

U.S. and coalition forces with the NATO-led Resolute Support mission fell short in developing Afghan tactical air coordinators’ ability to coordinate airdrop operations with Afghan Air Forces, a new report says. – Military Times

South Asia

Indian troops clamped tight restrictions on mosques across Kashmir for Monday’s Eid al-Adha festival over protest fears, as Beijing warned New Delhi its actions in the restive territory were causing “regional tensions”. – Agence FrancePresse

China’s foreign ministry said it showed a “principled” stand on “unilateral” actions taken by India in a meeting between the two countries’ top diplomats on Monday. – Reuters

Asad Majeed Khan writes: The time is now for the United States to make good on Trump’s offer of mediation — not for Pakistan’s sake or for India’s sake, but for the sake of the only people who have not been heard since India gagged them a week ago: the people of Kashmir themselves. – Washington Post

Hijab Shah and Melissa Dalton write: The BJP’s actions in Kashmir will likely be a narrative boon for violent extremist groups, who are already radicalizing disenfranchised Kashmiris toward their cause. With Pakistan’s history of backing Kashmiri separatists and militants, the situation bodes ill for regional security. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Thousands of protesters shut down Hong Kong’s international airport Monday, defying an intensifying police crackdown, as China issued ominous warnings that described the protests as “terrorism” and began massing a paramilitary force in a southern border city. – Washington Post

As anti-government demonstrations escalate in Hong Kong, each side is staking out increasingly polarized positions, making it difficult to find a path to compromise between the protesters and China’s ruling Communist Party. – New York Times

Anti-government demonstrators staged another protest at Hong Kong’s airport on Tuesday, as the city’s embattled leader pleaded for order after days of escalating chaos, mass flight cancellations and violent street clashes. – New York Times

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday said he was very worried about events in Hong Kong, which has a large Canadian population, and urged Chinese authorities to handle the protests there with tact. – Reuters

U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned China on Monday that any violent crackdown on protests in Hong Kong would be “completely unacceptable,” while Trump administration officials urged all sides to refrain from violence. – Reuters

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defended law enforcement actions Tuesday after protesters prompted an airport shutdown with calls to investigate alleged police brutality. – Associated Press

Editorial: The right answer for President Xi Jinping and for Ms. Lam, if she remains in office, is to open serious negotiations with the protesters on their demands, which are quite reasonable. Cinching the noose ever tighter, as the Chinese government has done in recent weeks, is the pathway to a dead end that could harm both Hong Kong and mainland China economically as well as politically. A cliff looms, and China’s leaders should turn back before it is too late. – Washington Post

Tyler Cowen writes: In contrast, I hear no talk today about how the Hong Kong protesters might inspire broader movements for liberty. Instead, Americans are preoccupied with fighting each other over political correctness, gun violence, Trump and the Democratic candidates for president. To be sure, those issues deserve plenty of attention. But they are soaking up far too much emotional energy, distracting attention from the all-important struggles for liberty around the world. – Bloomberg


In online posts and calls to local officials, Russians on Monday expressed anger that the explosion of a small nuclear reactor at a military test site last week has gone unacknowledged for days by their government. – New York Times

President Donald Trump said Monday that the United States is learning “much” from a deadly blast during a Russian missile test that caused elevated radiation levels. – Agence FrancePresse

Leonid Bershidsky writes: So far, the authorities have been winning the tug of war, but not decisively: After all, the protests have been growing rather than subsiding. More cruel beatings, and especially an accidental death, conceivably could lead to an out-of-control escalation. Putin is taking a risk by allowing the violence to continue. – Bloomberg

Leonid Bershidsky writes: It’s unreasonable, however, to expect people to trust a government that keeps its cards so close to the chest –  not for the first time. The sight of people snapping up iodine tablets despite calming statements from officials is more of a comment on the Putin regime than a missile test failure. Russians don’t trust their authorities, and no one else should trust Putin’s government, either, even in matters of life and death. – Bloomberg


President Trump’s national security adviser said he told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson the administration would strongly support the U.K.’s exit from the European Union in late October—deal or no deal. – Wall Street Journal

A 65-year-old former Pakistani military officer is being credited with thwarting an attack at a mosque in Norway after he tackled a heavily armed gunman who allegedly stormed into the house of worship with the intent of carrying out a mass shooting motivated by hatred of Muslims. – Washington Post

Britain’s intelligence agencies expect close relations with European and other foreign spy services to continue regardless of plans to quit the European Union, official sources said. – Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s national security team is reviewing the United Kingdom’s posture toward Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications giant that U.S. officials regard as a platform for spy agencies. – Washington Examiner

The United States is ready to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.K. “in pieces” to help speed the process as Britain prepares to leave the European Union on Oct. 31, National Security Adviser John Bolton said Monday. – Associated Press

Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Rachel Rizzo write: Europeans are more aware and concerned by the challenges that China poses and have taken real steps to push back against it. But the message coming from Europe continues to convey an aversion to choosing between the United States and China. Europe must realize where its long-term interests lie, and not let this administration or the allure of economic gains prevent the right choice. The health of liberal democracy will depend on it. – Politico

Claude Barfield writes: The dream (particularly among conservatives) of an American-British trade alliance goes back to the Reagan-Thatcher era. It looks as if it will remain a “dream” for some time to come. – American Enterprise Institute


The Navy will begin replacing the digital throttles on its destroyers with physical ones in 2020 after a report found confusion and poor training on the touchscreen system contributed to a deadly crash. – Washington Examiner

Hiring freeze imposed by Rex Tillerson soon after Trump took office, the 16-month freeze crushed morale and hindered operations, the inspector general found. – Defense One

Roslyn Layton writes: Building on the groundwork of the White House and the Department of Commerce, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Tom Cotton (R-AK) have proposed strengthening restrictions and prohibiting retaliatory abuse by Huawei, measures which could be extended to other dangerous firms. These are elements of the “whole of government” approach needed to address technological threats from firms associated with the Chinese government and military. – American Enterprise Institute

Jared Samuelson writes: The suggested series above would allow senior leaders to test operational ideas, initiate the difficult political discussions related to force management, provide data for future procurement decisions, and come to the table with their counterparts from the ground forces with more concrete ideas about how NATO’s navies can contribute to a future ground campaign. – War on the Rocks

Long War

The F.B.I. on Monday said it was seeking to interrogate an Egyptian man who arrived in Brazil last year, calling him a suspected operative for Al Qaeda who has been involved in planning attacks against the United States. – New York Times

A U.N. investigator rebuked France on Monday for its possible role in the transfer of seven suspected jihadists from Syria to Iraq, but Paris dismissed her concerns as speculation. – Reuters

A knife-wielding man yelling “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” attempted to stab several people in Sydney on Tuesday before being restrained by members of the public, with one person taken to a hospital, police and witnesses said. – Associated Press

Copenhagen Imam Mundhir Abdallah said in a June 21, 2019 Friday sermon at the Al-Faruq Mosque in Copenhagen that Muslims, their blood, their honor, and their holy places are no longer inviolable. […]On July 24, 2018, Imam Abdallah was indicted in Denmark for calling for the murder of Jews in a Friday, March 31, 2017 sermon that had been translated and released by MEMRI. – Middle East Media Research Institute