Fdd's overnight brief

August 14, 2019

In The News


Iran and the U.K. are making progress toward the release of an Iranian tanker impounded in Gibraltar, according to people familiar with the talks, a move that could prompt Tehran to free a British-flagged vessel it subsequently seized and defuse tensions between the two countries. – Wall Street Journal

The British territory of Gibraltar will not yet release an Iranian oil tanker seized by Royal Marines in the Mediterranean despite an Iranian report that it could do so on Tuesday, an official Gibraltar source said. – Reuters

At least 10 political activists were arrested in the Iranian city of Mashhad this week, during a protest supporting an activist who took part in an open letter calling for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to resign from his position earlier in June. – Jerusalem Post

Jason M. Brodsky writes: Some observers will argue that the United States can’t choose its Iranian counterparts and that representatives with bloodstained records like Ali Akbar Velayati are unacceptable. While that may be true, these three inconvenient truths counsel against viewing Zarif as having a monopoly on Iran’s foreign policy apparatus. Likewise, if President Trump can sit down with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, anything is possible. Zarif may be a singular Iranian statesman abroad, but at home, he’s just another cog in the machine of state. – The Hill


Nearly 60 people were killed after clashes ensued between Assad loyalists and rebels in northwest Syria on Tuesday, according to Al Arabiya. – Jerusalem Post

War crimes in Syria and other conflict zones show that the Geneva Conventions are no longer deterring governments and armed groups from mass killing, rape and torture, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Tuesday. – The National

Gönül Tol and Joseph Votel write: For any deal in northeastern Syria to work, it has to provide a sustainable solution to U.S. and Turkish security interests and address Kurdish concerns. The current agreement fails on all counts. – Middle East Institute


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly snubbed a visiting delegation of Republican Congress members on Tuesday, sending other senior officials to meet them in his place. – Times of Israel

White House hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed at a town hall Tuesday leveraging billions of dollars in aid to Israel to push the country to change some of its policies. – The Hill

In a March 7, 2019 episode of Blue Line that aired on Channel 2 (Egypt), Al-Azab Al-Tayyeb, an Egyptian journalist working for the Al-Ahram newspaper, said that the “Zionist entity” has influential lobby groups throughout the world – particularly in the United States – that employ financial, media, and political control over decision-making centers such as the U.S. Congress, the President, the State Department, and think tanks. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Hamas security forces are preventing Palestinians from approaching the security fence along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, a source close to Hamas said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas officials laid responsibility for recent infiltrations of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip into Israel, citing the harsh living conditions in the Gaza Strip, Ynet reported citing Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Authority was called to task for hate speech and antisemitism in its official statements and in its textbooks during the government’s first ever review by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held in Geneva on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar vowed to defeat the IDF and “shower” Israeli cities with missile barrages if Israel launches another military campaign in the Gaza Strip. – Jerusalem Post

David Pollock writes: Palestinian public opinion clearly distinguishes between perceived rights and realities. Results from a new poll conducted June 27-July 15 show very mixed views on long-term peace issues among Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The “two-state solution” has lost majority support. Yet if that option were available, most Palestinians in those territories would be willing to compromise on the core refugee issue. […]However, these hardline views reflect Palestinian preferences, perceived rights, or vague expectations of the indefinite future–not their sense of the realistic options today. – Washington Institute

Arabian Peninsula

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged on Tuesday Tehran’s continued support for Yemen’s Houthi movement and called for dialogue among Yemenis to safeguard the war-shattered nation’s territorial integrity. – Reuters

Millions of haj pilgrims began heading back to Mecca for final prayers on Tuesday as the world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims wound down without incident despite the logistical challenges and escalating regional tensions. – Reuters

In an August 1, 2019 article in the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily, Saudi journalist Mishal Al-Sudairy considered why fundamentalist Arabs and Muslims accuse Western countries of racism even though they are home to millions of Arabs and Muslims who enjoy full human rights and even hold high-level positions such as government minister and mayor. While he agreed that the West was involved in wars and had committed serious crimes, he added that it had mended its ways and continues to lead humanity on the road to progress, democracy, and human rights.  – Middle East Media Research Institute

Simon Henderson writes: At one time, articles described MBZ as MbS’s mentor, or their relationship as a “bromance,” but the Saudi prince increasingly appears to be immune from accepting advice and guidance. Yemen probably still is a sideshow in the drama of the Middle East, but even before the latest events the UAE had started to draw down on its involvement in getting rid of the Houthi regime in Sana. MbZ is judged to be satisfied with a separate South Yemen emerging. Whether this is part of MbS’s vision, or whether he is prepared to accept new realities, is the immediate question.  – The Hill


A top leader from Libya’s internationally recognized government says the Trump administration should be doing more to exert American power and diplomatic influence toward ending his country’s brutal and destabilizing civil war. – Washington Times

Fighting around Tripoli resumed overnight, following a two-day truce observed during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, Libyan officials said Tuesday. – Associated Press

French military deployments in Libya have run counter to international aims, an Italian foreign ministry official has said, as fighting continues to plague Libya. – The National

Middle East & North Africa

A fictional caper about an antiquities heist set in an ancient Jordanian city has stirred widespread outrage over the film’s portrayal of historical Jewish ties to Jordan, shining a light on the tenuous peace with neighboring Israel and prompting the government to suspend the movie’s production. – Associated Press

Dozens of House Democrats are urging President Donald Trump to stop detaining and deporting Iraqi nationals after the death of a Michigan man sent to the Middle Eastern country. – Politico

Moving forward rapidly, Bahrain has signed a letter of offer and acceptance with the U.S. government to buy the Patriot air-and-missile defense system, triggering contract negotiations for the Foreign Military Sale between the U.S. and Patriot-maker Raytheon, according to a company statement. Bahrain is the newest and seventeenth customer of Patriot worldwide to include the United States. – Defense News

Alex Walsh and Jana Treffler write: Considering the growing value of German security support globally, Tunisia offers important lessons for the effective promulgation of the SSR Strategy both in the Tunisian case and in the region as a whole. This article addresses two overarching questions: First, to what extent do Germany’s security assistance programs in Tunisia conform to the guiding principles it has established? And second, what does this mean for making Germany’s new SSR Strategy both principled and effective? – Middle East Institute

Hanin Ghaddar writes: If sanctions are implemented as part of a comprehensive U.S. policy aimed at exploring ways to restore political balance in Lebanon, then Hezbollah’s alliances and financial support base may truly be shaken. The best place to start is by exerting more pressure on Bassil’s partnership with Hezbollah, and not hesitating to levy sanctions when diplomatic attempts fall short. – Washington Institute

Assaf Orion writes: Foreign officials may therefore wish to consider whether the recent U.S. designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a worthwhile model for portions of Lebanon’s military. There is already sufficient evidence to sanction LAF Military Intelligence and certain individual officers for their affiliation with Hezbollah. At the very least, international support for the LAF should refocus on border security and counterterrorism, and aid should be conditioned on performance and personnel vetting. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Tokyo issued a travel advisory to Japanese citizens visiting South Korea, ahead of crucial anniversaries this week, urging them to be cautious about safety as ties between the neighbours worsen over trade and historical issues. – Reuters

Any move by the United States to place new ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in South Korea could spark a “new Cold War” and an escalating arms race in the region, North Korean state media said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The United Nations said on Wednesday it was gravely concerned about reports indicating 11 civilians had been killed in an Afghan security force operation in an eastern province near the border with Pakistan. – Reuters

A North Korean woman who fled to South Korea was found dead along with her young son late last month and authorities suspect the pair may have starved to death at home while living in extreme poverty in Seoul. – Newsweek

David Axe writes: South Korea is getting an aircraft carrier. The vessel could help Seoul’s navy to compete with its main rivals, the Chinese and Japanese fleets. The South Korean joint chiefs of staff decided on July 12, 2019 to acquire an assault ship capable of operating fixed-wing aircraft, Defense News reported. The vessel presumably would embark vertical-landing F-35B stealth fighters. – The National Interest


The Trump administration abruptly suspended plans to impose new tariffs on about $156 billion in goods from China, saying the move was driven by concerns about the impact an escalating trade fight would have on businesses and consumers ahead of the holiday shopping season. – Wall Street Journal

Negative attitudes toward China are hardening among Americans, who increasingly see Beijing as an economic and military adversary, according to new research that shows opinions souring as the trade war between the two countries intensifies. – Wall Street Journal

Foreign companies that have been labeling Hong Kong as a separate entity from China were quick to apologize this week to angry Chinese buyers, fearful of losing favor in the world’s second-biggest consumer market. – Wall Street Journal

Asian stocks joined a global equities surge on Wednesday, after Washington delayed tariffs on some Chinese imports and gave much-needed relief for markets gripped by political and economic turmoil. – Reuters

Chinese officials are sticking to their plan to visit Washington in September for face-to-face trade meetings, people familiar with the matter said, signaling that talks remain on track for now despite an abrupt escalation in tariff threats this month. – Bloomberg

Editorial: The White House announced it will postpone part of its recently announced third round of 10% tariffs on Chinese goods until Dec. 15, and stocks rallied while bond yields rose. All of this looks like a tactical White House retreat more than a strategic shift, and bloodshed in Hong Kong could blow everything up (see nearby). But at least the reprieve offers more time to avoid a trade meltdown. – Wall Street Journal

John Authers writes: Could it be that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping managed the almost-impossible, with each surviving a game of chicken like the one portrayed in “Rebel Without A Cause” […]It looks like Trump has swerved first, avoiding what might have been a worse fate had he “won” and imposed tariffs as scheduled. He is implicitly admitting — correctly — that it is Americans who would bear the burden of paying these new tariffs and not the Chinese. – Bloomberg

Shuli Ren writes: Washington likes to think it still wields influence in the geopolitical domain, but it’s increasingly seen as indifferent to the wider world. As easy money starts flowing again and Trump shifts policies, the U.S. is losing key emerging markets allies. Back in April, in its second Belt and Road Forum, President Xi sounded chastened about his China Dream ambitions to make the country great again. But he may soon be feeling triumphant. – Bloomberg

Desmond Lachman writes: Judging by China’s immediate retaliation to the U.S. import tariff threat, it would appear that China has no intention of caving in to United States trade policy demands. It would seem that China knows the costs that a US-China trade war can inflict on both the U.S. economy and the U.S. stock market, and it also knows that there are political limits to how much pain the U.S. can bear. Sadly, it is far from clear that the Trump administration has a grasp on how costly to the U.S. public its China tariffs might be. It is also not clear that it understands the dangers of the tariff fire with which it is playing. – The Hill

South Asia

After months of negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, both sides have signaled that they are nearing an initial peace deal for Afghanistan, perhaps in the coming weeks or even sooner, even though the recent talks have seemed bogged down in the final details. – New York Times

Schools in Afghanistan sit at the nexus of education, politics and violence. Their openings are heralded by many as signs of progress in a country stunted by conflict; their students are stewards of Afghanistan’s future who might one day lift it out of poverty. But schools here, as in many other countries, also serve as traditional polling places — and so become targets of Taliban violence, especially during election years. – Washington Post

The United Nations said on Wednesday it was gravely concerned about reports indicating 11 civilians had been killed in an Afghan security force operation in an eastern province near the border with Pakistan. – Reuters

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan used an address celebrating Independence Day on Wednesday to criticise India for its actions in the disputed Kashmir region that has long been a flashpoint between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. – Reuters

Pakistan has asked the United Nations Security Council for an urgent meeting on the contested Kashmir region also claimed by India, according to a letter released by Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Wednesday. – Reuters


A woman was killed and another woman wounded when a man went on a stabbing spree in the heart of Sydney, sending Australia’s largest city into lockdown before three men armed only with a chair and a milk crate subdued him. […]Police said it was unclear what motivated the attack, which raised fears of a repeat of a terrorist attack in the same Sydney district in 2014. – Wall Street Journal

The prison authorities in New Zealand acknowledged on Wednesday that they had mistakenly allowed the man charged in the Christchurch mosque attacks to send at least one letter from jail calling for racial violence. – New York Times

China’s leaders were battered by a typhoon over the weekend during their annual Communist Party retreat at Beidaihe, a coastal resort where senior officials have gathered each August for more than six decades. – Washington Post

Police clashed with protesters thronging Hong Kong’s airport late Tuesday, with violence flaring at the end of a second straight day of pro-democracy demonstrators overwhelming one of the world’s busiest travel hubs. – Wall Street Journal

China’s Hong Kong Liaison office said on Wednesday that anti government protesters were no different to “terrorists”, as U.S. President Donald Trump said Chinese troops were moving to the border with Hong Kong and urged calm. – Reuters

President Trump on Tuesday said that he’s hopeful that escalating clashes between anti-government protesters and police forces in Hong Kong can be resolved, but offered no direct warning to China amid signs that Beijing is preparing to crack down on demonstrators. – The Hill

China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday told the United States to stay out of its internal affairs after some U.S. lawmakers, including House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, condemned what they called acts of violence by police against protesters in Hong Kong. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday, citing U.S. intelligence, said China’s government was moving troops to its border with Hong Kong and he urged calm as clashes continued between protesters and authorities in the former British colony. – Reuters

Chinese officials are denying two U.S. warships port visits to Hong Kong amidst ongoing protests against the government in Beijing. – USNI News

Editorial: The stakes are rising in Hong Kong, as clashes between pro-democracy protesters and the local government backed by China are escalating. The damage could be global if President Xi Jinping orders a bloody crackdown, and President Trump should be warning the Chinese President not to do it. This is a case when China’s President needs blunt candor, not familiar Trumpian flattery. – Wall Street Journal


Four days after a missile carrying nuclear materials exploded on a platform on the White Sea, military officials came to the little nearby village of Nyonoksa and told residents that they should evacuate for a few hours Wednesday. – Washington Post

The Kremlin boasted on Tuesday it was winning the race to develop new cutting edge nuclear weapons despite a mysterious rocket accident last week in northern Russia that caused a temporary spike in radiation levels. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron will seek to persuade his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next week to resume peace talks with Ukraine after its new president offered an olive branch, a French official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A Russian fighter jet saw off a NATO warplane after it approached a plane carrying Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu over neutral waters in the Baltic Sea, the TASS news agency reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Nadav Eyal writes: Russia’s seemingly accelerated arms race and willingness to go to war should be more of a concern for the world than a single incident that does not seem to have far reaching consequences. The worry is that the Russians are fast tracking their arms race and investing vast resources and groundbreaking technologies: nuclear and other, in increasing their military’s might in all aspects and all arenas, from the Arctic to the Middle East. – Ynet


As the country girds for Parliament’s return in September, only one thing seems certain: The confused and chaotic Brexit process promises to plunge Britain into new unknowns as an Oct. 31 deadline for leaving the European Union bears down. – New York TImes

Parliament will block a no-deal Brexit if unelected people behind Prime Minister Boris Johnson try to wrench Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 without agreement, former finance minister Philip Hammond said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Danish police said on Wednesday they had arrested a 22-year old Swedish man and issued an international warrant for a 23-year old Swede, both suspected of being behind an explosion outside the Danish Tax Agency’s office in Copenhagen last week. – Reuters

Alphabet Inc’s Google unit, Facebook Inc and Amazon.com Inc are among the companies that will testify Monday at a U.S. government hearing on the French government’s digital services tax. – Reuters

Britain and the United States are discussing a partial trade accord that could take effect on Nov. 1, the day after Britain is due to leave the European Union, a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Holocaust denier and blogger Alison Chabloz says she has been banned from France, JTA reported on Tuesday. – Arutz Sheva


The Army recently awarded Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson with a posthumous Bronze Star with Valor device for his heroism during the October 2017 Niger ambush that killed him and three other Special Forces soldiers. – Military.com

On August 7, 2019, Al-Qaeda’s Al-Sahab media wing released a video featuring a speech by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri titled “The Battle of the Hijab.” In the video, Al-Zawahiri addresses Muslim women and warns them of the war raging against the Islamic nation that seeks to force them to abandon their religion and hijab (“head covering”). – Middle East Media Research Institute

Lisa Mueller and Abhit Bhandari write: On July 10, authorities from Niger and Burkina Faso signed an accord to ease interstate cooperation on issues of counterterrorism, economic development and natural resource management. […]Open borders may be on the way. But persistent nationalism in African countries, often passed down through generations, suggests that open borders may not inevitably weaken national loyalties or replace them with a Pan-African identity, despite the hopes of pan-Africanists. – Washington Post

Nasreldin Wali writes: The United States’ new interest in engaging with Sudan is commendable, but it must also be sustained. There is now a golden opportunity to build a new relationship with Sudan, but the United States must learn from its past lessons in the region and not lose sight of Sudan as it did other countries in the region, such as Syria and Libya. Proactive diplomacy and a clear political stance must be adopted by the administration, and sooner rather than later. The United States must act swiftly to declare its firm stance of support for the new change in Sudan and recognition of the civilian-led government, while also providing it with the help it needs to develop. – Washington Institute

The Americas

Top military leaders have repeatedly declared their allegiance to the Maduro administration. But over the past two years, as the oil-rich economy crumbled and a majority of Venezuelans were left without sufficient food and medicine, factions within the security forces have staged at least five attempts to overthrow or assassinate the president. – New York Times

A Guatemalan immigration agreement signed with the Trump administration won’t work because the Central American nation does not have the resources, the country’s new president-elect says. – Associated Press

Charles Larratt-Smith writes: Last week, the Trump administration introduced tougher sanctions against Maduro and his key allies, aiming to weaken the regime. These sanctions will make it harder for foreign companies to continue to do business in Venezuela and will further block the ruling coalition from accessing U.S. debt and equity markets. But sanctions are unlikely to remove Maduro from power. Here’s why. – Washington Post

Andres Martinez-Fernandez writes: The authoritarian regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has kept its hold on power despite a dramatic economic and political crisis. Its tenacity has confounded observers. Policymakers pressing for a political transition in Venezuela have targeted various support structures that sustain the Maduro regime, including corrupt cronies, military officials, and Cuban advisors. However, lawmakers in the United States and in the countries neighboring Venezuela must do more to confront transnational criminal and guerrilla organizations. These groups’ support of the Maduro regime is an important barrier to political change in Venezuela. – Real Clear World

Michael Rubin writes: Inaccurate and imprecise State Department warnings are not limited to Somalia. The State Department’s Iraq warning neither acknowledges Iraqi Kurdistan’s decades-long security nor the dramatic drop in Baghdad violence. […]Overly broad travel warnings matter. They undercut diplomacy and diminish soft power when America needs it most. They inflate insurance costs and dissuade investment. In effect, the State Department’s embrace of travel warning inaccuracy risks ceding entire countries to Russian, Chinese, Turkish, or Iranian influence as their businessmen sink roots while their American counterparts are absent. – The Hill


A Marine officer who has spent years fighting to remain in uniform after sending classified info to his comrades downrange to warn them about an insider attack threat should be allowed to continue serving, a panel found last week. – Military.com

The U.S. Air Force has given the OK for a majority of its C-130 Hercules fleet to fly again after about a quarter of its cargo aircraft were grounded last week for precautionary inspections. – Military.com

The government needs to do a better job showing that it values cybersecurity professionals as it battles to attract and retain a digital workforce, industry professionals told Fifth Domain during a week of information security conferences in Las Vegas, Nevada. – Fifth Domain

Lockheed Martin has unveiled a model for measuring the cyber resiliency of weapon systems. Dubbed the Cyber Resiliency Level (CRL) model, the defense giant boasts this is a first-of-its-kind concept focusing exclusively on defense weapon systems, mission systems and training systems — not IT systems. – Fifth Domain

The Pentagon’s chief of research and engineering says the military is capable of defending against missile attacks from China and Russia — should the country choose to invest in the necessary systems. – Washington Examiner