Fdd's overnight brief

August 15, 2019

In The News


A British-Iranian academic was arrested at his home in Tehran over the weekend, roiling relations once again between Iran and Britain just as they appeared to be making progress on the release of an Iranian tanker seized in Gibraltar. – New York Times

The U.S. Department of Justice has made an application in Gibraltar’s Supreme Court to seize an Iranian tanker the British overseas territory was about to release after a six-week detention, a spokesman for Gibraltar’s government said. – Wall Street Journal

Forty years after the Iranian Revolution, U.S. media coverage of Iran is still so overwhelmingly focused on the country’s fraught relationship with the United States that certain images have become tropes. Stock photographs of chador-clad women; shown in profile, their faces almost invisible as they walk past anti-American street murals, are published with ludicrous frequency. – Washington Post

Gibraltar’s Supreme Court was to decide on Thursday whether an Iranian oil tanker seized last month near the tiny British territory can be held longer amid speculation that it might soon be released. – Agence FrancePresse

Iran has unveiled what appears to be its first indigenously developed mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle (MRAP) on 13 August. – Janes 360

Iran is continuing its attempts to circumvent US sanctions, especially on its oil exports, using mysterious Lebanese front companies to smuggle its product onto the market. – Algemeiner

An award-winning Iranian movie superstar has been banned from appearing on the Islamic Republic’s monopolized TV networks, apparently for protesting the arrest of a female photojournalist. – Radio Farda

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has dismissed the U.S. plan to form a military coalition in the Persian Gulf to protect navigation as “superficial and impractical,” and has characterized reports about Israel’s presence in the coalition as “absurd.” – Radio Farda

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander Hossein Salami declared on Wednesday that the Hezbollah terrorist organization “has acquired capabilities in Syria that allow it to destroy Israel alone”, i24News reports. – Arutz Sheva


The Syrian Kurdish allies of the United States are attempting a different approach. Their goal, Kurdish officials say, is to rehabilitate and reintegrate many of the Islamic State fighters in their custody, in hopes of deterring a revival of the militant movement. – Washington Post

The jihadist group Tahrir al-Sham said it shot down a warplane over Idlib province on Wednesday, identifying the jet as a Sukhoi 22. In a statement released on its Telegram feed, Tahrir al-Sham said the warplane was shot down near the town of al-Tamanah in southern Idlib. – Reuters

Syrian forces have gained more ground from insurgents in the country’s northwest, edging closer to a major rebel-held town, a day after militants shot down a government warplane in the area. – Associated Press

Turkish drones have started operating in northern Syria where Washington and Ankara have agreed to create a safe zone, Turkey’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday. – Reuters


As a potential new conflict looms, with Turkey threatening to invade northern Syria, life on the border is more unruly and dangerous than ever. Read on for more insight about what life is like on the border. – Business Insider

Soner Cagaptay and Deniz Yuksel write: A resource-poor nation with an annual energy import bill of about $30 billion, Turkey needs tens of billions of dollars in FDI or heavy annual cash flows to maintain economic growth and keep Erdogan’s base satisfied. Attracting such a windfall from China would require Ankara to substantially change its Uyghur policy—a tall order given historical patterns. Yet Turkish businesses have had trouble obtaining credit from European and American investors of late, creating a void that Chinese investors may decide to fill in greater numbers. If that scenario comes to pass, Beijing’s political muscle over Ankara could increase considerably, moving Turkey closer to the emerging China-Russia axis in global politics. – Washington Institute

Laura Pitel, Aime Williams, and Henry Foy write: As the date for delivery of Turkey’s order of a Russian S-400 air defence system drew closer, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced louder and louder warnings. If the shipment went ahead, US officials and analysts cautioned, then Donald Trump would have no choice but to impose sanctions that could wreak havoc on the fragile Turkish economy. – Financial Times

Paul Iddon writes: Turkey’s track record in Syria suggests it might use a U.S.-backed safe zone planned for Kurdish-majority northeastern Syria to fundamentally reshape the region’s demographic makeup, though Washington would likely stand in its way. – Ahval


Democrats in Congress are quietly bracing for a new public fight with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his government informed congressional leaders on Wednesday that it would formally announce that Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) would be denied entry into Israel because of their support of a boycott movement against Israel, said several congressional aides familiar with the discussions. – Washington Post

The question of who will be Israel’s next ambassador to the UN remained open on Wednesday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top pick officially turned down the position. – Algemeiner

Congressman Max Rose (D-NY) returned from Israel this week with a renewed commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship and an unflagging belief in the possibility of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. – Jewish Insider

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas snubbed a Republican congressional delegation on Tuesday, despite meeting with a similar group of Democratic members last week. The 31 Republican members of Congress were scheduled to meet with Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday as part of a weeklong trip organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of AIPAC. – Jewish Insider

According to the PA officials, the Iranian regime wants to support Hamas’ efforts to rehabilitate the organization’s terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, to carry out additional attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets in the territory and even across the Green Line. – Israel Hayom

The Palestinian Authority revived the charge that “Zionism is racism” and warned that Israel is “weaponizing” antisemitism to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state, when its representatives testified Wednesday at the UN panel on racism. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) has accused the Palestinian Authority of being responsible for the violent protests on Sunday on the Temple Mount. – Jerusalem Post

While the IDF has not yet come up with its own proven operational response to enemy drones, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, ELTA Systems, has already sold 100 “Drone Guard” systems to a number of foreign defense agencies. – Ynet


Shortly before a federal judge sentenced him on Wednesday to life in prison for his role in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad, Nicholas A. Slatten, a former Blackwater security contractor, stood in a tan jumpsuit and defiantly proclaimed that he was an innocent victim of Justice Department prosecutors run amok. […]One of the darkest episodes in the conflict, the massacre of civilians became a charged symbol of American abuses and prompted a rethinking of American reliance on contractors in war zones. It also strained relations between the United States and the Iraqi government – New York Times

Michael Knights and Alexandre Mello write: The United States and other international actors should doggedly raise the heavy weapons risk in all meetings with senior Iraqi government leaders. PMF brigades do not require rocket artillery for their counterinsurgency missions against the Islamic State, much less Iranian short-range ballistic missiles. All such weapons should be declared, accounted for, documented, and moved to secure government storage facilities outside the cities. – Washington Institute

Bobby Ghosh writes: This overlap of interests is already bearing fruit. Iraq and Kuwait are planning to jointly develop oilfields, one of them in the Safwan area. It’s an opportunity to set aside decades-old disputes over the ownership of the land, and what lies beneath. (Remember that Saddam Hussein, in building a justification for the 1990 occupation, claimed Kuwait was stealing Iraqi oil.) Kuwaitis have also been helping the development of gas fields in southern Iraq. For Baghdad, these projects hold out the possibility of developing a hydrocarbons strategy independent from Iranian, Saudi and U.S. interests. – Bloomberg

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia has seriously ramped up its oil exports to China in recent months. The Saudi Kingdom’s crude shipments to China have doubled in the span of a year. During the same period, its oil exports to the U.S. have dropped by nearly two-thirds. – CNBC

An international law group has submitted new evidence to the UK government alleging that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has covered up evidence of its unlawful airstrikes on civilian targets. – The Guardian

Yemen’s southern separatists vowed on Wednesday to keep control over Aden, warning the only way out of the impasse that has fractured a Saudi-led military alliance was for Islamists and northerners to be removed from positions of power in the south. – Reuters

Stephen W. Day writes: After more than four years of fighting, the war in Yemen continues to drag on. Profound questions remain unanswered, and before negotiations can move forward, the parties will likely need to address the elephant in the room: the future structure of Yemen as a state. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

President Trump has brushed off North Korea’s resumption of missile launches, but the volley of tests in the past four months has significantly raised the country’s military capabilities and the threat they pose to South Korea and U.S. forces on the peninsula, experts say. – Washington Post

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, has vowed to achieve the unification of the Korean peninsula by 2045, a century after the end of the second world war. – The Guardian

South Korea’s armed forces laid out a five-year plan to bolster the country’s military posture, including new U.S.-built defenses, as North Korea warned their fragile detente could revert into conflict. – Newsweek

Nicholas Eberstadt writes: Things are not going well for Mr. Kim, neither abroad nor, apparently, at home. He has warned that North Korea would adopt a “new path” if sanctions are not lifted and has set the end of the year as a deadline for reaching some breakthrough with the United States. It remains to be seen, though, just how, or whether, North Korea’s Boy King can get his mojo back. – New York Times

Mark Episkopos writes: There is little historical question that North Korea’s defense industry was not only founded and sustained by direct Soviet military-technological transfers over a period of half a century, but that Soviet and Soviet-licensed hardware continues to be a pillar of North Korea’s current military equipment roster. However, the USSR’s Russian successor has been much less willing to act as a military beneficiary of Pyongyang; in the 21st century, that role has instead fallen to a People’s Republic of China that has been increasingly active in asserting its geopolitical interests in the East Asia region. –  The National Interest


President Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports are forcing Americans to pay more for everyday products. Many economists have shown this. Mr. Trump still does not see it — he continues to claim, incorrectly, that China alone is bearing the costs of his trade war with Beijing. But he admitted at least the possibility that he could be wrong about that on Tuesday, conceding that Americans could start paying more for many products if his latest round of tariffs went through as planned. – New York Times

By many accounts, China’s Belt and Road Initiative has been a monumental success: Since 2013 more than 130 countries have signed deals or expressed interest in projects geared to spurring trade along routes reminiscent of the ancient Silk Road. […]The mixed reviews abroad and worries at home about the cost have led China into something of a rethink as it tries to increase transparency, improve project quality and bring in deep-pocketed partners who can share the risk. – Bloomberg

Editorial: If Beijing and the rest of the world see America hesitant even to speak up in defense of freedom advocates, how on Earth can we be regarded as ready to defeat China’s overt efforts to steal the world’s technology, expand its territory in the South China Sea, and subject its neighbors to a new system of feudal mercantilism? The moment for American leadership is now. – Washington Examiner

Gregory T. Kiley writes: The existential threat that China has become to the United States is well documented in recent national security strategic documents. […]The bottom line is that a reliance on foreign medicines from potentially hostile powers leaves us susceptible to shortages if China were to cut off drug shipments to drive leverage in other foreign policy negotiations. Unsafe Chinese generics don’t just threaten national security by potentially delivering poisonous medicines to our troops, but also threatens the health and wellness of the whole population. – The Hill

Claude Barfield writes: On IP theft, the Chinese government seems to think it can act with impunity. Beijing still blandly denies that it participates in purloining trade secrets. Whatever the future of the larger trade talks and agenda, the US should counter this brazen duplicity with force. – American Enterprise Institute

Michael Mazza writes: While the Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy lays out a holistic strategy for competition with China, President Trump has been primarily focused on the economic aspects. Taiwan sees clearly what events in Hong Kong should make plain: the US-China competition is a competition between freedom and tyranny. – Global Taiwan Institute


A popular young ISIS recruiter from Tajikistan is leading hundreds of fighters in Afghanistan as part of an effort to draw more foreigners to the terrorist group’s banner. – Washington Examiner

Another round of talks aimed at resolving nearly two decades of fighting in Afghanistan has ended without a deal, but the Trump administration is moving ahead regardless with plans to substantially cut the number of U.S. troops and diplomats in the conflicted country. – LA Times

Now, nearly a decade since those initial secret contacts, the United States and the Taliban are apparently on the verge of agreeing to a landmark peace deal that would end the United States’ longest-ever war. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

South Asia

On Aug. 8, in a 40-minute address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi argued that Article 370 of the Indian constitution had prevented economic development from reaching Kashmir and had stimulated terrorism and corruption. […]Here’s what you need to know. – Washington Post

Gulf Arab countries have remained mostly silent as India’s government moved to strip Indian-administered Kashmir of its limited autonomy, imposing a sweeping military curfew in the disputed Muslim-majority region and cutting off residents from all communication and the internet. This muted response is underpinned by more than $100 billion in annual trade with India that makes it one of the Arabian Peninsula’s most prized economic partners. – Associated Press

Sadanand Dhume writes: Nearly two decades ago, President Bill Clinton called Jammu and Kashmir “the most dangerous place in the world.” Now the disputed Himalayan territory, claimed by both India and Pakistan, is again under a global spotlight. […]With the U.S. preparing to leave Afghanistan, it’s only natural for India to worry about Pakistan-backed jihadists turning their attention to Kashmir, as they did after the Soviet Union’s 1989 withdrawal. – The Atlantic


With the mainland’s economic rise, Hong Kong is no longer the undisputed center of business and finance in the region. But it still plays an indispensable role that Beijing will be loath to undermine, according to bankers, economists and business leaders. – Washington Post

China is accusing the United States of orchestrating the Hong Kong protests to set the stage for a military crackdown, a rhetorical tactic that hardens ideological tensions between the rival powers. – Washington Examiner

Satellite photos show what appear to be armored personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to the China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police parked in a sports complex in the city of Shenzhen, in what some have interpreted as a threat from Beijing to use increased force against pro-democracy protesters across the border in Hong Kong. – Associated Press

Donald Trump’s top aides are urging him to back Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, but the president isn’t interested, multiple people familiar with the administration’s internal debates say. […]They are finding little traction with a president focused more narrowly on trade negotiations with Xi Jinping — and worried that criticizing the Chinese leader’s efforts to stamp out dissent in Hong Kong will scuttle the possibility of inking a deal this winter. – Politico

South Korean President Moon Jae-in softened criticism of Japan in a speech marking the anniversary of the end of World War II, fueling hopes that the two key U.S. allies may seek to ease their recent feud. – Bloomberg

Jillian Kay Melchior writes: Protesters appear unbowed. Jordan Pang of the Hong Kong University Student Union says students across the territory plan to strike in September. Most protesters expect police violence to continue escalating, but they don’t think China will massacre them with tanks à la Tiananmen Square. They’re betting their lives that the reputational and economic damage would be too much for Beijing to bear. – Wall Street Journal

Dave Lawler writes: Images of Chinese troops massing near Hong Kong have led to fears of an impending crackdown on pro-democracy protesters — but China’s next move will be dangerous, no matter what it is. […]That would provoke international outrage and could harden China’s divide with the West. But as Bishop writes, “No one should ever underestimate what the Chinese Communist Party will do when it feels threatened.” – Axios


Six years later, Mr. Boikov finds himself at the center of the largest hacking case in the nation’s history, accused by prosecutors of stealing the personal data of nearly every working adult in the country from the National Revenue Agency and working to “create instability in the country.” – New York Times

Russia said on Wednesday it had flown two nuclear-capable TU-160 bombers to a far eastern Russian region opposite Alaska as part of a training exercise that state media said showed Moscow’s ability to park nuclear arms on the United States’ doorstep. – Reuters

Last week’s mysterious accident on the White Sea, along with changing or contradictory information from Russian authorities, has led to speculation about what happened and what type of weapon was involved, and has even raised comparisons to the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. What is known and unknown about the Aug. 8 incident in the Russian region of Arkhangelsk. – Associated Press

Western experts have linked the blast at the Nyonoksa test site on August 8, which caused a sharp spike in local radiation levels, to the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile first revealed by Putin in 2018. […]But while a nuclear-powered missile with the theoretical ability to strike any target on planet earth may seem attractive, analysts warn the cru Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom said that its staff, five of whom were killed in the blast, were providing engineering and technical support for the “isotope power source” of a missile. – Agence FrancePresse


Britain’s opposition Labour Party began its bid to bring down Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a vote of no confidence, urging lawmakers to unite behind a caretaker government led by Jeremy Corbyn to prevent a no-deal Brexit. – Reuters

Huawei is confident that the UK will resist “politically motivated” pressure from the US and “make the right decision” to allow the Chinese telecommunications giant to supply critical parts of its next generation 5G mobile internet infrastructure. – Sky News (UK)

The UK Labour Party expelled Holocaust denier Chris Crookes from the international sect of the party for members living abroad on Tuesday after a year and a half of suspension. – Jerusalem Post

Gary Schmitt writes: The fact that Europe is now talking about the challenge it faces from China is a positive development. In times past, that discussion would give Washington the opening it needs to develop a larger alliance strategy for dealing with the issue. Instead, the uneven and, at times, adversarial attitude of the Trump administration toward European allies and the European Union has made taking advantage of this discussion far more difficult. In geopolitical terms, it is called “shooting oneself in the foot.” – The Hill


Huawei Technologies Co., the world’s largest telecommunications company, dominates African markets, where it has sold security tools that governments use for digital surveillance and censorship. – Wall Street Journal

A Sudanese rebel alliance said Wednesday it should be represented in the transitional government formed by the military and the pro-democracy movement. – Associated Press

Militant Islamist group al Shabaab struck a Somali government military base on Wednesday with car bombs and gunfire in a battle that both sides said caused multiple deaths to the other. – Reuters

The Americas

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday accused former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of plotting to assassinate him in cohorts with Colombia’s U.S. ambassador Francisco Santos, and exiled Venezuelan opposition leader Lester Toledo. – Reuters

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has announced the appointment of a former chief rabbi as his envoy to the State of Israel, more than ten years after the regime of the late President Hugo Chávez severed diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. – Algemeiner

Neo-Nazis affiliated with the antisemitic Daily Stormer Book Club plastered racist fliers on three Seattle synagogues. – Jerusalem Post

Ryan C. Berg writes: Six months after the United States recognized interim president Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, dictator Nicolás Maduro remains firmly in power. This, despite US-backed efforts to force humanitarian aid into the country in February and a failed uprising against Maduro in April, the latter of which involved former regime officials seeking relief from US sanctions and prosecution in a quid-pro-quo. – American Enterprise Institute


In a Cosmopolitan hotel suite 16 stories above the Def Con cybersecurity conference this weekend, a team of highly vetted hackers tried to sabotage a vital flight system for a U.S. military fighter jet. And they succeeded. – Washington Post

The Seattle software engineer accused of illegally accessing more than 100 million credit card applications during a massive hack of Virginia-based Capital One also had stolen data from “more than 30 other companies,” according to federal prosecutors. – Washington Post

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

A multipronged government review of whether China successfully hacked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server failed to turn up evidence of a successful breach. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. House Homeland Security Committee said Wednesday it had subpoenaed online message board 8chan owner Jim Watkins to testify on Sept. 5 as part of its probe into countering extremist content on social media platforms. – Reuters

The organization within the Department of Homeland Security is tasked with protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure from cyberattacks and as part of the lead up to National Cybersecurity Awareness Month in October, the agency released a toolkit Aug. 14 for preventing attacks. Created in partnership with the National Cyber Security Alliance, the toolkit contains best practices for citizen to protect themselves online. – Fifth Domain

More than one million fingerprints and a host of usernames and passwords have been exposed on an unsecured database hosted by a security platform that lists the Metropolitan Police among its clients. – Sky News (UK)

Facebook has admitted using contractors to listen to and transcribe recordings of users without their knowledge. – Sky News (UK)

Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) said on Wednesday it updated its privacy policy to let customers know that it had been collecting voice data of its users with the help of employees and contractors. – Reuters


The Navy has put a call out to industry to send in ideas for its planned fleet of corvette-sized unmanned surface vehicles, according to a draft request for proposal announced on Wednesday. – USNI News

The Department of Defense has made significant progress in the past 15 months in offensive and defensive hypersonic capabilities to counter developments from China and Russia, its chief engineer said Tuesday. Now, the Pentagon is aiming to make the same kind of progress in developing 5G networks and microelectronics. – USNI News

One-hundred-ten degree heat radiated from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) as an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter swooped in and dropped a message resurrecting an 80-year-old aircraft-to-ship alternative communication method. Historically, war tends to accelerate change and drives rapid developments in technology. Even with superior modern capabilities, the US Navy still keeps a foot in the old sailboat days and for good reason. – Business Insider

Texas A&M, along with the Texas legislature, are throwing a major investment into Army Futures Command with a $130 million facility that aims to make A&M “the hypersonics research capital of the country,” the university system said in a press release. – Business Insider

The new U.S. Missile Defense Agency director is opposed to the transfer of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, or THAAD, to the Army — something Senate authorizers want to do this year in the fiscal 2020 authorization bill. – Defense News