Fdd's overnight brief

August 20, 2019

In The News


The Iranian tanker released by Gibraltar was sailing to Greece, according to ship-tracking data, as Tehran warned the U.S. against targeting the vessel after a last-minute attempt to seize it in the British overseas territory. – Wall Street Journal

A top Iranian official and close adviser to Iran’s supreme leader says his country should never have signed the international nuclear deal that has now been renounced by President Donald Trump. – MSNBC

The United Nations watchdog agency charged with examining Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal has failed to fulfill its mission and has operated in an opaque and politicized manner, according to a new report by an influential Washington policy shop. – Washington Times

The bustling shop illustrates how Iranian businesses try to sidestep the chilling effect of U.S. sanctions imposed by Trump, and that at least some citizens still have enough spending money to afford the latest tech consumer item. – MSNBC

Though the U.S. and Iran have lived in a state of hostility for decades, rarely have relations been as tense as in recent months. […]With the U.S. stepping up its military presence in the region, and Iran exceeding limits it agreed to on its nuclear program, the risk is that a miscalculation could lead to a war that neither the U.S. nor Iran say they want. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: President Trump should direct the U.S. military to re-seize an Iranian oil tanker released from British custody this weekend. […]This isn’t about posturing, it’s about holding firm to a policy that is paying dividends. – Washington Examiner


Brazil is considering designating Lebanese group Hezbollah a terrorist organization, as President Jair Bolsonaro increasingly aligns his government with the U.S. on foreign policy. – Bloomberg

Foreign Minister Israel Katz praised Paraguay for its decision announced on Monday to designate Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorists organizations. Paraguay has now joined a list of countries including the United States, Argentina, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, and others that have recognized Hezbollah as a terror organization. – Jerusalem Post

A fire that raged along Israel’s border with Lebanon Friday appears to be the work of Hezbollah terrorists who have adopted arson techniques that Palestinians in Gaza have used repeatedly to attack Israel, according to footage aired Sunday by Channel 12. – Times of Israel


A Turkish military convoy was targeted by an airstrike in Syria on Monday, killing three civilians, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. – Washington Post

Damascus on Monday condemned the deployment of a Turkish military convoy towards a key town in northwestern Syria where regime forces are waging fierce battles with jihadists and rebels. – Agence FrancePresse

Syrian rebels withdrew from a town in southern Idlib province and from their last remaining territory in neighboring Hama province after government troops advances in the area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local activists said. – Reuters

Syrian army troops and their allies entered Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria, advancing against insurgents in the town where ground battles raged on Monday night, a monitor and a rebel source said. – Reuters


Before his government barred Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting Israel last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called them the “antithesis” of “strong bipartisan support for Israel in the United States Congress,” according to a letter he wrote to House Democrats this summer. – Washington Post

Former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel said that Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib sometimes “play right into Donald Trump’s hands” during a Monday appearance on MSNBC. – Washington Examiner

Rep. Ilhan Omar claimed in a Monday press conference with Rep. Rashida Tlaib that President Trump is attempting to create animosity between Muslims and Jews. – Washington Examiner

CNN panelist Peter Beinart vigorously defended Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib after the lawmakers chose to partner with a group that has promoted terrorism. – Washington Examiner

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said Monday that U.S. aid to Israel should be tied to its treatment of Palestinians, questioning whether the funds should continue after the country blocked her and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from visiting in an official capacity. – The Hill

Israel is ready to open the border crossings from Gaza and is even ready to allow Gazans to fly out of its territory so long as there are countries that will absorb them, a government source said Monday. – Ynet

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday was forced to postpone a conference it organized in the West Bank city of Ramallah after Palestinian officials and factions called for a boycott and threatened to organize protests. – Associated Press

Arabian Peninsula

Bahrain will join the U.S.-led effort to protect shipping lanes in the Gulf region, the kingdom announced Monday. – The Hill

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen launched an attack on Monday on military targets in the capital Sanaa, which is controlled by the Houthi movement, Saudi state TV reported. – Reuters

The Pentagon on Monday identified a soldier killed in Saudi Arabia over the weekend. Specialist Clayton James Horne of Atlanta, La., died Saturday in Riyadh “as a result of wounds sustained by a noncombat related incident,” according to a Defense Department statement. – The Hill

For the past few weeks an innocent-looking white executive jet has been taking off from the Al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, cruising for hours in the airspace above the Persian Gulf. […]This is not an ordinary executive jet, but an advanced surveillance aircraft owned by the United Arab Emirates, whose purpose is to gather electronic intelligence – and one of its targets is Iran. – Haaretz

Middle East & North Africa

Five months after American-backed forces ousted the Islamic State from its last shard of territory in Syria, the terrorist group is gathering new strength, conducting guerrilla attacks across Iraq and Syria, retooling its financial networks and targeting new recruits at an allied-run tent camp, American and Iraqi military and intelligence officers said. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday expressed American concerns over the prolonged conflict in Libya in a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart, and they agreed on the need for a political solution, the State Department said. – Reuters

Thousands of Syrian migrants have until Tuesday to leave Istanbul or face expulsion from Turkey’s biggest city. Authorities have told unregistered migrants to return to the province they are registered in, as part of a bid to relieve pressure on the city. – BBC

Haisam Hassanein writes: China has become an essential component of Sisi’s agenda at home and abroad. Without its financing and expertise, showpiece projects like the new administrative capital and a new Suez Canal industrial zone are unlikely to get off the ground. In return, China wants to take advantage of Egypt’s position in the Arab world and Africa to facilitate bilateral and collective cooperation in both regions, including on projects that further the BRI. All of this should worry the United States, especially since China could use its access to Egyptian ports to improve its standing in the Middle East and potentially gather intelligence on U.S. interests, similar to Washington’s concerns about Israel’s Haifa port. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Now, there is evidence that South Korean K-pop is playing a similar role in subtly undermining the propaganda of the North Korean regime, with rising numbers of defectors citing music as one factor in their disillusionment with their government, according to Lee Kwang-Baek, president of South Korea’s Unification Media Group (UMG). – Washington Post

The ban on using U.S. passports to travel to North Korea has been extended for another year. The State Department released a notice Monday that the travel ban would remain in effect until Aug. 31, 2020 unless Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decides to revoke it, the Associated Press reported. – Washington Examiner

Japan has approved shipments of a high-tech material to South Korea for the second time since imposing export curbs last month, two sources said, ahead of talks by government officials this week to resolve a dispute stemming from their wartime past. – Reuters


Months later, even as Beijing is embroiled in a trade war with the United States and facing protests in Hong Kong, Chinese officials and the Czech mayor are still sparring. The feud offers an especially raw example of how Beijing is trying to flex its muscles in Europe — with little tolerance for objections. China has been investing in Europe in conjunction with its broadly defined Belt and Road Initiative. And it has focused special attention on Central European countries. – Washington Post

A member of the British consular staff in Hong Kong has been detained in mainland China after a trip to the neighboring city of Shenzhen. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration agreed Monday to allow some U.S. companies another 90 days to continue doing business with Huawei Technologies Co., a move it said would help small rural telecom carriers dependent on Huawei gear. – Wall Street Journal

Huawei on Tuesday dismissed Washington’s three-month delay to a ban on US firms selling to the Chinese tech giant and said the decision would not change the fact it had been “treated unjustly”. – Agence FrancePresse

Business acquisitions involving national security technologies that could be used by a foreign government are reviewed by the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. But Chinese companies can skirt this review by buying up an American company’s assets in bankruptcy proceedings. – Washington Examiner

China’s government plans to leverage the growing data industry and cutting-edge technologies as part of its strategy to get an edge on its competitors, according to the Department of Defense’s intelligence chief. – Washington Examiner

Michael Bennon writes: At this year’s BRI forum, Chinese officials stated that they would push for more transparency in BRI projects. This is laudable. But transparency in international finance should not be subject only to the bilateral policies of lending nations. It should also be enforced by international institutions, like the IMF. The IMF did miss an opportunity in Pakistan this summer, but it wasn’t to prevent or ring-fence a bailout. The IMF should have simply required transparency in the form of published contracts as a precondition for IMF support. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


A suicide bombing at a wedding party in Kabul claimed by a local Islamic State affiliate has renewed fears about the growing threat posed by its thousands of fighters, as well as their ability to plot global attacks from a stronghold in the forbidding mountains of northeastern Afghanistan. – Associated Press

The number of people wounded in multiple bomb blasts in the Afghan city of Jalalabad has risen to 123, officials said on Tuesday, a day after 14 bombs exploded in public squares, markets and outside restaurants in the eastern city. – Reuters

Afghanistan’s president on Monday vowed to “eliminate” all safe havens of the Islamic State group as the country marked a subdued 100th Independence Day after a horrific wedding attack claimed by the local IS affiliate. – Associated Press

South Asia

President Trump urged restraint on both sides of the Kashmir conflict in calls Monday with the leaders of India and Pakistan, as tensions over the disputed region have escalated between the two nations this month. – Wall Street Journal

Pakistan’s army chief will serve another three years as the country deals with the Afghanistan peace process and tension with India. – Wall Street Journal

Sri Lanka’s President on Monday named war veteran Shavendra Silva as its army chief, drawing sharp criticism from the United States and the United Nations over the appointment of an officer who has been accused of serious human rights violations. – Reuters


Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. suspended accounts they believe to be part of a Chinese effort to undermine anti-government protests in Hong Kong, marking the first time the companies have pointed to China as a source of disinformation campaigns, company representatives said on Monday. – Wall Street Journal

By holding a massive peaceful march after two months of tear-gas-soaked demonstrations, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has stepped up pressure on the city’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, to enter into dialogue to resolve the crisis. – Wall Street Journal

By massing the troops within view of Hong Kong, the semiautonomous territory convulsed by protests, China’s Communist Party is delivering a strong warning that the use of force remains an option for Beijing. It is also a stark reminder that military power remains a bedrock of the party’s legitimacy. – New York Times

A major airline company is investigating “rumors circulating online” that employees are drafting a letter supporting the Hong Kong protests as China pressures business leaders to help stifle the political crisis. – Washington Examiner

U.S. strategists are confronting “an unprecedented crisis” because of China’s growing military strength in the Indo-Pacific, according to a new report from Australian defense analysts. – Washington Examiner


The U.S. military has conducted a test launch of an intermediate-range cruise missile for the first time since withdrawing from a Cold War-era arms-control pact with Russia earlier this month, the Pentagon said Monday. – Washington Post

The number of Russian nuclear-monitoring stations that have gone silent has doubled to four, an international arms-control official said, heightening concerns among observers that Russia is attempting to conceal evidence from an explosion at a missile-test site this month. – Wall Street Journal

French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to give a new boost to peace talks with Ukraine and to improve Moscow’s relations with the European Union during a meeting in southern France on Monday. – Associated Press

Russia said on Tuesday that the U.S. test of a ground-launched cruise missile was regrettable and showed that Washington had long been preparing for the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, TASS news agency reported. – Reuters


French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday there was a “real opportunity” for peace in Ukraine following the election of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. – Agence FrancePresse

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed Brexit and a U.S.-Britain free trade deal during a phone call on Monday ahead of a Group of Seven summit in France this weekend. – Reuters

In recent days, a group of Israeli artists living around the world has issued an open letter calling on various artists to boycott the Pop Culture Festival held in Berlin every year. – Arutz Sheva

Biarritz is known for big Atlantic waves, but the loudest crashing at next weekend’s G7 meeting in the French resort could be the sound of US President Donald Trump and his convention-wrecking diplomacy. – Agence FrancePresse

John R. Deni writes: This combination of declining capabilities and diminishing willpower in the country that’s been America’s right-hand partner for decades will clearly have a negative impact on U.S. interests. Ultimately, it may spell the demise of the special relationship between London and Washington, insofar as that relationship is based on material factors such as military cooperation and power. – Washington Post

Robin Simcox writes: America’s strategy has worked: It took almost four-and-a-half years, but the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq has been dismantled. […]Furthermore, the post-caliphate center of gravity is still unclear. It may be that there is not one dominant theater, like the one Syria became, but that the threat becomes more complex and more diverse, with different conflicts appealing to different constituencies. Either way, Europe will remain a fundamental target for jihadist groups, and the U.S. must remain an indispensable ally in helping Europe cope with whatever comes next. – Heritage Foundation


Unidentified militants killed at least 10 soldiers and wounded many others in an attack on a military unit in northern Burkina Faso on Monday, the army said. – Reuters

Sudan’s ousted president Omar Hassan al-Bashir acknowledged receiving millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, a police detective told a court on Monday at the start of a corruption trial that many Sudanese thought they would never see. – Reuters

The threat of an International Monetary Fund bailout, unthinkable a few years ago, may force South Africa’s government to push through the reforms it needs to rescue the economy. – Bloomberg


The U.S. Navy is short hundreds of millions of dollars for ship depot maintenance this year and is already looking at just shy of $1 billion in unfunded maintenance in 2020, shortfalls that threaten to upend progress toward improved readiness and clearing its maintenance backlog. – Defense News

The Navy Department will soon create a new office led by a special assistant to the secretary who will have sweeping authority to integrate and manage the critical areas of information management and security, aided by four deputies responsible for buying the right technology, determining strategies to better handle digital information and data and to enforce greater cybersecurity within the naval services and industrial suppliers. – USNI News

The U.S. Army is struggling to staff, train, and equip its new cyber and electronic warfare units, and officials haven’t assessed how those challenges will affect the Pentagon’s digital capabilities, according to a congressional watchdog. – Defense One

The Missile Defense Agency has a new director, Vice Admiral Jon Hill, who will be tasked to carry out major missile defense endeavors laid out in the Missile Defense Review released in January. – Defense News

Long War

The Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria on Monday handed over four children linked with the Islamic State group to Germany, their first such repatriation to the European country, an official said. – Agence FrancePresse

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came under pressure on Monday from the opposition Conservatives who warned against giving any assistance to Jack Letts – a dual citizen dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the media – after Britain’s decision to strip him of his British citizenship. – Reuters

James Reardon Jr., the alleged white nationalist who was arrested for making threats towards a Jewish community center in Ohio appeared in court on Monday and pleaded not guilty, ABC News reported. – Arutz Sheva