Fdd's overnight brief

August 21, 2019

In The News


Australia will join a U.S.-led coalition protecting oil tankers and cargo ships from attacks by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, the government said, bolstering Washington’s efforts to increase international pressure on Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. warned Greece against assisting the Iranian tanker released by Gibraltar as it continues efforts to block the vessel and further drags its allies into escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

The Islamic State has gained ground in some areas, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Tuesday[…]. Mr. Pompeo also conceded, in a television interview, having some frustration in dealing with North Korea. But he said he believed the administration was finding success with the intensified sanctions against Iran that were set in motion after Mr. Trump repudiated the 2015 nuclear agreement with that country. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that greater cooperation and “fresh thinking to solve old problems” are needed in the Middle East — but he also condemned Iran and its proxies for continuing “to foment terror and unrest” in the region. – Associated Press

Western allies have 15 months to unify against Iran before the regime is free to buy and sell weapons under the 2015 nuclear deal, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. – Washington Examiner

Iran’s semi-official ILNA news agency said on Wednesday the Adrian Darya 1 tanker, which was released after being detained in Gibraltar, is currently leased to an Iranian shipping company. – Reuters

The United States will take every action it can to prevent an Iranian tanker sailing in the Mediterranean from delivering oil to Syria in contravention of U.S. sanctions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Tuesday. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed the international community on Tuesday to work out how to stop Iran from being “unshackled to create new turmoil” when a United Nations arms embargo on the country and a travel ban on the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force expire in October 2020. – Reuters

The United States has removed nearly 2.7 million barrels of Iranian oil from global markets daily as a result of Washington’s decision to reimpose sanctions on all purchases of Iran’s crude, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A senior commander in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) boasted that Iran has the most advanced missile technology among the countries in the Middle East. – Arutz Sheva

The U.S. government is warning airlines to exercise caution while flying over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, a region that has seen growing tension between Iran and other nations. – Bloomberg

Iran’s automotive industry – the biggest in the Middle East and one of the 20 largest in the world – has become mired in crisis, amid allegations of corruption, the arrest of senior executives and the loss of international partners due to sanctions. – Forbes

Jason Brownlee writes: This unpopularity of intervening in Iran fits with larger public opinion trends. In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, I analyzed the results of more than 1,000 nationally representative survey questions about the use of force overseas. Collected from 1981 to 2016, these data reveal steady patterns in public attitudes that continue today, showing that Americans would hesitate to pick fights with governments not known for harming the United States or its allies. Here’s what I found. – Washington Post


Syrian government forces captured a strategic town in the northwest of the country on Tuesday, as the Russian-backed Assad regime continued its military push to retake the last opposition stronghold after more than eight years of conflict. – Wall Street Journal

After eight years of civil war, the Syrian government now controls much of the country, and on Tuesday it appeared closer than ever to seizing control of Idlib, the last of the rebels’ territory. Whether President Bashar al-Assad will win has not been in doubt for some time. We — three journalists with The New York Times — had come to Syria to see what his victory looked like. – New York Times

A senior Chinese official said on Tuesday that there was a danger of Islamic State militants re-emerging in Syria and called for progress in the political process between the Damascus government and the opposition to end the war. – Reuters


Riot police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters demonstrating in southeast Turkey on Tuesday against the ousting of three Kurdish mayors five months after they were elected. – Reuters

Turkey will not move the military observation post in northwest Syria that a Turkish convoy was trying to reach when it came under attack during an offensive by the Syrian army, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday. – Reuters

For weeks, Turkey has been carrying out a campaign to re-inforce its rules requiring Syrian refugees to stay in cities where they are registered with the government. Accounts by Mustafa and other Syrians suggest that along with that campaign, some unregistered refugees are being forced out of the country. – Associated Press


A 17-year-old Palestinian was indicted by an Israeli court on Tuesday for attempting to lynch a Jewish man in eastern Jerusalem. – Algemeiner

The Palestinian Authority is following Tehran in seeking to destroy the Jewish state, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to go head to head with US President Donald Trump over his administration’s peace plan if it contains demands rejected by Israel’s government, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday. – Times of Israel

The Palestinian public, he added, is increasingly frustrated at the stagnated political process, and the Palestinian leadership constantly reiterates slogans about major national goals but fails to either keep its promises or implement its decisions. […]The following are translated excerpts from Al-Ajrami’s article. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Marc A. Thiessen writes: Israel’s decision to bar the two U.S. lawmakers was a mistake, because it has given them a much bigger platform from which to attack Israel. But let’s be clear: There is nothing outrageous about Israel’s decision to bar entry to politicians who advocate its destruction. If Omar and Tlaib can boycott Israel, why can’t Israel boycott them? – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

The Trump administration has moved to pull back troops from conflict zones like Syria and Afghanistan. But here at Al Udeid, home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, there is no sense of retreat.  – Washington Post

Israel is suspected of being behind a series of unexplained explosions in Iraq. “Iran has no immunity, anywhere,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in Ukraine. That warning was an oblique response to a question about a series of mysterious blasts in Iraq, where Israel is suspected of targeting Shiite Muslim militias that were allowed to mobilize against the Islamic State. – Washington Examiner

Several blasts hit a position held by Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitaries next to Balad air base north of Baghdad on Tuesday, an Iraqi military official and a source in a paramilitary group said. – Reuters

Egyptian security forces have killed 11 suspected militants in a gun battle during a raid on their hideout in Al-Arish, the capital of North Sinai province, the ministry of interior said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Israel has conducted several strikes on Iranian-controlled bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks with permission from the United States and Russia, a Western diplomatic source told a Saudi-owned newspaper Wednesday. – Times of Israel

Southern separatists seized most Yemeni government security and military bases near the port of Aden on Tuesday after clashes between nominal allies that have complicated U.N. peace efforts, residents and officials said. – Reuters

Yemen’s government vowed to confront a “coup” attempt by separatist forces it said were backed by the United Arab Emirates, in a sign that a conflict casting a shadow over a crucial alliance between the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia is set to escalate. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

Pyongyang lashed out once more on Tuesday, calling the U.S.-South Korea exercises “extremely provocative saber-rattling,” in a commentary in the Rodong Sinmun, the North’s main newspaper. – Wall Street Journal

Japan has upgraded its estimate of North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability in an upcoming annual Defence White Paper, saying it seems Pyongyang has already achieved the miniaturization of warheads, the Yomiuri newspaper said in an unsourced report on Wednesday. – Reuters

The United States has not returned to the negotiation table with North Korea as quickly as it had hoped, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, but he added that Washington knew there would be ‘bumps on the road’ in the denuclearization talks. – Reuters

The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps said on Wednesday any crack in alliances in Asia that helped counter threats from North Korea and China were a worry as a spat between Japan and South Korea threatened to spill over into intelligence sharing. – Reuters

Bryan Wood writes: A feud between two American allies in Asia could endanger an intelligence sharing pact with the United States and hinder regional efforts to monitor North Korea, which has ramped up its missile tests over the last month. – PBS


Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer argued in court documents made public Tuesday that Canadian efforts to extradite her to the U.S. should be stayed because of misconduct by Canadian and U.S. law enforcement. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump acknowledged Tuesday his aggressive China trade policies may mean economic pain for Americans but insisted they’re needed for more important long-term benefits. – Associated Press

Qatar withdrew its signature from a letter signed by dozens of countries in support of China’s human-rights record despite international condemnation over its detention of as many as two million ethnic Muslim Uighurs. – Bloomberg

China is looking to reshape the global narrative over Hong Kong as months of street protests dominate news agendas around the world. In a letter sent to senior editors at international media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse, the Chinese Foreign Ministry outlined its account of the protests in the former British colony. – Bloomberg


Even as the United States and the Taliban seem close to a deal on an American troop withdrawal, the Islamic State in Afghanistan is making clear that it stands to inherit the role of violent spoiler if any peace agreement is reached. – New York Times

The official government line here is that the Islamic State has been defeated. […]But local leaders in the border provinces of Nangahar and Konar tell a different story. They say Islamic State forces continue to terrorize villagers in areas under their control, forcibly recruiting boys and banning girls from school. They and U.S. officials say that Taliban and Islamic State forces have continued to fight each other, but that they also fear that some Taliban fighters will join the more ruthless Islamic State forces if Taliban leaders make a deal with U.S. officials. – Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the U.S. military role in Afghanistan has basically turned into a “ridiculous” police force in a sign that he is open to a U.S. troop drawdown there after 18 years of war. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: Trump has been president for nearly three years. He reluctantly sent more forces to Afghanistan in 2017, but not enough to deliver the kind of victory he desires. So he now faces the same unsatisfying choice as his predecessor: He does not want to send the troops necessary for a complete victory. But he does not want to suffer the political embarrassment of a complete withdrawal. – Bloomberg

Ketti Davison writes: The U.S. must be clear-eyed about the challenges that will likely follow the withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO from Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO may need to fight their way out as Afghans focus on their own survival. The withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan was painful. The withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO from Afghanistan may be worse. – Institute for the Study of War

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: Much of the analysis of these three options has focused on the possible terms of the peace, the immediate progress in the fighting, and/or the coming Afghan election and Afghanistan’s immediate political problems. These are all important issues, but they do not address the basic problems in Afghan security forces that will limit its military capabilities indefinitely into the future, or the scale of the civil problems in Afghanistan that have given it failed governance and made it the equivalent of a failed sate, and that will shape its future in actually implementing any peace or in attempting to continue the war. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

South Asia

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken to his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, about violent demonstrations over Kashmir outside the Indian embassy in London, the foreign ministry said. – Reuters

Pakistan said on Tuesday it would take its dispute with India over Kashmir to the International Court of Justice, after New Delhi revoked the special status of its part of the region earlier this month. – Reuters

A senior U.S. State Department official warned on Tuesday that Sri Lanka’s appointment of a war veteran accused of serious human rights violations as head of its army could affect U.S. military cooperation and investment in the island nation. – Reuters

Indian security forces killed a suspected militant in a gunbattle in Kashmir on August 21, police said, the first clash since New Delhi removed the special status of the territory this month. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


President Rodrigo Duterte warned on Tuesday foreign ships faced “unfriendly” treatment if they ventured into Philippines’ territorial waters without permission, in a swipe at China’s deployment of warships a few miles off the coast. – Reuters

The U.S. State Department has approved a possible $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said on Tuesday in an official notification to Congress. – Reuters

The Chinese territory of Macau is set to elect as leader the only candidate for which it is allowed to vote: a Beijing-backed former legislator who is expected to cement China’s control over the special administrative region and distance it from escalating protests in neighboring Hong Kong. – Reuters

China touted common ground with U.S. allies Japan and South Korea as their top diplomats met in Beijing for their first such three-way talks since 2016. – Bloomberg

For all the tumult Hong Kong has seen since pro-democracy protests erupted in early June, the countdown to a crucial anniversary for China on Oct. 1 makes the next six weeks particularly sensitive. – Bloomberg

The U.S. Air Force and the Navy will continue a combination of air and sea patrols in the Indo-Pacific region in an effort to keep the waters and skies open to overflight and international navigation, the head of the U.S. Air Force said in the Philippines, his first stopover during a visit to the air forces in the region. – USNI News


President Trump on Tuesday reiterated his call for Russia to be allowed to rejoin the Group of Seven industrial nations, saying it’s “more appropriate to have Russia in.” – Washington Post

A national-security panel that oversees foreign investment in U.S. businesses approved the transfer of a stake in cybersecurity company Cofense Inc. from a Russia-linked private-equity firm to funds managed by BlackRock Inc. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump said he was considering naming Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan as the next U.S. ambassador to Russia, a role that has become increasingly fraught under the Trump administration amid deteriorating relations with Moscow. – Wall Street Journal

Russia lashed out at an international arms-control organization for reporting on an explosion at a missile-test site this month and suggested that Moscow had the legal right to withhold data from its nuclear-monitoring stations. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. envoy on North Korea Stephen Biegun said on Wednesday he will not take up the post of ambassador to Russia but will remain focused on making progress on the denuclearization of North Korea amid stalled negotiations. – Reuters

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that there was nothing to worry about after a series of Russian radiation monitoring stations were reported to have stopped transmitting data following a mysterious military accident earlier this month. – Reuters

Sen. Lindsey Graham said he plans to meet with Attorney General William Barr this week to discuss how to maximize the impact of documents relevant to the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. – Washington Examiner

Alexey Khlebnikov writes: Also, the mere fact that the United States keeps extending the deadline for implementing the sanctions indicates that Washington might not be sure how to deal with GAZ Group if it is acquired by the state. After all, pushing a Russian private business out of its cooperative relationship with European and U.S. partners will only further benefit the Kremlin. Deripaska now has another four months to settle this issue with OFAC. During that same timeframe, GAZ Group’s European partners will most likely continue to cut ties with the company. – The National Interest


President Trump on Tuesday abruptly called off a trip to Denmark, announcing in a tweet that he was postponing the visit because the country’s leader was not interested in selling him Greenland. – Washington Post

The European Union and Britain, which are hurtling toward a costly, damaging no-deal split in a little over two months, started a high-wire week of diplomacy Tuesday by entrenching themselves deeper in their irreconcilable positions. – Associated Press

Germany has for the first time allowed children whose parents were suspected members of Islamic State to return to Germany from northern Syria and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said it will push for more such children to come to the country. – Reuters


A spreading Islamist insurgency has transformed Burkina Faso from a peaceful country known for farming, a celebrated film festival and religious tolerance into a hotbed of extremism. – Washington Post

Al Qaeda and ISIS-linked groups have pushed toward Benin as they flee military assaults on their former strongholds in Mali and Niger, according to security experts. They have found recruits and refuge under cover of dense parkland. – New York Times

Sudan on Tuesday completed the formation of an 11-member sovereign council that will run the country for a three-year transitional period until elections, a spokesman for the ruling military council told a news conference. – Reuters

The home of a leading human rights activist in Malawi has been petrol bombed in what is believed to be a deliberate and targeted move to stop mass demonstrations planned for next week. – The Guardian

The Americas

President Trump on Tuesday said that any Jewish people who vote for Democrats are showing “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” prompting an outcry from critics who said the president’s remarks were promoting anti-Semitic stereotypes. – Washington Post

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday he had authorized contact with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump “for months,” in an effort to repair relations with Washington. – Reuters

The head of U.S. Southern Command says military officials are focusing on preparing for “the day after” once “isolated” Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro leaves power. Associated Press

Venezuela boasts the largest oil reserves in the world, but gold is increasingly its lifeblood. In the area around the mines, gold has replaced the near-worthless bolivar, with even the cost of a haircut quoted in gold. In Caracas, it allows Maduro to allegedly buy the military’s loyalty to his embattled government. And abroad, Venezuelan gold is sold by the ton — one of the country’s few remaining means of foreign exchange. – CNN


For years, experts have warned that the jurisdictional firewalls between the intelligence community and the Pentagon over space assets was holding the United States back from harnessing its full capabilities on orbit. Now, a new detente has been reached between the two sides, but whether this marks a new status quo or just another layer of bureaucracy remains to be seen. – C4ISRNET

An Office of Management and Budget review is delaying the release of new supply chain and privacy security standards, subsequently creating a bottleneck that’s delaying the release of several other security publications from National Institute of Standards and Technology, according to NIST fellow Ron Ross, who leads NIST’s Federal Information Security (FISMA) Modernization Act Implementation Project. – Fifth Domain

Whether it’s satellite communication, position, navigation or timing data or targeting data, Army leaders knows space capabilities can make their job easier. But while the Air Force, Navy and intelligence community operate satellites in space, what is the Army’s role in the fourth domain? – C4ISRNET

The Pentagon will stand up a new combatant command before the end of the month, with the official launch of U.S. Space Command set for Aug. 29. – Defense News

Missile Defense

The Army is nearing a decision on who will build its Lower-Tier Air-and-Missile Defense Sensor, or LTAMDS, which will provide the sensing capability for the future Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense System the service is developing. – Defense News

Russia and China accused the United States on Tuesday of stoking military tensions by testing a ground-launched cruise missile, but the foreign ministry in Moscow said it would not be drawn into an arms race. – Reuters

A pair of recent missile tests – by Russia in near Arkhangelsk and by the U.S. off the coast of California – indicate the race among nations to create a wide range of capabilities is speeding up, a missile defense expert told USNI News. – USNI News

Long War

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Tuesday that Islamic State militants are gaining strength in some areas but said the militant group’s capacity to conduct attacks has been greatly diminished. – Reuters

Islamic State has been battered in Iraq and Syria and declared defeated by President Donald Trump. But the terrorist group and its predecessor, al-Qaeda, are finding ample room to rebuild in other places with weak central governments, officials and analysts warn. – Bloomberg

An Al Qaeda member attempted to get a conviction for plotting to bomb city subways overturned on the grounds that he didn’t like his attorney — himself. Abid Naseer — who is serving a 40-year sentence for taking part in a multi-city bombing plot — cannot use the fact that he unsuccessfully represented himself at trial as an excuse to get his conviction thrown out, a federal appeals court ruled. – New York Post