Fdd's overnight brief

August 22, 2019

In The News


The Adrian Darya 1’s plan to unload its oil cargo and collect fresh supplies in Greece is hitting a snag, people familiar with the tanker’s operations said, as the U.S. pressures Athens to avoid any dealings with the Iranian vessel. – Wall Street Journal

Iran displayed what it described as a domestically built long-range, mobile surface-to-air missile system on Thursday, Iranian state media reported. – Reuters

If Iran’s oil exports are cut to zero, international waterways will not have the same security as before, its president said on Wednesday, cautioning Washington against raising pressure on Tehran in an angry confrontation between the longtime foes. – Reuters

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he would meet Iranian officials ahead of this weekend’s G7 summit and make proposals aimed at de-escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran. – Reuters

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned against ending an arms embargo on Iran, likening every day until the deal’s October 2020 expiration as a “#CountdownToTerror.” – CNN

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday Tehran may act “unpredictably” in response to the United States’ “unpredictable” policies under U.S. President Donald Trump. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Four recent incidents in Iraq, in which Iranian-backed paramilitary bases were struck or exploded mysteriously, have brought to the foreground a quiet conflict that has been brewing. Iran’s role in Iraq has expanded over the last decade and a half, raising questions about Tehran’s goals and how it views Iraq[…]. Iran was a victim of a strong Iraq under Saddam. It may fear Iraq regaining strength. But long-term that has implications for Syria and Lebanon and Yemen as well. – Jerusalem Post


Ten of thousands of people have fled to Syria’s border with Turkey in the last few days as a Syrian army advance pushed further into the opposition’s last major stronghold, residents, rights groups and opposition sources said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Syrian opposition activists say airstrikes have hit a hospital in a rebel-held northwestern village, knocking it out of service. There was no immediate word on casualties. – Associated Press

Syrian government forces have opened a corridor in the country’s northwest for people who want to cross out of insurgent territory to army lines, state news agency SANA said on Thursday. – Reuters


All of Turkey’s observation posts, formed under an agreement with Russia and Iran, will remain in place and support will continue to be provided to the posts, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Three Turkish soldiers were killed in a clash with Kurdish militants in southeast Turkey near the borders with Syria and Iraq, the local governor’s office said on Thursday. – Reuters

Russia and Turkey held urgent talks in July on connecting Turkish companies and lenders to the Russian central bank’s alternative to the SWIFT financial messaging system. – Bloomberg


The latest tit-for-tat fighting between Hamas and Israel continued throughout the night Thursday with Israeli planes striking a round of fresh targets in the Gaza Strip belonging to the terror group after a second rocket was fired from the coastal enclave toward Israeli towns. – Times of Israel

President Donald Trump beat back criticism of his comments accusing American Jews who vote for Democrats of “great disloyalty” and went a step further on Wednesday, saying any vote for a Democrat is a vote against Israel. – Reuters

Until this week, the notion that a United States president could question the loyalty of Jewish voters, or that a U.S. official could publicly hold forth about the state of Israel as a rogue nation antithetical to American values, remained confined to the nightmares of Israel’s most apprehensive leaders. This week, both those scenarios came to life. – LA Times

Israel and South Korea concluded three years of negotiations on a free trade agreement on Wednesday, hoping to build on a more than 15% jump in bilateral trade last year to $2.5 billion. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: Trump is assuming that Jewish Americans should vote as a single bloc. This kind of identity politics has long infuriated Republicans, quite justifiably. […]Just as there is no single “brown voice,” there is not a single Jewish voice. One of the strengths of the Jewish diaspora has been its capacity to nurture vigorous debate. It’s a tradition that goes back to the Talmud. It’s strange that a president who has so strongly supported the Jewish state doesn’t understand that. – Bloomberg


Iranian-backed militias in Iraq warned Wednesday that foreign aircraft flying over the country may be treated as “hostile” amid growing suspicions that Israel is responsible for mysterious explosions at militia bases. – Washington Post

The Arabic-language Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported on Wednesday that the bombing of Iranian weapons warehouses in Iraq in recent weeks, which has been attributed to Israel, was carried out with permission from the United States and Russia. – Arutz Sheva

Anna Ahronheim writes: While it could be that the Israeli jets were ordered to strike targets that posed an immediate threat to Israel, the Jewish state rarely strikes during the day. But it could be that Israel’s military under IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi’s command is not willing to wait. It could be assumed that Israel will now strike during the day to prevent Iran from transferring its missiles to Syria and hit them when they are still in Iraq. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

The family of prominent Palestinian politician Nabil Shaath accused Egyptian authorities on Wednesday of arresting Shaath’s son Ramy last month. – Agence FrancePresse

A US military drone has been shot down over Yemen, according to a report. – Sky News (UK)

The United Nations warned on Wednesday that 22 “life-saving” aid programs will be forced to close in Yemen in the next two months if countries do not pay more than $1 billion in funding that they pledged earlier this year. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

A North Korean spokesman said on Thursday the United States’ recent mid-range cruise missile test and plans to deploy F-35 jets and offensive military equipment around the Korean peninsula were “dangerous” moves that would “trigger a new cold war” in the region. – Reuters

The United States and North Korea are expected to reopen denuclearisation talks soon and they will go well, a senior South Korean official said on Thursday, boosting hopes for progress in negotiations after a prolonged stalemate. – Reuters

Patrick M. Cronin and Ryan Neuhard write: If the United States agrees to negotiate security guarantees, the U.S. negotiation team should consider keeping three principles in mind. First, do not negotiate with yourselves — find out exactly what North Korea wants in terms of security guarantees and what steps toward denuclearization they will provide in return. Second, be prepared to press ahead with security guarantees that are in the U.S. interest and proportionate to the North Korean offer. Third, if negotiations stall, shift talks toward crisis stability measures. – The Diplomat


New details about the U.S. sanctions-busting case against Huawei Technologies Co. emerged in court filings in Canada, including about the Chinese telecom giant’s alleged dealings in Iran, Syria and Sudan. – Wall Street Journal

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday he would not escalate a deepening trade and diplomatic dispute with China but added that his government had no intention of backing down as it defended its interests. – Reuters

Benjamin Haas writes: This confluence of circumstances is exactly why the European Union must act now to stand up for its values and leverage its economic relationship with China to pressure it to end one of the most egregious human rights violations in the world today. Feigning ignorance is no longer an option. – New York Times

Thomas Brewster writes: You’d have thought the U.S. government would be moving fast to kick Chinese surveillance tech out of the country. But despite a legally mandated ban signed off on a year ago, the Trump administration hasn’t been able to clean networks of prohibited Chinese cameras keeping watch over U.S. government facilities. – Forbes


U.S.-Taliban negotiations to end America’s longest military engagement overseas entered a crucial stage on Wednesday, as Washington’s special envoy arrived in the Gulf state of Qatar for talks both sides hope will lead quickly to a deal. – Wall Street Journal

Two US military personnel were killed Wednesday in Afghanistan, NATO announced, as potentially decisive talks between the US and the Taliban on the future of the war-wracked country are set to resume in Qatar. – Agence FrancePresse

Rep. Liz Cheney called on President Trump to reject a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, arguing in an op-ed that it would be tantamount to losing the war to al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State. – Washington Examiner

As the administration of President Donald Trump tries to finalize a peace-deal with the Taliban, congressional Republicans are wary of an agreement with “al-Qaeda’s longtime ally” to potentially withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from America’s longest running war, warning that it could repeat mistakes they believe Trump’s predecessor made in the Middle East region. – Newsweek

David Ignatius writes: Graham’s idea is to introduce a backstop to make sure that troop cuts promised as part of a peace deal don’t leave the United States vulnerable. He said the bill would require that the two Cabinet secretaries recertify every 180 days that ongoing troop withdrawals don’t endanger the United States. This would provide a mechanism for a regular intelligence assessment of the potential terrorist risk, as U.S. forces in Afghanistan decline. – Washington Post


China said it would sanction any U.S. firm involved in a planned $8 billion sale of advanced jet fighters to Taiwan, in retaliation against what it describes as Washington’s attempt to undermine Chinese national security. – Wall Street Journal

China confirmed that mainland police have detained an employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong for allegedly violating Chinese law, in Beijing’s first official comment on the man’s case since he disappeared two weeks ago. – Wall Street Journal

Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan intensified his criticism of India on Wednesday over its Kashmir crackdown, saying he would no longer seek dialogue with Indian officials and raising the threat of a military escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbors. – New York Times

The repatriation of hundreds of Rohingya Muslims appeared unlikely to proceed as planned Thursday after those who were eligible told the U.N. refugee agency and the Bangladesh government they didn’t want to return to Myanmar unless their citizenship and safety were ensured. – Associated Press

Japan and South Korea on Wednesday agreed on the need for dialogue to resolve a feud over compensating Korean wartime workers that has spilled into trade, and put a deep chill on ties between Washington’s two biggest Asian allies. – Reuters

Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Wednesday there were still gaps that needed to be filled before Tokyo and Washington could agree on a bilateral trade deal and that negotiations with his U.S. counterpart were “very tough.” – Reuters


Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the United States was now in a position to deploy a new land-based cruise missile in Romania and Poland, a scenario he considered a threat that Moscow would need to respond to. – Reuters

Russia pledged a response to a Sunday test of a U.S. ground-based cruise missile the Pentagon conducted two weeks after the expiration of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty in early August. – USNI News

Russia staged a 30-vessel exercise with ships from three of its four fleets in international waters off Norway’s northernmost Nordland and Troms counties from 13 to 17 August. – Janes 360

Russia and China have asked the United Nations Security Council to meet on Thursday over “statements by U.S. officials on their plans to develop and deploy medium-range missiles,” according to the request seen by Reuters. – Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday he did not believe the case had yet been made for Russia to rejoin the G7 following its “provocations” in places like Salisbury, Ukraine and elsewhere. – Reuters

David Axe writes: The successful test on Sunday of an intermediate-range, ground-launched Tomahawk cruise missile reintroduces a previously defunct type of atomic weapon, effectively reversing 32 years of successful arms-control. It also appears to confirm Russia’s fears about American intentions as Washington and Moscow backslide into Cold War-style mutual mistrust. – The Daily Beast


President Trump on Wednesday lashed out at Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, saying the leader of the U.S. ally had made “nasty” comments about his interest in having the United States purchase Greenland. – Washington Post

President Trump canceled a visit to Denmark scheduled for next month after Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen refused to consider selling Greenland to the United States. Trump’s move has infuriated Danish politicians and strained relations with an ally that — until now, at least — has stood behind the United States on the battlefield and in the diplomatic arena. – Washington Post

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told German Chancellor Angela Merkel he is serious about getting a deal to smooth the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, but said EU provisions aimed at preventing a hard border from dividing the island of Ireland will have to go—or Britain will crash out of the bloc without an agreement. – Wall Street Journal

Mr. Johnson, who has stepped up preparations for the possibility of a potentially chaotic no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31, needs the president’s help if he is to strike a trade deal with the United States to cushion the economic impact. But he can ill afford to appear too chummy with him. – New York Times

The diplomatic row that has erupted between Washington and Copenhagen over Greenland is just one part of a broader strategic battle being waged over control of the Arctic, according to one expert. – Agence FrancePresse

Anti-globalization and climate activists have teamed up with yellow vest protesters and Basque nationalists ahead of a G7 meeting in France this weekend to confront a rich-poor divide they say is growing due to the “cynicism” of world leaders. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said a no-deal Brexit would be of Britain’s own making and not the European Union’s, adding that any trade pact London cut with Washington would not mitigate the cost of leaving the bloc without a deal. – Reuters

Carl Bildt writes: Canceling visits now seems to be what remains of Arctic policy for the United States. Perhaps just as well. All other countries are keen to try to prevent Greenland from turning green again. We would all suffer the consequences. – Washington Post

Clay R. Fuller writes: The threat of authoritarian corruption is real. It is alive, well, and expanding — using the global, free-market model that the G7’s members helped create. The world’s dictators and free people around the globe will be tuned in to the events this weekend. Let’s hope the G7 leaders remember what they should be fighting for and against. – American Enterprise Institute

Desmond Lachman writes: Hopefully, the Trump Administration will soon come to the realization that a healthy European economy is vital for both for US and global economic prosperity. If not, we should brace ourselves for a turbulent time in the global economy in the year ahead that will all too likely reach our shores. – American Enterprise Institute


Suspected jihadists killed five Malian soldiers on Wednesday in an ambush in the West African country’s volatile centre, the army said, the latest in a string of attacks targeting local security forces in the Sahel region. – Reuters

The leaders of Uganda and Rwanda agreed on Wednesday to re-open the border between the two countries following a summit mediated in Angola, ending months of tensions that raised fears of armed hostilities. – Associated Press

Military and civilian members of Sudan’s new ruling body, the Sovereign Council, were sworn in on Wednesday at the presidential palace in Khartoum, state news agency SUNA said. – Reuters

The Americas

The Trump administration has been secretly talking with top aides of Nicolás Maduro in an effort to push Venezuela’s authoritarian president from power and clear the way for free elections in the economically devastated country, according to officials in Caracas and Washington familiar with the discussions. – Wall Street Journal

Mexican tomato growers reached a last-minute deal with the U.S. Commerce Department that will suspend an antidumping investigation and remove duties on U.S. imports of Mexican tomatoes in exchange for Mexico raising prices and submitting to inspections. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. is calling on Cuba to drop criminal charges against a journalist facing a year in jail following his arrest earlier this year. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Wednesday that the U.S. “strongly condemns” the prosecution of Roberto Quiñones. Pompeo said the detention and trial of Quiñones showed “flagrant disregard for legal norms.” – Associated Press

Russia has reaffirmed its commitment to backing Venezuela as the Latin American state faced U.S.-led attempts to oust its government. Venezuela’s government also recently revealed secret talks with Washington. – Newsweek

Yoed Magen has been accredited as the new Israeli ambassador to Paraguay amid tensions between the two nations, the Paraguayan state news agency said Wednesday. – Associated Press


As analysts rely more on an intelligence community intranet to transmit top-secret information, the network needs to be modernized with cybersecurity in mind, said Jean Schaffer, chief of cyber and enterprise operations at the Defense Intelligence Agency. – Fifth Domain

After a Government Accountability Office report outlined deficiencies in manning new units for multidomain operations, Army cyber leaders pushed back on the report’s characterizations. – Fifth Domain

Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty has been telling audiences for the past year that he will be the last commander of Army Cyber Command. In the future, the organization will carry a name more encompassing of its wide-ranging mission in the information warfare space. – C4ISRNET

When it comes to providing combatant commanders the planners they needs for theater-wide cyber cyber operations, Army leaders believe they have a head start. Cyber teams from across the services work through organizations, formally known as Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber, which in turn provide planning, targeting, intelligence and cyber capabilities to the combatant commands. These organizations oversee combat mission teams and combat support teams. – Fifth Domain

Editorial: Now, China appears to be emulating the Russia example. Twitter and Facebook are blocked inside China but have a substantial presence in Hong Kong[…]. No longer can platforms just throw up their hands and say “not our responsibility.” The underlying values of freedom must be preserved, but to protect that freedom, rules are necessary. This is uncharted territory, but at least Twitter and Facebook have their eyes open. Other services, including Google, the owner of YouTube, ought to quickly follow their example on Hong Kong. – Washington Post

Elisabeth Braw writes: Attacks on businesses linked to foreign governments are becoming increasingly frequent. Hackers working for Beijing and Pyongyang regularly target Western companies. […]It’s dangerous to insulate companies from risks they take on, but hybrid warfare is an unpredictable danger imposed on the entire market. Almost any firm could be hit by a cyberattack. Governments need to afford them the protections needed for global commerce to continue. – Wall Street Journal


The Pentagon is pulling the plug on a billion-dollar, technically troubled project to build a better weapon that would destroy incoming missiles. The move is aimed in part at considering new approaches to missile defense at a time of rapid technological change. – Associated Press

The U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman celebrated 30 years since the inaugural flight of the iconic B-2 stealth bomber Tuesday during a ceremony at Northrop’s Palmdale facility, where the B-2 was built and first took off. – Defense News

A Colorado congressman says the initial headquarters for the Pentagon’s new Space Command will be in his home state. – Associated Press

A fix that will allow military ground systems to receive a highly secure, military signal from GPS III satellites is on track for early 2020, according to Lockheed Martin executives. – C4ISRNET

In July 2018, a remotely piloted aircraft – the MQ-9B SkyGuardian – flew from the United States to the United Kingdom, landing after a 24-hour trans-Atlantic flight using the same routes as manned aircraft. It was a first in the world of medium-altitude, long-endurance RPA. But it also foreshadows how ongoing and future MALE RPA concepts of operations will evolve. The unmanned aircraft revolution is inexorably underway thanks to six new capabilities. – C4ISRNET

Long War

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that other countries will need to take up the fight against Islamic State militants, citing Russia, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran as examples. – Reuters

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday welcomed Paraguay’s decision from earlier this week to designate Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. – Arutz Sheva

With a bizarre threat to “release” terrorists into France and Germany, President Trump is pressing America’s European allies to bring home and put on trial their citizens captured while fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. – Defense One

Maseh Zarif and James Zumwalt write: We should demand more of our civilian leaders and elected officials overseeing the wars we are in today. We tend to focus on the military in matters of war — a forgivable instinct. Yet war, as Carl von Clausewitz reminds us, is fundamentally a political act and instrument. […]Wherever we end up on the immediate policy decisions, we should strive to get there with clarity and an airing of risks and consequences — and ditch the false comfort of bumper-sticker slogans. – The Hill