Fdd's overnight brief

August 29, 2019

In The News


The Treasury Department on Wednesday imposed sanctions on several Iranian men and their associated companies, which U.S. officials say were used to procure materials in Iran’s bid to develop weapons of mass destruction. – Wall Street Journal

American military cyber forces in June knocked out a crucial database used by Iran’s elite paramilitary force to target oil tankers and shipping traffic in the Persian Gulf hours after that force shot down a U.S. surveillance drone, according to U.S. officials. – Washington Post

Israel has carried out a series of attacks across the Middle East in recent weeks to prevent Iran from equipping its Arab allies with precision-guided missiles, drones and other sophisticated weapons that could challenge Israel’s defenses. – New York Times

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday the United States must observe the 2015 nuclear deal and stop engaging in “economic terrorism” against the Iranian people if Washington wants to meet for talks. – Reuters

Iran publicly hanged a man on Wednesday convicted of killing an Imam in the southern city of Kazeroon, the capital of the Fars province, state news agency IRNA reported. Hamid Reza Derakhshandeh was executed at the same location where he killed the Muslim cleric on May 29. – Jerusalem Post

Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Wednesday urged the United Kingdom to follow in the US’s footsteps and designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. – Times of Israel


The UN Security Council is expected to vote Thursday on renewing the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in Lebanon. The proposed mandate includes calling on the Lebanese government to provide the force with a wider scope in their inspections. It also includes requests to the government for increasing efforts to curtailing weapons smuggling to non-state actors, for example, Hezbollah. – Jerusalem Post

The United Nations Security Council is expected to renew the yearly mandate of its UNIFIL, its peacekeeping force in Lebanon, this week. But exclusive video obtained by Fox News shows a peacekeeping patrol under attack by the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hezbollah. An intelligence source confirmed to Fox News the Iranian proxy force was behind the attack. – Fox News

The attack in Beirut early Sunday morning, which has been attributed to Israel, hit a central component of Hezbollah’s missile program. It damaged a planetary mixer — an industrial-sized mixer weighing about eight tons, needed to create propellants that can improve the engine performance of missiles and increase their accuracy. The machine was hit, as far as we know, shortly before Hezbollah planned to move it to a secured site. – Haaretz

Hanin Ghaddar writes: Hezbollah’s patrons in Iran understand the complexities of any retaliation in Syria or Iraq. In the former, Russia coordinates with Israel when the IDF needs to attack Iranian targets; in the latter, Baghdad still has significant military relations with the United States. In contrast, Lebanon is largely free of such great-power considerations, and it remains Hezbollah and Iran’s strongest base, allowing them to carry out attacks from there without significant outside interference if they so desire. And if Lebanon turns into a battlefield, the fighting could easily expand to Iraq and the rest of the region. – Washington Institute


With help and oversight from the U.S. military, the Syrian Democratic Forces have begun pulling back from northern Syria east of the Euphrates and destroying fortifications built up against a threatened attack by Turkey, according to U.S. Central Command. – Military.com

Jets believed to be Syrian or Russian on Wednesday struck a main rebel-held city in northwest Syria, killing at least nine civilians, in stepped up strikes on the last rebel bastion in that part of the country, residents and rescuers said. – Reuters

A spate of drone attacks in Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and now Lebanon has raised the spectre of a new era of conflict in the region, due to the ability of stealth-like weapons to penetrate distant battlefields and hit closely guarded targets. – The Guardian

Benjamin Allard and Tanisha M. Fazal write: While not impossible, a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war is deeply improbable today, given a profound lack of trust on all sides. The regime has backed itself into a corner by characterizing its engagement with rebel groups as a war against terrorism. – Washington Post


Russia and NATO-member Turkey are in talks over the possibility of creating a new fighter jet, Russian government officials said Wednesday, a step that could further challenge the United States and Ankara’s standing in the Western military alliance. – Washington Post

President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s deal with the United States to set up a “safe zone” in northeast Syria was a correct step and that Ankara would not let Washington delay the plan, CNN Turk reported on Thursday. – Reuters

The Pentagon would consider allowing Turkey to rejoin the F-35 program only if the Russian-made S-400 air defense system is completely removed from Turkish soil, meaning the government in Ankara could not simply keep the systems deactivated in warehouses, the Pentagon’s top official said Wednesday. – Defense News

As Europe closed its doors, Turkey was left with a staggering 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees—the largest number hosted by any country in the world and nearly four times as many as all EU-member states combined. While Turkish society initially responded with impressive resilience, its long-lauded hospitality is rapidly wearing thin, prompting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government to take measures that violate the very premise of the EU-Turkey deal. – The Atlantic


The United States will not release the long-delayed political portion of its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan before Israel’s elections next month, White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Hamas has declared a state of emergency and on Wednesday morning began arresting supporters of Islamic State and other Salafist organizations in the Gaza Strip en masse, hours after three policemen were killed in a series of blasts in the coastal enclave, according to Palestinian reports. – Times of Israel

Newly published memoirs of former Jordanian prime minister and defense minister Prince Zaid Ibn Shaker discuss unpublished information about the details of the 1967 Six Day War and discussions between King Hussein of Jordan and former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. The memoirs have been published by A Sharq Al-Awsat ahead of a full book which will be published in September. – Jerusalem Post

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez will travel to Israel on Friday to inaugurate a “diplomatic office” in Jerusalem, recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital. The diplomatic office in the city will be an extension of Honduras’s Tel Aviv-based embassy. – Agence FrancePresse

The country of Nauru in Micronesia announced Thursday that it recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. – Arutz Sheva

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s phone was hacked by Russian hackers several months after Iranians hacked into the phone, Channel 12 reported on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Authority thwarted a cargo bomb attack last week in the area of ​​Mount Gerizim – a day before the attack near Dolev where Rina Shnerb was murdered. – Arutz Sheva

Anti-drone technology recently developed in Israel can seize control of enemy drones and land them anywhere. Taking control of the drones without causing them damage makes it possible to reuse them and extract any data that the drone collected prior to its interception.   – Haaretz


Rivalry between Iraq’s two biggest allies, Tehran and Washington, has put the region on edge this year. Oil tankers in the Gulf have been attacked and Israel has bombed Iranian allies in Syria. If Iraq cannot rein in its paramilitary groups, which have more than 100,000 members, there could be further violence, Iraqi officials and analysts say. – Reuters

In the last month, four mysterious airstrikes have occurred in Iraq. Political parties there have blamed Israel and held the US responsible. But Iraq’s official investigation has not fully determined who carried out the alleged airstrikes. The US has asserted it was not the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. Pro-Iranian groups in Iraq are convinced it was Israel, which forms part of the rising tensions in the region after Israel said it carried out an August 24 airstrike in Syria. – Jerusalem Post

A former State Department contractor sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 2007 shooting deaths of unarmed Iraqi civilians is asking for a new trial because of what he says is newly discovered evidence. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: Populists among Iraq’s parliament can lambaste the United States and even demand America’s ouster, but they ignore that militias unchecked pose a far greater threat to Iraq’s future trajectory: The last half century of Middle Eastern history — Jordan in 1970, Lebanon in 1975, Algeria and Somalia in 1991, Iraqi Kurdistan in 1996, Gaza in 2006, and Syria and Yemen more recently — shows that when governments allow militias to act independently within their territory or celebrate militia actions while seeking plausible deniability for their actions, the end result is always the collapse of state security and a disaster for ordinary citizens. – Washington Examiner

Pesha Magid writes: By targeting one of the most powerful groups in Iraq, the strikes threaten the stability of the Iraqi government and make Iraq’s struggle to maintain neutrality between the United States and Iran dangerously tenuous. Iraqis know there is little they can do, but that doesn’t lessen their disgust and despair. – Foreign Policy


The Lebanese army opened fire at two of three Israeli drones that breached Lebanese airspace on Wednesday evening in the south of the country near the Israeli border, and all three returned to Israeli airspace, the army said. – Reuters

Lebanese sources report that the IDF has placed an IDF jeep near the Israeli-Lebanese border inside which there is a doll that looks like a soldier. – Arutz Sheva

On Monday crowds gathered to pay their respects to two fallen Lebanese Shi’ites who were killed in an Israeli airstrike south of Damascus. The IDF said they were members of a militia linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force and involved in attempts to attack Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Yemen’s government and a local faction to resolve their dispute over control of the country’s south, which threatens Saudi-led efforts to reassert control over the entire country and end its war. – Wall Street Journal

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis attacked Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport with a cruise missile on Wednesday, the group’s military spokesman said in a tweet. – Reuters

Forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government pushed Wednesday into the key port city of Aden after wresting control of another southern provincial capital from separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates, officials and local residents said. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have looked inseparable on the world stage, working together to project power in the Middle East and beyond, and courting U.S. President Donald Trump to counter common foe Iran. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

U.S. national security officials were blindsided last week when South Korea said it was withdrawing from an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, the Pentagon’s senior Asia policy official said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday berated Japan for carrying out its plan to downgrade South Korea’s trade status and reiterated that Tokyo was weaponizing trade to retaliate over political rows stemming from the countries’ wartime history. – Associated Press

South Korea’s highest court ordered the retrial of Samsung Electronics Co. Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee over bribery charges, reviving legal uncertainty around the country’s largest company just as it’s navigating global trade turmoil. – Bloomberg

South Korea’s decision to scrap a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan has led to an increasingly public split with the United States, just when the allies face rising tensions with North Korea and new competition from China and Russia. – Reuters

Japan and South Korea would be “much better off removing obstacles, rather than making it more difficult” to share critical intelligence about ballistic missiles launched from North Korea and possible cyber and space threats they face from Pyongyang or Beijing, the senior Pentagon official charged with that region’s security said Wednesday. – USNI News

Jung H. Pak writes: As tensions between the United States’ two closest allies in East Asia threaten to boil over, former U.S. policymakers, such as Evan Medeiros and Victor Cha, have sounded the alarm on the negative effects on alliance relationships and policy coordination. […]While negotiation and engagement at the leader level are critical, both sides also should be reminded about their convergence of interests and potential ways that the two countries could—and should—cooperate to confront their present and future challenges. – The National Interest


China’s military on Thursday said fresh troops had arrived in Hong Kong as part of a routine rotation, as the financial hub prepares for fresh political rallies against Beijing’s tightening grip on the city. – Agence France Presse

China warned a U.S. warship sailing near disputed islands in the South China Sea that it was violating the country’s sovereignty and urged Washington to halt its “provocative” naval operations. – Bloomberg

Chinese President Xi Jinping will deliver a major speech to mark 70 years since the official founding of the People’s Republic of China, the government announced on Thursday. […]The speech will be closely watched for hints on China’s policy direction, especially with the nation facing pressure on multiple fronts, from the trade war with the U.S. to protests in Hong Kong to a slowing domestic economy. Xi is expected to review the nation’s achievements over the past 70 years and also talk about China’s future. – Bloomberg

Nicholas Kristof writes: The Hong Kong and Chinese governments have mishandled these protests from the beginning, and both sides are now escalating and becoming increasingly violent. That face-off on the street was a microcosm of a larger standoff between China’s president, Xi Jinping, determined to impose his kind of order, and countless Hong Kongers, equally determined to breathe freely. – New York Times


The top-ranking U.S. military officer said it was premature to discuss a possible withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, in his first public comments about the ongoing peace talks to end the country’s nearly 18-year-long war. – Wall Street Journal

Afghanistan’s security forces are not yet able to deal with violence in the country on their own, the top American military officer said Wednesday, laying bare one of the biggest challenges facing administration officials as they try to hammer out a peace agreement with the Taliban that could lead to the withdrawal of American troops. – New York Times

The US and the Taliban are “close” to a deal that would see the Pentagon slash troop numbers in Afghanistan, the insurgents said Wednesday, although the US military insisted that the country must not become a sanctuary for extremists. – Agence France Presse

The Trump administration is weighing a possible deal with the Taliban that would refer to the insurgents by the name of their former hard-line regime, which Washington has previously rejected as illegitimate, two foreign diplomats and a Taliban source told NBC News. – NBC News

Russia is ready to be a guarantor of any peace deal for Afghanistan agreed between the United States and the Taliban, the Russian foreign ministry said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Lindsey Graham and Jack Keane write: The United States cannot contract out the American people’s security to the Taliban who, in exchange for a U.S. withdrawal, simply “promise” to guarantee that al-Qaeda and ISIS-K are denied haven. Finally, we fear that a “U.S. withdrawal deal” with the Taliban would not end the war. It is much more likely to start a new, far worse civil war as the Afghan forces would feel betrayed and abandoned, the Afghan government would be severely undermined and weakened, and the Northern Alliance would withdraw its members from the Afghan Army. – Washington Post


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told African leaders gathered here for a summit on Wednesday that his government was determined to step up its engagement with the continent. […]The new one is support for Japan’s idea of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, uniting the region behind the principles of free trade and freedom of navigation, the rule of law, and the market economy, and meant partly as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. – Washington Post

On June 16, a 24-year-old female graduate student with the family name Chen donned a black T-shirt, grabbed a surgical mask in case she needed to hide her face, and joined a massive march against further erosion of the city’s freedoms by China. That much was standard procedure for many of the estimated two million people who took to the streets that day. What set her apart was her Chinese passport. – Wall Street Journal

Japan is considering lowering the 10% ownership threshold at which foreigners are required to report stakes in domestic companies, two officials said, as Tokyo looks to better monitor Chinese investment in areas related to security. – Reuters

Pakistan’s military successfully carried out a training launch of a surface-to-surface ballistic missile on Thursday, at a time of heightened tension with neighboring India over the disputed region of Kashmir, a spokesman said. – Reuters

Richard Javad Heydarian writes: A more careful analysis, however, suggests that Duterte isn’t signaling a more confrontational policy towards China; instead, he is making tactical adjustments to protect his rapprochement with his self-professed strategic patron. This is the president who once brazenly claimed that Xi vowed to protect him from ouster by U.S.-aligned elements. His biggest concerns center around his top generals, who have openly lashed out at China’s “bullying” of the Philippines, and finding a legal justification for proposed resource-sharing agreements with China in disputed waters. – The National Interest

Salvatore Babones writes: But if Australians are serious about defending freedom in the Indo-Pacific region, then they should take a more active role in their own defense. That means buying the most effective weapons systems available and deploying them as efficiently as possible. It also means accommodating and hosting American forces, when its own aren’t sufficient to do the job. But most of all, it means making a genuine commitment to security partnership. – The National Interest


Russia’s foreign ministry says the two U.S. senators who claim that their visas applications were denied knew that they were on a list of officials barred from Russia. – Associated Press

The Russian government has denied responsibility for the killing of a Chechen exile in Berlin after German authorities reportedly voiced suspicions of a state-backed attack similar to that carried out against a former Russian military officer in Salisbury, Britain, in 2018. – The Guardian

The Trump administration is slow-walking $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine, annoying lawmakers and advocates who argue the funding is critical to keeping Russia at bay. – Politico

A Russian-made S-400 air-defense system could detect an F-35 at 20 miles, Air Force estimated. It could pick up an F-15EX 200 miles away. The debate continues over the Pentagon’s proposal to buy new F-15EX Eagle fighters from Boeing to complement Lockheed Martin-made F-35 stealth fighters. – The National Interest


Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to shut down Parliament for several weeks, a tactic aimed at stopping opposition lawmakers from blocking an abrupt break with the European Union. The move, which sent the British pound falling, sets the stage for a high-stakes battle among lawmakers next month. – Wall Street Journal

Italy’s rival parties reached a deal to form a new government, bringing an end to a government crisis that threatened to lead to national elections for the second time in less than two years. The anti-establishment 5 Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party joined up to prevent the further rise of far-right nativist leader Matteo Salvini, who threatened to defy the European Union’s budget rules and push for a harder line on immigration. – Wall Street Journal

Suddenly the man affectionately known as “BoJo” was being rebranded by some opponents a “tin-pot dictator.” And President Trump, known for his own norm-smashing maneuvers, applauded Mr. Johnson, calling him on Twitter “exactly what the U.K. has been looking for.” – New York Times

The UK’s newly appointed Home Secretary Priti Patel has vowed to stand up to antisemitism following a meeting with British Jewish organizations on Tuesday. Patel said in a statement late Tuesday night that she was “delighted to meet with the Board of Deputies of British Jews. – Jerusalem Post

The Americas

A top American diplomat said the United States would not prosecute or otherwise seek to punish President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela if he voluntarily left power, despite bringing his country to the verge of economic collapse and humanitarian disaster. – New York Times

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday opened a representative office for Venezuela in Bogota, Colombia, and said it will continue its opposition to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and support for opposition leader Juan Guaido from there. – Reuters

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan signed a letter of intent with a top Salvadoran official signaling that the countries hope to cooperate on a range of issues. – The Hill

The two mass shootings and a presidential tweet put a spotlight on the idea of “domestic terrorism,” adding momentum to a debate about whether such attacks should be classified and tried in the same way as crimes against America by foreign terrorist groups and their supporters. A Republican senator and a Democrat in the House of Representatives are drafting bills to do that while some Republicans call for a left-wing group to be designated a terrorist organization. – Associated Press


U.S. officials are seeking to block an undersea cable backed by Google, Facebook Inc. and a Chinese partner, in a national security review that could rewrite the rules of internet connectivity between the U.S. and China, according to people involved in the discussions. – Wall Street Journal

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd said on Wednesday it was “very actively” interested in building the first undersea fiber-optic cable between South America and Asia. – Reuters

Huawei Technologies plans to forge ahead with the launch of new high-end smartphones in Europe even though it may not be able to offer Google’s official Android operating system and widely used apps such as Google Maps, company executives told Reuters. – Reuters


Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he resigned from the Trump administration in late 2018 “when my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated.” – Wall Street Journal

President Trump will participate Thursday in the establishment of the U.S. Space Command, according to his press schedule. Vice President Pence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford announced last week that the command would be launched Thursday. – The Hill

The U.S. Army has picked an Oshkosh Defense and Flyer Defense LLC team, an SAIC and Polaris team, and GM Defense to competitively build Infantry Squad Vehicles intended to provide ground mobility for infantry brigade combat teams. – Defense News

Extremely small atomic clocks could hold the key for alternative timing data in GPS denied environments, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said they’re making progress in creating highly accurate prototypes. – C4ISRNET

Under the latest National Defense Strategy, the Air Force is questioning the resiliency of its established bases and putting thought into how the service could establish a makeshift airfield or use partner nations’ bases to distribute assets should war break out. – Defense News

Peter Garretson writes: Tomorrow, the Trump administration will formally inaugurate the newest U.S. Combatant Command, U.S. Space Command. The occasion is a momentous one, because it marks the first, and long overdue, step toward a serious space policy on the part of the United States. Yet America’s move into the “final frontier” is still missing an essential ingredient: a vision of what we seek to accomplish there. – American Foreign Policy Council