Fdd's overnight brief

August 30, 2019

In The News


In the power circles of Tehran, where “Death to America” is regularly chanted, the idea has taken hold that Iran must eventually negotiate with President Trump, according to several people with knowledge of the shift. – New York Times

U.S. officials imposed sanctions on two Iranian military technology networks, undermining the regime’s ballistic missile supply chain days after Tehran rebuffed talks with President Trump. – Washington Examiner

A rocket at an Iranian space center that was to conduct a satellite launch criticized by the U.S. apparently exploded on its launch pad Thursday, satellite images show, suggesting the Islamic Republic suffered its third failed launch this year alone. – Associated Press

Britain, France and Germany will hold talks Friday on how to preserve the beleaguered Iran nuclear deal and protect shipping in the Gulf. – Agence FrancePresse

The EU would support talks between the US and Iran, the bloc’s diplomatic chief said, but only if the current nuclear deal with Tehran is preserved. – Agence FrancePresse

An Iranian-flagged oil tanker that has been pursued by the United States in the Mediterranean Sea for weeks appeared to have changed course away from its destination in Turkey. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

As the Adrian Darya 1, formerly the Grace 1, meanders across the Mediterranean Sea, the world is monitoring closely to see where she finally stops to discharge the over two million barrels of Iranian crude oil onboard. Any country or entity aiding the vessel will be deemed by the United States as assisting a foreign terrorist organization. – USNI News

In two articles he published recently in Qatari dailies, Faisal Al-Qassem, a host on the Qatari Al-Jazeera network, harshly attacked the U.S. policy on Iran, which he said serves Iranian interests at the expense of the Gulf countries and Turkey. […]The following are excerpts from the two articles. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly urgently tried to dissuade US President Donald Trump from meeting with Iran’s foreign minister, who made a surprise visit to a summit of world leaders in France earlier this week. – Times of Israel

Editorial: There was a moment last weekend when a summit between the presidents of the U.S. and Iran seemed tantalizingly possible. […]Reconciling these positions will take a great deal of diplomatic effort, and Iran should seize any opportunity to start that process. It doesn’t take a “great negotiator” to see that such discussions are a necessary first step to resolving seemingly irresolvable conflicts. If that means accepting a photo-op with Trump, it is a very low price to pay. – Bloomberg

David Ignatius writes: What really happened in Biarritz last weekend with the mysterious visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif? U.S. officials saw it as a bit of diplomatic freelancing by French President Emmanuel Macron, which sought to foster negotiations but highlighted the obstacles that are in the way. Despite Abe’s failure, the French president thought he might be able to save the 2015 nuclear deal by repackaging it through a new negotiation. – Washington Post

Kathy Gilsinan writes: And with that, a regime locked in a tit-for-tat escalation with the United States—the world’s biggest economy, the biggest spender on national security, and a global superpower with intelligence and military resources around the world—focused its rage on a guy who runs a think tank. How a 60-odd person organization became the enemy du jour in Tehran is a story about the Washington, D.C., influence game as seen from the receiving end. Yet it also illustrates how what happens here doesn’t stay here, and how a Beltway reputation can reverberate far from the city’s policy debates. – The Atlantic

Orly Azoulay writes: From the vast deserts of Saudi Arabia to the crowded neighborhoods of Beirut, a drone war has taken flight across the wider Middle East, raising the stakes in the ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran. – Associated Press


Israel accused Hezbollah of stepping up efforts to build precision-guided missiles inside Lebanon, as it urged Beirut to do more to prevent the Iran-backed group from being able to use the country to target it. – Wall Street Journal

Israel has placed mannequins dressed as soldiers in military vehicles along the border with Lebanon as the army braces for expected attacks by Hezbollah, according to local reports. – New York Post

The Trump administration on Thursday announced sanctions on a Lebanese bank with ties to Hezbollah in the latest effort to target the Iranian-backed organization. – The Hill

The Israeli military published a video on Thursday revealing the identities of Iranian Quds Force commanders it accused of running the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah’s precision missile program. – Algemeiner

Israel is speaking louder than ever before about its military exploits, and pundits see an effort to signal Hezbollah, Lebanon and others that a bigger fight may be on the way. – Times of Israel


More than three million people are trapped under a Syrian bombing campaign as Bashar Assad battles to reclaim the last enclave held by rebels in his country. Idlib is the only remaining opposition stronghold after eight grueling years of civil war. – CBS News

Russia and its Syrian army ally stepped up aerial raids on northwest Syria as they sent reinforcements from elite army units and Iranian-backed militias to bolster a major offensive against the last big rebel stronghold, opposition sources, army defectors and residents said on Friday. – Reuters

Elizabeth Dent writes: Over the past few weeks, my colleagues at MEI have debated whether the U.S. should stay in Syria or leave. […]Once the U.S. government realigns its strategy implementation with the policy decisions the president has already made, the U.S. can start focusing on more realistic and attainable goals. Anything less will increase the risk to our troops, strain our relationship with Turkey, create unfair conditions for our SDF partners, and mislead and confuse the Counter-ISIS Coalition. – Middle East Institute


As he takes delivery of a second air-defense system from Russia in a purchase that’s already caused a serious rift with President Donald Trump’s administration, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan is doubling down by considering a bid for warplanes from his “dear friend” Vladimir Putin. – Bloomberg

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Moscow this week to discuss military contacts and closer relations with Russia. At the same time, Ankara faces an emerging crisis in northern Syria where a Syrian regime offensive is pushing back rebels and extremist groups that have enjoyed relative peace under a Turkish security umbrella since a September 2018 deal stalled a Syrian-regime offensive. – Jerusalem Post

Bulent Aliriza writes: The unusually close relationship between President Donald Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, characterized by frequent telephone conversations, friendly encounters, and mutual expressions of admiration, has tended to obscure the continuing deterioration of the seven-decade alliance between the United States and Turkey during the Trump administration. The long list of unresolved issues on the agenda expanded in July with the beginning of deliveries of the Russian S-400 missile system to Turkey despite U.S. objections. This brought to boil the long-simmering dispute between the two countries on the planned purchase and prompted the cancelation by the United States of Turkish involvement in the joint F-35 fighter plane program. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Israel welcomed a United Nations Security Council vote on Thursday afternoon that renewed and strengthened the mandate of UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. – Algemeiner

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that Israel can “certainly count on the United States of America” in the event of a war with Iran. – Algemeiner

Israel has offered Hamas economic concessions and will ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip in return for a long-term ceasefire, as tensions rise amid a flurry of rocket attacks emanating from the enclave and mutual threats, Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper reported Friday. – Times of Israel

The army’s Northern Command said Thursday it had canceled all leave for combat brigades on Israel’s northern border, just hours after the military’s commander in the north warned Israel would offer a “harsh” response to any Hezbollah attack. – Times of Israel

Jason Greenblatt, the US Special Representative for International Negotiations, said on Thursday that the Trump administration is committed to stopping Iran’s and Hamas’ violence. – Arutz Sheva


Yemen’s government accused the United Arab Emirates of bombing its troops on Thursday as they tried to retake the southern city of Aden from Emirati-backed separatists. – New York Times

Yemen’s president urged Saudi Arabia on Thursday to rein in the United Arab Emirates after warplanes from his former ally staged airstrikes on Yemeni government troops, killing and wounding dozens as they headed to retake the key southern port city of Aden from separatists backed by the UAE. – Associated Press

Intense fighting has broken out between former allies in a battle for control of Yemen’s interim capital, Aden, threatening to open a new front in the war and raising fears for civilians’ safety. – The Guardian

Korean Peninsula

North Korea elevates leader Kim Jong Un to a status approaching his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. Kim is now the “supreme leader of the Party, state and armed forces of the DPRK in accordance with the unanimous will and desire of all the Korean people” – Agence France Presse

The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, will visit North Korea next week, China’s foreign ministry said on Friday. – Reuters

Top U.S. defense officials delivered a rare and public rebuke of a top ally in Asia, South Korea, following Seoul’s decision last week to pull out of a 2016 intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo. – NPR

North Korea has hit out at the United Kingdom, France and Germany after the countries criticized its recent series of missile launches, telling the European trio to first focus on their own domestic issues. – Newsweek


U.S. prosecutors are looking into additional instances of alleged technology theft by Huawei Technologies Co., according to people familiar with the matter, potentially expanding beyond existing criminal cases against the Chinese telecommunications giant. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese President Xi Jinping said China and the Philippines could take a “bigger step” in the joint development of oil and gas resources in the South China Sea if they can properly handle their dispute over sovereignty. – Reuters

An American college student who, along with his sister and mother, has not been allowed to leave China for more than a year pleaded directly to President Trump on Thursday to negotiate with Beijing for his release. – The Hill

China’s Ministry of Commerce said Thursday that it is discussing the next round of face-to-face trade talks with the U.S., but maintained that any progress hinges on the conditions the Trump administration brings to the table. – The Hill

Olivia Enos and Yujin Kim write:  Uighur women testify to the horrors they have endured, including new reports of forced sterilization. One Uighur woman interviewed by French television said she was constantly injected with a substance during her detention that stopped her periods. […]Now is the time for the U.S. and the international community to respond to the crisis in Xinjiang with strong resolve. – Daily Signal

South Asia

President Donald Trump said Thursday the U.S. plans to withdraw more than 5,000 American troops from Afghanistan and then will determine further drawdowns in the longest war in American history. – Associated Press

India is targeting companies including Apple, Foxconn and Wistron Corp with a charm offensive aimed at encouraging them to shift business out of trade war-hit China, according to a source and a document seen by Reuters. – Reuters

China’s military said on Thursday that its top General Xu Qiliang made a “very successful” visit to Pakistan this week but played down the trip’s timing which coincided with the India-Pakistan tensions, asserting that it was planned earlier as part of the PLA’s international military cooperation plan. – Bloomberg

Arif Rafiq writes: A little more than a decade after the Soviet Union and United States wiped their hands clean of Afghanistan the last time, terrorism came to the streets of New York. This time around, a superpower has an opportunity to leave Afghanistan in a responsible fashion that secures its own national security interests. Given the United States’ increasing ties to India, it also has a moral responsibility to try to prevent the foundations of India’s democracy from further weakening. The United States cannot afford to ignore the convulsions in South Asia. It is home to a quarter of the world’s population, and changes within it are bound to have ramifications for the security and prosperity of millions of people. – Foreign Policy


Japan plans to start converting a destroyer next year into its first post-World War II aircraft carrier and make its first payment for Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35B jet fighters that can take off from the ship. – Wall Street Journal

The police in Hong Kong on Friday arrested at least three prominent activists and blocked plans for a march on Saturday, a sensitive political anniversary, as the authorities intensified their crackdown on an opposition movement that has shaken the semiautonomous Chinese city for months. – New York TImes

The culture ministers of South Korea, Japan and China agreed on Friday to step up cultural, sports and people-to-people exchanges despite recent tensions over trade and their shared history. – Reuters

The leader of a Hong Kong group that has organized record-breaking mass marches over weeks of protests was attacked by two unidentified armed masked men, as the city braces for a 13th straight weekend of demonstrations. – Bloomberg

Australia is pledging to help its Southeast Asian neighbor, Timor-Leste, upgrade a naval base and train a patrol-boat crew as the U.S. ally seeks to counter China’s growing influence in the region. – Bloomberg


The office of the Ukrainian president on Friday denied reports saying that a much-anticipated prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia is underway. – Associated Press

A U.S. intelligence assessment found that the mysterious explosion off of Russia’s northern coast occurred during a recovery mission to salvage a nuclear-powered missile from the ocean floor, according to people with direct knowledge of the report. – CNBC News

According to Gazeta.ru, Macron, plagued with domestic political problems, is trying to recoup his prestige in the foreign policy field. “The ability to somehow conduct a dialogue with Russia has now become an indicator of the ‘ability to confront difficult tasks’ for any major European politician. Russia has become such a political trump ace,” Gazeta.ru stressed. Trump, facing a new election campaign, is also intent on proving that he can negotiate with the most difficult partners “as a tough businessman”. However – Gazeta.ru reminded – Russia’s return to the G8 is contingent only upon the unanimous consensus of all the other “club” members. […]Below is Gazeta.ru’s article. – Middle East Media Research Institute


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced defections from senior Conservative lawmakers Thursday as a backlash built and opponents planned legal challenges to his decision to suspend Parliament to push his Brexit plans. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel a planned trip to Poland to deal with a hurricane comes as a sharp blow to Poland’s populist government, which had been counting on the visit for a boost ahead of October elections. – Associated Press

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wants to “step up the tempo” in talks with the European Union to strike a new Brexit deal before the October 31 deadline. – Agence FrancePresse

The ECB’s next chief Christine Lagarde signaled that she would stick with Mario Draghi’s controversial expansionary monetary policy that has propped up the eurozone economy amid growing risks to growth. – Agence FrancePresse

The opposition Labour Party said on Thursday it would trigger an emergency debate in parliament next week to try to stop Prime Minister Boris Johnson taking Britain out of the European Union without a withdrawal deal. – Reuters

Germany will on Friday enforce two decrees to make it easier for people, mainly Jews, who fled the Nazi regime because of persecution as well as their descendants to have their citizenship restored, the interior ministry said. – Reuters

U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton has called for the United States and Belarus to engage in a dialogue about their common interests, despite “significant issues” in their bilateral relations. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to visit Iceland on September 4 for “national security-focused” discussions on Russian and Chinese “incursions” in the Arctic Circle, Reuters reports, citing a senior U.S. presidential official. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

European defense ministers have thrown their support behind a concept for deploying European Union member nations’ naval forces to protect key shipping lanes, though the idea is not meant to secure traffic in the Strait of Hormuz. – Defense News


The UN Security Council has extended for a further 12 months sanctions against individuals in Mali who violate a 2015 peace agreement. – BBC

Six UN Security Council members on Wednesday blocked a move to include Somali jihadist group Al-Shabaab on a list of organizations such as Al-Qaeda that are under international sanctions, diplomatic sources said. – Agence FrancePresse

Mohammad Tawhidi writes: In brief: Al-Shabab is a US Listed Terrorist Organization, and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is calling for the protection of their financier and main backer, Hormuud Telecom. […]This is not the first time Rep. Ilhan Omar has tried to protect terrorist groups or their recruits. Previously, she had also asked a US judge for compassion and leniency when sentencing nine Minnesota men charged with planning to join ISIS. – Times of Israel

United States

Democrats. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo denounced anti-semitic video produced by Republicans in N.Y. County, saying, “This type of attack and incitement against the Hasidic community is the very definition of discrimination and anti-Semitism.” – New York Times

Federal authorities announced charges Thursday against an Ohio man accused of threatening a Jewish community center in a video police say shows him shooting a rifle. – Associated Press

A 19-year-old has been arrested after allegedly texting with undercover agents that he planned an attack in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Queens, New York, an official told CBS News’ Paula Reid. The suspect will appear in federal court in Brooklyn on Friday. – CBS News

Israeli Consul General in New York Dani Dayan spoke on the phone with Avraham Gopin, the Chabad hasid who was brutally attacked in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn earlier this week. – Arutz Sheva

Eli Lake writes: Make no mistake. The current situation in Syria is not stable. Trump may still change his mind. Mattis was correct when he said in his resignation letter that Trump does not respect the hard-won alliances that make U.S. power possible in the modern world. Like Mattis, Pompeo also respects those alliances. Unlike Mattis, he is still a trusted adviser to a commander-in-chief who doesn’t. Isn’t it better — for the country, certainly, if not the secretary of state’s pride — that he’s there? – Bloomberg

Latin America

The top U.S. envoy for Venezuela said there has been no sign that the country’s leader, Nicolás Maduro, was willing to negotiate an exit deal, the Trump administration’s most direct acknowledgment yet that U.S. efforts to force a change in government have stalled. – Wall Street Journal

A former top commander of Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces, vowed a return to war and issued a new call to arms on Thursday, almost three years after the rebels signed a peace deal to disarm. – New York Times

Facebook Inc. executives last year publicly touted their efforts ahead of Brazil’s presidential election as evidence of the company’s progress in combating misinformation on its platforms. Inside Facebook, the picture was more complicated. – Wall Street Journal


Declaring space crucial to the nation’s defense, President Donald Trump said Thursday the Pentagon has established U.S. Space Command to preserve American dominance on “the ultimate high ground.” – Associated Press

By last October, the Pentagon’s Vulnerability Disclosure Program had processed thousands of loopholes in the Department of Defense’s websites. Then it received a report from Jack Cable. On Oct. 25, Cable, who worked for the Defense Digital Service and was a freshman at Stanford University, reported a problem to the department through the Pentagon’s HackerOne vulnerability disclosure page. – Fifth Domain

Deepfakes are a national security issue, said Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, and the Department of Defense needs to invest heavily in technology that can counter it. – C4ISRNET

As the Navy emphasizes foundational basics in training the surface fleet, schoolhouse officials are weighing adding more warfare training and skills for mid-grade surface warfare officers attending advanced courses. – USNI News

The Navy is close to inking a multi-billion-dollar deal to build the Block V Virginia-class fast-attack submarines, but doing so requires the service, shipyards and suppliers to balance their sometimes-competing program priorities, the service’s top acquisition official said Tuesday – USNI News

The Pentagon said Thursday it would help service members affected by a new Trump administration policy that makes it more difficult for troops stationed overseas to get citizenship for their children. – McClatchy

Thomas-Durell Young writes: New approaches to conceptualizing and delivering security cooperation are needed, particularly when addressing national-level weakness in partner states. The stakes are high. […]Failure to experiment with new methods and concepts will leave the Defense Department open to the criticism that it is dangerously close to fulfilling Einstein’s definition of insanity — doing the same thing repeatedly, while expecting a different outcome. – War on the Rocks