Fdd's overnight brief

August 6, 2019

In The News


Britain joined the U.S. in forming an international mission to protect shipping through the Strait of Hormuz from Iranian threats, the British government said on Monday, a decision that came after London struggled to build a European maritime coalition to safeguard ships in the region. – Wall Street Journal

War with Iran is the mother of all wars, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday in a speech broadcast live on state TV, warning once again that shipping might not be safe in the Strait of Hormuz oil waterway. – Reuters

Iran told European powers on Monday it would further reduce compliance with its 2015 nuclear deal in about a month’s time if they were still failing to protect it from crippling U.S. sanctions, reimposed after Washington exited the deal. – Reuters

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday reiterated that Germany would not join a U.S.-led naval mission in the Strait of Hormuz, adding that Berlin favored a European mission but warned it was rather difficult to make progress on that. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran knows that no country has the stomach for a conflict with it, and most won’t join a US coalition in the Gulf. It also knows that the UK wants de-escalation amid the Brexit crisis and that US President Donald Trump does not want war. Tehran has read the American playbook and, through its recent actions, is attempting to assert power in the Persian Gulf: power not just in the areas controlled by its coastal waters, but real power – to show that it is the only one that guarantees security in the Gulf. – Jerusalem Post 

Ian Williams writes: The biggest U.S. investment in Iran-centric missile defenses has been the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). EPAA is a phased buildup of U.S. missile defense assets in and around Europe to deter and, if necessary, limit damage from an Iranian missile attack on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Yet the EPAA architecture is heavily dependent on the nominal, unencumbered performance of a single radar deployed relatively close to Iran. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Seth G. Jones, Danika Newlee, Nicholas Harrington, and Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. write: In the end, U.S. policymakers would be wise to heed Schelling’s advice on latent violence. The best way to protect critical infrastructure in countries like Saudi Arabia may be to develop a robust deterrent strategy that credibly signals to Iran—through words and actions—that it will be punished if it moves up the escalatory ladder, as well as offers a political exit ramp to the current conflict. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Media associated with the Syrian rebel factions on Monday revealed that terrorists identified as part of the Hezbollah terror organization were caught selling drugs to high school students in Wadi Barada, a suburb west of Damascus, Israel Hayom reported. – Arutz Sheva 

Iran’s front has extended to the Mediterranean Sea and the borders of Israel, a senior Iranian commander said on Monday. […]“Today, Hezbollah and Hamas have gained great power and do not need our help anymore, and all of their [Israelis’] locations are within reach of the Lebanese Hezbollah,” Rabbani added. – Jerusalem Post

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has issued a special report on “Children in Violent Conflict'” which strongly criticizes the use of children by terrorist organizations. […]The report detailed the various terrorist organizations which recruit children, including Hamas and Hezbollah. – Arutz Sheva


The Syrian army said on Monday it was resuming military operations in a Russian-led campaign in northwest Syria that has uprooted tens of thousands and killed hundreds, blaming Turkey for not abiding by its commitments under a truce deal. – Reuters 

Syrian rebel commanders said on Monday they are ready to join Turkish troops in an offensive to seize back largely Arab-populated towns and villages in northeast Syria held by Kurdish-led-forces. – Reuters 

Russia’s military says militants fired three unguided rockets at its air base in Syria, injuring four civilians but causing no damage to the facility. – Associated Press 

Head of the Iraqi Intelligence Forces Abu Ali al-Basri claimed to the Iraqi Arabic language newspaper Al Sabaah that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been preparing and training women to participate in future battles after the overwhelming defeat they suffered at the hands of coalition forces. – Jerusalem Post 

Soner Cagaptay and Deniz Yuksel write: On June 22, the office of provincial governor Ali Yerlikaya announced that Syrian nationals who are not registered in Istanbul would have to leave the city by August 20. […]Coming from the office of an official appointed by the central government, the announcement highlights the country’s growing political tensions over the refugee issue. – Washington Institute

Elizabeth Tsurkov writes: Progressives should recognize America’s moral responsibility to protect those who fought to clear ISIS from large swaths of Syria, and would be trampled by Turkey, the Assad regime or both, were the U.S. to remove its protection from the region. – Middle East Institute


Iran has agreed to massively increase its monthly payments to Palestinian terror group Hamas in exchange for intelligence on Israeli missile capabilities, an Israeli television network reported Monday. – Times of Israel 

Israeli troops on Monday afternoon arrested two Palestinian men who crossed into Israel carrying two handguns and ammunition from the northern West Bank, the soldiers’ commander said. – Times of Israel 

The 41 US House Democrats who arrived in Israel on Monday on a trip sponsored by an AIPAC affiliated charity are doing more than “just” showing mainstream Democratic support for Israel, they are wresting control of the party from the high-profile Progressive wing trying to hijack it. – Jerusalem Post 

The Gaza Strip-ruling Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has told rioters on the border with Israel to not to fly the Nazi swastika flag after a photo of them doing so was tweeted by the IDF last Friday. – Algemeiner 

Daniel B. Shapiro writes: Finally, the resolution did something else of great value. At a time when the two-state solution is increasingly called into question – by Israelis, Palestinians and the Trump administration – it recorded an overwhelming bipartisan vote in support of two states. That is a statement to build on, holding members who voted for it to support measures to back up their word. It is a signal to those who seek to bury two states that it retains strong bipartisan support. In the same way that opposing BDS helps uphold the US interest in sustaining our partnership with a strong, secure, Jewish, democratic Israel, helping keep the struggling two-state solution alive does much the same. – Jerusalem Post 

Middle East & North Africa

A powerful car-bomb explosion outside a hospital in Egypt’s capital killed at least 20 people and injured dozens more, Egyptian authorities said Monday, in the deadliest terrorist attack in Cairo in more than two years. – Wall Street Journal

Diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran-aligned forces have faltered, say people briefed on the talks, setting back United Nations attempts to prevent the four-year-old war from fueling broader regional conflict with Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Despairing of the corpses and debris littering the streets, many Iraqis have left their homes in areas liberated from Islamic State two years ago and voluntarily returned to the displacement camps that housed them during and after the fighting. – Reuters

Turkey wants to expand its diplomatic presence in Asia as the region becomes the economic center of the world, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday, adding that the initiative did not mark a shift away from Western allies. – Reuters

Forces of the eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) loyal to Khalifa Haftar struck Misrata’s air college early on Tuesday, a military source and resident said. – Reuters

Attacks on Yemeni forces that form a core component of the Saudi-led military coalition in the south of the country risk further destabilizing Aden, seat of the government, and complicating United Nations peace efforts. – Reuters

Nikos Tsafos writes: Without additional pipelines, like Turk Stream and Nord Stream 2, it is hard to imagine Europe being able to secure sufficient gas in a world where LNG supplies through the Strait of Hormuz were disrupted for a while. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: Finally, the U.S. does have an interest in keeping Yemen from coming under the kind of Iranian influence that could seriously threaten Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, or give Iran meaningful naval-missile-air presence in the Red Sea or Bab el Mandeb. The U.S. does not, however, have a strategic interest in leading or dominating the funding of the required level of nation building – if that is even possible. The U.S. should again make this clear to both Yemen and other nations. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Korean Peninsula

North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles Tuesday morning, Seoul officials said, the latest weapons test to challenge both the U.S. positioning in stalled nuclear negotiations and its tolerance for such provocations. – Wall Street Journal

A panel monitoring U.N. sanctions says North Korean cyber experts have illegally raised money for the country’s weapons of mass destruction programs “with total proceeds to date estimated at up to $2 billion.” – Associated Press 

North Korea threatened Tuesday to carry out more weapons tests after it fired its fourth pair of projectiles in less than two weeks following the start of joint exercises between the US and the South. – Agence France-Presse 

Washington on Monday revoked visa-free entry rights to the United States for foreigners who have visited North Korea in the past eight years, potentially dealing a new blow to the isolated country’s nascent tourist industry. – Agence France-Presse 

North Korea on Tuesday said US-South Korean war games are a “flagrant violation” of efforts to reach peace on the Korean peninsula and reflect a lack of “political will” to improve relations. – Agence France-Presse 

Rodger Baker writes: The trust deficit is just too big to bridge in a single negotiated settlement. North Korea does not trust U.S. security guarantees, and the U.S. doesn’t trust North Korea’s promises. Both point to historical examples to back up their concerns. Both want a settlement of some sort—the U.S. to allow a refocus of its military assets as well as a victory for the administration, and the North to break out of its isolationist box without having to give up its political system. A missile test here and there does little to alter this core dynamic. – The Hill 

Oriana Skylar Mastro writes: To maintain enough influence to secure its own interests on the peninsula, China may have to consider doing more to improve its relationship with North Korea. Luckily for Beijing, the strategic environment is conducive to such efforts. – Foreign Policy


The U.S. Treasury labeled China a currency manipulator after the Chinese central bank let the yuan depreciate, capping a day of trade-war escalations that sparked a global fall in financial markets and fears the clash could stall the U.S.’s economic expansion. – Wall Street Journal

China said Tuesday that it “will not stand idly by” and will take countermeasures if the U.S. deploys intermediate-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region, which Washington has said it plans to do within months. – Associated Press 

China’s yuan fell further Tuesday against the U.S. dollar, fueling fears about increasing global damage from Beijing’s trade war with President Donald Trump. – Associated Press 

Editorial: Mr. Trump is punishing China all right. He’s also putting U.S. growth in jeopardy by unleashing trade and currency risks that undermine the benefits of his tax reform and deregulation. Sometimes trade wars end badly for everyone. – Wall Street Journal

Derek Scissors writes: The US is bigger, richer, and still less trade-dependent than China. At $113 trillion in household wealth, either we sustain and broaden wealth creation through sound domestic policy, or not. China tariffs are a drop in the bucket. – American Enterprise Institute


There are dozens of suicide bombings in Afghanistan every year. Each is uniquely tragic, and each is swiftly overshadowed by the singular brutality of the next. Like a blast wave, the psychological shock of a bombing reverberates far beyond the site of the attack, inflicting unseen wounds that last a lifetime. Those who absorb the blast and survive are forever altered, and even people miles away can be swept up in the emotional aftermath. – New York Times

The United States and the Taliban have resolved differences in peace talks over U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as over insurgent guarantees on cutting ties with other extremist groups, a Taliban official said Tuesday. – Associated Press 

Civilian casualties spiked to a two-year high in Afghanistan last month, driven by attacks from “anti-government elements,” just as U.S. and Taliban officials met to hammer out a peace agreement. – Washington Examiner 

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that there was a real chance for peace in Afghanistan as U.S.-Taliban peace talks continue in Qatar. – Reuters

South Asia

India’s government moved to end the autonomous status of its disputed northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, triggering a political uproar and risking unrest in Kashmir, which is at the center of one of the world’s most worrying nuclear face-offs. – Wall Street Journal

Kashmir, a mountainous valley that borders Pakistan and India, has been a center of conflict between the two nuclear-armed countries since the 1947 partition of British India. […]The administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution, a 70-year-old provision that had given autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the Hindu-majority area of Jammu and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. – New York Times 

The U.N. says Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is very concerned about rising tensions in the Kashmir region and is urging all parties “to exercise restraint.” – Associated Press

The U.S. State Department said on Monday it was closely following events in Kashmir after India said it was revoking the special status of the territory and expressed concern about reports of detentions. – Reuters

With India revoking Kashmir’s autonomous status, however, the region could easily slide back on to a war-footing. […]The standoff certainly presents Trump with a prime opportunity to try to overcome his non-interventionist instincts. Parading good relations with both sides, Trump says he has “good chemistry” with Khan and is a “true friend” to India. – Politico


Hard-core current protesters have largely rejected the strategies of veteran leaders, whose approach is seen to have failed. Actions are mostly organized by anonymous leaders of small groups. In 2014, named student leaders became well known figures. The shift in attitude means Hong Kong’s resistance has become the biggest open rebellion against China’s ruling Communist Party since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.  Wall Street Journal

The Chinese government’s support for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is “firm and steadfast,” a spokesman said, vowing to punish protesters who break the law. – Wall Street Journal

The mayor of Hiroshima urged Japan to sign a landmark UN treaty banning nuclear weapons as the city Tuesday marked 74 years since being targeted in the world’s first atomic attack. – Agence France-Presse 

Vietnamese police on Tuesday broke up a brief protest outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi against Beijing’s maritime survey of an offshore block in the southeast Asian nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a Reuters witness said. – Reuters

Thai security forces are hunting more than 10 suspects in connection with a series of bomb attacks in Bangkok last week, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Monday. – Reuters

U.S. President Trump’s trade war has Peter Chang scrambling. Sixty components makers that supply Foxconn Technology Group and Samsung Electronics Co. have come knocking at his industrial park northeast of Hanoi in the past three months. They’re looking to skirt U.S. tariffs on Chinese products. – Bloomberg

Daniel Moss writes: For a country that has barely touched monetary policy this year and isn’t really part of any major supply chains, Indonesia has been buffeted by the twin market dramas of the past week: see-sawing perceptions of the Federal Reserve and the escalation of Donald Trump’s trade war against China. – Bloomberg


President Vladimir Putin ordered an increase in Russian spying on U.S. development of short- and intermediate-range missiles and said Moscow would match any the U.S. builds, after the collapse of a treaty that outlawed the weapons. – Wall Street Journal

Russia said on Monday it would take measures to defend itself if the United States stationed missiles in Asia following the collapse of a landmark arms control treaty and that it expected Japan to deploy a new U.S. missile launch system. – Reuters

The Nordic countries have scaled up monitoring against a surge in missile testing by Russia on its heavily militarized Kola Peninsula, home to Moscow’s Northern Fleet and Arctic main combat forces. – Defense News

​Neil Bhatiya writes: After a long delay, the Trump administration finally took the first steps in a legally mandated effort to punish Russia for its use of chemical weapons in the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the former Russian spy living in the United Kingdom. – World Politics Review

Edward Lucas writes: It is easy to feel despair as we watch the riot police in Moscow smashing their truncheons on a protester’s legs as they crush protests against election-rigging, while the Hong Kong police carry out similarly violent repression in the supposedly autonomous former British colony. We should ask our governments to task intelligence agencies with producing and publishing detailed charts showing who in the power structures is accountable for ordering violence against the protesters, who are the prosecutors who bring bogus charges against them, who are the judges who convict on the basis of phony evidence, and who are the jailers who mistreat their prisoners. – Center for European Policy Analysis


The EU has said there is no basis for any further Brexit talks while the UK continues to insist on making changes to Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. EU negotiators told European diplomats changes suggested by the new UK government, such as scrapping the Irish border backstop, were unacceptable. – BBC 

A bipartisan group of senators signed a letter Monday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling on him to urge Poland to take action “to secure compensation for, or the return of, property that was wrongfully seized by the Nazis and subsequently nationalized by the Communists.” – Jerusalem Post 

Researcher David Collier has published a 200-page report which has been passed on to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) presenting the case that Jeremy Corbyn “radicalized” Labour Party members into becoming “obsessed” with Israel and the Jewish people, it was reported in the Jewish Chronicle. – Jerusalem Post 

The Israeli Embassy and a leading Jewish organization in Belgium have joined the growing criticism of an antisemitic column written by a prominent Belgian writer. – Algemeiner 

The Americas

The Trump administration imposed a total economic embargo against the government of Venezuela, a significant escalation of pressure against the regime of President Nicolás Maduro and countries including Russia and China that continue to support him, a senior administration official said. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration has temporarily frozen and ordered a review of several key foreign aid funds that Congress has already approved, in a move that critics fear could lead to another attempted rollback of foreign aid. – Washington Post 

Uruguay on Monday issued a warning for its citizens who are traveling to the United States in the aftermath of two deadly mass shootings. – The Hill 

British foreign minister Dominic Raab will travel to Canada, the United States and Mexico this week to seek to boost ties with non-European countries ahead of Brexit, his office said. – Reuters


Each of the U.S. military services are reorganizing under a banner of information warfare, a subject area that often includes cyber, electronic warfare, signals intelligence and information operations. But, now, the Army’s cyber school is struggling to figure out how — and when — to teach those disciplines. – Fifth Domain

The Navy and Marine Corps are using their tech experimentation series to better understand how to execute new warfighting concepts and to see how evolving gear may change those concepts. – USNI News

After months of high-profile legal gaffes, the head of the Navy has ordered what officials are calling an operational pause for the Navy’s legal community. – USNI News

The Navy commissioned USS Billings (LCS-15) at a ceremony in Key West, Fla., over the weekend, adding the eighth Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ship to fleet.Billings, built by Lockheed Martin, is the Navy’s 17th LCS commissioned by the Navy. However, Billings ran into some difficulty arriving at its commissioning ceremony. – USNI News

Gen. Joseph Martin was sworn in as the U.S. Army vice chief of staff on July 26, taking on a leadership role that he’s watched in action closely over the past year by serving as the director of the Army staff at a time of drastic reform within the service. – Defense News

A computational neuroscientist is studying whether a dragonfly’s excellent hunting skills can be replicated in a missile’s ability to maneuver and destroy targets midair with better precision. – C4ISRNET

The new chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, was confirmed quickly by the Senate last week, but lawmakers made clear that the cost and growing vulnerability of aircraft carriers to ever-faster and evasive missiles will be among the issues he’s expected to tackle when he officially takes the reins. – Defense News

The Pentagon is boosting its stockpile of a stealthy long-range cruise missiles that might be critical in a war with China or Russia. – Defense One

Rick Berger writes: By avoiding a long, drawn-out debate about exactly who does what and whether the program can be put on ice until sometime in the future, the Air Force, Congress, and industry stand a much better chance of ensuring that modernization of key element of our strategic deterrent on track, thereby keeping America’s ICBM force reliable, capable, and cost-effective for another century. – Defense One

Seamus P. Daniels and Todd Harrison write: After FY 2021, there will be no ceiling on the defense budget and no floor. The structure and timing of negotiations that the BCA created since 2011 will no longer exist, and Congress will be left to return to regular order in the budget process. Regular order, however, is something with which the current Congress and White House have little practice or experience. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Long War

The United States continues to employ a staggering arsenal of armed forces, unmanned drones, intelligence agencies and sweeping domestic authorities to contain a threat — Islamist terrorism[…]. No remotely comparable array of national power has been directed against the threat now emerging from the far right, a loose but lethal collection of ideologies whose adherents have killed roughly the same number of people in the United States, post-9/11, as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State combined. – Washington Post 

Many scholars of terrorism see worrying similarities between the rise of the Islamic State and that of white nationalist terrorism, seen most recently in the carnage in El Paso, Tex. – New York Times

Within days of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States government began writing new laws, reinterpreting old ones and crafting aggressive new policies to defeat Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups. In the aftermath of the deadly shootings this weekend, President Trump on Monday promised “with urgent resolve” to press a similar whatever-it-takes strategy to investigate and prevent white-supremacist violence and hate crimes. The F.B.I. has said that such racially motivated domestic terrorism now accounts for more deaths and arrests in the United States than Islamist terrorism. – New York Times

Law enforcement officials have sounded the alarm for months: Homegrown terrorism, including by white supremacists, is now as big a threat as terrorism from abroad. But the mass shooting in El Paso last weekend, the largest domestic terrorist attack against Hispanics in modern history, has made it glaringly clear how poorly prepared the country is to fight it. – New York Times

Recent mass-violence incidents in America share common threads: disaffected individuals who feel powerless, radical ideas that blame particular groups and the use of social-media platforms that bring these factors together and amplify them. – Wall Street Journal

In the five years since her son’s murder, Foley and the foundation she formed in her son’s name have successfully pushed the U.S. government to overhaul the hostage rescue process, advocated legislation to punish kidnappers and pressed for additional attention for thousands of Americans detained unlawfully. – Associated Press