Fdd's overnight brief

August 7, 2019

In The News


Iran asked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday to push back against the United States after it imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, describing the move as a “a dangerous precedent.” – Reuters

The continued detention of British-flagged tanker Stena Impero is “unacceptable and unjustifiable” and there are concerns for the welfare of the crew after 19 days in confinement, the vessel’s owner said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday threatened the United States and the United Kingdom with reciprocal action, saying “peace for peace, war for war and oil for oil”. – Radio Farda

Iran unveiled three precision-guided missiles on Tuesday, with the defence minister saying they show the country is ready to defend itself in the face of US “viciousness and conspiracies”. – Agence FrancePresse

Lincoln Bloomfield Jr. and Michael B. Mukasey write: That their former residence has now become a hub of Iran’s regional destabilization campaign makes one wonder how much Tehran’s disinformation continues to influence the policy conversation in Washington, to our strategic detriment. – Wall Street Journal

Bradley A. Blakeman writes: By deploying decoys, the Iranians will never know which is a true commercial vessel and which may be a ship full of military personnel and weapons to repel any threat. […]Now is the time to act smartly and to use tactics that have proven successful throughout history. Deception is just such a useful tactic, to prevent and deter a skirmish or a larger war. – The Hill

Michael R. Pompeo writes: The Trump administration has implemented an unprecedented pressure campaign on Iran’s leaders with two objectives: First, to deprive the Iranian regime of the money it needs to support its destabilizing activities. Second, to force the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the negotiating table to conclude a comprehensive and enduring deal. […]As we raise the cost of Iran’s expansionism and the status quo, we seek a comprehensive deal and a far more peaceful, stable relationship. We look forward to the day we can help bring the Iranian people and their neighbors the peace and prosperity they deserve. – USA Today


The lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq and Syria combating ISIS, said in a report Tuesday that the terrorist group “consolidated its insurgency in Iraq and resurged in Syria” during the spring and summer this year. – Washington Examiner

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday that the United States would find a Turkish incursion into northern Syria “unacceptable” and would seek to prevent such an operation. – The Hill

Syrian state-run media say government forces have captured a northwestern village and are getting closer to the town of Kfar Zeita, which has been held by insurgents since 2012. – Associated Press

Jesse Marks writes: A Damascus-based U.N. humanitarian regime will remain subject to the complex government bureaucracy and its recurring administrative and bureaucratic constraints to access and programming. Such a move would enable the Syrian government to consolidate control over the Syrian humanitarian response […]The result is a compromised relationship at a time when cross-border humanitarian operations face an uncertain future. If the United Nations cannot insulate humanitarian operations from state-imposed constraints on access, civilians in communities who participated in the Syrian revolution will likely continue to face barriers to state services and assistance, as well as increased obstructions to humanitarian relief. – Washington Post


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who last month said he is against anyone “who is on the side of Israel,” may have relatives benefiting financially from trade with the Jewish state, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Brazil’s Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a request for the extradition of an opponent of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan saying there was no guarantee he would get a fair trial in Turkey. – Reuters

Guney Yildiz writes: Despite the fiery rhetoric, the long-time conflict between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has mostly been a controlled fight following tacit rules. But recent events, including Turkey’s increased efforts to assassinate PKK leaders and the targeted killing of a Turkish consulate official in the Iraqi Kurdish capital on July 17, risk overturning the status quo and ushering in a violent new era. That could have significant consequences not only for Turkey and the Kurds in the region, but also for U.S. policy on Syria, Turkey, and Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. – Middle East Institute


Israel’s foreign minister says he recently met with a “high ranking persona” from the United Arab Emirates to improve ties between Israel and Arab states. – Associated Press

Israel is playing a role in a US-led coalition to secure the Persian Gulf from the threats posed by Iran, the Jewish state’s foreign minister revealed on Tuesday. – Algemeiner

Israel continued on Tuesday to call out Hamas for the placing last Friday on the Gaza border fence of a Nazi swastika flag by Palestinian demonstrators. – Algemeiner

In a fiery press conference held near the Gaza border, the leaders of the Blue and White party on Tuesday warned that the centrist party led by three ex-generals could invade Gaza with the aim of toppling the Hamas terror group if  takes power after elections. – Times of Israel

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) has tweeted that Palestinians are not responsible for terrorism and said they do not spew negative rhetoric against the State of Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Comparing the policies of the Israeli government to Nazi Germany constitutes anti-Semitism, according to new US State Department guidelines. – Arutz Sheva

Israeli satellite Amos-17 was successfully blasted into space overnight Wednesday from Cape Canaveral in Florida. – Times of Israel

Alex Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky write: Unrwa’s 30,000 employees could join the Palestinian Authority, which would take over its health, education and welfare responsibilities like the state it claims to be. Unrwa’s expensive international cadre, including lobbyists in Washington and Geneva, should be disbanded. And Palestinian residents of Arab states—all of whom are considered refugees by Unrwa—should become citizens of those states, as they are in Jordan, or of the Palestinian Authority. If Palestinians truly desire a state, they should join the call for Unrwa’s abolition. – Wall Street Journal


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

Yemen’s southern separatists on Tuesday accused an Islamist party of complicity in last week’s deadly attack on Aden, the seat of government, exposing rifts in the Saudi-backed coalition battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement. – Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition’s closure of the airport in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, has prevented thousands of sick civilians from traveling abroad for urgent medical treatment, two international aid groups said in a joint statement. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

Libya’s internationally recognized government has allocated 40 million Libyan dinars ($28.5 million) for its defense ministry, it said on Tuesday, stepping up spending to fend off an eastern offensive as the war enters a fifth month. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid Al-Falih and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Tuesday expressed concern over threats targeting freedom of maritime traffic, Al-Falih said in a tweet. Al-Falih added that the two countries “stressed their determination to work together to ensure the security of global energy supplies”. – Reuters

Guy Burton writes: The Middle East has become more multipolar, with power diffused among a variety of regional and extra-regional actors. Within this mix India has pursued an approach that balances against different parties and their rivalries. But once power ceases to be disparate and starts to become more concentrated, the scope for such action may start to narrow and the present window of opportunity could well close. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

A North Korean diplomat said on Tuesday that the United States and South Korea were “inciting military tension” by proceeding with joint military exercises this week, saying they would jeopardize the diplomatic efforts to reach a deal on the North’s nuclear weapons. – New York Times

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country’s latest launch of tactical guided missiles was a warning to the United States and South Korea over their joint military drills that began this week, state media KCNA reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton reminded North Korea on Tuesday of its leader’s pledge to President Donald Trump not to resume launches of intercontinental-range missiles after Pyongyang conducted its fourth short-range missile test in less than two weeks and warned it might pursue “a new road.” – Reuters

North Korea’s military is the fourth-largest in the world, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, with 1.2 million active-duty soldiers. Military service is compulsory for most citizens; while many countries have conscription requirements, North Korean military indoctrination begins early. – Business Insider


The volley-for-volley trade war between China and the U.S. is accelerating at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping can ill afford to make concessions, raising the likelihood of a protracted struggle between the world’s two biggest economies. – Wall Street Journal

The career trajectory of newly minted Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper appears custom-crafted for someone aspiring to the Pentagon’s highest office: Army infantry officer, Defense Department bureaucrat, industry lobbyist and well-connected congressional aide.  Esper must now demonstrate that he can translate his experience into success leading the world’s largest bureaucracy and navigating the sometimes opposing interests of military leaders and President Trump. – Washington Post

With violent protests roiling Hong Kong’s streets for the 10th consecutive week, posing the most serious challenge to the Communist Party in decades, Xi appears to be caught with no good options as he heads into one of the most politically sensitive periods of his tenure. – Washington Post

The World War II site in Asau, which also hosts a 1960s-era concrete wharf in its well-protected natural harbor, is being considered for a new port to be developed by China, according to the Samoan government and the area’s highest ranking chief, Masoe Serota Tufaga. The proposed construction of a facility that could be turned into a military asset in hostile times has worried the United States and its regional allies, which have dominated international influence in the vast waters of the South Pacific since 1945. – Reuters

China said Wednesday that it was banning Chinese movies and actors from participating in Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, one of the Asian film industry’s most prestigious honors, as Beijing ramps up economic and political pressure on the island it claims as its own territory. – Associated Press

The U.S. military sailed an aircraft carrier through the South China Sea on Tuesday in a show of force against Chinese aggression, The Associated Press reported. – The Hill

Mohamed A. El-Erian writes: Both the motivation and the likely consequences suggest that Monday’s announcement is yet another notable step in an escalation of tensions between China and the U.S. that could well get worse before it gets better. They suggest that, for those looking for calmer times in international trade relations, the best that could be realistically hoped for is a series of ceasefires. The more likely outcome for the coming months, if not longer, is intensifying trade tensions coupled with intensifying currency tensions. – Bloomberg

Desmond Lachman writes: Judging by China’s immediate retaliation to the US import tariff threat, it would appear that China has no intention of caving in to the United States’ trade policy demands. It would seem that China knows the costs that a US-China trade war can inflict both on the US economy and on the US stock market. It also seems to know that there are political limits to how much economic pain the US can bear. – American Enterprise Institute


A powerful Taliban car bomb exploded Wednesday outside the entrance of a police station in Kabul, the Afghan capital, injuring at least 95 people and raising fears of a large death toll as peace negotiations between the militants and United States diplomats continued. – New York Times

Taliban militants announced Tuesday that they intend to disrupt Afghanistan’s presidential campaign and Sept. 28 polls. Their statement came just hours after U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reported “excellent progress” during talks with the insurgents in Qatar. – Washington Post

A car bomb exploded on Wednesday outside a police station in the Afghan capital, Kabul, wounding at least 95 people, government officials said, and the Taliban claimed responsibility. – Reuters

South Asia

India’s historic move to end the autonomous governing status of a disputed region threatens to complicate U.S. efforts to forge a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, while Indian authorities locked down the streets of Kashmir. – Wall Street Journal

Pakistan reacted with shock and anger Tuesday to India’s sudden decree revoking a 65-year-old law that had granted limited political autonomy to the disputed Himalayan border region of Kashmir. – Washington Post

To India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, eliminating the autonomy of Kashmir, a disputed, predominantly Muslim territory, was an administrative move, something his ministers had presented as simply a long-overdue “reorganization.” But to Mr. Modi’s critics, the decision was an attack at the heart of India’s secular identity and a historic blow to a democracy that celebrates itself as one of the most free and stable in the developing world. – New York Times


The possibility that Beijing would call in its army to quell unrest in Hong Kong is widely seen as remote. Still, recent saber rattling from the Chinese government has raised the specter of such an intervention. – Wall Street Journal

A top Chinese official overseeing Hong Kong affairs said on Wednesday that the city was experiencing its worst crisis since the former British colony returned to China in 1997, as weeks of near daily antigovernment protests continued with little sign of easing. – New York Times

Editorial: Mr. Trump may think that by giving Mr. Xi a pass on Hong Kong he is helping the chances of a trade deal, but he’s wrong about that too. If the PLA does march on Hong Kong, and if there are mass arrests and killings, Democrats will use Mr. Trump’s words to claim that he invited the Chinese crackdown. He would also face overwhelming bipartisan opposition in Congress to a trade deal. And he might face pressure to impose tougher tariffs on China than those he’s already imposed. If he wants a trade deal, he’ll tell Mr. Xi to keep Chinese troops out of Hong Kong. – Wall Street Journal

Victor Cha writes: There are many historical injustices in Japan-Korea relations that remain unresolved despite agreements reached between the parties from 1965 to 2015. This is undeniable. However, the expectation that the resolution to the current crisis hinges on a genuine solution to this deeply complex history is a self-defeating proposition for diplomacy. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


As Russian riot police violently suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations across Moscow, detaining around 1,000 people, some pro-Kremlin state news channels featured a different top news item: a city-sponsored barbecue festival on the leafy banks of the Moscow River. – Wall Street Journal

Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, will resign the post in early October and return home ahead of what is widely seen as a bid to again seek election as Utah’s governor. – Wall Street Journal

Scotland Yard has examined the role of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in the novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury, it has been revealed. – The Guardian

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday it had summoned the Japanese ambassador in Moscow to complain about what it said was criticism from Tokyo that bordered on “an attempt to interfere in Russia’s domestic affairs.” – Reuters


But in Europe, where history has proved that domestic threats can be as devastating to democracy as those from abroad, freedom of speech, while a constitutional right, comes with certain caveats. Restricted in scope and linked to specific threats, these limitations are based on the premise that protecting certain ideals, such as the public good or human dignity, can justify curbing what individuals are allowed to say. – New York Times

A large blast hit the Danish Tax Agency’s office in Copenhagen late on Tuesday, although the cause of the explosion was unclear, police said on Twitter. The explosion caused a halt to trains in an area called Nordhavn, just north of the city center. – Reuters

Ireland’s prime minister urged Britain and the European Union on Tuesday to use the time until Brexit, set for Oct. 31, to explore alternative arrangements as part of a joint political declaration on their future relationship. – Reuters

Britain is “ready and willing” to do a deal to leave the European Union if Brussels renegotiates the agreement, a senior government source said on Tuesday, denying that a no-deal Brexit was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s central plan. – Reuters

Britain was seeking to fast-track a crucial post-Brexit trade deal with the United States on Wednesday after new Prime Minister Boris Johnson dispatched his top diplomat and foreign trade minister to Washington. – Agence FrancePresse

Citing threats and “incitement,” the Lithuanian Jewish community on Tuesday announced that it was shutting its doors, and that of Vilnius’s only functioning synagogue, for an indefinite period, in what appeared to be an escalating public debate over the way the Baltic state deals with its complicated history. – Times of Israel

Richard Barrons and Maximilian Terhalle write: The United Kingdom, Germany, Poland and the European Commission will soon choose new leaders. Together with their fellow European governments they have the choice today to either think very hard about the quite obvious implications stemming from the United States’ inability to fight two major powers, or to neglect them altogether. As Kissinger put it in 1965: “[T]here are two kinds of realists: those who use facts and those who create them. The West requires nothing so much as (wo)men able to create their own reality.” Fifty-four years on, there is still nothing to add to his admonition. – The National Interest

United States

The FBI opened an investigation into what role ideology played in the weekend’s mass shooting in Ohio and one a week earlier in California, part of a widening federal inquiry into the recent violence as domestic terrorism. – Wall Street Journal

Uruguay and Venezuela have discouraged their citizens from traveling to the United States, citing this weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio as indicators of danger and a rise in hate crimes. In recent years, Germany, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand have issued similar warnings about travel to America. – Washington Post

The FBI Agents Association on Tuesday demanded that members of Congress codify domestic terrorism as a federal crime, warning it poses “a threat to the American people and our democracy.” – Politico

Editorial: Growing social isolation and advancing technology means that flesh-and-blood, physically proximate communities are replaced by virtual communities for many people. Many of those communities are wonderful and harmless; others are 8chan, ISIS, or Stormfront. […]The El Paso shooter was a white supremacist. The Dayton shooter was a leftist calling for a revolution. How do we make fewer of these shooters? We reduce alienation. And that will take cultural change, which will not be easy, and which will not come from Washington – Washington Examiner

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: It would be great if social scientists could show us how, by reprogramming our national and global media, we could short-circuit the social contagion effect that clearly plays a role in mass-shooter psychology. But contagion itself is a digitally mediated phenomenon. Big-data techniques sell us everything from diapers to car insurance. They won’t be uninvented. So what kind of democratic safeguards would let us more aggressively explore their policing potential? This discussion has been suppressed for too long. – Wall Street Journal

Eli Lake writes: The argument now is that similar tactics should be unleashed against white supremacists. As the Times said in its editorial, “American law enforcement needs to target white nationalists with the same zeal that they have targeted radical Islamic terrorists.” […]In the aftermath of the horror of El Paso, many Americans may be more willing to strike a bargain under which some innocent people have their lives ruined to prevent the next mass shooting. This instinct is understandable, but we should also be careful. The extraordinary powers granted to the FBI in a moment of crisis will inevitably be abused once the crisis has passed. – Bloomberg

Latin America

The Trump administration on Tuesday warned Russia, China and “any persons” who continue supporting President Nicolás Maduro that it is prepared to penalize them as part of a new economic blockade of Venezuela. – Washington Post

Venezuelans already struggling with galloping inflation and food shortages prepared for more privation after the U.S. imposed sweeping sanctions that match measures against North Korea, Iran and Cuba. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton pressed his case Tuesday for sweeping action against Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, warning foreign governments and companies that they could face retaliation in the U.S. if they continue to do business with his socialist administration. – Associated Press

Tiana Lowe writes: Trump has teased an escalation against the Maduro regime for some time now, and his new sanctions against all assets of the Venezuelan government threatens to push the ruinous dictatorship to its breaking point. […]my money would be on Omar whining about the sanctions again before the day’s end, still deeming it a disruption of Venezuelan sovereignty even though our chances of military intervention are nil and the leader we are disrupting has re-installed himself illegally as president. – Washington Examiner


Two former Homeland Security secretaries, along with other former top intelligence officials, launched a non-profit group on Tuesday intended to protect presidential campaigns from foreign interference, such as cyber attacks, at no cost. – The Hill

A website hosting provider known for providing a home for extremist sites announced Tuesday it was halting its services for 8chan amid scrutiny of the anonymous posting platform following last week’s mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. – The Hill

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Tuesday warned internet users to watch out for potential “malicious cyber activity” that seeks to take advantage of the shootings over the weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. – The Hill

The spread of disinformation by bots on social media platforms remains a persistent problem ahead of the 2020 election, with experts warning the fake accounts could exploit divisions in American society. – The Hill

A technologically challenged Congress has numerous limitations hampering its ability to modernize the federal government’s approach to cybersecurity and IT modernization, according to two former congressional innovation fellows speaking at BSides Las Vegas, an information security security held August 6-7. – Fifth Domain

The Air Force invited ethical hackers into its IT networks again this spring, allowing good guys the chance to infiltrate its enterprise-wide Air Force Common Computing Environment in search of vulnerabilities, the white hat hacking company Bugcrowd announced Aug. 6. – Fifth Domain

Tim Greeff writes: If the Pentagon is to exploit the benefits of 5G, it must follow the model used to develop the internet. We need a public-private partnership that can help the military get the benefits of 5G, while blunting many of China’s current commercial advantages. – The Hill


House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Tuesday that the panel needs monthly briefings from the FBI on domestic terror threats and Chinese counterintelligence. – The Hill

The Air Force will pay up to $55.5 million for Boeing to redesign the KC-46’s boom, but it will cost more than that to field a fix to the problem. According to a Aug. 2 contract announcement, the award will pay for a “system level hardware and software critical design review of the boom telescope actuator redesign,” and Boeing will receive $21 million of the proposed award value immediately. – Defense News

Almost two years after the collision between a U.S. destroyer and a merchant ship off Singapore, the first in-depth independent investigation has determined the most probable cause for the incident that killed 10 sailors was lack of adequate Navy oversight and training. – USNI News

The US Army is turning up the power on its plans for a high-energy laser to shoot down everything from rockets and mortars to even “more stressing threats,” the service recently revealed. – Business Insider

The head of the U.S. agency that maintains the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal says the country is facing the most complex and demanding global security environment since the Cold War. – Associated Press

Brent D. Ziarnick writes: The president deserves a Space Force commander that has demonstrated the understanding, aptitude, and inclination to lead the development of a space strategy that will propel America to a dominant position in space for centuries to come.  The nation deserves an unwavering advocate with a firm understanding of what space can do for the nation, not just the Pentagon monoculture. With Kwast pushing the boundaries of the American military potential and developing the next great domain strategy for military victory, the Space Force will take its place as front-line defenders of American peace, prosperity, and power in the 21st century and beyond. – The Hill

Missile Defense

The Pentagon’s leaders in missile defense are pushing to shift focus in missile defense development efforts to passive missile defense, non-kinetic means of taking out threats and defeating threats before they even launch. – Defense News

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter demonstrated its ability to send data to the U.S. Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System during the Orange Flag Evaluation 19-2 at Palmdale, California, and Fort Bliss, Texas, in June. – Defense News

Maj. Gen. Daniel Karbler, who is the chief of staff at U.S. Strategic Command, will depart Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, to take up command at Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, several sources have confirmed to Defense News. – Defense News

Hypersonic weapons break all the rules of the missile defense game. With speeds surpassing Mach 5 and the ability to maneuver mid-flight, hypersonic weapons defy the missile defense status quo, potentially making the United States’ current defenses obsolete. China and Russia are vigorously pursuing hypersonic weapons, and the United States is desperate to neutralize them. – C4ISRNET