Fdd's overnight brief

August 9, 2019

In The News


Iran’s disruptions of Persian Gulf oil shipments are putting the country’s leaders in a difficult position as they retaliate against foes while trying not to irritate their few remaining allies. – Wall Street Journal

Since President Trump imposed sanctions on Iranian oil sales last year, information on those sales has become a prized geopolitical weapon — coveted by Western intelligence agencies and top secret for Iran. And the business of selling Iranian oil, once a safe and lucrative enterprise for the well connected, has been transformed into a high-stakes global game of espionage and counterespionage. – New York Times

Iran’s defence minister said Thursday that the formation of a US-led flotilla in the Gulf would “increase insecurity” and any Israeli involvement would have “disastrous consequences” for the region. – Agence France-Presse

U.S. President Donald Trump has accused French President Emmanuel Macron of sending “mixed signals” to Iran over possible talks with Washington. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 


Damascus said Thursday it rejects a US-Turkish plan to establish a buffer zone in northern Syria, blaming Syria’s Kurds for the proposal, state media said. – Agence France-Presse

Syrian forces backed by the United States are struggling to contain ISIS following President Donald Trump’s partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, a Defense Department watchdog warned in a report released this week. – CNBC 

Syrian government forces seized ground from insurgents in northwestern Syria on Thursday, sources on both sides said, building on advances since the military declared an end to a brief ceasefire earlier this week. – Reuters 

The humanitarian adviser to U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen on Thursday regretted the collapse of a ceasefire in the northwest, saying that fresh violence threatens the lives of millions after more than 500 civilians were killed since late April. – Reuters 

British foreign minister Dominic Raab criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for resuming military operations in a Russian-led campaign in northwest Syria, describing the situation there as “appalling.” – Reuters 

Josh Rogin writes: If the United States wants to have any influence over what happens next in Syria, it will need to resolve its rift with Turkey, which has complex and serious causes. […]This is not about military adventurism, regime change, oil or any other of the straw men routinely attacked by those who reflexively oppose any use of the military in foreign policy. This is about protecting our vital national interests, which include fighting extremism and trying to prevent Syria from becoming an even greater source of instability and human tragedy than it is now. – Washington Post


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the killing of a 19-year-old soldier in the West Bank as a terror attack as Palestinian terror groups praised the killing as “heroic and bold.” – Fox News

Major US Jewish groups were united in condemnation on Thursday of the Palestinian terrorist attack in which Israeli student Dvir Sorek was murdered next to Migdal Oz in the West Bank. – Algemeiner

Security forces on Friday expanded their search efforts to find the terrorists behind a deadly stabbing attack in the West Bank on Wednesday night, as the manhunt entered its second day. – Times of Israel

Diplomats from the United Nations, European Union, United States and Britain condemned the killing of yeshiva student Dvir Sorek on Thursday, and offered condolences to the family. – Times of Israel 

The Hamas terrorist organization on Thursday welcomed the West Bank stabbing attack that killed Corporal Dvir Sorek, whose body was found in the early morning hours after he went missing. […]It proves that our intifada in the West Bank still continues and that the young people will not end their struggle until the occupation is lifted and the settlers are expelled,” it said. – Ynet

Amos Harel writes: That said, Hamas is operating quite an effective system of investigating hitches and learning from mistakes. The security coordination with the PA is also part of the story. It’s true that Abu Mazen” – PA President Mahmoud Abbas – “threatened last month to end the coordination but in fact it has never been stopped in the past decade, despite the threats. This isn’t because they love us – the connection with us was based on considerations of their own interests.” – Haaretz

Saudi Arabia

More than two million Muslims begin the annual hajj on Friday as the Saudi hosts seek to deter politicisation of the pilgrimage against a backdrop of simmering Gulf tensions. – Agence France-Presse

Yemen’s Houthi group launched two drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s southern Abha airport, the Iran-aligned group’s military spokesman said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Russia has long sought access to Saudi Arabia’s wheat market as Moscow tries to take further market share in Middle Eastern and North African wheat markets from the European Union and United States. – Reuters 

Middle East & North Africa

Desouky’s arrest is the latest example, human rights activists say, of how the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, one of the Trump administration’s closest allies in the Middle East, is silencing its critics. The regime has been cracking down on various forms of expression, especially online criticism of Sissi’s rule and any postings perceived as tarnishing Egypt’s image. – Washington Post

Lebanese businessman designated by US authorities as an important financial supporter of Hezbollah was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to forfeit $50 million, the Justice Department said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse 

Iraq is close to reaching a deal with oil majors BP and Eni for an export pipeline project that was initially planned as part of a mega-deal with U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil, according to five senior Iraqi oil officials involved in the negotiations. – Reuters 

Egypt’s interior ministry said on Thursday it has identified the perpetrator behind a car bombing outside Cairo’s main cancer hospital this week that killed more than 20 and injured dozens. It also said security forces killed 17 suspected militants on Thursday morning during raids on their hideouts in three separate incidents in Helwan, Cairo and in the province of Fayoum, south of Cairo. – Reuters 

Jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan said he is ready for a solution on the Kurdish issue and that he could stop the conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants within a week, his lawyers said in a statement on Thursday. – Reuters 

Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamid Al-Thani called U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday and discussed “strategic cooperation relations between the two countries and the latest regional and international developments,” state news agency, QNA reported. – Reuters 

Adriana Camisar writes: The decision of the current Argentine government to brand Hezbollah as a terrorist group is of critical importance, not only to prevent future Iranian-sponsored attacks in the region but also to curtail Hezbollah’s ability to raise funds, particularly through drug trafficking and other illegal activities. – B’nai B’rith International

Korean Peninsula

The ambitious complex — on the outskirts of Dandong, North Korea’s commercial point of entry to China and the outside world — is a bet that rapprochement between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will one day unleash a wave of investment. Perhaps one day soon. – Washington Post

South Korea has threatened to end a military intelligence sharing agreement with Japan as their tensions escalate over export controls. The agreement is a symbol of the countries’ trilateral security cooperation with their ally, the United States. – Associated Press

South Korean President Moon Jae-in tapped a seasoned former diplomat as his new ambassador to Washington on Friday as Seoul steps up efforts to connect with the Trump administration on issues such as North Korea, defense costs and trade. – Reuters 

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with senior South Korean leaders on Friday amid a series of regional challenges ranging from a bitter trade row between Seoul and Tokyo to the cost of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. – Reuters 

The U.S. State Department has cleared a potential sale of 12 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters to South Korea, with an estimated cost of $800 million. – Defense News


Worries about the health of the world’s economy and increasingly uncertain trade relations between the U.S. and China will put further pressure on global oil demand in 2019, the International Energy Agency said Friday. – Wall Street Journal 

On Thursday, however, China’s ruling Communist Party identified a novel reason for the unrest: the secret machinations of an American woman working as a diplomat in the United States Consulate in Hong Kong. The woman, Julie Eadeh, a political counselor, has become a central figure in a growing Chinese narrative that Hong Kong’s protests are the work of traitors who are being directed by foreign, particularly American, “black hands” bent on fomenting an uprising in the former British colony. – New York Times

China’s factory gate prices shrank for the first time in three years in July, stoking deflation worries and adding pressure on Beijing to deliver more stimulus as the economy sputters amid an intensifying trade war with the United States. – Reuters 

China imported Iranian crude oil in July for the second month since a U.S. sanctions waiver ended, according to research from three data firms, with one estimate showing some oil entered tanks holding the country’s strategic reserves. – Reuters 

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman on Thursday called China a “thuggish regime” for disclosing the photographs and personal details of a U.S. diplomat who met with student leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. – Reuters 

China’s Huawei Technologies [HWT.UL] said on Friday it would be difficult for the firm to meet its previous goal of becoming the world’s biggest smartphone maker by shipments this year due to U.S. curbs imposed in May. – Reuters 

The articles on the website of the leading Taiwan newspaper were gushing about a new Chinese government program to lure Taiwanese entrepreneurs to the mainland. – Reuters 

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Tuesday warned that relations with China – which has a population 37 times that of Canada’s – continue to be “challenging,” dashing hopes that last week’s meeting with her Chinese counterpart would lead to a breakthrough in the eight-month stalemate. – Reuters 

The recent escalation in the U.S.-China trade war has brought forward the next U.S. recession, according to a majority of economists polled by Reuters who now expect the Federal Reserve to cut rates again in September and once more next year. – Reuters


Six days into negotiations that many expect will deliver a preliminary deal to end nearly two decades of United States military presence in Afghanistan, the last stretch is proving to be a difficult balancing act. – New York Times 

Meghan L. O’Sullivan writes: No doubt, American negotiators are doing their utmost to secure the best possible outcome on all these fronts.  An agreement that encompasses the above would not only be superior to the status quo, but also could safeguard American security interests. While it is harder to be confident about the fate of the Afghan people, such an agreement would provide support to Afghans as they do the hard work of coming up with a new political compact – which will be the key to future Afghan stability. – Bloomberg 

South Asia

While India’s sudden decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy has inflamed tensions with neighboring Pakistan, critics say the move could also drastically alter the demographic composition of the disputed territory itself — and some have warned it could come to resemble Israeli settlement in the West Bank. – Washington Post

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called on India and Pakistan to refrain from any steps that could affect the special status of the disputed regions of Kashmir and Jammu. – Reuters 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Thursday his powderkeg move to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its autonomy was necessary to stop “terrorism”, as Pakistan voiced further outrage and the UN chief urged “maximum restraint.” – Agence France-Presse

Hussain Haqqani writes: Even China’s criticism focused more on its territorial dispute with India over Ladakh than on Pakistan’s stance although the Chinese statement did refer to the dispute as “an issue left from the past between India and Pakistan.” International relations are seldom about legalistic and moral arguments of the kind Pakistanis offer about the invalidity of then Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession and subsequent UN resolutions on Kashmir. Countries care more about their interests and Pakistan offers less and less in terms of value in relations to others. – The Print


But it’s Mongolia’s strategic location — nestled between China and Russia — that makes it a natural partner for Washington. In the State Department’s 2019 budget, it described U.S. assistance priorities in Mongolia as ensuring “the United States remains a preferred partner over geographical neighbors Russia and China,” the AP reported. – Washington Post

With Hong Kong’s summer of unrest escalating, its police are in a bind. The local population increasingly accuses them of inflaming protester rage by using excessive force, while mainland Chinese authorities are exhorting them to get tougher to resolve the crisis. – Wall Street Journal 

Hundreds of black-clad antigovernment protesters on Friday began a demonstration at Hong Kong’s international airport, taking aim at both a global transit hub and the city’s closely guarded reputation for order and efficiency. – New York Times

The protests that have shaken Hong Kong this summer began with huge demonstrations in early June against an unpopular bill. Since then, they have become a  broader movement against Beijing’s power in this semiautonomous territory. […]Here’s a guide to what prompted the protests, how they evolved and why it all matters. – New York Times

The Philippines will lodge a protest over the unannounced presence of two Chinese research vessels in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), one of at least three diplomatic challenges in recent weeks amid a souring of relations. – Reuters 

A US human rights worker is in critical condition after being shot in front of his home in the Philippines, as activists and rights workers continue to be targeted in the country’s crackdown on dissent. – Business Insider


Another major protest is planned for Saturday in Moscow. Other gatherings in solidarity are set for various cities across Russia. But the confrontation in the capital is the big event and one that will set the stage for the next act nationwide. – Washington Post

A fire that broke out on Thursday at a weapons testing range in northern Russia killed two people, briefly raised radiation levels and prompted the authorities to prohibit shipping and sailing in parts of the White Sea for a month, according to officials and news media reports. – New York Times

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement that U.S. and Canadian fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska on Thursday. – The Hill 

Russian authorities on Thursday froze hundreds of bank accounts linked to embattled opposition leader Alexi Navalny in what his supporters say was a trumped-up effort to crack down on his political movement ahead of planned nationwide demonstrations this weekend, according to a report. – Fox News


The State Department has issued a statement reaffirming the United States’ support for the energy cooperation partnership developing between Greece, Cyprus and Israel, as discussed at a meeting of energy ministers from the three countries in Athens on Wednesday. – Ekathimerini

A 92-year old German man will go on trial in October charged with helping to murder 5,230 prisoners, many of them Jewish, at a Nazi death camp in World War Two, prosecutors said on Thursday. – Reuters

Belgian Jews have filed a police complaint after a Belgian journalist wrote in an opinion piece, “There is no promised land, only stolen land,” and commented on the stereotype of “Jewish noses.” – Jerusalem Post

Yasmeen Serhan writes: An agreement won’t be simple: The United States, which has a history of playing hardball with trading partners, will be the more dominant player during negotiations. And despite the budding bromance between Trump and Britain’s newly inaugurated prime minister, Boris Johnson, the United States won’t have much incentive to make any exceptions. In addition, if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, it will be far more eager to strike potential new trade accords than its would-be trading partners. – The Atlantic

United States

An effort by the FBI to more aggressively monitor social media for threats sets up a clash with Facebook Inc. FB 2.71% ’s privacy policies and possibly its attempts to comply with a record $5 billion settlement with the U.S. government reached last month. – Wall Street Journal

The latest mass shootings have triggered a sharp role reversal, with three countries warning their citizens about the risks of traveling to the U.S. – Associated Press 

A newly unsealed FBI search warrant revealed new details about how the bureau may have prevented a terrorist attack on mosques and synagogues in Colorado following the arrest on child pornography charges of a man with suspected white supremacist leanings. – Washington Examiner

The Americas

The decision of President Nicolás Maduro to pull out of talks with Venezuela’s opposition cast a new shadow over hopes for a peaceful resolution to the political stalemate that has paralyzed the crisis-wracked South American nation. – Washington Post

A Venezuelan oil joint venture with a state-owned Chinese company has started an expansion project to boost output to 165,000 barrels per day (bpd), President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday, from a current capacity of 110,000 bpd. – Reuters 

Mexico’s government on Wednesday pressed the United States to cooperate in helping to identify white supremacists that pose a threat to its citizens after a weekend shooting in El Paso, Texas that killed eight Mexican nationals. – Reuters


The White House is holding off on a decision about licenses for U.S. companies to restart business with Huawei Technologies Co. after Beijing said it was halting purchases of U.S. farming goods, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg 

A U.S. court has ruled that Facebook users in Illinois can sue the company over face recognition technology, meaning a class action can move forward. – NPR

The Navy has been the victim of several high-profile breaches in the last few years, publishing a cybersecurity review in March 2019 that took a comprehensive look at Navy and Marine Corps systems. Now the service has awarded a $14 million contract for cyber risk assessments. – Fifth Domain 

A top data protection regulator in the European Union is looking into the systematic collection of Instagram users’ personal data, including posts that were designed to disappear after 24 hours, by a San Francisco startup. – Business Insider


Joseph Maguire, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, will instead serve as acting director, effective Aug. 15, Mr. Trump said Thursday. Mr. Maguire, a retired Navy vice admiral, was confirmed by a Senate voice vote to lead the counterterrorism center last December. – Wall Street Journal 

After the recent death of the treaty covering intermediate-range missiles, a new arms race appears to be taking shape, drawing in more players, more money and more weapons at a time of increased global instability and anxiety about nuclear proliferation. – New York Times

The U.S. Air Force temporarily grounded more than a quarter of its C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft on Wednesday after “atypical” cracks were discovered during routine depot maintenance. – Washington Examiner 

The Army is reorganizing its Program Executive Office Missiles and Space to align with a focus on the integrated fires mission, the office’s chief said. – Defense News 

With a complex weapons integration program squared away, giving Royal Air Force Typhoon jets more punch, key sensors on the jet could see an upgrade. – C4ISRNET 

The fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite was successfully launched into orbit Aug. 8. The Air Force satellite was launched at 6:13 a.m. from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Following its six-hour journey, the satellite arrived in geosynchronous orbit alongside the four other AEHF satellites already operating in orbit. – C4ISRNET 

The Pentagon’s top technology expert defended Wednesday his decision to move the Strategic Capabilities Office under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, in his first comments to reporters since the surprise exit of his handpicked director for the SCO. – Defense News 

The Navy is looking at “something beyond even a Flight III” combat capability for its new-build destroyers, as its plans for transitioning from building the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to the future Large Surface Combatant continue to evolve and the LSC procurement date continues to slide. – USNI News 

Guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG-78) entered the Black Sea on Thursday and is the sixth U.S. ship to operate in the region this year. – USNI News 

Frank LoBiondo writes: The proliferation of laser and cyber weapons as well as counter-space technology by our adversaries is deeply troubling. Fortunately, we are on the precipice of action to further U.S. space interests, unless that effort gets bogged down by personal agendas. – Defense News