Fdd's overnight brief

December 10, 2018

In The News


Iranian security forces have detained 10 people suspected of links to a suicide car bomb attack this week that killed at least two policemen, police chief Hossein Ashtari said on Sunday. – Reuters

Fast-track courts set up in Iran to fight economic crime have jailed 30 men for up to 20 years each, the judiciary said on Sunday, as the country faces renewed U.S. sanctions and a public outcry against profiteering and corruption. – Reuters

Iran has detained an Australian-based academic on charges of trying to “infiltrate” Iranian institutions, according to official media. – Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani predicted a “deluge” of drugs, refugees and attacks on the West if U.S. sanctions weaken Iran’s ability to contain them. – Reuters


The Islamic State has been stripped of nearly all the territory it ruled in Iraq and Syria and has been pummeled by nearly 30,000 airstrikes. But the extremist group has still managed to retain a small pocket of land on the Syria-Iraq border for more than a year. – New York Times

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) issued a report on Sunday saying Syrian air defences had intercepted enemy targets around Damascus international airport, but later in the day said the attack had not happened. – Reuters

The United Nations has begun sending desperately needed aid from Jordan to hundreds of thousands of civilians in war-torn Syria. – Associated Press


Israel has warned Lebanon that it would strike Hezbollah in Lebanese territory if its militia doesn’t stop making precision-guided missiles with Iranian help, U.S. and Israeli officials said. – Wall Street Journal

A Palestinian opened fire on Sunday at a group of Israelis standing at a bus stop near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, wounding seven people, Israeli officials said. – Reuters

Israeli soldiers at the Lebanese border opened fire at suspected Hezbollah activists on Saturday, the military said, the first such incident since Israel launched a crackdown on cross-border tunnels into its territory. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefed Russian President Vladimir Putin on Israel’s crackdown along its border with Lebanon on tunnels it said were dug by Hezbollah, the Kremlin said on Saturday. – Reuters

Israeli forces deployed along the volatile border with the Gaza Strip have fired live rounds at rock-throwing Palestinian protesters ever since demonstrations against Israel’s long-running blockade of Gaza began in March. – Associated Press

Michael Goodwin writes: Long before Trump made the announcement on Dec. 6, 2017, and pledged to move our embassy to Jerusalem, there were endless warnings that the change would cause global unrest. […]In fact, little or nothing has changed between the parties as a result of the announcement and the subsequent embassy move from Tel Aviv. There was no peace process at the time because the Palestinians had refused even to negotiate, and that remains the case. – New York Post

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and its allies are settling in for a new phase of a protracted standoff with rival Qatar, as officials from opposing Gulf Arab states gathered in Riyadh on Sunday for a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. – Wall Street Journal

Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, reportedly offered private counselling to Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, on how “how to weather the storm” after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Telegraph

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Sunday ruled out the extradition of suspects in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, after Istanbul’s chief prosecutor filed warrants for the arrest of two former senior Saudi officials. – Reuters

“I can’t breathe.” These were the final words uttered by Jamal Khashoggi after he was set upon by a Saudi hit squad at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, according to a source briefed on the investigation into the killing of the Washington Post columnist. – CNN

David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard, Mark Landler, and Mark Mazzetti write: Mr. Kushner has continued to argue that the president needs to stand by Prince Mohammed because he remains essential to the administration’s broader Middle East strategy, according to people familiar with the deliberations. Whether Prince Mohammed can fulfill that role, however, remains to be seen. – New York Times

David Ignatius writes: How did a battle of ideas, triggered by Khashoggi’s outspoken journalism for The Post, become so deadly? That’s the riddle at the center of the columnist’s death. The answer in part is that the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and other countries that supported Saudi counter-extremism policies helped sharpen the double-edged tools of cyberespionage that drove the conflict toward its catastrophic conclusion in Istanbul. – Washington Post


The U.S. Senate this week is set to vote on a resolution to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen, an effort to punish Riyadh for the killing of a Saudi Arabian journalist. – Wall Street Journal

Another round of talks on the Yemen conflict will likely take place in the coming months, sources said Sunday, as warring parties met for UN-sponsored talks in Sweden. – Agence France-Presse

Yemen’s warring parties held the first direct talks in U.N.-led peace efforts in Sweden on Sunday to iron out a prisoner swap, one of several confidence-building measures intended to help launch a political process to end nearly four years of conflict. – Reuters

The United States wants to continue support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s war and will remain engaged in efforts to combat Iranian influence and Islamist militancy in the Arab state, a State Department official said on Sunday. – Reuters

The United States believes that the Yemen that emerges from civil war should not contain any Iranian-backed threat to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. State Department official told a conference in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. – Reuters

Yemen’s main port city should be declared a “neutral zone” and the United Nations could play a role in Sanaa airport, the Iran-aligned Houthis’ main negotiator said on Saturday on the sidelines of talks aimed at ending the Yemeni war. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Iraq on Monday celebrated the anniversary of its costly victory over the Islamic State group, which has lost virtually all the territory it once held but still carries out sporadic attacks. – Associated Press

Dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators have staged a protest in Tunisia’s capital against Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians. The protest on Saturday was held outside the Tourism Ministry. The country’s named tourism minister is Jewish, which is unusual in this majority Muslim country. – Associated Press

Anna Borshcehvskaya and Hanin Ghaddar write: Putin has long expressed hope that the United States will withdraw from the affairs of Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East. For now, Washington still has leverage via its aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces, and this relationship has helped convince Beirut to reject past security agreements with Russia. But Moscow is steadily filling the gaps wherever Washington is absent, and would almost certainly do so again if U.S. military assistance to Lebanon were to dry up. – Washington Institute

Peter Burns writes: Christian communities in the Middle East are facing a bleak season in which mere long-term survival has become an ambitious objective for some ancient groups. […] Yet despite all, there is a reason for hope. Christians in the Middle East have two sympathetic and powerful allies at the heart of the world’s most powerful government: Vice President Mike Pence and Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. – Washington Examiner

Peter Madavill & Shadi Hamid write: In nearly every Muslim-majority country, Islam is an important—and sometimes the only—ideological currency that mixes effectively with more standard realpolitik. […]This means that governments—even relatively secular and progressive ones—have a powerful incentive to insert Islam into their foreign policy, using religious ideas to increase their prestige and promote their interests abroad—to deploy, in other words, what we call “Islamic soft power.” – Foreign Affairs

Korean Peninsula

Inside one of Uganda’s air bases behind rings of security lurks a resource the nation pledged two years ago to jettison—North Korean soldiers. The commandos, from North Korea’s special-operations division, are covertly training Uganda’s elite troops in skills from martial arts to helicopter-gunnery operations, say senior Ugandan military officers. – Wall Street Journal

South Korea is holding its breath for what its president, Moon Jae-in, has repeatedly said could happen by the end of December: Kim Jong-un’s visit to Seoul, which would be a first for a North Korean leader. – New York Times

Now, 18 months into his term, Moon still talks of “democratizing” the economy, but his anger at plutocrats appears to have dissipated. Instead of challenging the powerful chaebols — which include global brands such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai — Moon talks of boosting their “international competitiveness.” – Washington Post

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is unlikely to visit Seoul in the final three weeks of this year, South Korean TV channel YTN said on Monday, citing an unidentified official in the South Korean presidential office. – Reuters


China’s leadership is trying to strike a delicate balance between outrage and necessity, as it seeks to maintain a recent thaw with the United States while lashing out at the arrest of a top Chinese tech executive. – New York TImes

The Chinese police have detained one of the country’s most prominent Protestant pastors along with more than 100 members of his independent congregation, the latest sign of a growing crackdown against what the government perceives as illegal or foreign-influenced religious activity. – New York Times

The Trump administration’s point man on U.S.-China trade negotiations said the U.S. would hold fast to its 90-day deadline for the conclusion of a lasting agreement, adding that the U.S. would impose punishing tariffs on Chinese imports if none is reached. – Wall Street Journal

The CFO of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is set to be back in a Canadian courtroom on Monday, fighting for her freedom with the help of pressure from Beijing, while prosecutors argue she cannot be trusted. – Reuters

U.S.-China trade negotiations need to reach a successful end by March 1 or new tariffs will be imposed, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Sunday, clarifying there is a “hard deadline” after a week of seeming confusion among President Donald Trump and his advisers. – Reuters

The Chinese Foreign Ministry is summoning the US and Canadian ambassadors in protest over the detention of a Huawei executive in Vancouver, describing it as “lawless” and “extremely vicious.” – CNN

China state media say 10 people have been charged with various offenses over rioting at a gathering of military veterans protesting for better benefits. – Associated Press

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Sunday that U.S.-China negotiations should not be impacted by the controversial arrest of a top executive from Chinese telecom giant Huawei. – Politico

Zachary Karabell writes: The case against Huawei and its executives may be legitimate under U.S. law, but it is nonetheless a hideous political mistake. Perhaps Huawei used American-made components in equipment it sold to Iran, violating U.S. sanctions. […] Not every case that can be brought should be brought, and not every case should be prosecuted to the full letter of the law. […]If the United States wants to respond to China’s rise and manage the changing role of the United States in the international system, it could hardly have picked a dumber tactic. – Washington Post

Marc A. Thiessen writes: Trump is playing a game of chicken with Xi, appearing to calculate that the United States is in a better position to survive an all-out trade war. The markets panicked this week over Trump’s recent pronouncement that he would be just as happy imposing tariffs as cutting a deal with China, but getting this message through to Xi is the only way to force his hand. – American Enterprise Institute

Dean Cheng writes: This is yet another reminder that the United States faces growing challenges in space. […]China’s decision to deploy a lander to the far side of the moon indicates a commitment to space exploration that now rivals the U.S. in some ways. Over the next decade, Beijing and Washington will likely intensify their efforts to exploit this new strategic high ground. China is making clear that it intends to win this competition. – Heritage Foundation


An Afghan official says the Taliban have attacked an army checkpoint in the western Farah province, killing at least eight Afghan soldiers. – Associated Press

The Army National Guard is investigating reports that an EOD unit did not receive the proper training or equipment before it was deployed to Afghanistan. – Army Times

Japan’s big three telecoms operators plan not to use network equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] and ZTE Corp (0763.HK) (000063.SZ), Kyodo News reported on Monday. – Reuters


A Swedish think tank said Monday that Russia has emerged as the world’s second-largest arms producer after the United States. Russia surpassed Britain, which had held that spot since 2002 and remains Western Europe’s No. 1 arms maker. – Associated Press

Editorial: The Trump administration has now served notice that, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it, the United States will no longer “bury our head in the sand” about Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty[…]. The administration is right to confront the issue, but not to just walk away. President Trump has not exhausted all the options with Mr. Putin, and U.S. allies in Europe are not sanguine about facing Russian missiles again. – Washington Post

Bruce Jackson writes: The problem of U.S.-Russian relations remains much as it has always been: never very good, not as bad as we like to imagine, and always troublesome. What has changed is the human element. Self-awareness linked to national purpose has dwindled as recent history has become strangely indecipherable and perspective has disappeared. What is left are two isolated and resentful nations lost in a maze of minor conflicts. – Heritage Foundation


Two large British banks are among those ensnared in the controversy over Huawei Technologies Co., which escalated over the weekend after the Chinese government warned Canada it would face “severe consequences” if it didn’t release the Chinese telecommunications giant’s finance chief. – Wall Street Journal

Protesters from Britain’s right and left took to the streets on Sunday, offering starkly different visions of the country’s future as the government scrambled to salvage its unpopular plan for exiting the European Union. – New York Times

President Emmanuel Macron is facing unprecedented pressure to roll back his overhauls of the French economy after a fourth consecutive weekend of “yellow vest” protests unleashed another torrent of rioting despite stepped-up security. – Wall Street Journal

With Britain and the European Union’s carefully crafted divorce deal headed for likely failure in the British Parliament this week, European leaders are bracing for more Brexit chaos — and warning they have little to sweeten the bargain for London. – Washington Post

Britain is free to cancel its notification to leave the EU without the consent of other EU member states, according to a landmark European Court of Justice ruling that places no conditions on the decision. – Financial Times

Griffe Witte writes: Autocracy is making a comeback, seeping into parts of the world where it once appeared to have been vanquished. But it is a sleeker, subtler and, ultimately, more sophisticated version than its authoritarian forebears, twisting democratic structures and principles into tools of oppression and state control. It is also, quite possibly, far more potent and enduring than autocracies of old. – Washington Post

Alex Barker writes: With the aim of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit, the EU has smashed through a political taboo: projecting direct legal power beyond its frontiers. Almost half of the 585 pages of Britain’s draft exit treaty are devoted to the status of Northern Ireland, and if the “backstop” plan is ever applied, it will cast Brussels in a unique and awkward role that it once shunned. – Financial Times


The U.S. military says it has killed four members of the al-Shabab extremist group with a “self-defense airstrike” outside Somalia’s capital after partner forces were attacked. – Associated Press

The European Union has prolonged sanctions against Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s chosen successor just two weeks before a historic election in the resource-rich Central African country. EU headquarters said Monday that travel bans and asset freezes will be renewed for a year against Congo’s ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary and 13 other people. – Associated Press

The International Monetary Fund says it has approved a three-year loan of about $3.7 billion for Angola, which seeks to diversify its economy and curb corruption after a new president took office last year. – Associated Press

The Americas

Canada’s detention of a senior executive at Huawei Technologies Co. comes at a time when Ottawa is under intense pressure at home and abroad to prohibit the use of the Chinese company’s gear in its telecommunications networks. – Wall Street Journal

Directors of a Latin American development bank are considering a $500 million loan request from Venezuela, drawing a rebuke from President Nicolás Maduro’s detractors who say it will undercut international sanctions against his authoritarian government. – Wall Street Journal

Socialist President Nicolas Maduro further consolidated power in Venezuelan local elections Sunday, while accusing President Donald Trump of plotting to overthrow him. – Associated Press

Top Jewish groups have welcomed a Chilean government decision made earlier this week to ban municipalities across the country from boycotting Israel. The ruling — issued by the Comptroller General of Chile – stemmed from a complaint filed by the Chilean Jewish community over a move of the Valdivia municipality to ban the city from signing contracts with Israel-linked companies. – Algemeiner

Russian officials have cast doubt on multibillion-dollar pledges to Venezuela touted by its president Nicolás Maduro, whose crisis-wracked country has become increasingly dependent on Moscow as its most prominent international supporter. – Financial Times

Cyber Security

Jordan is to withdraw proposed amendments to a cybercrimes bill submitted to parliament that rights activists say would stifle freedom of expression, the government spokesman said on Sunday. – Reuters

Chinese police said on Saturday that it has closed 1,100 social media accounts, along with 31 websites, this year for unlawful activities such as trolling or blackmailing, the official Xinhua news agency reported. – Reuters

A Massachusetts community college is beefing up its cybersecurity after hackers stole $800,000 through an infected email. – Associated Press


President Donald Trump on Saturday nominated Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who took on the role in 2015, is expected to serve out his term, which expires later next year. – CNN

U.S. President Donald Trump has backed plans to request $750 billion from Congress for defense spending next year, a U.S. official said on Sunday, signaling a Pentagon spending hike at a time of potential belt-tightening elsewhere in the government. – Reuters

The F-35 program plays a central role in our National Defense Strategy, which calls for building a more lethal joint force, strengthening global alliances and reforming business practices to enhance affordability. The F-35 weapons system is a multimission, next-generation strike fighter that provides our war fighters unmatched, game-changing technology in the domains of sensor fusion, stealth and interoperability. – Defense News

Lockheed Martin is on schedule to deliver its massive solid-state Long-Range Discrimination Radar in 2020, according to executives who spoke Friday with reporters here. – Defense News

History will regard the year 2018 as a period of profound change within the U.S. Department of Defense. This past year saw the release of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, a strategy characterized by three lines of effort: build a more lethal force; strengthen alliances and attract new partners; and reform the department for greater performance and affordability. – Defense News

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review did not flinch from reality. With Russia and China pursuing entirely new nuclear capabilities and the ongoing negotiations to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, the geopolitical challenges are pressing. There are challenges at home, too. Following the end of the Cold War, the infrastructure and capabilities needed to maintain a credible U.S. nuclear deterrent were neglected. – Defense News

Trump Administration

The Russian ambassador. A deputy prime minister. A pop star, a weightlifter, a lawyer, a Soviet army veteran with alleged intelligence ties. Again and again and again, over the course of Donald Trump’s 18-month campaign for the presidency, Russian citizens made contact with his closest family members and friends, as well as figures on the periphery of his orbit. – Washington Post

Top White House aide Nick Ayers won’t be the next chief of staff, as had been expected, White House officials said, throwing open the question of who will run the West Wing and manage the staff on a day-to-day basis. – Wall Street Journal

The FBI launched investigations of four Americans in July 2016 into whether they helped Russia’s alleged efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, former FBI Director James Comey said in remarks released on Saturday. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday renewed his call to end a federal probe into Russian election meddling, describing the investigation as a “witch hunt” a day after U.S. prosecutors detailed a previously unknown attempt by a Russian to help his 2016 presidential election campaign. – Reuters

White House chief of staff John Kelly will leave his position by the end of this year, President Donald Trump confirmed Saturday, ending a tumultuous tenure in the West Wing that was riven with internal tension and constant questions about his future. – Politico