Fdd's overnight brief

December 10, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday his country is arranging a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani because it wants to play a greater role in resolving a nuclear impasse between Tehran and Washington and in relieving tensions in the Middle East, the source of more than 80% of Japan’s oil. – Associated Press

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday Iran is ready for a full prisoner exchange with the United States, tweeting: “The ball is in the US’ court”. – Reuters

US officials suspect that Iran is behind a series of rocket attacks on Iraqi bases hosting American forces, after four rockets struck an Iraqi military base near the Baghdad International Airport on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Josephine Wolff writes: For a government to shut down the Internet is for it to concede, at a profound level, that it has no control over it — that it cannot effectively surveil, filter or regulate the Internet, but must instead resort to the clumsiest and starkest of means to cut off the outside world. In that sense, these shutdowns, while terrible to experience, can be a hopeful sign. They demonstrate how little progress governments have made in developing more covert, sophisticated means of controlling the Internet — and with it, their citizens. – Washington Post

Bobby Ghosh writes: But the resentments against the regime are widespread and deep, and they aren’t limited to economic grievances. The protesters were demanding greater political freedoms and the ouster of Rouhani and his boss, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The next expression of dissatisfaction may only be weeks away. – Bloomberg

Dov S. Zakheim writes: These are trying times for Iran’s ayatollahs. They continue to confront the worst nationwide protests since they took power four decades ago. The Trump administration’s sanctions are crippling the Iranian economy, and are a major reason why the protests have yet to be fully contained. And ongoing unrest in Lebanon and Iraq, especially in the latter, is undermining Tehran’s efforts to establish its hegemony throughout the Middle East. – The Hill

Farzin Nadimi writes: Under the JCPOA, the limits on Iran’s weapons exports and imports will be lifted in October 2020. Although the United States has urged the UN to maintain the arms embargo for longer than that, it would likely take an international effort—including Russia and China—to effectively prevent the regional proliferation of potential Iranian weapons of mass destruction beyond that date. – Washington Institute

Shay Attias writes: Whether meaningful political change will result from the protests remains to be seen, but the seed of change has been planted. Iran will continue to do everything it can to stay upright during this wave of protests. It is as focused as ever on its ultimate goal‏ֹ: to become the dominant military superpower in the region. – Algemeiner


Russian forces have entered Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State caliphate, in one of the starkest examples yet of how Moscow has filled the vacuum created by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. forces from northern Syria. – Reuters

Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview aired Monday that the global chemical weapons watchdog has faked and falsified a report over an attack near the capital Damascus last year “just because the Americans wanted them to do so.” – Associated Press

In recent weeks, Syrians have taken a harsher tone towards the U.S. military presence in the country, after the Trump administration, which had started to withdraw its troops from Syria, declared that some of them would remain in eastern Syria to secure the oil and gas fields there. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Turkey would have the right to deploy soldiers in Libya if invited by the internationally backed government there, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told state-run TRT television. – Bloomberg

In a speech to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Israel and called for Islamic unity among the “brothers and sisters” to confront the West and conspiracies against Islamic countries. – Jerusalem Post

The discovery over the last decade of sizable natural gas fields lying beneath the eastern Mediterranean has driven a vision of the region’s often-divided nations cooperating to exploit the reserves. They would enrich themselves, while their exports would help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian gas. One catch: Turkey wasn’t part of the picture, and with an active navy in the region, it’s playing the part of spoiler. Its recent maritime pact with Libya has added another snarl. – Bloomberg


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz both called on each other to negotiate on Monday but sources in both parties admitted that they were merely trying to harm each other ahead of an election that will be set for March 2. – Times of Israel

Officials in the attorney general’s office have recently warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that making good on his pledge to annex the Jordan Valley could lead to the opening of International Criminal Court investigations against IDF officers and Israeli mayors in the West Bank, according to a report Monday. – Times of Israel

A former US secretary of defense and an ex-IDF chief of staff on Monday rejected a proposed America-Israeli mutual defense pact, saying such a measure was unnecessary. – Times of Israel

A lawyer for an Israeli-American woman jailed in Russia said that her case would possibly be resolved through “political influence,” including a pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin. – Algemeiner

Gen. (Ret.) Charles Wald and Michael Makovsky write: As America departs and the burden of maintaining regional stability falls more on Israel’s shoulders, the United States should accelerate much-needed weapons deliveries for Israel to defend itself and U.S. interests, without adding any cost to the American taxpayer. – The Hill

Louis Rene Beres writes: In many ways, growing instability in the Middle East is the plausible outcome of  President Trump’s disjointed foreign policies. Such instability, in turn, could heighten the potential for assorted expansive and prospectively unconventional wars. Israel, it follows, must continue to prepare capably to upgrade its strategic posture, especially its national military nuclear strategy and its corollary longstanding policy of deliberate nuclear ambiguity. – Algemeiner

Saudi Arabia

The deadly attack at a U.S. Navy base in Florida last week is renewing congressional scrutiny of the Trump administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia and other countries seeking to use U.S. technology to develop nuclear power plants must agree to comprehensive U.N. inspections under legislation to be included in the defense policy bill expected to be announced as soon as early this week, two Democratic congressional aides said on Monday. – Reuters

President Donald Trump spoke Sunday with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia regarding last week’s deadly shooting at a U.S. Navy base in Florida, which was perpetrated by a Saudi military trainee and has further strained relations between the kingdom and Washington. – Politico

Middle East & North Africa

Former Vice President Dick Cheney warned Monday that “American disengagement” in the Middle East will benefit only Iran and Russia, indirectly criticizing President Donald Trump’s pledges to pull forces out of the region. – Associated Press

Qatar sent its prime minister to an annual gathering of Gulf Arab monarchs in the Saudi capital Tuesday, signaling progress in ending the 30-month regional rift though not enough for the country’s ruler to attend. – Bloomberg

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: There is a growing policy level debate in the U.S. over the risk of a serious conflict between Iran and the U.S. and its Arab strategic partners. This has led to reports that the U.S. could deploy up to 14,000 more military personnel to the Gulf, along with a significant increase in it its combat ships and major weapons systems. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Emiliano Alessandri writes: While U.S. policies have exposed Europe to instability, because of the many security spillovers of military interventions, U.S. core interests were not well served either: Iran has greater regional influence, not less, as a result of almost two decades of heavy-handed U.S. engagement in the region; conversely, Israel is more isolated (and now also more internally divided) than it was in the 1990s; and jihadist terrorism remains a formidable threat, even after the defeat of the self-styled Islamic State. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s defense minister said Tuesday that North Korea’s recent unspecified test at a rocket liftoff site was of a rocket engine, amid speculation the North was making preliminary steps toward a prohibited long-range rocket launch. – Associated Press

North Korea on Monday accused US President Trump of “bluffing” and called him “an old man bereft of patience” as Pyongyang ramps up pressure on Washington over stalled nuclear talks. – Agence France-Presse

The United States changed its mind and is now refusing to sign a letter that would have authorized the U.N. Security Council to hold a meeting on the human rights situation in North Korea, diplomats said Monday. – Associated Press

Adam Taylor writes: Some of the change in stance may be because of the considerable economic pressure on North Korea as a result of the sanctions. But it is also likely Pyongyang is considering the U.S. political timetable. Trump is less than a year away from the presidential election, with few foreign policy successes in his first term. Kim’s own political worries are very different. – Washington Post

David Maxwell writes: North Korea has been warning for months that the United States only has until the end of the year to change its hostile attitude. If Washington does not make amends for its “betrayal,” Pyongyang may restart its nuclear tests and long-range missile launches. These accusations may ring hollow, yet North Korea is clearly comfortable making threats and setting deadlines. – Military Times


China has introduced a sweeping policy to swap the foreign technology products the government uses with indigenous ones, people familiar with the matter said, doubling down on its efforts to decouple its technology sector from the U.S. amid the trade war. – Wall Street Journal

Apple Inc on Monday told a federal court it has “deep concerns” that two Chinese-born former employees accused of stealing trade secrets from the company will try to flee before their trials if their locations are not monitored. – Reuters

China on Monday defended its vast network of re-education camps in Xinjiang and said it would continue “training” residents, following explosive government document leaks detailing surveillance and control of the region’s Uighur population. – Agence France-Presse


A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable. – Washington Post

All told, the cost of nearly 18 years of war in Afghanistan will amount to more than $2 trillion. Was the money well spent? – New York Times

Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Monday called for the panel to hold a hearing to investigate U.S. strategy in the 18-year Afghanistan War following a damning report that senior U.S. officials knowingly lied to the public for years about the country’s progress in the conflict. – The Hill

David A. Graham writes: The Pentagon Papers helped enshrine in the public lexicon the idea of a “credibility gap”: the difference between what government officials were telling Americans about how the Vietnam War was going and how they knew the war was actually going. At the time, the presence of that gap seemed untenable. Today, however, the credibility gap regarding Afghanistan isn’t a bizarre and unstable temporary situation but the status quo. Everyone knows the U.S. is losing in Afghanistan. – The Atlantic


President Rodrigo Duterte announced on Tuesday that military rule in the southern Philippines would soon end, two and a half years after he imposed it in response to a rebellion by Islamic State militants in the city of Marawi. – New York Times

The U.S. Treasury has imposed sanctions on a businessman and a senior government official with close links to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, accusing them of corruption. – Reuters

Singapore and the United States have signed a memorandum of understanding for the Southeast Asian island nation to set up a fighter jet training detachment in the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. – Defense News

For nearly four months now, the voice that would call out five times a day from the minarets of the Jamia Masjid and echo across Srinagar has been silent, a result of India’s ongoing security operations in this Muslim-majority region. – Associated Press

Japanese police have caught 3 people, including a teenager, trading uranium online in violation of laws on nuclear materials, Kyodo News said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday ruled out further concessions to the city’s pro-democracy movement ahead of her weekend visit to Beijing, despite a landslide election defeat for the government and a peaceful mass march. – Agence France-Presse

Police in Hong Kong said they deactivated two home-made bombs Monday that were being hidden at a high school. – Time

Barkha Dutt writes: The home minister insists that Indian Muslims are unimpacted by the new legislation. But there is no good explanation for why Myanmar’s Rohingya — or Pakistan’s Shiite, Balochis and Ahmadis — do not qualify as persecuted minorities. […]If the bill clears Parliament’s upper house — and the numbers are stacked in the BJP’s favor — it is up to the Supreme Court to protect the constitutional vision of India’s freedom fighters. Either that or we accept that we have fundamentally changed as a nation. – Washington Post


The Kremlin said its foreign minister has plans to meet with Mr. Trump on Tuesday in addition to talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. – New York Times

Antidoping authorities made their latest attempt to sanction Russia on Monday by imposing a four-year ban from international sport for a string of state-sponsored offenses and the country’s brazen efforts to mislead investigators. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin said a Georgian man murdered in Berlin in August was himself a killer who took part in bloody acts on Russian soil and that Moscow’s requests for his extradition had not been heeded. – Reuters

Editorial: The highlighted sentences said Russia is willing to renew the New START nuclear weapons treaty immediately, before the year is out, and without any preconditions. This is an offer that President Trump ought not refuse. […]So what is Mr. Trump’s strategy? Is he using the China angle as a poison pill to avoid extension of New START and cause the treaty to expire? If so, it would mark yet another plank crashing from the already-rickety structure of arms-control treaties intended to restrain the nuclear danger. New START is the last of the major nuclear agreements still in force, and it should be given five more years. – Washington Post


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to a renewed cease-fire and to exchange all known prisoners when they met for the first time in Paris on Monday, making modest gains in peace talks designed to end a deadly war in eastern Ukraine. – Washington Post

At least six people were shot dead at close range in a hospital waiting room in the Czech Republic on Tuesday before the gunman escaped and then turned his weapon on himself, in a rare mass shooting in this eastern European country. – Washington Post

Manipulated Twitter accounts, doctored videos, dodgy websites and questions of foreign meddling. In just six weeks, the campaign leading up to Britain’s general election this Thursday has had a taste of what the dark arts of online campaigning have to offer. – New York Times

The United States on Monday sanctioned Aivars Lembergs, the suspended mayor of Latvia’s seaport city of Ventspils and an oligarch with substantial influence in the country’s politics, over alleged corruption, the U.S. Treasury said in a statement. – Reuters

European Union foreign ministers next month will discuss whether the 28-nation bloc should modify its Middle East policy amid growing concern that Israeli settlement activity and US diplomatic moves are undermining hopes for a two-state solution. – Associated Press

Helen Lewis writes: The breakdown of the relationship between Labour and the Jewish community is profound. It is a story that weaves in many themes of modern politics: anti-imperialism, internet conspiracy, Islamist extremism, polarization, social-media abuse, the rise of the hard left and hard right. At its heart, though, it is a story about belonging. Britain’s Jews are used to feeling that their safety is provisional, that they are not fully accepted, that they will always be treated as outsiders. The Labour Party now joins a long list of those who have let them down. – The Atlantic


Intelligence officials in Somalia say an airstrike conducted by the U.S. military in the country’s south killed a senior extremist of the al-Shabab rebel group. – Associated Press

The Nigerian government is facing immense criticism over the re-arrest and detention of investigative journalist and activist Omoyele Sowore on treason charges. – CNN

Michael Rubin writes: If the U.S. goal remains to promote democracy, security, and counter al-Shabaab terrorism, it is essential that Congress consider what the State Department will not: Foggy Bottom’s Somalia policy is deeply broken. Debt forgiveness and additional aid not only betrays the American taxpayer, but will fail to achieve its intended goals. – The Hill

The Americas

Dignitaries from throughout Latin America will converge on Buenos Aires on Tuesday for the presidential inauguration of Alberto Fernández. The head of Argentina’s largest and most important neighbor plans to stay away. – Washington Post

The city of Pensacola, Fla., was hit with a cyberattack, shutting down much of the city computer network, days after a Saudi air force student opened fire at a military base there. – Wall Street Journal

Generally, foreigners are not allowed to buy guns in the United States. But there are exceptions written into federal law, which may explain how the Saudi flight student who shot three servicemen to death at the Pensacola naval base was able to purchase a weapon. – Associated Press

House Democrats have reached a tentative agreement with labor leaders and the White House over a rewrite of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal that has been a top priority for President Donald Trump. – Associated Press

Chile’s air force lost radio contact with a transport plane carrying 38 people on a flight Monday evening to the country’s base in Antarctica, and authorities indicated several hours later that they were not optimistic about the aircraft’s fate. – Associated Press

The Trump administration imposed sanctions Monday on both the former and the current director of the Venezuelan government’s office of identification, accusing them of receiving kickbacks involving the sale of passports. – Associated Press


The Pentagon announced the four bases in late October where it plans to roll out initial testing around 5G high-speed, high-bandwidth networking protocols. Now, military leaders have begun to describe in greater detail the types of experimentation they have in mind, and what they hope to achieve. – C4ISRNET

The military has ordered “increased random security measures” at stateside military bases after deadly shootings last week at Navy facilities in Hawaii and Florida. – Politico

The Navy and submarine builder Newport News Shipbuilding are committed to having a private industry submarine repair capacity for the long-haul, even if the first recent forays into the effort resulted in long delays and cost overruns. – USNI News

The acting secretary of the Navy ordered a 22-percent increase in spending on education within the Navy, calling for more than $100 million to be shifted around this year and for $350 million to be added in the out-years to better focus on the service’s education needs. – USNI News

Following Friday’s deadly shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., the Pentagon and State Department are facing questions about bringing foreign military members to train in the U.S. as part of a multi-billion dollar foreign arms sales program. – USNI News

The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier left a pier from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., late last month with its reputation arguably at an all-time low. – USNI News

Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly in public comments and in a directive to the force has mandated that the service find a path to quickly get to 355 ships. – Defense News

Since taking over as commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger hasn’t been shy about saying the service must update its inventory and adapt its force structure to fight future conflicts. – Defense News

Lawmakers involved in annual defense authorization negotiations finalized a sweeping deal late Monday that creates a new Space Force among other policies, but it dropped contentious border wall restrictions and several other provisions favored by progressives. – Defense News

Kratos will provide 24/7 bandwidth monitoring for the Combined Space Operations Center under a potentially five-year $39 million contract, the company announced Dec. 6. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Army has picked two active protection systems to evaluate next fall for possible applications on a variety of ground combat vehicles. – Defense News

The U.S, Navy’s top priority is to get the troubled carrier Gerald R. Ford on deployment, the acting Secretary of the Navy said in a Dec. 6 directive. – Defense News

Blake Herzinger writes: In the meantime, the Navy is facing a valuable opportunity to be creative in expanding its access in the Indo-Pacific, whether it be through exercising existing arrangements with ASEAN countries or by a bold move toward Taiwan. Whether or not the port of Hong Kong reopens to the U.S. Navy, the operations of the U.S. Seventh Fleet will continue unaffected. – War on the Rocks

James Stavridis writes: As the U.S. Navy reels in the wake of a horrific shooting at an iconic naval base in Pensacola, Florida – the heart of naval aviation – many voices are asking why we do have foreign militaries training here in the United States. […]But the overwhelming number of encounters produce real cultural learning, promote technological integration with allies and occasionally create a personal relationship that pays dividends over long decades of service – a pretty good return on investment. – Time

Long War

The Saudi gunman who killed three people at the Pensacola naval base had apparently gone on Twitter shortly before the shooting to blast U.S. support of Israel and accuse America of being anti-Muslim, a U.S. official said Sunday as the FBI confirmed it is operating on the assumption the attack was an act of terrorism. – Associated Press

U.S. investigators face mounting pressure on Monday to deliver answers on the motive that led a Saudi Air Force lieutenant to shoot and kill three people and wounded eight others at a U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida. – Reuters

Andrew Gilmour writes: As we survey the illegalities, barbarities and strategic blunders that marked the ill-named “global war on terror” after the attacks of Sept. 11, there can be little doubt that counterterrorism can only succeed if it is based on human rights. We should start with an approach to foreign nationals in Syria that ensures accountability, while giving these children some hope, dignity and whatever remains of their childhood. – New York Times

Trump Administration

The FBI committed “serious performance failures” in 2016 when it sought to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser, an internal watchdog said, as part of what it found to be a justified probe into links between the Trump campaign and Russia. – Wall Street Journal

A former British spy who was a source for the FBI in its probe of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had an extended friendship with Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, a source familiar with the friendship said on Monday. – Reuters

Amazon said in a legal complaint unsealed on Monday that it had lost a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the Pentagon because President Trump used “improper pressure” to divert the contract from the company to harm its chief executive, Jeff Bezos. – New York Times