Fdd's overnight brief

December 11, 2018

In The News


Iranian media are reporting that two human rights lawyers have been sentenced to six years in prison. – Associated Press

Iranian authorities have reportedly arrested over 100 Christians in the past few days, as they seek to crack down on conversions and what they claim is proselytizing by evangelicals. – Times of Israel

A senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said Monday that Tehran has can expand the range of its missiles beyond the current limit of 2,000 kilometers — the latest in a war of words with Washington. – Defense News

Exports of Iranian oil have improved since early November, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani said in a statement broadcast live on state TV on Tuesday. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has accused regional rival Iran of meddling in other countries’ affairs, as he addressed a regional summit in Riyadh. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded swiftly, tweeting that the “region has had far too many strongmen who have only caused war & misery.” – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Katherine Bauer, Hanin Ghaddar, and Assaf Orion write: Upon securing most of its war goals in Syria, Iran appeared to shift its objectives toward establishing a military presence in that country while upgrading Hezbollah’s fire precision and effectiveness in Lebanon. Once its Syrian facilities came under increased Israeli fire, Tehran began moving some of these activities into Lebanon, knowing that Israeli strikes would be more complicated there due to the escalation potential. – Washington Institute


Turkey’s state-run news agency says prosecutors are seeking maximum 15-year prison terms for five journalists of an opposition newspaper, intensifying concerns over authorities’ crackdown on news coverage critical of the government. – Associated Press

Since the coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, several disappearances of civilians have been reported; most occurred in Ankara in broad daylight. They all follow a similar pattern: The victims were pulled into a black commercial vehicle, a Volkswagen van, by people who didn’t try to conceal themselves. Subsequent attempts to locate the abducted person failed, and many families reported that the authorities ignored their requests for help. – Haaretz

According to a website that monitors planes, the jet that was used for the alleged abduction was seen in September parked next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plane while he was visiting Germany. According to the website ADS-B-Exchange, which monitors flights, in early December the plane landed in Venezuela while Erdogan was visiting that country. – Haaretz


Israeli soldiers raided the official Palestinian news agency on Monday in the occupied West Bank, a day after suspected Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israelis outside a nearby Jewish settlement. – Reuters

Two attempted car-ramming attacks took place in the West Bank on Tuesday, the Israeli army reported. In the village of Idna near Hebron, a Palestinian driver tried to run over Israeli Border Police and was shot. No one else was injured. In a separate incident, a vehicle tried to ram Israeli security forces in the northern West Bank. The forces responded with gunfire. – Haaretz

Australia is reportedly set to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Australian public television station SBS reported on Tuesday. The station cited local paper The Australian, saying that the decision is to be ratified by the cabinet at a meeting on Tuesday after its approval by the country’s national security committee on Monday. – The Jerusalem Post

While Israel has contained its anti-tunnel operation within its borders so far, it may just be a preamble to a deadly showdown over Hezbollah’s missile program — a key worry for Netanyahu as Iran and its Lebanese proxy dig in on Israel’s northern doorstep. – Bloomberg

A Qatari envoy overseeing the Gulf state’s humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip said on Monday that he had proposed building an airport in the blockaded Palestinian enclave but had received no response from Israel. – Al Jazeera


Saudi Arabia

The Senate may formally condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi before the end of the year, if no one stands in the way of the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman’s plan to expedite a vote to do so on the floor. – Washington Post

Sarah Aziza writes: Months after the Saudi government jailed some of its most prominent female activists, new reports say the women have endured torture and sexual abuse in detention. […] Now, sources close to the women have linked the women’s mistreatment to Saud al-Qahtani, a former top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has also been implicated in the murder of Saudi journalist and Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. – Washington Post

Michael Singh writes: The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has sparked a sudden soul-searching in Washington about the U.S.-Saudi partnership. Riding a wave of congressional anger, a bill that would end American support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen overwhelmingly surmounted the hurdle required to advance to debate, attracting strong bipartisan support. Another bill wending its way through Congress would place strict conditions on the sale of offensive weaponry to Saudi Arabia, the largest purchaser of American arms. – War on the Rocks

Middle East & North Africa

The Trump administration plans to unveil a new strategy for Africa this week focusing on countering China’s growing influence on the continent, as well as Russia’s attempts to gain footholds in resource-rich, unstable countries, two senior U.S. officials told NBC News. – NBC News

In carrying out the campaign in Yemen, the Saudis have been drawing on help from other Persian Gulf states, like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait, as well as nearby African countries, like Sudan and Egypt. But its most important source of material support is one faraway ally: America. – New York Times

U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Monday Yemen’s warring parties had yet to agree on main sticking points in peace talks, including a ceasefire in Hodeidah and reopening Sanaa airport, but that consultations would continue. – Reuters

Libya’s National Oil Company (NOC) on Monday declared force majeure on exports from the El Sharara oilfield, which was seized at the weekend by a local militia group. – Reuters

Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, his father-in-law, said on Monday that the American intelligence community was still “making their assessments” regarding the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but that the administration was “focused now on the broader region” in the Middle East. – Politico

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen writes: The surprising declaration by Qatar about leaving OPEC on Jan. 1 is a strategic response by the country to a changing energy landscape and the 18-month old ongoing boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. – New York Times

David Pollock writes: New findings from a reliable Egyptian public opinion poll reveal very divided popular attitudes, both on the country’s domestic direction and about its outside partners. Yet Egyptians mostly agree with their government on several key foreign policy issues. A mere 12% want good relations with Iran; even fewer, just 5%, have a positive view of Hezbollah. In sharp contrast, a solid majority (71%) want Arab states to play a constructive role in promoting an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. – Washington Institute

David Pollock writes: The acute border tension this week between Israel and Hezbollah adds urgency to a closer look at the militia’s popular standing in Lebanon—especially in case of war. Fortunately, a reliable new Lebanese public opinion poll shows that some Shia are now voicing reservations about Hezbollah policies—even as Sunnis continue to be solidly negative and Christians divided about the organization. Evidence of these misgivings about Hezbollah among Shia is especially noteworthy given the social taboos and real personal risks they face in criticizing “their own” political/military movement. – Washington Institute


The U.S. and China started the latest round of trade talks with a phone call involving Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. – Wall Street Journal

In a presentation to bankers in 2013, Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co., explained that her company no longer had a stake in Skycom Tech Co., a Hong Kong company that did business with Iran, and that she had quit its board, according to the executive’s defense. – Wall Street Journal

After an unprecedented run of funding large-scale investments in projects from railways to highways in poorer countries across Asia, governments are adopting a far more cautious approach to China’s grand plans for what it regards as its backyard.  – Bloomberg

Trump administration officials think they have the upper hand in the latest round of trade negotiations with China, set to end by March, because Beijing doesn’t have the ability to levy much more in tariffs on imports from the U.S. China, they believe, has already hit the U.S. as hard as it could. – Washington Examiner

Taiwan is reinforcing its five-year-old ban on network equipment produced by Chinese companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp. amid security concerns. – Associated Press

Tyler Cowen writes: I am concerned by Canada’s recent arrest and possible extradition of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. […] My more general worry is that the Western world is overusing the power of its systems of legal and economic cooperation. It is threatening to pull that access when people or institutions do things it doesn’t like, and more domestic laws are taking on a global reach. –Bloomberg

Eli Lake writes: Google has yet to announce its plans for Dragonfly. But one core issue raised by this letter goes far beyond Google: how the Chinese government pressures and deploys its citizens in order to expand its power and influence. – Bloomberg

Claude Barfield writes: While confusion still reigns over the details of just what was agreed to in the G20 meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, clearly the issue of intellectual property (IP) was on the agenda, and, in whatever degree of detail, accusations of Chinese theft of foreign IP and its discriminatory rules against foreign patent holders. – American Enterprise Institute


Three church bells taken from the central Philippines as war booty by American troops more than a century ago were flown to their original home Tuesday, ending a contentious flash point in relations between the two longtime military allies. – New York Times

Villagers in the northern Afghan province of Faryab have appealed to the government for help after being cut off from food supplies for weeks by a Taliban blockade, local people and officials said. – Reuters

The United States said on Monday it had sanctioned three North Korean officials, including a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, for serious human rights abuses and censorship. – Reuters

An Afghan official says a suicide car bomber has struck a security convoy on the outskirts of Kabul, killing four security forces. – Associated Press

Jane Nakano writes: Energy has emerged as a key element in the economic agenda under the Trump administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, which essentially seeks to marshal a counteroffensive to China-led multi-billion-dollar energy and energy infrastructure outreach in the region. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Bruce Klingner writes: Following the Singapore summit, President Donald Trump unilaterally decided to end allied “war games” (a North Korean derogatory term, previously rejected by Washington and Seoul) on the Korean Peninsula. That decision has been the gift that keeps on giving…for North Korea. […] There should be a limit to how long America cancels exercises without some tangible progress on denuclearization. – National Interest


The brazenness of the attempt to kill a Russian defector turned British citizen at his home in southwest England outraged Western governments and led to the expulsion of some 150 Russian diplomats by more than two dozen countries, including the United States. – Washington Post

Russia is seeking to boost its power in Europe and grip over Ukraine with the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, the top U.S. energy diplomat said on Monday, in a step-up of Washington’s rhetoric against the pipeline. – Reuters

The Kremlin on Tuesday rejected U.S. criticism of Russian military flights to Venezuela, saying it had been inappropriate and wrong for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to condemn the flight of two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to Caracas. – Reuters



French leader Emmanuel Macron took action Monday to put cash in the pockets of everyday French citizens as he confronted the violent anti-government street demonstrations that have posed the stiffest challenge to his presidency. – Wall Street Journal

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Monday that she would delay a vote on the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the European Union, rather than face a devastating loss in Parliament that would have threatened both her Brexit deal and her political survival. – Washington Post

The European Union’s highest court ruled Monday that Britain could unilaterally reverse its decision to split from the 28-nation political bloc, a verdict that gave a boost to anti-Brexit campaigners. – Washington Post

A Greek court rejected a terrorist’s request for early release from prison in a case that has drawn the ire of Washington at a time when Athens is cultivating closer ties to the Trump administration. – Wall Street Journal

Under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a fiercely anti-immigrant leader, Hungary has dismissed the compact as a “pro-migration document.” Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia have also rejected the compact, as have Australia and Israel. – New York Times

EU leaders will discuss Brexit at a summit this week, but “we will not renegotiate the deal,” European Council President Donald Tusk said Monday. – Politico

Editorial: Britain’s miserable Brexit debate took another bad turn on Monday when Prime Minister Theresa May delayed a vote on her withdrawal agreement with the European Union. At this late date there still is no consensus in Parliament on whether or how to proceed—and most of the ideas lawmakers are floating are bad in one way or another. – Wall Street Journal

The Americas

An Ohio man was arrested on charges that he attempted to support the Islamic State by planning an attack on a synagogue in Toledo after the Pittsburgh massacre, federal officials announced Monday. – Washington Post

The FBI is helping investigate an attack by several suspected white supremacists on a black disc jockey at a tavern in Washington state over the weekend, authorities said Monday. – Associated Press

A Russian gun rights advocate who built a powerful network of Republican contacts that reached into President Donald Trump’s circle has reached a deal to plead guilty after her arrest for acting as an illegal foreign agent, a court filing by her lawyers indicated Monday. – Agence France-Presse

Two Russian long-range strategic bombers landed in Venezuela Monday for what the government said were air force exercises aimed at strengthening the defense of the leftist-ruled South American country. – Agence France-Presse

The Arab League has told Brazil’s right-wing President-elect Jair Bolsonaro that moving Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would be a setback for relations with Arab countries, in a letter seen by Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

Rosalind S. Helderman and Rosalind S. Helderman write: Butina’s efforts to network with U.S. conservatives coincided with what the U.S. intelligence committee has said was an elaborate effort by the Russian government to interfere with the American electoral system and help elect Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton. – Washington Post

Cyber Security

The vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence gave a sobering assessment of the expanding ability of Russia and China to interfere with U.S. institutions through cyber and disinformation campaigns. – USNI News

The Italian oil-services company Saipem SpA is still assessing the scope and impact of a cyberattack that targeted its servers in the Middle East, according to the head of digital and innovation. “We’re keeping the servers down to understand what happened,” Mauro Piasere said by phone Monday. Once that’s clear “we will be able to load the backup.” – Bloomberg

Graeme Wood writes: Last month, the British government expressed official concern about […] a website devoted to archiving every scrap of propaganda published by a jihadist group of significant size. Jihadology.net, still live as of this writing, is a multiyear effort by Aaron Y. Zelin, an expert in global jihadism. […] Critics believe it serves terrorists […] But I believe that Jihadology is different and should remain open to all. […] The continued operation of Jihadology is a boon for researchers and only modestly useful to our enemies. – The Atlantic


Five United States Marines were declared dead on Tuesday, six days after they went missing when two aircraft crashed off the coast of Japan during a routine training exercise. – New York Times

Japan is reportedly interested in buying another 100 F-35s, including a version of the aircraft that could allow it to operate from its Izumo-class destroyers. If it does, aerospace experts expect that the massive deal will have reverberations beyond Japan, or even beyond China. – Defense News

The Navy’s second Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer arrived in San Diego ahead of its planned commissioning ceremony next month, and the third and final ship of the class was launched over the weekend. – USNI News

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he is “not in the least” worried the U.S. could lose a war with Russia or China when asked point-blank during the Reagan Defense Forum in California. But the Commission on the National Defense Strategy is far less certain. – Washington Examiner

Erin Dunne writes: Bolstering security, however, is not just about spending money, but doing so responsibly — and putting F-35s at a vulnerable base is not a good use of defense dollars. Yet the Air Force is asking Congress to do exactly that. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. Air Force plans to refurbish Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, in hopes of stationing three squadron’s worth of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at the base in the near future, officials announced Friday. – Military.com