Fdd's overnight brief

December 12, 2018

In The News


The dramatic standoff over the arrest of a Chinese tech executive on charges related to Iran-sanctions violations deepened Tuesday, when a bail hearing in the case was overshadowed by news of the arrest of a former Canadian diplomat in China — and unexpected comments from President Trump. – Washington Post

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

Iran has confirmed a recent ballistic missile test that was condemned by the United States. The semi-official Fars news agency on Tuesday quoted Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying the test was an “important one.” Hajizadeh, who leads the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, said the American outcry “indicates that the test was very important to them.” – Associated Press

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said on Tuesday he had discussed his country’s sanctions against Iran with Iraqi energy officials, but did not provide details. – Reuters

A top US State Department official on Tuesday warned officials from twelve key nations in the Western Hemisphere that Hezbollah — Iran’s Lebanon-based Shi’a proxy terror group — is “just as dangerous and just as close” as ISIS, the Sunni Islamist organization responsible for mass atrocities in Iraq and Syria. – Algemeiner

Farzin Nadimi writes: On November 5, the U.S. Treasury Department published an expanded set of sanctions against Iran with the intention of bringing the country’s oil export activity—and, by extension, its oil-dependent economy—to a standstill. As with previous sanctions, Tehran is expected to push back against these measures by exploiting its geographical advantages and relations with neighboring countries, and by drawing on its long experience at running a “resilient economy.” – Washington Institute


Syria’s government has been using a little-known anti-terrorism law to seize property from dissidents and their families as it takes back control of areas that were held by rebel groups, rights groups and some of the people affected say. – Reuters

Up to a 250,000 Syrian refugees could return to their devastated homeland in 2019, while many others face problems with documentation and property that the Damascus government must help resolve, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday. – Reuters

But not everyone wants to go home just yet. While Beirut says 90,000 Syrians have returned this year, more than a million remain in Lebanon, including many who fear reprisals or army conscription, or whose homes were destroyed in the war. – Reuters


The small town of Abassan in the Gaza Strip is a tough place to infiltrate: Everyone knows everyone and outsiders passing through quickly attract attention. So when strangers drove through town, suspicious Hamas security men stopped the van and questioned those inside.[…] With their covers about to be blown, the Israeli undercover forces in the vehicle opened fire, setting off a fierce battle that left eight people dead and triggered a brief but intense round of cross-border fighting. – Associated Press

Nick Cave has elaborated on his stance regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, calling the cultural boycott of Israel “cowardly and shameful”. – The Guardian

An Israeli human rights group disputed on Tuesday the army’s account that it killed a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank during a riot on Dec. 4, saying CCTV video footage showed no such disturbances when he was shot. – Reuters

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation targeting individuals responsible for Hamas and Hezbollah’s use of human shields as a war tactic in their battles with Israel. Its passage follows approval of the bill in the Senate. – Jerusalem Post

Australia’s cabinet met on Tuesday and discussed recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but no decision was announced. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli border guards shot dead a Palestinian driver who they said tried to ram his car into them outside of Hebron on Tuesday morning. In a separate incident, in the northern Jordan Valley, a Palestinian man allegedly accelerated his car toward a group of Border Police officers.  – Times of Israel

The United States denied an Israeli request to place sanctions on Lebanon, a day before the IDF launched an operation to uncover and destroy what it says is a network of cross-border tunnels snaking into the country from its northern neighbor, a senior Israeli official has reportedly said. – Times of Israel

A year after President Donald Trump’s historic address formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordering the State Department to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel is preparing a special embassy quarter in the historic city. – Arutz Sheva

Zev Chafets writes: The prospect of a snap Israeli general election has faded for the moment, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition surviving the sudden departure of a key ally. […]Many of Netanyahu’s critics see this as golden opportunity to bring him down. But I think they are too optimistic. For one thing, the prime minister is popular, more so than any of his key rivals. For another, it is not certain that he will be indicted before the election. And finally, even if he is, that may not stop him from running — and winning. – Bloomberg

Judith Ornstein writes: Here we are at the end of 2018 and there seems to be a blind spot with some who stand together against BDS but don’t notice the cultural version unless it’s a high profile hater like Roger Waters or offering support for Netta, and Israel hosting the Eurovision Song Contest. This is all good stuff but there is another level where we can take effective action. – Times of Israel


Qais al-Khazali gained notoriety on the battlefields of Iraq, fighting to expel U.S. troops after they invaded 15 years ago. Now Mr. Khazali wants to oust American forces again, but this time through the Iraqi political system after making major gains in an election earlier this year. – Wall Street Journal

Iraq’s stability rests on revitalizing its energy sector and weaning itself off natural gas imports, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Tuesday during a rare visit by a member of President Trump’s Cabinet as Washington seeks to weaken Iraq’s ties to Iran. – Washington Post

From a desert hillside guarded by Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitaries, commander Qasim Muslih can spot Islamic State hideouts across the frontier in Syria. But he also keeps a wary eye on U.S. warplanes soaring overhead. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia

President Trump on Tuesday doubled down on his support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even as members of the Senate push for action in the response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – The Hill

Marc A. Thiessen writes: Today, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Trump is — like Bush — in an impossible position. The United States must stand for human rights. But it must also preserve its relationship with Saudi Arabia, the only nation in the Middle East that can serve as a bulwark against Iran, the main strategic threat to U.S. interests in the region. – Washington Post

Michael Singh writes: To maintain a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, there are several steps the United States can take to make its diplomacy with Riyadh more effective and make clear that U.S. support is not unconditional. At the same time, the Khashoggi episode should serve as a wake-up call for American policymakers looking to work increasingly through allies in the Middle East as the United States shifts its attention elsewhere. U.S. policy toward other partners in the region must also be reset if these partnerships are to remain effective. – War on the Rocks

David Pollock writes: In the wake of the Khashoggi scandal, a rare new public opinion poll in Saudi Arabia shows wide popular concern about corruption and a number of other internal problems. At the same time, the survey data demonstrates only minority support for the official initiative of Islamic reform. Ironically, then, this prime locus of support on the part of outside powers for Saudi policy shifts is also precisely the area of greatest internal debate. – Washington Institute


Cool Yemen’s warring parties are being pressed to agree thorny confidence-building measures, including the status of a strategic Red Sea port, in consultations on Wednesday before the close of the first U.N.-led peace talks in two years. – Reuters

Two launch units for anti-tank guided missiles recovered by a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen appear to have been manufactured in Iran during 2016 and 2017, according to a confidential United Nations report seen by Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters

The United Nations proposed at initial talks between Yemen’s warring parties on Tuesday that they withdraw from the contested port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions facing famine, and place it under the control of an interim entity. – Reuters

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will attend the Yemen peace talks in Sweden on Thursday, the closing day, a UN-authorized source said on Tuesday. The United Nations has in recent days brought Yemen’s warring sides together in Sweden for peace talks, the first in two years. – Reuters

House Republicans are moving to prevent members from forcing a vote for the rest of the year on any resolution that attempts to use the War Powers Act to cut off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen. – The Hill

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt says its security forces have killed at least 27 suspected militants in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula and along its porous border with Libya. – Associated Press

With the conflict now in its eighth year and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan refugees following in the Syrians’ footsteps, Turkey’s warm embrace of those in need is starting to go cold. An economic decline that makes what few jobs there are harder to come by and erodes the spending power of those who are in work is fanning anger at government policy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – Bloomberg

Mohamed Maher writes: The United States could lose the benefits of its long-term investment in Egypt due to the continuing rapprochement between Cairo and Moscow, which seems to have hit a new peak after four years in development. Evidence from the past year indicates that this trend towards cooperation between the two states is significantly more than just a fleeting trend or an attempt by the Egyptians to improve their negotiating position with the United States. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Soldiers from North and South Korea are set to verify the dismantlement of guard posts in the demilitarised zone Wednesday, Seoul said, after crossing into each other’s territory peacefully for the first time. – Agence France-Presse

North and South Korean officials inspected work to ease tension on their militarized border on Wednesday, checking on the demolition of bunkers and probing for secret tunnels, despite scant progress on persuading the North to give up nuclear arms. – Reuters

Over the course of 2018, nuclear facilities have been destroyed and no new weapons tested. […]But since then, denuclearization progress has been stuttering. Washington and Seoul face a choice between easing sanctions to engender trust, or maintaining maximum pressure. Currently Professor of the Practice in Diplomacy at the University of Denver, Ambassador Hill spoke to TIME by phone about the best way to leverage the recent warming of relations between Seoul and Pyongyang to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. – TIME


A Canadian judge granted bail to Huawei Technologies Co. finance chief Meng Wanzhou, setting the stage for a new confrontation with China as the U.S. seeks the executive’s extradition to face charges over violating Iran sanctions. – Wall Street Journal

Beijing sought to ease tensions with Washington as its top trade negotiator told U.S. officials that China was planning to reduce auto tariffs and boost purchases of soybeans and other crops, according to people in both capitals briefed on the discussions. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. government investigators increasingly believe that Chinese state hackers were most likely responsible for the massive intrusion reported last month into Marriott’s Starwood chain hotel reservation system, a breach that exposed the private information and travel details of as many as 500 million people, according to two people briefed on the government investigation. – Washington Post

China said Wednesday that a former Canadian diplomat who has been detained in Beijing was employed by an organization that was “not registered in China legally,” citing a law passed in 2016 that has had a chilling effect on the work of foreign charities, universities and nonprofit groups in the country. […]Mr. Kovrig was detained on Monday night by the Beijing bureau of the Ministry of State Security, the group said Wednesday. – New York Times

For many in China, the arrest of a senior executive from tech giant Huawei on a U.S. warrant is not about laws or sanctions or justice. It is about national pride. The fraud allegations against Meng Wanzhou — Huawei Technologies’s chief financial officer and daughter of the founder — fit neatly into the Chinese narrative about American efforts to undercut China’s rise as an innovator and rival, especially in the race for the next step in smartphone technology, known as 5G. – Washington Post

The United States is considering issuing a new warning to U.S. citizens, including business executives, traveling to China after Canada arrested a senior Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] executive at Washington’s request, two sources said on Tuesday. – Reuters

US President Donald Trump said in an interview Tuesday that he may intervene in the US case against a top Huawei executive detained and bailed by Canada if it helps seal a trade deal with China. – Agence France-Presse

Eli Lake writes: The long game here is the only one that matters, despite the backdrop of a deepening high-tech war with the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer in Canada at Washington’s behest. To quell Trump’s public hankering, Beijing has given him a win to tweet about, but withheld an economic victory. In doing so, it’s hoping to be seen as taking the high road in trade negotiations. That’s the art of the deal, the Chinese way. – Bloomberg


At least 12 people were killed on the outskirts of Kabul on Tuesday when explosives in a vehicle detonated near a convoy of security forces, Afghan officials said, and at least 12 others were wounded. – New York Times

Japan is nearing development of its first aircraft carrier since World War II. A draft of a new national defense plan, released Tuesday, says Japan should convert an existing flat-topped destroyer into a ship capable of launching short-takeoff jet fighters such as American F-35Bs. – Wall Street Journal

A political refugee who spoke out against a powerful ruling family in the Gulf moved one step closer on Tuesday to being extradited to his native Bahrain by the Thai authorities. – New York Times

The Philippine Congress approved a 12-month extension of martial law in the restive Mindanao region on Wednesday, after President Rodrigo Duterte argued for maintaining tough security measures to stop Muslim extremists from regrouping. – Reuters

In the race to lure companies looking for alternative sites amid the U.S.-China trade war, Vietnam wields a slew of advantages over its rivals. Vietnam was ranked No. 1 among seven emerging Asian countries as manufacturing destinations by Natixis SA, which looked at demographics, wages and electricity costs, rankings in doing business and logistics, and manufacturing as a share of total foreign direct investment. – Bloomberg


The young Russian operative called her strategy the “Diplomacy Project,” an elaborate, multiyear scheme to infiltrate the conservative movement in the United States in hopes of cementing bonds to benefit the Kremlin. […]But with a plea, she will become the first Russian national convicted of working to influence U.S. policy around the time of the 2016 election. – Washington Post

Russian space officials are trumpeting this history of grit and ingenuity in orbit as they hope to persuade Washington to continue joint piloted exploration in the next decade rather than split into separate paths. They face significant hurdles. – New York Times

Norbert Rottgen writes: One thing is clear – there are no quick solutions to tensions between Europe and Russia. The EU needs to maintain dialogue with Russia, for otherwise there will be no peace in Ukraine. In dealing with Putin, we need strategic patience and, where possible, must identify common interests. Europeans have perhaps been too naive in the past, but if we stick together we can tailor policies that will work for the future. – The Guardian


The European Union won’t reopen a hard-fought deal it reached on the terms of the U.K.’s exit from the bloc, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Tuesday, but British Prime Minister Theresa May later insisted she was picking up support from fellow leaders to soften the deal enough to gain critical support for it at home. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. and the European Union are squaring off at the World Trade Organization in a dispute that threatens to cripple the WTO and undermine Western efforts to counter China’s state capitalism. – Wall Street Journal

A gunman killed three people in a suspected terror attack near a Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg, striking a blow in the heart of Europe. – Wall Street Journal

French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to defuse antigovernment protests with tax cuts risks bending European Union rules on budget discipline, threatening to anger Italy and other countries in the bloc that complain France gets special treatment. – Wall Street Journal

MPs have expressed concern over the government’s flagship £1.28bn global security programme, saying a lack of transparency and accountability lends weight to allegations from rights groups that taxpayers are unwittingly complicit in human rights abuses. – The Guardian

Marcus Walker writes: The travails of Mr. Macron and Mrs. May, and Ms. Merkel’s declining authority, means Europe’s major powers are all focused on domestic political survival at a time when the U.S., China and others are remaking the international order, from trade to security. […]“The collective consequence is that it makes it hard to see a way forward on all the policy challenges that Europe will face over the next several years, from trade to immigration to reforming the eurozone.” – Wall Street Journal

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Putin’s Russia and Trump’s U.S. love the Yellow Vests because Macron has taken a stand against both Putin and Trump — and because both are objectively interested in a weaker European Union. […]But the core reasons for the protests are domestic, as Macron clearly realizes given his belated — and likely misguided — attempt to appease the protesters. – Bloomberg

The Americas

A man shot four people dead in a cathedral outside of Sao Paulo on Tuesday, before killing himself in one of the worst mass shootings in Brazil’s recent history. Euler Grandolpho, 49, can be seen on video surveillance footage walking pew by pew spraying parishioners with bullets while they scrambled to exit the church. – Washington Post

Police in Menlo Park, Calif., are investigating a bomb threat against the city’s Facebook office, according to multiple reports. The Facebook building has been evacuated and law enforcement is on the scene, NBC Bay Area reported. – The Hill

Two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons have landed in ally Venezuela, a show of support for Venezuela’s socialist government that has infuriated Washington. – Reuters


The U.S. Navy and Missile Defense Agency continued a hot streak Tuesday when they successfully shot down an intermediate-range ballistic missile target in space from its Hawaii-based Aegis Ashore facility. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy is set to deactivate its F-35 Lightning II squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and plans to move operations to Naval Air Station Lemoore, centralizing its Joint Strike Fighter operations out west. – Military.com

The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group has sailed out of U.S. 6th Fleet and is on its way back to its homeport in Norfolk, Va. The strike group is wrapping up the second of two back-to-back three-month deployments as part of the Navy’s first attempt to demonstrate the Pentagon’s dynamic force employment concept. – USNI News

Trump Administration

Trump’s increasing desperation to deliver on his core campaign promise played out publicly Tuesday during a remarkable televised Oval Office meeting with Democratic leaders during which the president threatened to shut down the federal government this month if he fails to secure at least $5 billion for the project. – Washington Post

President Trump extended his timeline on Tuesday for choosing a new chief of staff to succeed John F. Kelly, telling reporters that he was in “no rush” and that the search process could drag on for weeks as the White House scrambles to find a suitable candidate to lead the West Wing at a pivotal moment. – New York Times

The Trump administration announced Tuesday two new nominations for key financial policy posts. Mark Calabria, currently the chief economist to Vice President Mike Pence, has been nominated to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency for a full five-year term. The term of the current director, Obama appointee Mel Watt, expires in early January. – Washington Examiner