Fdd's overnight brief

December 12, 2019

In The News

Iran

In a clear signal that economic pressure on Iran will continue despite a prisoner swap last weekend, the United States hit the Islamic Republic on Wednesday with sanctions on its largest shipping company and airline. – Washington Post

A humanitarian channel to bring food and medicine to Iran could be up and running within months, senior Swiss and U.S. officials told Reuters, helping supply Swiss goods to the struggling population without tripping over U.S. sanctions. – Reuters 

Iran dismissed as interference in its state matters French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for the release of two French nationals jailed in the Islamic Republic since June, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Iran has foiled a major cyber attack on its infrastructure that was launched by a foreign government, the Iranian telecoms minister said on Wednesday, two months after reports of a US cyber operation against the country. – Reuters

Michael Eisenstadt writes: For this to occur, however, the Trump administration needs to eschew statements and steps that undercut deterrence, better align the ends, ways, and means of U.S. strategy, introduce greater uncertainty into Tehran’s cost-benefit calculus, demonstrate greater U.S. acceptance of risk, and present Tehran with threats from multiple directions, so that it perpetually has to prioritize its responses. When dealing with difficult actors like Iran, sometimes Washington must be prepared to escalate a situation in order to ultimately de-escalate it, toward the goal of resolving the crisis nonviolently. – Washington Institute

Rahim Hamid writes: Iranian regime forces and affiliated militias have been taking advantage of the world’s diverted attention to carry out a campaign of slaughter and mass arrests against the country’s Ahwazi Arabs. […]The regime officer’s claims that the attacks were ordered by leadership officials implicate the Iranian regime in these crimes against humanity. These most recent attacks should be understood as part of the regime’s systematic strategy to terrorize the region’s people into acquiescence. – Washington Institute 

Syria

A Turkish plan to move refugees into zones previously controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces may compound instability in already tense areas of northern Syria, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said Wednesday. – Washington Post

Congress wants a report from the intelligence community and the Pentagon about the threat posed by Iran and its militias to a small garrison of special operators near the Iraq-Syria border known as al-Tanf. Al-Tanf houses a handful of American commandos who are tasked with training an anti-ISIS force dubbed Maghaweir Thowra. But national security experts have oft argued the garrison’s existence is meant to check Iranian influence and block a highway that could push arms from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea. – Military Times 

Seth Holmes and Andrej Grubacic write: The bombing of the Democratic Federation of North and East Syria by Turkey goes against everything the United States stands for. We must insist that our politicians take a stand — the UN must send international observers to maintain a real ceasefire that leads to the withdrawal of the Turkish military, and sponsor a true dialogue for the future of Syria that guarantees peace and democracy and includes real representation of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. – The Hill 

Turkey

A U.S. Senate committee backed legislation on Wednesday to impose sanctions on Turkey after its offensive in Syria and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system, the latest move in the chamber to push Republican President Donald Trump to take a harder line against Ankara. – Reuters 

U.S. legislation to impose sanctions against Turkey will not impact Ankara’s use of the Russian S-400 missile defense system even if it passes Congress, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

Rauf Mammadov writes: Turkey has completed the next-to-last piece of the 2,000-mile Southern Gas Corridor, a three-pipeline network that will send gas from Azerbaijan’s huge Shah Deniz field via Georgia and Turkey to Western Europe. […]In addition to bolstering Europe’s energy security, the Southern Gas Corridor will rev up the economies of Azerbaijan, where the pipeline originates, as well as Georgia and other nations that earn transit fees by sending gas on to the continent. – Middle East Institute 

Israel

Israelis will return to the polls in March for an unprecedented third time in less than a year, after a deadline expired Wednesday for lawmakers to come to an agreement on the formation of a new government and who would lead it. – Washington Post

A Palestinian teenage suicide bomber has had a plaque in her honor placed at a school in Bethlehem.  – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

Not long before a 21-year-old Saudi Royal Air Force trainee shot and killed three American sailors on Friday at a naval base in Pensacola, Fla., he called his mother and his brother back home. – New York Times

Saudi Arabian oil company Aramco surpassed Apple as the world’s most valuable public company Wednesday when its shares made their debut on the Saudi stock exchange, part of an ambitious shift away from the very fossil fuels the country’s economy depends on. – Associated Press 

The crisis with Qatar “continues,” a top United Arab Emirates official said after high-level Qatari participation at a Riyadh summit led to speculation that the regional rift could come to an end. – Bloomberg

Iraq

Two Katyusha rockets landed near the “outside perimeter” of Baghdad International Airport on Wednesday, a statement from the military said. – Reuters

A senior U.S. military official said on Wednesday attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq were gathering pace and becoming more sophisticated, pushing all sides closer to an uncontrollable escalation. – Reuters 

Kasra Aarabi writes: But where does Tehran get its leverage over Baghdad? The bond between the Iranian regime and some of Iraq’s most powerful figures dates back four decades. […]Viewed within the broader context of worsening economic conditions and unresponsive, corrupt governance, protesters see Iran as the source of their grievances, fuelling anti-Iranian sentiment on the streets. – Foreign Policy 

Shaan Shaikh writes: Direct counterproliferation efforts have yielded little return thus far. U.S. policymakers have repeatedly communicated to Iraqi leadership on the need to engage with these issues, but Iraqi policymakers have failed to make substantial progress. […]While U.S. dialogue with Iran could potentially reduce the threat, the benefits Tehran stands to gain from an Iraqi proxy force make Iranian concessions unlikely. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Middle East & North Africa

The United States wants to work with Russia to end the conflict in Libya, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, but he added that he reminded Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a day ago of the arms embargo that is in place on the North African country. – Reuters 

Lebanon cannot expect to receive international aid for its battered economy until a new government undertakes serious reforms, diplomats decided at a closed-door meeting in Paris on Wednesday. – Associated Press

Amin Farhad writes: However, indicating the recent souring of relations, Jordan has reclaimed some lands it leased to Israel as part of the 1994 peace treaty. This dramatic diplomatic signal was intended to show Israel that the alliance is not guaranteed, and can be abandoned at any moment. […]Israel, as well as the US, needs to place Jordan in check. While Amman is showing that it has power in this relationship, further escalation of tensions between the two countries could plunge the whole region, already in a tenuous position, into a state of open warfare.- Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

The United States is prepared to take “simultaneous steps” with North Korea to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula, the American ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday, but she also warned the North Koreans against conducting further missile tests. – New York Times

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said it is “imperative” that the United Nations Security Council ease sanctions on North Korea in a bid to support talks between Pyongyang and the United States and “head off a dramatic reversal” of the situation. – Reuters 

North Korean state-backed hackers appear to be cooperating with Eastern European cybercriminals, a report here said on Wednesday, a finding that suggests digital gangsters and state-backed spies are finding common ground online. – Reuters 

China

China’s effort to shape opinions—bolstered by donations and other financial support—has helped to blunt criticism of its treatment of Uighurs by Muslim-majority nations—in contrast to the outspoken condemnation it has received from the U.S. and other Western nations. – Wall Street Journal 

Lawmakers are dismissing China’s threat to retaliate against U.S. technology companies and vowing not to back down on limiting the use of Chinese telecom products from Huawei and ZTE, which they see as a threat to national security. – The Hill 

Sold by her family as a bride to a Chinese man, Samiya David spent only two months in China. When she returned to Pakistan, the once robust woman was nearly unrecognizable: malnourished, too weak to walk, her speech confused and disjointed. […]David’s mysterious death adds to a growing body of evidence of mistreatment and abuses against Pakistani women and girls, mainly Christians, who have been trafficked to China as brides. – Associated Press 

Though they don’t get as much attention as the Navy’s, U.S. Air Force has been conducting its own regular freedom of navigation flight operations in the South China Sea, Commander of Pacific Air Forces Gen. Charles Q. Brown told reporters on Friday. – USNI News

Danish media are reporting that the Chinese government threatened to cancel a trade deal with the tiny Faeroe Islands if the country does not agree to use internet networks supplied by Chinese tech company Huawei. – Associated Press 

Daniel F. Runde writes: Given strong U.S. support for the bank, this newly announced country partnership agreement with China is a provocation. […]As the largest shareholder in the World Bank, the United States should not have the taxpayer money it contributes to the bank used to fund a global competitor. China should be paying for its own development programs. – The Hill 

Hal Brands writes: In practice, this means that the U.S. will help the countries of the Indo-Pacific balance against a rising China that is increasingly trying to narrow the range of choices available to them through the use of political influence campaigns, economic pressures and geopolitical coercion. […]Pluralism also entails rejecting any notion that the U.S. will require allies and partners to sever their ties with Beijing. The U.S., rather, should help its partners take the precautionary steps necessary to ensure that Beijing does not exploit those ties to undermine their economic, technological or political sovereignty. – Bloomberg 

Asia

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi stood before the International Court of Justice and defended her country against genocide allegations, an image that will define the international legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize winner once feted for her fight against repression. – Wall Street Journal 

Three months after Afghanistan’s presidential vote, the entire electoral process is stalled in a dispute that Afghan and Western officials say could pose an even greater threat to stability than the last such crisis, five years ago. – New York Times

Lawmakers in India on Wednesday passed a fundamental change to its citizenship law to include religion as a criterion for nationality for the first time, deepening concerns that a country founded on secular ideals is becoming a Hindu state that treats Muslims as second-class citizens. – Washington Post

The region of Bougainville, a collection of islands in the South Pacific, has voted overwhelmingly to become independent from Papua New Guinea, aiming to become the world’s newest nation. – New York Times

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Macau next week to announce a raft of new policies aimed at diversifying the city’s casino-dependent economy into a financial center, according to over a dozen interviews with officials and corporate executives. – Reuters 

Russia

U.S. lawmakers are pushing ahead with enactment of new sanctions meant to prevent the completion of a new pipeline constructed to carry Russian natural gas to Germany, beneath the Baltic Sea. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia will inform the German ambassador in Moscow on Thursday of its response to the expulsion of two employees from its embassy in Berlin, after calling the diplomat to the Russian foreign ministry, Russian news agencies cited a source. – Reuters 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan pledged to continue cooperation in the military and energy spheres, the Kremlin said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Europe

The United Kingdom goes to the polls Thursday to decide the fate of vexatious, divisive, gridlocked Brexit. The vote — between the two major parties offering the starkest of choices — is set to shape Britain’s sense of itself, its union, economy and relations not only with Europe but also the United States, for years to come. – Washington Post

When The Washington Post released confidential U.S. government documents about the war in Afghanistan this week, European allies watched the reactions closely. For one, many European troops fought and died alongside Americans, despite doubts on both sides of the Atlantic about rosy military pronouncements that are now proved to have been misleading. – Washington Post

Britain’s Jewish community is on edge before a pivotal vote. Thursday’s general election is a bitter contest over two radically different visions of the country, but many say Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has normalized anti-Semitism in public debate to an unprecedented degree. – Washington Post

For the second time since Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union, and with the country still deeply divided over the outcome, voters will head to the polls on Thursday for a general election. – New York Times

Germany on Wednesday rejected an assertion by Russian President Vladimir Putin that it failed to comply with requests from Moscow to extradite a Georgian man who was killed in Berlin in August. – Associated Press 

An adviser at the EU Court of Justice agreed with Croatia on Wednesday that settling the border between Slovenia and Croatia was not a matter on which EU courts should rule. – Reuters 

An accord between Libya and Turkey mapping out maritime boundaries is a violation of international law, European Union leaders will say on Thursday in support of Greece, which objects to the deal, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters. – Reuters 

A pro-Israel event in Spain on Tuesday was disrupted by BDS activists, who attempted to physically attack the participants. – Algemeiner

Ilan Berman writes: Today, perhaps NATO’s most pressing challenge is the lack of a clearly-defined mission. […]All of this matters a great deal for the future of the alliance. NATO’s London summit closed with a communique that painted a decidedly rosy picture of the organization’s health, and spent precious little time discussing the real systemic problems now facing the world’s most important military bloc. That’s a real shame, because until NATO can clearly, unequivocally begin to address its own shortcomings, the state of its union cannot truly be strong. – The Hill 

Africa

A caravan of gunmen ambushed a military post in the West African nation of Niger, killing 71 soldiers in an attack bearing the hallmarks of Islamist groups operating in the region, the country’s defense ministry said Wednesday. – Washington Post

French President Emmanuel Macron and Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou agreed on Thursday to propose a postponement to early 2020 of a meeting of Sahelian country leaders due to take place in France this month, the French presidency said. – Reuters

Karen Milner and David Sacks write: In assessing the prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes globally, the ‘ADL Global 100: An Index of Anti-Semitism’ has long been regarded as an indispensable resource.[…]The relationship between attitudes/sentiment and behavior is indeed indisputably complex and this may have played some role in this disparity. However, when results are as inconsistent with behavioral realities as they are in the South African case, this has to warrant further interrogation of those findings. – Haaretz 

The Americas

The hours-long gun battle between two armed attackers and police at a JC kosher market left six people dead, including one Jersey City police officer, three bystanders and the two gunmen. […]Jewish leaders were unrestrained in characterizing the attack as anti-Semitic. – Washington Post 

A senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump skipped the inauguration of Argentine President Alberto Fernandez and work meetings also planned for Wednesday, unhappy with the presence of officials from the government of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro. – Reuters

Editorial: Tuesday’s murder of three people in a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey, now appears to have been an anti-Semitic attack, with the mayor saying the suspects targeted the market frequented by Hasidic Jews. [….]If anti-Semitism is confirmed as the motive, this would be the deadliest such attack in the U.S. since a white supremacist murdered 11 at a Pittsburgh synagogue last year. In our polarized times, charges of anti-Semitism are often used as a cudgel against political opponents, right or left. Yet anti-Semitism feeds on conspiracy thinking across the political spectrum and is often a warning of a wider social decay. – Wall Street Journal 

Defense

The House passed a $738 billion defense policy bill Wednesday, establishing the Space Force and introducing parental leave for federal workers, even as liberals signaled dissatisfaction with compromises Democratic lawmakers reached by voting against the legislation. – Washington Post

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency and military intelligence must improve coordination to share the latest information on North Korean and Iranian ballistic missiles to design U.S. interceptors and other systems, according to a newly declassified congressional audit. – Bloomberg 

The government’s annual defense policy bill, if signed into law by President Donald Trump, will create several new cyber positions within the military. – Fifth Domain

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the American military risks falling behind China if the Pentagon is forced to delay implementation of a cloud-computing contract worth as much as $10 billion. – Bloomberg 

Long War

The Saudi air force member who shot dead three people last week on a naval base in Florida expressed extreme political views on Twitter in posts dating back to 2015, according to excerpts of an internal Saudi government report. – Wall Street Journal 

Danish police have detained about 20 people suspected of planning a terrorist attack in the country. – Bloomberg 

A Texas man who railed against “infidels” in his support of ISIS, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison for promoting the group online and lying to investigators, prosecutors said. – Fox News 

Trump Administration

The Justice Department’s inspector general on Wednesday revealed new details about an unusual disagreement among top department officials over the propriety of the FBI’s Russia investigation, as the political fallout over the bureau’s actions during the 2016 campaign intensified on Capitol Hill. – Wall Street Journal

Two separate U.S. Department of Justice reviews are likely to reach opposite conclusions about whether the FBI investigation of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign had sufficient cause to look into any ties with Russia, an official watchdog told Congress on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Jared Kushner writes: As the poison of anti-Semitism spreads with dangerous violence throughout Europe, the Middle East, and even here at home — most recently in a horrific attack on Tuesday in Jersey City — President Trump is taking meaningful action to crush this evil. – New York Times