Fdd's overnight brief

December 13, 2018

In The News


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ramped up the campaign against Iran another notch Wednesday by urging the U.N. Security Council to prohibit the Islamic republic from conducting ballistic missile tests. – Washington Post

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iranians on Wednesday to stay united, saying the United States would exploit divisions and was likely to launch plots against Iran in 2019. – Reuters

Israel does not rule out acting militarily inside Iran’s border if it feels that is necessary for its security, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Anthony H. Cordesman and Nicholas Harrington write: The military balance between Iran, its Arab neighbors, and the United States has been a critical military issue in the Middle East since at least the rise of Nasser in the 1950s. The risks this arms race presents in terms of a future conflict have not diminished with time, and many elements of the regional arms race have accelerated sharply in recent years. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Hundreds of unidentified bodies which seem to have been tortured have been found in a former Islamic State group stronghold, Syrian state media says. – BBC

U.S.-backed Syrian forces have pushed deep into the last major urban stronghold held by Islamic State on the eastern banks of the Euphrates, a spokesman for the fighters and a former resident said on Thursday. – Reuters

Alexey Khlebnikov writes: As the military phase of the Syrian conflict winds down, the political one is gaining momentum. This is not to say that the most complicated part of the civil war is over, but rather the opposite: The conflict is now entering a more difficult period in which the parties will be forced to address the most sensitive issues about postwar Syria, including reconstruction, return of refugees, political reforms, reconciliation, spheres of influence, and other challenges. – Middle East Institute


Turkey is set to launch a military intervention in northeastern Syria to combat U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels it regards as terrorists, drawing a stern warning from the Pentagon and signaling new tension between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. – Wall Street Journal

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that any unilateral action into northeast Syria was of grave concern and “unacceptable,” after Turkey announced that it would launch a new military operation in the region within days to target Kurdish militia fighters. – Reuters

Michael Rubin: By even suggesting the United States views the Kurds as expendable, Jeffrey and the Trump administration have effectively given the Turks a green light to invade Syrian Kurdistan. And, indeed, that is a signal which Erdogan has been seeking. […]The lesson should have been clear: Humoring dictators has consequences. Alas, that seems to be a lesson lost, as Turkey moves to ramp up its incitement and involvement in Syria. – Washington Examiner

Gonul Tol and Guney Yildiz write: Turkey has tried hard to break the partnership between the U.S. and the YPG, to no avail. A potential attack against YPG targets east of the Euphrates is not likely to get the job done either. To Ankara, the best solution to its “U.S. problem” might seem like a U.S. withdrawal from Syria. […]The alternative to the status quo is a Syria in which Turkey’s archenemy is under the control of an Assad regime that has used the Kurds against Turkey for decades or a Russia that supports Kurdish autonomy. – Middle East Institute

Bulent Aliriza writes: As the Khashoggi murder fades from the front pages, it is also ceding its prominent position on the agenda of the U.S.-Turkish bilateral relationship. […]However, as the interest of the U.S. media inevitably drifts elsewhere—not least to Trump’s growing legal problems—attention shifts back to all the other seemingly intractable issues on the U.S.-Turkish agenda. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


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 battles with Israel. The passage follows approval of the bill in the Senate. The legislation, titled the Sanctioning of the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act, will now go to the president’s desk and await his signature. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF killed the son of a West Bank Hamas leader and arrested suspected of links to the terrorist cell that wounded seven Israeli civilians at a bus stop outside of the Ofra settlement earlier this week. – Jerusalem Post

A group of IDF reservists is set to file a complaint with the International Criminal Court in the Hague against Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for their use of human shields in the coming weeks. – Jerusalem Post

Two Border Police officers were lightly hurt in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Old City early Thursday morning. – Ynet

After a two-month manhunt, Israeli forces found and killed a Palestinian man suspected of carrying out a brutal terror attack in which he shot dead two Israeli coworkers in a West Bank factory, the Shin Bet security service said early Thursday. – Times of Israel

The Hamas terror group early Thursday claimed credit for the deadly shooting attack outside the Ofra settlement earlier this week, saying the suspect shot dead by Israeli forces several hours earlier was one of its members. – Times of Israel

On December 4, 2018, Israel launched Operation Northern Shield to find and destroy tunnels excavated by Hizbullah under its northern border, which constitutes a violation of UNSC Resolution 1701. Two days later, a UNIFIL delegation visiting the location confirmed the existence of a tunnel there. […]This report reviews criticism in Lebanon of Hizbullah’s tunnels under the Lebanon-Israel border. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement—BDS for short—attempts to persuade the world to break off all economic and diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. Americans who’ve heard of BDS may think of it as a crotchet of left-wing cranks, but it now has budding support in Congress. – Weekly Standard

Saudi Arabia

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to directly answer Wednesday whether he believes the denials from Saudi Arabia’s crown prince of involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and he repudiated part of the reported findings of the CIA, the agency Pompeo led until earlier this year. – Washington Post

Saudi Arabia is seeking an alliance with six countries bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, a strategic area vital to global shipping and increasingly an arena of contention with regional rivals like Iran, Turkey and Qatar. – Reuters

U.S. Representative Eliot Engel said on Wednesday the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold hearings after the first of the year on all aspects of Saudi behavior, including the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Reuters

Assaf Orion and Simon Henderson write: Whether Saudi Arabia enacts any of these policies or comes up with other surprises remains to be seen. Despite his father’s continued presence on the throne and the ongoing fallout from the Khashoggi incident, MbS is still the kingdom’s main decisionmaker, and his disruptive leadership style is, for better or worse, considerably different from that of his predecessors. Analysts and decisionmakers should be prepared for what was previously unexpected: the crown prince’s “black swans.” – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The Senate voted Wednesday to formally start debating a measure to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, setting up what is likely to be the first among several bipartisan rebukes of President Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia that senators hope to deliver. – Washington Post

Even before taking over Qatar’s energy policy in a government reshuffle last month, Qatar Petroleum (QP) CEO Saad al-Kaabi had long wanted the Gulf state to leave OPEC. – Reuters

Ahmed Marwane writes: Corruption is considered one of the most serious and widespread threats to national stability, security, and societal well-being since it can destabilize the pillars of the state such as health care, education, and other institutions of governance.Yet Algeria cannot eliminate corruption as long as it lacks a strong legal system that promotes justice independent from the executive and governmental apparatus. – Washington Institute

Abdelillah Bendaoudi writes: Although campaigning is formally set to begin two months prior, Algeria will hold presidential elections in April 2019. […]Indicating a greater willingness to support young Algerians active in the political process would create a serious debate, which could in turn make a small but real impact on the election campaigns and subsequent voting. uncertain period. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korea on Wednesday indicated that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was unlikely to visit Seoul before the end of the year—an objective the sides had laid out at a summit in September. Executing the trip in that time would be difficult, said Yoon Young-chan, a spokesman for President Moon Jae-in. – Wall Street Journal

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is restricting some international relief agencies from delivering humanitarian assistance to needy North Koreans, in the latest effort to compel Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear arms program. – Foreign Policy

North and South Korean soldiers have made several friendly crossings into each other’s territory for the first time since the countries were divided. – BBC News


Chinese officials are revising a controversial government program aimed at securing global technology dominance in a bid to address one of President Trump’s chief complaints about China’s trade practices, according to two individuals briefed on the plans. – Washington Post

A senior FBI official on Wednesday said that Chinese economic espionage as well as efforts to steal U.S. research and influence American discourse amount to “the most severe counterintelligence threat” facing the United States today. – Washington Post

China is preparing to replace an industrial policy savaged by the Trump administration as protectionist with a new program promising greater access for foreign companies, people briefed on the matter said. – Wall Street Journal

Beijing’s detention of a former Canadian diplomat is being seen by friends and former colleagues as payback for Canada’s arrest of a well-connected Chinese telecommunications executive at the behest of the U.S., potentially escalating diplomatic tensions already roiling the global economy. – Wall Street Journal

China’s rise in political power and wealth has created a new generation of business tycoons whose clout and cash can open doors. Former Washington officials, many with access to the White House and to American military and intelligence institutions, have proven to be eager to help. But the fall of Ye Jianming shows that China’s lack of openness can make it difficult to know who, exactly, is sitting on the Chinese side of the table. – New York Times

The Trump administration wants to see an increase in U.S. investment and trade in Africa as part of a new strategy aimed at countering China’s growing influence on the continent. – Associated Press

Russia’s election interference and social media propaganda campaigns have overshadowed a “greater, more existential threat” from China, said Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley. At a Judiciary hearing today on Chinese espionage activities, Grassley (R-Iowa) said the media hysteria over Russia neglects “China’s efforts to overtake the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower in all phases of society.” – Politico

Christopher Bodeen writes: China is playing hardball with the detention of a former Canadian diplomat days after Canada arrested a leading Chinese executive. In many ways it looks like a classic Chinese response to perceived slights: Deny any wrongdoing, seize the moral high ground and exert maximum pressure to extract concessions. But Beijing’s detention of Michael Kovrig also reflects an increasingly bold approach to international disputes under President Xi Jinping, who has overseen a vast expansion of China’s diplomatic, military and economic power – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: Not all Chinese citizens are drones under the thumb of Xi, eager to erase China’s ethnic and cultural diversity or to plan for regional conquest. But, that is no reason to ever let the US guard down. If Communist China is seeking to give a gold star to its most loyal cadres, then there is no reason why the United States should not use that information to its full advantage. – National Interest

Dan Blumenthal writes: The recent arrest reveals just one element of Huawei breaking of international laws and practices. And, the Chinese Communist Party’s attempt to browbeat Canada to break its own laws shows how close Huawei and the party really are. If Beijing succeeds in its years-long plan for Huawei to become the dominant player the mobile industry, then it will be China—not the West—setting the ‘rules of the road’ for the next generation of technology. Given Huawei’s record, this is a truly troublesome future to consider. – National Interest

Nina Shea and Bob Fu write: As Christians worldwide celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago, these new Christians and all others persecuted for their faith in China must not be forgotten. We should call on our political and religious leaders to urgently speak up for them and to strenuously press President Xi to respect religious freedom. – Hudson Institute

South Asia

Afghan forces abandoned a remote district in the west of the country, leaving the area to Taliban insurgents after the government failed to resupply dozens of troops stationed there, provincial officials said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Afghan forces, backed by U.S. advisers and air power, are targeting Taliban field commanders seen as a major obstacle to possible peace talks, as they step up military pressure on the insurgents, security officials said. – Reuters

Pakistan on Wednesday denounced the United States for placing it on a list of countries violating religious freedoms, calling the designation politically motivated. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday added mainly Muslim Pakistan to the U.S. list of “countries of particular concern”, which have violated religious freedoms or tolerated abuses against religious groups. – Reuters


NATO edged out Russia in the struggle for influence in Europe’s former communist east once this year. Now it’s heading for another showdown at the site of the continent’s worst violence since World War II. – Bloomberg

Russia has declared a Slovak military diplomat persona non grata following Bratislava’s expulsion of a Russian diplomat suspected of spying last month. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russian authorities say they have detained seven people suspected of financially supporting two extremist organizations in the Middle East. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


Prime Minister Theresa May survived a humiliating challenge to her leadership Wednesday night, beating back a no-confidence vote triggered by rebels in her Conservative Party who oppose her compromise deal on how to leave the European Union. – Washington Post

Police conducted a frantic manhunt Wednesday for a gunman who opened fire at a Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg, killing at least three and injuring several others. Hundreds of police officers were combing the city in search of the gunman, a suspected radical Islamist who was wounded in an exchange of fire with soldiers before fleeing the scene, according to French authorities. – Wall Street Journal

French Jews have become a focal point for the “Yellow Vest” protests across France, with an increase in anti-Semitism by demonstrators. In recent days, the Jewish community has reported numerous anti-Semitic videos, graffiti and actual threats appearing in central locations and on social media. – Ynet

The Americas

President Trump sought Wednesday to gain leverage from a terrorist attack at a Christmas market in France in a battle with Democratic congressional leaders over funding of his long-promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. – Washington Post

Two Russian bombers that flew to Venezuela on Monday as a gesture of support for socialist President Nicolás Maduro will leave on Friday and return to Russia, the White House said, following a diplomatic spat over the visit. – Wall Street Journal

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday, without providing evidence, that U.S. national security adviser John Bolton was leading a plan to invade the South American country, which is increasingly at odds with Washington as its socialist economy collapses. – Reuters

Proposals for reforming the World Trade Organization fail to deal with problems raised by the United States, the U.S. envoy to the WTO told its General Council on Wednesday. – Reuters

A Jewish student center at New York University was temporarily closed on Wednesday after an anti-Zionist student issued threatening messages, before reopening during the afternoon. – Algemeiner

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spoke by telephone with U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday and discussed the issue of migration, he said in a tweet. – Reuters

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Wednesday warned the United States not to politicize extradition cases, a day after President Donald Trump said he could intervene in the affair of a Chinese executive detained in Canada at Washington’s request. – Reuters


The Navy’s first F-35C operational squadron completed its carrier qualifications and was deemed “safe for flight” – the final step in the squadron’s transition from the F/A-18E Super Hornet to the F35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, and an important step in the journey towards reaching initial operational capability. – USNI News

The Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition official has been tapped to pin on his fourth star and take the reins of Air Force Materiel Command. – Defense News

The Sikorsky-Boeing Defiant design will not have its first flight in 2018, following a technical issue discovered during ground tests. – Defense News

Trump Administration

A court in Ukraine has ruled that officials in the country violated the law by revealing, during the 2016 presidential election in the United States, details of suspected illegal payments to Paul Manafort. – New York Times

The special counsel’s investigation was grinding relentlessly onward, with President Trump’s former national security adviser pleading for leniency in his case and his former fixer about to be sentenced for his crimes. But Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, was in Manama, Bahrain, on Tuesday, meeting with the king and the interior minister of an important United States ally in the Middle East. – New York Times

President Donald Trump has downplayed the significance of several of his associates having had dealings with Russians before and during his 2016 presidential campaign as “peanut stuff.” – Newsweek

Senators found themselves in an unprecedented, but not unexpected, parliamentary situation Wednesday afternoon, faced with language in the statute of the War Powers Resolution that gave them no direction as to the terms under which amendments could be considered. To resolve that problem, senators voted 96-3, to set a precedent declaring that amendments to such joint resolutions must meet the stringent test of germaneness. – Roll Call