Fdd's overnight brief

December 17, 2018

In The News


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of diplomats on Sunday that Israeli agents continue to operate inside Iran as part of Israel’s efforts to thwart the nuclear ambitions of the Islamic republic. – Times of Israel

Iranian authorities have confirmed the death of a social media activist jailed on security charges, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported on Sunday, after Western rights groups said he had died following a 60-day hunger strike in prison. – Reuters

An Iranian asylum seeker who raped a teenage girl has been spared deportation even though a judge believed his conversion to Christianity was a deliberate ploy to cheat the justice system. The 38-year-old man, who arrived in the UK in 2006, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment after raping the 17-year-old in 2012. But after his release from prison, a judge ruled that his claim to be Christian meant his deportation to Iran would be a breach of his human rights. – Telegraph

Abe Greenwald writes: Today, as Iran seeks to infiltrate our defense infrastructure and gain access to the nuclear files of its neighbors, the only foreign-policy issue that holds the public’s attention is the fight to end military support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Iranian proxies in Yemen. Withholding American assistance is supposed to make the Saudis pay for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. But doing so would be a massive boost for Iran. – Commentary Magazine

Matthew Levitt writes: Today, Iran provides weapons, training, funding, and intelligence support to component elements of this Shi‘a Liberation Army. […]This new evidence of Iran’s missile proliferation is compelling, and represents evidence of clear violations of several UN Security Council resolutions banning Iran from exporting weapons. But it is only the latest manifestation of Iran’s support for terrorist activities targeting its neighbors in the Gulf and beyond – The American Interest


Sudan’s president on Sunday became the first Arab League leader to visit Syria since civil war erupted there nearly eight years ago. Omar al-Bashir was greeted at the Damascus airport by Syrian President Bashar Assad before they both headed to the presidential palace, where they held talks on bilateral relations and the latest developments in Syria and the region, according to the state-run news agency. – Associated Press

A bomb blast in a northwestern Syrian town held by Turkish-backed opposition forces killed at least eight people and wounded two dozen Sunday, activists and local security said, the latest in a series of attacks along the border where Turkey has troops. – Associated Press

Turkey and other world powers would consider working with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if he won a democratic election, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a conference in Qatar on Sunday. – Reuters

Fighting against the Islamic State group in its last enclave in eastern Syria “is going very well,” a U.S. official said Saturday as U.S.-backed Syrian fighters battled the extremists on the edge of the largest urban area they still hold. – Associated Press


The Trump administration is working furiously to avert a new Turkish military offensive against the U.S.’s Kurdish partners in Syria, hoping to forestall an assault that could endanger U.S. forces working in the country and derail the fight against Islamic State. – Wall Street Journal

The Turkish president is threatening to mount a new incursion into northern Syria, accusing the United States of failing to tackle the security threats Turkey faces in the region. – New York Times

Turkey’s foreign minister claimed Sunday that President Trump is moving to extradite an opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the U.S. “In Argentina, Trump told Erdogan they were working on extraditing [Turkish cleric Fethullah] Gulen and other people,” – Washington Examiner

Guney Yildiz writes: The Pentagon responded to Erdogan’s statement, saying, “Unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party[…]. But the Turks have heard such tough talk from the U.S. before without any action, and they have little reason to think it will be any different this time around. Given the indecision on the part of the U.S., Turkey’s leader might be hoping to take advantage of what he sees as the disarray among American policymakers to dictate his own terms. – Middle East Institute


Australia announced on Saturday that it now recognizes West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and will move its Tel Aviv embassy once a peace settlement is reached. – New York Times 

Facebook has blocked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair for 24 hours after he wrote a post criticizing the social media platform as “thought police” and sharing previously banned content. – Associated Press

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have gathered in Gaza City for a rally marking the 31st anniversary of the militant Hamas group’s establishment. Hamas fighters in military fatigues paraded with rockets and heavy machineguns during Sunday’s rally. The Islamist group said the large turnout reflects widespread support despite domestic and external challenges. – Associated Press

The United Nations and the Palestinian Authority on Monday appealed for $350 million in humanitarian relief for Palestinians next year, saying that they needed more but had to be realistic in the face of “record-low” funding. – Reuters

Israel signalled displeasure on Sunday with Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as its capital, with a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying it was a mistake to gainsay Israeli control over the whole city. – Reuters

In northern Israel the IDF continues to dig and expose tunnels and break apart Hezbollah’s attack array. What’s more, it’s turning the northern region into a pilgrimage site for politicians armed with windbreakers, who are there to shoot declarations toward the border – which are really meant for the Israelis, meant to increase our self confidence and calm our fears. – Jerusalem Post

The Russian government has warned Lebanon not to permit violations of Israeli territory by the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, the London-based Arabic media outlet Asharq Al-Awsat reported. – Arutz Sheva

Former chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau Khaled Mashal said that resistance is the basis of day-to-day life for people under occupation[…].” Explaining that the abandonment of Jihad leads to humiliation and death, Mashal said that resistance is the pinnacle of life. He criticized Fatah for not engaging in “resistance” and added: “The West Bank, which spans over 5,600 square kilometers, and which has mountains and valleys… has everything necessary for guerrilla warfare.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

Assaf Orion writes: In recent weeks, Israel has sought to address Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnels, asked Washington to impose sanctions on Beirut, and conferred with U.S. officials about countering precision missile production inside Lebanon. As tensions mount, one fact has become clearer than ever: the UN peacekeeping missions deployed around Israel are dangerously mismatched. To address this problem, the international community should substantially downsize UNIFIL, enhance UNDOF, and incorporate UNTSO into those two missions. – Washington Institute

Saudi Arabia

The Trump administration’s push to sell civilian nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia is emerging as the next battleground in the struggle between the White House and Congress over U.S. policy toward Riyadh following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Wall Street Journal

Congress is looking for ways to punish Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s leading producer, for killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Fresh off the Senate rebuking the Trump administration by voting to withdraw support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, some lawmakers are looking for ways to do more. – Washington Examiner

Saudi Arabia issued an unusually strong rebuke of the U.S. Senate on Monday, rejecting a bipartisan resolution that put the blame for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi squarely on the Saudi crown prince and describing it as interference in the kingdom’s affairs. – Associated Press

The rebuke was followed shortly afterward by a revelation about the Defense Department’s refueling of that bombing campaign: According to the Pentagon, the department had somehow failed to bill the Saudis and the Emiratis for at least $331 million in fuel and servicing costs. The Saudis, it appears, never directly paid the U.S. a penny. – The Atlantic


Fighting has erupted between Shiite rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government near the strategic Red Sea port of Hodeida, leaving at least 12 people dead and 25 others wounded from both sides, officials said on Sunday, just two days ahead of the implementation of a cease-fire agreed in talks in Sweden earlier this week. – Associated Press

A ceasefire agreed between Yemen’s warring parties in Hodeidah will begin on Dec. 18, sources from both sides and the United Nations said on Sunday, to try to avert more bloodshed in a port city vital for food and aid supplies. – Reuters

The UN’s envoy to Yemen called on Sunday for pro-government forces and rebels to respect a ceasefire in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, after repeated clashes between the two sides threatened to unravel a hard-won accord hammered out in Sweden last week. – Agence France-Presse

Middle East & North Africa

Oman signed on Sunday two agreements giving a unit of Occidental Petroleum the rights to explore for oil and natural gas in concessions 51 and 65, the oil ministry of the sultanate said in a tweet. – Reuters

Iraqi religious leaders have laid the cornerstone to rebuild Mosul’s landmark al-Nuri mosque, which was blown up in the battle with Islamic State militants in 2017. – Associated Press

Mara Karlin and Tamara Cofman Wittes write: Trump may talk about the Middle East differently than Obama did. But the two seem to share the view that the United States is too involved in the region and should devote fewer resources and less time to it. […]The reduced appetite for U.S. engagement in the region reflects not an ideological predilection or an idiosyncrasy of these two presidents but a deeper change in both regional dynamics and broader U.S. interests. – Foreign Affairs

Haisam Hassanein writes: Three motivations best explain the government’s positive discourse toward Jews since Sisi came to power in 2013[…]. Washington should continue encouraging Cairo to press Egyptian religious institutions on moderating their discourse. It should also insist that the government open the door for Egyptian liberals and moderate clerics who espouse peaceful notions and tolerance toward religious minorities. And in cases where public figures or the Nasserist/leftist media open popular debates on controversial subjects, Cairo should stay neutral and refrain from punishing those who speak out. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea warned on Sunday that if the United States continued to escalate its sanctions and human rights campaign against the North, that approach could permanently shatter any chance of denuclearizing the country. – New York Times

North Korea told the U.S. that sanctions and pressure—as evident from the past—won’t work to force the country into action on its nuclear program. – TIME

North Koreans are marking the seventh anniversary of the death of leader Kim Jong Il with visits to statues and vows of loyalty to his son and successor, Kim Jong Un. – Associated Press


China’s ruling Communist Party has said in a surge of upbeat propaganda that a sprawling network of camps in the Xinjiang region is providing job training and putting detainees on production lines for their own good, offering an escape from poverty, backwardness and the temptations of radical Islam. – New York Times

Both the entrepreneur, Michael Spavor, and the former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, have been detained in China, after spending decades living and working in authoritarian states. Now, they have found themselves in the center of a perilous geopolitical battle, Canadian pawns in a larger contest between two of the world’s biggest superpowers, China and the United States. – New York Times

Atta is one of scores of Pakistani businessmen __ and he says there are more than 200 __ whose spouses have disappeared, taken to what Chinese authorities tell them are education centers. Beijing has been accused of interning members of its Muslim population — by some reports as many as 1 million — to “re-educate” them away from their faith. It is seen as a response to riots and violent attacks that the government blamed on separatists. – Associated Press

While a Huawei executive faces possible U.S. charges over trade with Iran, the Chinese tech giant’s ambition to be a leader in next-generation telecoms is colliding with security worries abroad. – Associated Press

Xi Jinping is expected to use a speech in Beijing to argue that the four-decade-old reform process which transformed China’s economy is continuing, at a time when increasing state control and confrontation with the U.S. fuel skepticism. – Bloomberg

Flouting Deng’s advice for China to lie low and bide its time, Xi went head to head with U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders, who were frustrated by years of Beijing stalling in opening its markets to foreign firms. […]The standoff has dealt Xi some of his first policy setbacks and an unusual upswing in public criticism in China. – Bloomberg

Anjani Trivedi writes: China’s openness to foreign investment has served it well — and overseas companies such as BMW AG, DowDuPont Inc. and Apple Inc. that have profited there. The country has a better chance of climbing the technology ladder by exposing its companies to the rigors of world-class competitors than by seeking to shut them out with rhetoric-heavy and substance-light strategy documents. There’s little to fear from Made in China 2025. – Bloomberg

J. Michael Waller writes: China’s weapon of first resort is debt-trap diplomacy and weaponization of capital. […]A massive, sudden, coordinated default by those countries would cause a huge spillover effect within China’s Communist Party and the semi-private institutions that follow the party’s lead. Together, the small debtor countries and large democratic trading powers can bring China’s trade war to heel and hasten the end of Beijing’s weaponization of capital. – Washington Examiner

Michael Bociurkiw writes: Canada should diversify its trade and investment portfolio with other Southeast Asian nations — and in the process lessen dependence on China. And seeking sage counsel from elder statesmen such as Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has no qualms about standing up to China, could up Canada’s tactical game. Whatever the outcome of the current foreign policy dispute, the US has poked the Chinese dragon, and Canada stands to be burned badly in the process. – CNN

Yan Xuetong writes: Contrary to what more alarmist voices have suggested, a bipolar U.S.-Chinese world will not be a world on the brink of apocalyptic war. […]Rather than unseating the United States as the world’s premier superpower, Chinese foreign policy in the coming decade will largely focus on maintaining the conditions necessary for the country’s continued economic growth—a focus that will likely push leaders in Beijing to steer clear of open confrontation with the United States or its primary allies. – Foreign Affairs

Oriana Skylar Mastro writes: Although China does not want to usurp the United States’ position as the leader of a global order, its actual aim is nearly as consequential. In the Indo-Pacific region, China wants complete dominance; it wants to force the United States out and become the region’s unchallenged political, economic, and military hegemon. And globally, even though it is happy to leave the United States in the driver’s seat, it wants to be powerful enough to counter Washington when needed. – Foreign Affairs


A political standoff that began in October eased as allies of a former president said he was poised to drop his controversial claim to the post of prime minister of Sri Lanka. […]The crisis unnerved India, the U.S. and European countries that had begun expanding relations with Sri Lanka after Mr. Rajapaksa left office. Mr. Rajapaksa’s decision to give up his immediate claim is likely to reassure Western countries that the country is back on a legal path toward resolving the crisis. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump tweeted Sunday that he will review the case of a former Special Forces officer and Afghanistan war veteran who was notified last week that he will face a murder charge in the death of a detainee suspected of being a Taliban bombmaker. – Washington Post

The Taliban say they are holding “another” meeting on Monday with U.S. officials, this time in the United Arab Emirates and also involving Saudi, Pakistani and Emirati representatives in the latest attempt to bring a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s 17-year war. – Associated Press

Representatives from the Afghan Taliban will meet U.S. officials in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, the movement’s main spokesman said as diplomatic moves toward agreeing to the basis for talks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan continue. – Reuters


The World Economic Forum said Sunday that sanctioned Russian businessmen may attend January’s Davos event, after Moscow threatened to boycott the annual gathering of the business and political elite. – Wall Street Journal

Russia wants to sit down with Pentagon officials for “open and specific” talks on alleged violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday. – Associated Press

Richard A. Grenell writes: Russia’s recent aggression in the Sea of Azov reminds us of the need for vigilance against Vladimir Putin’s malign activities. The U.S. and Germany have responded by strongly condemning Moscow’s blockade of the Kerch Strait, a clear violation of international law. […]By taking a tough stance through action on Nord Stream 2, Germans can show that they stand in solidarity with Ukraine and the rest of Europe, and that Mr. Putin won’t get away with continued aggression. – Wall Street Journal

Heather A. Conley and Donatienne Ruy write: Due to these favorable conditions, Austria has become an attractive destination for Russian investment[…]. By deepening as well as widening these types of financial networks, such “enabling services” increase the attractiveness of particular European Union member states as a destination for potentially illicit financial activity, in turn, “Europeanizing” such illicit funds and rapidly spreading their malign use globally. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


French officials paid their respects Friday at a Jewish cemetery near Strasbourg, where 37 tombstones and a monument to Holocaust victims had been defaced with swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti in the same week that a deadly attack that shook the nation. – New York Times

Germany is tightening rules to make it harder for non-European companies to buy stakes in German firms without its approval, signaling growing concern in Berlin about China’s push to acquire key technology and know-how. – Wall Street Journal

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization warned of mounting instability in the Balkans after lawmakers in Kosovo voted to establish an army, prompting outrage in neighboring Serbia, which disputes the country’s independence. – Wall Street Journal

A historic council of Orthodox bishops in Kiev has created a new Ukrainian church independent from Russia, President Petro Poroshenko announced on Saturday. – Agence France-Presse

The man described as the father of the 29-year-old suspect in this week’s deadly Christmas market attack in Strasbourg says his son subscribed to the beliefs of the Islamic State group. – Associated Press

Germany has agreed to one-time payments for survivors, primarily Jews, who were evacuated from Nazi Germany as children, many of whom never saw their parents again, the organization that negotiates compensation with the German government said Monday. – Associated Press

Rehbogen is accused of being an accessory to the murder of hundreds, and is one of five defendants now in court, with another 20 still under investigation, according to Germany’s Federal Authority for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes. He is being tried as a juvenile because he was under 21 at the time of the alleged crimes. […]The country is now racing against time to bring the last surviving perpetrators of Nazi war crimes — now well into old age — to justice. – CNN

A powerful bomb exploded outside private Greek television station Skai early Monday, causing extensive damage but no injuries. – Associated Press

A Jewish cemetery in southern Poland was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. “Jews to the Sand” and “cyclone B,” referring to the Zyklon B gas used to kill Jews in Nazi death camps, was written on the gate of the Jewish cemetery in Czestochowa. – Times of Israel

Ira Forman writes: From using anti-Semitic tropes to demonize George Soros to praising Miklós Horthy—the regent who presided over the murder of Jews during World War II—to seeking to honor the notorious World War II–era anti-Semite Bálint Hóman, Orbán, the self-styled defender of Christian Europe, has shown himself willing to tap into this hatred to score political points. – The Atlantic

Tom Rogan writes: The West is rightly increasing its support for Ukraine in face of escalating aggression from Russia. But we should not close our eyes to the systemic challenge of corruption in Ukraine. […]Cognizant of next year’s parliamentary and presidential elections in Ukraine, the U.S. and European Union should publicly condemn Poroshenko and demand that he now act on promises made. – Washington Examiner


The United States said Friday it has sanctioned three people over their roles in South Sudan’s five-year civil war, saying it will continue to target those who “profit off the misery and suffering of the South Sudanese people.” – Associated Press

The U.S. military says it has killed eight members of the al-Shabab extremist group with an airstrike south of Somalia’s capital. – Associated Press

Nigeria’s military has lifted a suspension of UNICEF’s work in the extremist-threatened northeast just hours after it accused the U.N. agency of training people for “clandestine activities.” – Associated Press

The Americas

After fueling a record level of violence in Brazil, the drug war is spreading beyond the border, preying on Paraguay’s already weak institutions. Much of the mayhem in the region has been fueled by American guns. So many American weapons were being shipped into Paraguay that officials in the United States took the rare step of halting commercial arms exports to the country this year. New York Times

The charged politics around funding a wall along the southern border has both parties struggling to keep the government funded as the clock ticks toward a partial shutdown at week’s end. – Wall Street Journal

A Seattle man accused of trying to run over two Jewish men outside a Los Angeles synagogue has been found competent to stand trial, prosecutors said. – LA Times

A suspect was arrested by North Hollywood police on Saturday after a man in a keffiyeh was photographed waving a machete in front of a sign outside a synagogue in the Los Angeles district on Friday. – Algemeiner

Cyber Security

The Army, Navy and Missile Defense Agency are failing to take basic cybersecurity steps to ensure that information on America’s ballistic missile defense system won’t fall into nefarious hands, according to a Defense Department Inspector General audit released Friday. – Navy Times

Hackers are increasingly using false-flag operations that wrongly point the blame toward China for some cyberattacks, threat intelligence experts said. – Fifth Domain

Leaders from the United States and China accused each other of a prolonged hacking spree, then agreed to limit cyberattacks, but cyber tensions between the two countries are ramping up again, according to exports and U.S. officials. – Fifth Domain


Seeking to stop Russian-made anti-tank missiles, the US Army will buy Israel’s Iron Fist Active Protection System for a brigade of its M2 Bradley armored vehicles, Breaking Defense has learned. – Breaking Defense

The Navy may begin deploying submarine-hunting P-8 Poseidon aircraft to a small airstrip hundreds of miles off the Alaskan coast, signaling a new emphasis on keeping watch over Russian and Chinese moves in the Arctic. – Breaking Defense

The Army is testing new ways to enable its artillery to shoot many miles farther as the U.S. military prepares for the possibility of large-scale conflict after years of focusing on counter-insurgency warfare. – Associated Press

After months of delays, the U.S. Air Force is about to launch the first of a new generation of GPS satellites, designed to be more accurate, secure and versatile. – Associated Press

Bryan Clark, Adam Lemon, Peter Haynes, Kyle Libby, and Gillian Evans write: Today the Navy needs to transform its CVWs to counter the challenges posed by great powers like China and Russia and implement new defense and military strategies. […]This report examines trends in U.S. strategy, capabilities, and threats between now and 2040 to describe the operational concepts CVWs will likely need to use in the future, as well as the implications for how CVWs should evolve during the next 20 years. – Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

Trump Administration

Former officials predict Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to be shown the door as head of the Department of Homeland Security now that Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly is leaving. – Washington Examiner

A comprehensive study compiled for the Senate describing, with new details, Russian efforts to support President Trump’s 2016 campaign and administration is set to be released this week. – Washington Examiner

Rudy Giuliani on Sunday ruled out President Trump, his client, sitting down for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. – Washington Examiner

Ishaan Tharoor writes: To be sure, discussions about the waning of the United States as the world’s sole superpower predate Trump. But two years of his tumultuous presidency have intensified Washingtonian angst about the future of American power and how America should seek to lead a more fractured planet — or whether it should try at all. – Washington Post

Richard Haass writes: What we are seeing today resembles the mid-nineteenth century in important ways[…] but the world is not yet on the edge of a systemic crisis. Now is the time to make sure one never materializes, be it from a breakdown in U.S.-Chinese relations, a clash with Russia, a conflagration in the Middle East, or the cumulative effects of climate change. The good news is that it is far from inevitable that the world will eventually arrive at a catastrophe; the bad news is that it is far from certain that it will not. – Foreign Affairs