Fdd's overnight brief

December 19, 2019

In The News


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday urged Muslim nations to deepen financial and trade cooperation to fight what he described as U.S. economic hegemony, using an Islamic conference in Malaysia as a platform to decry American sanctions against his country. – Associated Press 

Iran’s top security official said Wednesday the Islamic Republic opposed US negotiations with Afghanistan’s Taliban, as the talks excluded the Afghan people and government. – Agence France-Presse

Israel needs 360 degrees of air defenses to prevent Iran from a potential devastating attack with UAVs similar to its attack on the Saudis in September, Uzi Rubin, the top Israeli missile defense expert, told The Jerusalem Post. – Jerusalem Post

Amos Harel writes: Iran’s attempts to respond on the northern front to Israeli attacks and the massive fire by Syria’s air defense systems with every bombing have apparently spurred the Israel Defense Forces to alter its mode of operation. Accordingly, the frequency of attacks seems to have declined. But the basic reasons for the friction between the two sides – Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, its arms smuggling into Lebanon and Israel’s attempts to halt both these things – haven’t changed. The friction can be expected to continue. – Haaretz 


A seemingly small ruling in Denmark is alarming refugee advocates that a new precedent could be set for Europe to send Syrians seeking asylum back to their war-torn home. – Washington Post

Prosecutors in Portugal said Wednesday they were bringing terror charges against eight Portuguese men suspected of fighting for the Islamic State group in Syria. – Associated Press

Russia and Iran have affirmed closer ties in bilateral security and on their joint efforts in Syria despite U.S. lawmakers’ passage of a bill that would slap new sanctions on the two countries over their support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. – Newsweek 

Eli Lake writes: On Tuesday that legislation passed the Senate, following its passage last week in the House. Trump is expected to sign it into law. It is too late to stop the atrocities documented by Caesar, and military intervention is no longer a politically viable option. But at least the law will put the Assad regime on notice for its crimes. As Representative Adam Kinzinger told me: “We can use the power of the American economy to hold the regime accountable.” – Bloomberg 

Dana Stroul and Charles Thepaut writes: The implications for humanitarian assistance in future conflict arenas should not be overlooked either. What happens in Syria will set a precedent—if the UN does not prevent Assad and Russia from using aid delivery as a weapon of war, it will raise deep doubts about the international community’s long-term ability to provide life-saving aid in a neutral, need-based, unhindered fashion. – Washington Institute 


Turkey will improve cooperation with Libya by offering military support to its internationally recognized government and backing joint steps in the eastern Mediterranean, broadcaster NTV cited President Tayyip Erdogan as saying on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed frustration that the world did not offer what he saw as sufficient support for his country’s invasion of northern Syria, a measure he argued was designed to resettle refugees fleeing the country’s eight-year conflict. – Newsweek 

Four US congressional Democrats have written to Donald Trump’s Syria envoy asking him to spell out what information the US has about the alleged use of white phosphorus by Turkey against Syrian Kurdish civilians in October. – The Guardian 

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said world powers have yet to pledge support for the country’s “safe zone” plans in northern Syria, where it intends to resettle one million Syrian refugees, broadcaster NTV reported on Wednesday. – Reuters


Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at Israel early Thursday, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome system, the army said. – Times of Israel 

The U.N. Mideast envoy said Wednesday that Israel advanced or approved plans for over 22,000 housing units in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem in the three years since the Security Council adopted a resolution condemning settlements in lands the Palestinians want for their future state. – Associated Press 

Qatar will continue providing humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip into next year, the gas-rich Gulf state’s envoy to the Palestinian enclave said on Wednesday, a pledge that may help stave off conflict between Hamas and Israel. – Reuters 

For the first time Israel has made a government-to-government deal with Montenegro for $35 million that will see Elbit Systems provide remote control weapons stations to the Balkan country. – Defense News

A resident of rocket-stricken southern Israel addressed the UN Security Council on Wednesday, urging it to take action against the Hamas terror group. – Algemeiner

Canada stuck to its decision to stand with the Palestinians at the United Nations General Assembly, casting a “yes” vote on an annual resolution in support of Palestinian self-determination. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Harari writes: Both Libyan-Turkish agreements, and especially the one delineating their maritime borders, are designed to challenge the anti-Turkish constellation that has emerged in recent years and currently includes concrete energy-related cooperation. […]Turkey’s direct and more assertive messages are now putting to the test Israel’s decision to avoid direct public clashes with Ankara. Israel has to hone its position now by emphasizing the regional alliances, without overly exacerbating the already tense and complex situation in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin. – Jerusalem Post 

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister said Wednesday he’s no longer a candidate for the post, eliminating himself from consideration with no clear alternative on the eve of scheduled consultations between the president and parliamentary blocs for naming a new premier. – Associated Press

The Arab League intends to send Brazil a political message against its decision to open a trade office in Jerusalem, two senior Arab diplomats said. – Bloomberg 

Amos Harel writes: Although the American-led coalition has successfully put down the Islamic State and forced most of its operatives out of the last areas they controlled in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, the group’s branch in the Sinai Peninsula is continuing to function without any noticeable problems. […]But despite all this, Wilayat Sinai has adapted remarkably well to the new situation and continues to function and operate. – Haaretz 

Korean Peninsula

Senators from both parties are seeking to force President Trump’s hand on North Korea, with leading Democrats warning Wednesday that his diplomatic outreach is “on the brink of failure” and a bipartisan group pressing for stronger economic sanctions on Kim Jong Un’s regime. – Washington Post

China touted its proposal offering sanctions relief to North Korea as the best option to diffuse tensions, calling on Thursday for a compromise in the standoff between Washington and Pyongyang over the latter’s nuclear and missiles programmes. – Reuters 

South Korea and the United States failed on Wednesday to agree on Seoul’s contribution toward hosting some 28,500 U.S. troops, but the U.S. side hinted after the two days of talks ended that it will no longer stick to its $5 billion demand. – Reuters 

The United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday condemned “the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in and by” North Korea in an annual resolution that Pyongyang’s U.N. envoy rejected. – Reuters 

The parents of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died after 17 months in a North Korean prison, hailed on Wednesday new congressional legislation passed in their son’s name that calls for further sanctions on Pyongyang. – Reuters


While antigovernment demonstrations, rooted in resentment against China’s ruling Communist party, have sparked turmoil in Hong Kong, Macau has remained stable, owing to its economic dependence on the mainland, a far smaller population and closer cultural and political ties. […]But critics say Macau’s success is more about the triumph of one country than of two systems. – Wall Street Journal

Amendments to the charters of three Chinese universities that place absolute adherence to Communist Party rule over academic independence have provoked heated online debate and prompted some prominent academics to raise concerns amid a backdrop of tightening ideological control on China’s campuses. – Wall Street Journal 

The first-stage trade pact reached by the U.S. and China last week could be a boon to American farmers hard hit by the trade war, but the agricultural sector’s relief over a deal is being tempered by skepticism over the ambitious targets set by U.S. negotiators. – Wall Street Journal 

Britain urged China on Thursday to open dialogue with Hong Kong protesters and respect the commitments it made 35 years ago in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. – Reuters 

A Chinese government-linked hacking group that was thought to be dormant has been quietly targeting companies and government agencies for the last two years, harvesting data after stealing passwords and circumventing two-factor authentication intended to prevent such attacks, according to researchers. – Bloomberg 

A Chinese national trespassed at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club Wednesday and was arrested when she refused to leave, police said, the second time this year a woman from that country has been charged with illicitly entering the Florida resort. – Associated Press  

Shuli Ren writes: So, the thinking goes, if the U.S. and its allies restrict chip component sales, big clients such as Huawei, which makes smartphones and 5G network equipment, will have no choice but to turn to domestic suppliers. Pile in now and wait for Donald Trump and trade nationalism to do the rest. […]Pinched by the U.S.-China trade war and the global economic slowdown that has ensued partly because of it, movers and shakers in the chip world have cut back their capital expenses. – Bloomberg 

Christine McDaniel writes: President Trump’s actions make clear he will not wait for a WTO panel to settle grievances with China. The deal affords the United States unilateral leverage to the extent China is keen to avoid tariffs. A unilateral approach may not be the ideal solution to all of our trade grievances, but it did bring Chinese negotiators to the table. The agreement framework has the potential to give all U.S. economic sectors a gift this season. – The Hill  

Nate Sibley writes: Ending anonymous ownership of shell companies is a critical first step to protect the US financial system from the criminal by-product of CCP misrule in China. It will also set a global standard that can be enforced as a new tool of coercive economic statecraft, renewing American leadership in the fight against illicit finance and undermining the CCP’s global assault on the rule of law. – Hudson Institute 

James Grant writes: With bilateral ties between Beijing and Washington still far from promising, China is facing a new level of urgency to increase the breadth and depth of its alternative trade ties. The Belt and Road Initiative remains its best tool in this regard. And Central Asia – and in particular Kazakhstan – stands to benefit by serving as the physical and financial bridge for Beijing to new markets. – The Diplomat 

South Asia

Hamid Karzai was once handpicked by U.S. officials to lead his war-ravaged country, but he ended up bitterly estranged from them after spending a decade in office, a period when American aid money flooded Afghanistan and the United States struggled to build Afghan defense forces to fight Taliban insurgents in a war that continues today. – Washington Post

When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper met their Indian counterparts Wednesday in Washington, there was an unavoidable and uncomfortable backdrop to the talks: political upheaval in both countries. – Washington Post

Protests across India amount to the first real popular resistance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s implementation this year of a Hindu-nationalist agenda his party has long espoused, according to analysts and participants in the demonstrations. […]Those actions drew criticism from political opponents, but significant protests didn’t erupt until the Modi government pushed through a bill last week creating a simplified pathway to citizenship for immigrants who adhere to all the major religions of South Asia with the exception of Islam. – Wall Street Journal 

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday thanked supporters who staged large rallies on her behalf as she defended the country against genocide charges at The Hague, speaking to the nation for the first time since she returned on Sunday. – Reuters 


Indonesian anti-terrorism officers are interrogating eight suspected Islamic militants arrested in the province of Papua on suspicion that they were planning an attack, a police spokesman said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Hosting a summit of Muslim leaders, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad bemoaned the state of Islam and defended the meeting that has been shunned by Saudi Arabia and criticized for undermining the bigger Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. – Reuters

Australia must abandon criticism of China and see the development of its largest trading partner as an opportunity if bilateral relations are to improve, Beijing’s ambassador to Canberra said on Thursday. – Reuters 

The daughter of jailed Uighur rights activist Ilham Tohti accepted a European Parliament prize on his behalf on Wednesday, urging lawmakers in an address not to be “complicit in the Chinese persecution of the Uighur people”. – Reuters 

What Communist Party rulers in China fear the most is Taiwan’s democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday, describing Beijing as a threat seeking every day to undermine Taiwan and criticizing her main opponent for being too close to China. – Reuters 

Daniel F. Runde and Shannon McKeown write: The ADB is one of two Asian regional development banks, the other being the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Both banks occupy the same space, have cofinanced numerous projects, and are subject to the economic volatility of the U.S.-Chinese trade war. […]As U.S. and Japanese trust toward China dwindles, the ADB can leverage its respected role in the region to bypass sovereign disputes and connect ASEAN economies with one another.- Center for Strategic and International Studies 


The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation on Wednesday that would impose sanctions on Russia, but there was no indication of when the full Senate might vote on the measure that one sponsor called the sanctions bill “from hell.” – Reuters 

Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticised US sanctions against the new $9.5bn pipeline that will transport Russian gas to Germany, but said Berlin would not impose punitive measures of its own in response. – Financial Times 

Russia seized five Japanese octopus-fishing boats on Tuesday near islands disputed between the two countries, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. – Bloomberg 


German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday criticized a U.S. move to impose sanctions related to a new Russian-German gas pipeline, signaling that she wants discussions with Washington but declining to threaten retaliation. – Associated Press

The United States has removed its sanctions on one of Latvia’s main ports after the Baltic country’s government took control of the port, the U.S. Treasury Department said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Denmark has approved the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Greenland, an autonomous part of Denmark, four months after rebuffing U.S. President Donald Trump’s idea of buying the island which stunned Copenhagen and caused a diplomatic spat. – Reuters 

Two of the three Baltic nations plus Finland have signed a letter of intent to pursue a joint buy for new armored ground vehicles. Senior defense officials signed the document on Tuesday in Talinn, Estonia’s capital, with the idea of beginning the initial preparatory work that would culminate in an eventual acquisition. – Defense News

European law enforcement authorities have had some success in incorporating high-tech products into their processes. However, co-ordination in procurement has been limited, constraining their ability to incorporate the latest technologies. Practitioners claim more effective procurement processes could help technological uptake, making law enforcement more efficient. – Jane’s 360

President Trump will join fellow billionaires and heads of state at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, even as his nationalist ally, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, refuses to attend and will not let his ministers go. – Washington Examiner


Thousands of Liberian immigrants without permanent legal status in the United States will be eligible to apply for green cards and eventual U.S. citizenship under the terms of a defense spending bill passed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. – Reuters

Boko Haram militants killed 14 Chadian civilians and wounded five others in an overnight attack on a fishermens’ camp in the northeastern part of Lake Chad, a local official said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Amnesty International on Thursday urged Sudan’s new transitional government to deliver on popular demands for sweeping change as the country marked the first anniversary of mass protests that led to the ouster of former president and longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir. – Associated Press

Latin America

Cuba’s government accused the Trump administration on Wednesday of orchestrating the end of the island’s medical missions to several Latin American countries in order to cut one of the country’s main revenue sources. – Associated Press 

Prosecutors in Bolivia issued an arrest warrant for former President Evo Morales on charges of “sedition, terrorism and terrorist financing.” – Bloomberg 

Sebastián Piñera Echenique writes: I am sure that Chileans will demonstrate once again the noble and caring soul of our country. Together we will build a country that is freer, fairer, more fraternal and more prosperous, a country we can call our common home, the house of all Chileans, where we can think differently but respect each other and together build a better future for all. – New York Times


Facebook can determine where users are even if they opt out of having their whereabouts tracked, the company revealed in a letter sent to US senators. – Agence France Presse

A key House committee on Wednesday unveiled a first draft of a bipartisan federal privacy bill, bringing Congress one step closer to passing a law to rein in the tech industry’s unregulated collection of personal information on its millions of U.S. users. – The Hill 

As 2020 approaches amid reports of renewed Russian efforts to influence the election, those challenges have left industry and government officials wondering: Is DHS’ newfound seriousness over cybersecurity too little, too late? – Politico

Morgan Dwyer writes: In assessing alternative approaches, DOD should be cognizant of its tendency to rush toward solutions that may create more problems than they solve. Although insufficient industrial base cybersecurity is an important problem, DOD has many priorities for the defense industrial base. New cybersecurity approaches should balance across these competing priorities by considering not only effectiveness and enforceability but also clarity, competition, and cost.  It is unclear—at least for now—whether CMMC strikes the right balance. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


As Russia continues to increase its submarine activity in the Mediterranean, Arctic and Atlantic, the U.S. Navy has made organizational changes to be more responsive but should invest in unmanned systems to support forces in the European theater, the four-star admiral who leads Naval Forces Europe said. – USNI News

A top Pentagon intelligence official will soon leave the building, the fourth key defense official to announce their resignation within a week. – The Hill 

Suzanne Claeys and Rebecca Hersman write: This study examines the evolving and changing nature of chemical weapons and how the system of restraint must adapt to ensure that the proliferation and use of chemical weapons do not reemerge as endemic features of the global security landscape. The study provides a framework for structuring the problem, identifies gaps and challenges, and puts forward options for improving the global effort to prevent the proliferation and use of these weapons. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Trump Administration

The House impeached President Trump in a momentous set of votes late Wednesday, making him the third president since America’s founding to face a Senate trial, and laying bare the deep partisan divisions on Capitol Hill and across the country. – Wall Street Journal 

Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor was instructed by a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to hand over responsibilities for his post just days before Mr. Pompeo plans to visit the Ukrainian capital, according to a person familiar with the situation. – Wall Street Journal

A lawyer for a Ukrainian oligarch on Wednesday said he had lent $1 million to Lev Parnas, an associate of U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and Parnas’ wife in order for them to buy a home in Florida. – Reuters