Fdd's overnight brief

December 2, 2019

In The News


Iran is experiencing its deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago, with at least 180 people killed — and possibly hundreds more — as angry protests have been smothered in a government crackdown of unbridled force. – New York Times  

Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi has compared Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the Shah, the monarch deposed in a 1979 revolution, following the government’s crackdown on protests this month. – Reuters   

Iran said on Thursday the Iraqi government is responsible for protecting its consulate in the holy city of Najaf, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Thursday, a day after Iraqi protesters attacked and set fire to the building. – Reuters 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry sharply criticized six European countries for their intention to join INSTEX, a mechanism that would allow Iran to bypass American sanctions. According to a statement on Sunday from the Foreign Ministry, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden “could not have picked worse timing.” – Jerusalem Post

An Iranian general has warned that Iran’s missile arsenals are aimed at 21 American military bases in the Middle East and the country is prepared for “the greatest war against the greatest enemy.” – Times of Israel

The latest figures published by China’s customs show trade with Iran in October dropped to its lowest level in a decade. During the month of October, total trade with Iran was $1.38 billion, which is 38 percent less than in October 2018. – Radio Farda

One of the reformist candidates of the disputed 2009 elections in Iran who has been under house arrest since February 2011 published a statement lambasting the use of force against people protesting recently. – Radio Farda

Editorial: Renewed U.S. sanctions have increased the economic pressure on the regime, which has lashed out at targets abroad, including Saudi oil facilities. “My judgment is that it is very possible they will attack again,” General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said last week. Critics of the regime should understand they are targets for assassination anywhere around the world. – Wall Street Journal 


A second week-long round of Syrian talks has ended without a meeting of the group of 45 delegates meant to be negotiating on the constitution, United Nations Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said on Friday. – Reuters 

A financial crisis in Lebanon has hit the economy of neighboring Syria hard, choking off a vital source of dollars and dragging the Syrian pound to record lows. – Reuters  

The United States on Thursday accused Russia of helping Syria conceal the use of banned toxic munitions in the civil war by undermining the work of the global chemical weapons agency trying to identify those responsible. – Reuters 

Syrian opposition activists say an airstrike on a market in a rebel-held town in the country’s northwest has killed at least 10 civilians. – Associated Press


Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday dismissed French President Emmanuel Macron’s criticism of Turkey’s offensive in Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, saying the French leader sponsors terrorism. – Reuters  

Turkish police said on Thursday they had detained five people in relation to the killing in Istanbul of an Iranian citizen who Turkish media said was an opponent of Iran’s government. – Reuters 

Two Turkish soldiers were killed in southern Turkey in a mortar attack near a military base in the town of Akcakale on the Syrian border, Turkey’s defence ministry said on Thursday, adding that Turkey had retaliated. – Reuters 

Turkey’s presidential administration has said that the purchase date for more S-400 missile systems from Russia is just a technicality and that it thinks a deal will happen before too long, the RIA news agency reported on Monday. – Reuters 


Israel’s new defense minister has ordered plans for new settler housing in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron. In a letter sent to defense officials Sunday, pro-settler Defense Minister Naftali Bennett  called for “planning processes to be advanced” for new Jewish settler housing. – Associated Press 

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran and other issues, the White House said in a brief statement. – Reuters  

Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank opened fire at a Palestinian who threw a fire-bomb at a car on Saturday, the Israeli military said, and the Palestinian Health Ministry said the man was killed. – Reuters 

Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian teenager near the border fence with the Gaza Strip on Friday, Palestinian officials said. – Reuters 

The Israel Defense Forces hailed its new pinpoint siren system a success after its first major real-world test: the two-day battle with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad last month, in which hundreds of rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern and central Israel. – Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implied on Sunday that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has stopped multiple terrorist attacks in the West Bank, saying: “There are serious actions being taken continually to stop attacks against us from the Palestinian territories in Judea and Samaria.” – Jerusalem Post

After a break of more than a decade, Bolivia will renew ties with Israel, Karen Longaric, the foreign minister of the country’s transitional government, announced on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel will convey to visiting Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney the severe damage that a proposed Irish law to criminalize buying or selling goods from beyond the 1967 lines would have on Israeli-Irish ties, The Jerusalem Post has learned. – Jerusalem Post

Amos Harel writes: Israeli and Hamas authorities are still inclined toward reaching an arrangement. Even after a pretty violent weekend on the Gaza border – a Palestinian teenager killed by army fire at a demonstration near the fence, rockets intercepted in the western Negev skies, a false alarm in Ashkelon – Israel and Hamas continue to hold indirect discussions on a long-term agreement. Hamas spokesmen are already referring to it as a tahadiyeh (long-term calm), rather than just a cease-fire. – Haaretz 


Iraqi authorities imposed a curfew on Najaf and deployed additional security forces after protesters stormed and burned the Iranian consulate in the southern Iraqi city in a show of anger against Tehran’s involvement in the country’s affairs. – Wall Street Journal 

Iraq’s embattled prime minister announced Friday that he will submit his resignation to parliament in hopes of curbing two months of widespread protests that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis. – Washington Post

The resignation of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi amid sustained protests for sweeping reform has set the stage for a new political crisis as the ruling class scrambles to address demonstrators’ grievances. – Washington Post 

Iraqis fed up with corruption and the slow pace of recovery from the wreckage left by the war with Islamic State have been in the streets protesting since early October. As in Lebanon, demonstrators have channeled their anger into demands for the abolition of the country’s sectarian political system, which was fathered by the U.S. after it overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003. They also want to roll back the control wielded by Iraq’s neighbor Iran. – Bloomberg

Arabian Peninsula

Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Sunday he would stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen if he wins an election this month. – Reuters 

Yemen’s Houthi movement said it shot down a Saudi Apache helicopter near the border with Saudi Arabia on Friday, killing its two pilots. – Reuters 

A group of Houthi prisoners released by Saudi Arabia arrived in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Thursday, Reuters witnesses said, in a step that may encourage efforts to end a nearly five-year war in the country. – Reuters 

Another five years of fighting in Yemen would cost as much as $29 billion just to sustain the current level of humanitarian aid — more than the entire annual humanitarian budget globally — an international relief group said Monday. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia will push for an extension of oil-production cuts through mid-2020 at a producers’ summit this week in an effort to prop up Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering share price, Persian Gulf officials said. – Wall Street Journal 

Saudi Arabian authorities have released 11 citizens who were detained for several days last month for questioning over suspected links to foreign entities, a Saudi official told Reuters. – Reuters  

Qatar’s foreign minister has made an unannounced visit to Riyadh, two sources told Reuters, amid signs that a 2-1/2-year rift among U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states could soon subside. – Reuters 

Middle East & North Africa

East Libya-based forces said their warplanes had attacked targets near oilfields in the southwest of the country on Thursday after fighting in the area briefly shut one field. – Reuters 

Jordan has begun negotiations over a new three-year funding program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stimulate growth that has been stagnant at about 2% for the last decade, the finance minister said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Libya’s internationally recognized government and Turkey have signed an agreement on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea that could complicate Ankara’s disputes over energy exploration with other countries. – Reuters 

Lebanon’s armed forces have deployed near the presidential palace east of Beirut to prevent friction between rival Lebanese protesters as the stalemate over forming a crisis government continues. – Associated Press

Martin Chulov writes: Turmoil in Baghdad, paralysis in Beirut and flames of unrest in Tehran; it has been a bad few months for Iran at home and elsewhere in the Middle East, where more than a decade of advances are being slowed, not by manoeuvrings on battlefields or legislatures – but the force of protest movements. – Guardian

Korean Peninsula

North Korea’s state media on Saturday lashed out at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as an “imbecile and political dwarf” for calling Pyongyang’s latest test of a large multiple-rocket launcher a ballistic missile launch and warned he may see a real one in the near future. – Reuters 

North Korea said Friday the latest test-firing of its “super-large” multiple rocket launcher was a final review of the weapon’s combat application, a suggestion that the country is preparing to deploy the new weapons system soon. – Military Times 

South Korea and Japan have agreed to hold senior-level trade talks in December to discuss Tokyo’s export restrictions at the center of a bitter dispute between the two countries, the South Korean trade ministry said on Friday. – Reuters 

A U.S. digital currency specialist living in Singapore has been arrested and criminally charged with helping North Korea use cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade American sanctions, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Friday. – Reuters 


Across China’s coal-burning northeastern provinces, pipelines are being laid, contracts signed and coal-fired boilers ripped out ahead of the arrival next week of the country’s first piped natural gas from Russia. – Reuters  

As the U.S.-China trade war drags into its 16th month and continues to disrupt supply chains, more than one-quarter of multinational firms have not made contingency plans, showed a survey from a subsidiary of courier giant DHL. – Reuters 

Chinese special police took part in their first joint training drills in Europe on Thursday, joining Serbia’s elite anti-terrorist unit and local police in an exercise at a Chinese-owned steel mill outside Belgrade. – Reuters 

Beijing’s top priority in any phase one trade deal with the United States is the removal of existing tariffs on Chinese goods, China’s Global Times newspaper reported on Sunday, amid uncertainty on whether the two sides can end a 17-month trade war that has depressed global growth. – Reuters 

China said it would sanction some American non-profit organizations and freeze U.S. port visits, days after vowing retaliation over President Donald Trump’s decision to sign legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters. – Bloomberg 

China’s military is increasingly using scientific research in the Arctic as a way into the region, a Danish intelligence service said on Friday, as it warned of intensifying geopolitical rivalry in the Earth’s freezing North. – Reuters 

Fred Hiatt writes: Perhaps the greatest crime against humanity of our young century is unfolding in northwestern China. If it were not for Hoja and her 11 colleagues, we might not know it was taking place. Yes, you read that right: A dozen reporters and editors working for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service, reporting on events taking place halfway around the world, have confounded the massive propaganda machine of the Communist Party of China. – Washington Post

Desmond Lachman writes: Judging by the cavalier manner in which President Trump has been waging his U.S.-China trade war without much regard for the global economic consequences of that war, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Chinese economy has little systemic importance for the global economy. But the truth of the matter is that China’s spectacular economic performance over the past 30 years has propelled it from a situation where it accounted for less than 2 percent of the global economy to one where it now accounts for more than 16 percent. […]Anyone doubting China’s importance to the world economy need only consider the fallout of the U.S.-China trade war. – The Hill


The U.S. military command in Afghanistan said it is aware of allegations of civilian casualties after an airstrike targeted Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan. The strike was conducted Thursday in Khost province’s Terezayi district along the border with Pakistan, according to the U.S. military statement. – Washington Post

The Islamic State’s main stronghold in eastern Afghanistan collapsed in recent weeks, according to American and Afghan officials, following years of concerted military offensives from American and Afghan forces and, more recently, the Taliban. – New York Times 

An American drone strike on a car carrying a woman who had just given birth in southeastern Afghanistan left five people dead, including the mother, three of her relatives and the driver, Afghan officials and family members said on Sunday. – New York Times 

After abruptly axing nearly a year of delicate peace talks with the Taliban in September, President Trump put the negotiations back on the front-burner this week in a similarly jolting fashion by seeming to demand a cease-fire that his negotiators had long concluded was overly ambitious. – New York Times 

An Afghan official says a gunman has opened fire on a vehicle in the capital, Kabul, killing two intelligence officials and wounding three others. Afghan interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi says that police were searching for the gunman who carried out the attack early Monday. – Associated Press

The Pentagon has modified how it fulfills some training requirements for Afghan security forces in hopes it can renegotiate costs and needs that may become inaccurate over time, according to a U.S. government watchdog. – Defense News


A Japanese contractor is under investigation by U.S. federal authorities for possibly dumping wastewater from American warships into Japanese harbors, in a case that shows the U.S. Navy’s ongoing struggles in overseeing its contractors. – Wall Street Journal 

Tens of thousands of demonstrators marching peacefully in one of several authorized rallies in Hong Kong on Sunday were dispersed with tear gas, ending a rare and cherished period of peace amid half a year of pro-democracy protests in the territory. – Washington Post 

Australia’s foreign minister on Monday said the treatment of a writer detained in China was “unacceptable”, as his lawyer reported he was being shackled and subjected to daily interrogation. – Agence France-Presse  

China has arrested a citizen of Belize for allegedly colluding with people in the United States to meddle in the affairs of Hong Kong, the official Guangdong Communist Party newspaper reported on Saturday, citing local authorities. – Reuters 

Facebook (FB.O) said on Saturday it had issued a correction notice on a user’s post at the request of the Singapore government, but called for a measured approach to the implementation of a new “fake news” law in the city-state. – Reuters 

Chinese state media has released trial footage it says proves a Chinese defector seeking asylum in Australia is a convicted criminal with a history of fraud. – Reuters 

As President Donald Trump has held back enacting mandatory sanctions for NATO ally Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, the world is watching―but especially India, which is counting on America’s lenience. – Defense News 

Natasha Kassam writes: But Taiwan is pushing back. Legislators have recently accelerated efforts to pass a law against foreign infiltration and political interference before the election. An adviser to a presidential candidate told me this summer in Taipei, “The question for voters this election is: Do you want a quick death or a slow one?” Is it, though? Despite Beijing’s efforts at sabotage, Taiwan’s democracy is proving well and truly alive. – New York Times 

David Fickling writes: It’s possible that no city in Asia can ever replicate what has made Hong Kong unique, but international workers who have made the city home are asking a similar question to peers in London contemplating Brexit: Where next? Cities on the fringes of the Pacific have aimed at Hong Kong’s crown before and missed. In the current crisis, they may finally have found their opportunity. – Bloomberg


Beijing and Moscow, after years of rivalry and mutual suspicion, are expanding an economic and strategic partnership influencing global politics, trade and energy markets. At the same time, Beijing is fighting a trade war with Washington, and Russia’s relations with the West grow colder. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia’s MiG-31K interceptor jet carried out a test of the Kinjal (Dagger) hypersonic missile in Russia’s part of Arctic earlier this month, TASS new agency reported on Saturday, citing two military sources. – Reuters 

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) is “taking a deeper look at how we handle disputed borders” after it referred to the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula as part of Russia in its Maps and Weather apps for Russian users, a company spokeswoman told Reuters on Friday. – Reuters 

Russia has arrested a Russian woman in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on suspicion of treason for allegedly stealing military secrets on behalf of Ukraine, the Federal Security Service said on Friday. – Reuters  

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy may discuss problems in negotiating a new natural gas deal when they meet other European leaders in Paris on Dec. 9, a Kremlin spokesman said on Friday. – Reuters 

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned in a new interview that tensions between the U.S. and Russia could lead to a “hot war” between the two nations. Asked whether the tensions threatened to lead to a new era akin to the Cold War, Gorbachev told CNN, “I think this should be avoided.” – The Hill


Britain is in the midst of a general election that all sides agree is one of the most important in a generation. But as candidates in 650 constituencies go about knocking on doors, the traditional method of campaigning in this country, they are doing so in a climate that is increasingly hostile to politicians. – Washington Post

By the end of this month, more than 500 Ukrainian prosecutors will be out of their jobs as part of sweeping professional reviews under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. – Washington Post

NATO nations are increasing spending on defense, with nine of the alliance’s 29 members now meeting guidelines, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday, ahead of a summit next week where President Trump is expected to hammer leaders yet again to increase military expenditures. – Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump leaves on Monday for a NATO summit in London and he is under pressure from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resist the temptation to wade into the British election campaign coming up later in December. – Reuters  

European Union leaders on Sunday celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty, the union’s legal cornerstone, amid calls to reform a bloc weakened over the past decade by economic and migration crises, rising euroskepticism and Brexit. – Reuters 

The EU’s new leadership took office on Sunday, one month later then planned, promising a more united Europe that would be ready to face major challenges, especially fighting climate change. – Agence France-Presse  

Meeting in London this week, leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have two other presidents to worry about: France’s Emmanuel Macron, who recently has openly questioned the collective defense clause at NATO’s heart, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has troubled alliance members with his decisions to send troops into Syria and buy a Russian anti-missile system. – Bloomberg

Adam Taylor writes: Britain’s Dec. 12 election is a bitter fight to shape the country’s future, with voters not only hoping to chart the next steps of Brexit, but also picking between startlingly different visions of the country from right-wing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and left-wing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. However, it isn’t just British voters who are influencing Britain’s future. Some wealthy American individuals and organizations appear also to be having a big influence on this fraught British election. […]The news comes as Washington focuses on allegations of foreign influence on U.S. elections and is a reminder that outside the United States, the problem is often seen through the opposite lens: wealthy Americans seeking to influence foreign elections. – Washington Post

Andreas Kluth writes: As NATO allies gather near London this week, existential questions hover in the air above the swanky Grove Hotel: How long will we be around as an alliance? Do we still look united enough to deter aggressors? And can a “European army” spring up to supplement, perhaps even replace, our transatlantic league? The short answer to that last question is no. Tragically, there won’t be a European army soon, or ever. […]The reality is that, for the foreseeable future, NATO is the only credible military shield Europe has. – Bloomberg

Luke Coffey and Daniel Kochis write: Not only is 2019 the 70th anniversary of the Alliance, but holding the meeting in London on the eve of Brexit reaffirms the U.K.’s importance to overall European security. The U.S. should use this meeting to reaffirm important NATO positions on defense spending, deterring Russia, NATO enlargement, and NATO relations with Ukraine and Georgia. – Heritage Foundation 


At least 14 people were shot dead in an attack on a church in eastern Burkina Faso on Sunday morning, the government said. […]The attack took place in the village of Hantoukoura near the border with Niger in the Est region, an area known for banditry that has come under attack over the past year from suspected jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State. – Reuters  

French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the military on Thursday to review its operations against Islamist militants in West Africa and pressed his allies to do more after 13 soldiers died during a combat mission this week. – Reuters 

Suspected Islamist fighters killed 14 people in eastern Congo on Friday, local authorities said, as a month-long spike in violence complicates efforts to contain a deadly Ebola outbreak. – Reuters 

Militia fighters in eastern Congo killed four people and injured several others in attacks on two Ebola response centers on Thursday, in what responders described as a serious setback to efforts to contain the epidemic. – Reuters 

The French army said on Friday that two of its helicopters that crashed in Mali this week had not been under fire from Islamic State jihadists, contradicting a statement from the militants. – Reuters

The Americas

Mexican authorities on Sunday arrested several people suspected of involvement in the killing of nine members of the LeBaron family, the extended clan of American Mormons whose deaths last month drew international attention to rising violence in this country. – Washington Post

Dozens of cartel gunmen attacked a town hall in northern Mexico, triggering a running battle with security forces that left 19 dead by Sunday in a fresh sign of the deteriorating security around the country. – Washington Post  

Canada is being asked to contribute funding to Mexico’s labor reforms in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade talks, the Globe and Mail reported on Friday, citing a source. – Reuters 

Mexico on Wednesday rejected “interventionism” after U.S. President Donald Trump said he will designate the Latin American nation’s cartels as terrorist organizations, while a former U.S. official warned of unintended outcomes from such a move. – Reuters 

Bolivia’s interim government has named a temporary ambassador to the United States for the first time in more than a decade amid a redrawing of the South American nation’s international ties, including its shunning of traditional allies Venezuela and Cuba. – Reuters


During his nearly two years serving as U.S. ambassador to Norway, President Donald Trump’s replacement for abruptly ousted Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, Kenneth “K.J.” Braithwaite, pressed NATO allies to boost their defense spending while assuring the U.S. would never desert the 70-year-old pact. – Defense News 

As the U.S. Air Force looks increasingly toward virtual reality for speeding up and cutting the cost of pilot training, Canadian defense firm CAE is stepping forward with own courseware and virtual reality system with the hopes of attracting interest from the U.S. and international militaries. – Defense News 

Training aircraft took center stage at the 2019 Dubai Airshow, as defense contractors from around the world showed off trainers and their attack variants to potential buyers. – Defense News

Earlier this year, the Defense Digital Service — the Pentagon’s cadre of coders and hackers performing a short stint in government — finished the second phase of a pilot program to streamline cyber training for the Army. – Fifth Domain  

Mackenzie Eaglen writes: The United States is already playing catch up in competition—whether in technology, logistics, investments or relationships. It’s past time for a competition roadmap for the Defense Department, the US government, and the nation. The longer we delay, the further we fall behind. – Real Clear Defense  

Long War

The killing of two people by a convicted terrorist on early release from prison has highlighted a growing challenge for security services in the U.K. and across Europe: the return into the community of people who have served time in jail for terrorism offenses. – Wall Street Journal  

The British government will review its sentencing policies after a convicted terrorist on early release from prison carried out a stabbing attack in the heart of London that left two people dead. – Wall Street Journal 

Washington and its European allies are at odds over how to prosecute and detain about 2,000 foreign Islamic State fighters being held in Syria, eight months after U.S.-backed forces seized the last sliver of the group’s self-described caliphate there. – Wall Street Journal 

A former Irish soldier who converted to Islam, traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State and married a British jihadi fighter, was arrested at Dublin Airport on Sunday for questioning about possible terrorism crimes, having been deported from Turkey. – New York Times 

Islamic State said the London Bridge attack on Friday was carried out by one of its fighters, the group’s Amaq news agency reported on Saturday. The group did not provide any evidence. – Reuters 

A court in Australia sentenced three men on Friday to decades in prison for plotting bomb attacks on Christmas Day in 2016 at key sites in the southeastern city of Melbourne, police said. – Reuters  

Turkey will repatriate 11 French Islamic State detainees early in December, state media quoted Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu as saying on Thursday, as Ankara pressed on with a repatriation program that had strained ties with some of its allies. – Reuters 

Trump Administration

As the impeachment inquiry moves into a critical week, President Trump and his Republican allies are debating the degree to which the president should participate in a process they have spent more than two months attacking. – Washington Post 

President Trump has until Dec. 6 to decide whether to have his counsel participate in the House’s impeachment hearings, according to a letter sent Friday by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). – Washington Post

Members of the House Intelligence Committee will begin reviewing a report Monday on the panel’s investigation of President Donald Trump’s efforts to press Ukraine to investigate his Democratic adversaries, a crucial step in the House’s fast-moving impeachment inquiry. – Politico 

Editorial: While Americans enjoyed Thanksgiving, the world still turned in ways that were good, bad, and unsettled if not ugly. All three events could affect President Trump’s re-election prospects as they play out in the coming year. – Wall Street Journal