Fdd's overnight brief

December 24, 2019

In The News


After days of protests across Iran last month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared impatient. Gathering his top security and government officials together, he issued an order: Do whatever it takes to stop them. – Reuters

The head of Iran’s Nuclear Energy Organization has said his country is ready to draft a document disavowing nuclear weapons and certifying that Iran’s nuclear program has only peaceful purposes. – Radio Farda

Prince Reza Pahlavi, the exiled heir to Iran’s throne has asked European members of the UN Security Council to support a legal case against the Islamic Republic after a Reuters report saying 1, 500 protesters were killed by security forces in November. – Radio Farda

A top Iranian official said that Israel “will regret” its attacks in Syria, which have reportedly targeted Iranian resources and weapons shipments. – Times of Israel

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, threatened on Sunday that Iran will take a fifth step of scaling back its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal with western powers, the Xinhua news agency reports. – Arutz Sheva

Iran began new operations on Monday at a heavy water nuclear reactor, the head of the country’s nuclear agency said. The move was seemingly designed to intensify pressure on Europe to find an effective way around U.S. sanctions that block Tehran’s oil sales abroad. – Associated Press


Governments worldwide have been wrestling with the question of whether thousands of women like Bint Fatma are conspirators or victims — and whether bringing them home is a moral imperative or a security risk. At stake, too, is the future of thousands of children born into the Islamic State’s “caliphate” through no fault of their own. – Washington Post

Russia and the Syrian government have intensified attacks on the last rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria, forcing tens of thousands to flee toward the Turkish border amid fears of an all-out offensive to recapture the territory. – Wall Street Journal

Russia is flexing its growing presence in the strategic Mediterranean region by holding its first joint exercises with the Syrian navy, and the nuclear-powered USS Harry S. Truman — a 90,000-ton reminder of U.S. diplomacy and military might — is keeping an extra watchful eye. – NBC

Josh Rogin writes: Moscow’s plan to cut off humanitarian aid is part of a larger drive to force all aid groups to work through the Damascus government. That gives Assad control over lifesaving aid, enabling him to feed his supporters and starve anyone who resists his cruel rule as he steps away from international diplomatic efforts. – Washington Post


In a detailed memo to senators, the Trump administration is fighting a bill that would punish Turkey for buying Russian missiles, arguing it would drive the countries closer together. Of note, Team Trump opposes a provision in the bill that would help Syrian Kurdish refugees immigrate to the United States. – The Daily Beast

On December 15, 2019, it was reported that Turkey had deployed three shipping containers of armed and unarmed drones to the Geçitkale Airport in Northern Cyprus to protect Turkey’s drillships and seismic research ships in the Eastern Mediterranean. The same day, it was reported that the Israeli Air Force had circled a Turkish ship in the Eastern Mediterranean, likely in response to an incident two weeks prior in which the Turkish navy had driven the Israeli research ship Bat Galim from the area. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Keith Johnson writes: Turkey is meshing together two Mediterranean crises in a desperate bid to reshape the region in its own favor, with potentially nasty implications both for the ongoing civil war in Libya and future energy development in the eastern Mediterranean. […]The energy question in the eastern Mediterranean is taking on new urgency from Ankara’s point of view.The United States passed legislation last week that will boost U.S. support for energy development in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as greater security assistance for Greece and Cyprus. – Foreign Policy


Israel opposes an accord signed last month between Libya and Turkey mapping out maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, but the deal was unlikely to lead to a conflict with Turkey, Israel’s foreign minister said on Monday. – Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to annex the West Bank’s Jordan Valley have reportedly entered a “deep freeze” following the International Criminal Court’s decision to move forward with a potential war crimes. – Times of Israel

A UN panel dedicated to fighting racism has decided to review Palestinian complaints that Israel’s policies in the West Bank amount to apartheid, despite the global body’s legal adviser having previously said it doesn’t have the authority to deal with the matter, Channel 13 news reported Monday. – Times of Israel

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians on Monday night announced that he was expanding the permitted fishing zone off the Gaza coast back to 15 nautical miles, as it had been before a series of rocket and mortar attacks last week. – Times of Israel

A Palestinian armed with a knife attempted to infiltrate Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Monday. According to the Israeli news site Walla, the man crossed the border, drew a knife and advanced toward a group of IDF soldiers. He was shot and arrested, and then airlifted to a hospital in Beersheba. No soldiers were injured. – Algemeiner

Vivian Bercovici writes: Perhaps Bensouda and her staff feel that, as Israel has not acceded to the Rome Statute, there is no obligation for ICC staff to meet with its officials, representatives, or supporters. If reports of such refusal are true, however, it reinforces Israel’s fundamental reason for not joining the ICC club: that, given the tone of international diplomacy, (particularly the UN) vis a vis Israel, the Jewish state is highly unlikely to be treated fairly in any such process or adjudication.- Commentary Magazine

Saudi Arabia

The United States considers Saudi Arabia’s sentencing of five people to death and three more to jail over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi “an important step” in holding those responsible for the crime accountable, a senior official of the U.S. administration said on Monday. – Reuters

Editorial: Saudi Arabia has delivered a shameful travesty of justice in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Following a closed trial, authorities announced Monday that five people implicated in the Oct. 2, 2018, killing had been sentenced to death, and three more were given prison sentences. None were named. […]Most likely they were excused at the direction of the crown prince, who, according to the CIA, is the real author of the crime.- Washington Post

Editorial: World politics require uneasy alliances and sometimes tenuous understandings with rulers and governments that range from mildly flawed to unseemly to pure evil. The United States’s relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an example of this. It continues to serve U.S. interests even if it must be carefully balanced and calibrated to avoid giving the impression of condoning Saudi brutality. – Washington Examiner

Agnes Callamard writes: To this point, the Saudi investigation and trial have been grossly inadequate, failing to meet even minimal international standards. Under international human rights law, the murder of Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist, was an extrajudicial execution for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible. Yet at no point did the investigation or trial consider the responsibilities of the state. – Washington Post

David Ignatius writes: Closing the book on a murder case isn’t possible until prosecutors have gathered the facts and a court has weighed the evidence and shared it with the public. Who did it? Who sanctioned the killing and bears ultimate responsibility? That’s the basic question in any criminal case. With Khashoggi’s murder, we still don’t know the answer. – Washington Post

Simon Henderson writes: The legal part of the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi is coming to an end. The public relations phase, which already has started, will now go into high gear — and today’s announcement by the Saudi prosecutor is not likely to be the final word. […]Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leader of the Islamic world, so it doesn’t like that such summits occur. Is its leadership being challenged? That’s the sort of topic about which Jamal Khashoggi might have written an op-ed in the Washington Post. – The Hill

Middle East & North Africa

The U.S. has stopped providing bomb-sniffing dogs to Egypt and Jordan after an investigation disclosed that several dogs in those countries died because of mistreatment and neglect, U.S. officials said Monday. – Wall Street Journal

Algeria’s de facto ruler, Gen. Ahmed Gaïd Salah, who this year managed the ouster of one president and the ascent of another amid deep civil unrest, died on Monday, according to the state news agency and Algerian press reports. – New York Times

Thousands of protesters blocked roads and bridges across southern Iraq on Monday, condemning Iranian influence and political leaders who missed another deadline to agree on a new prime minister. – Agence France-Presse

There are growing indications that the Islamic State (IS) group is re-organising in Iraq, two years after losing the last of its territory in the country. – BBC

Korean Peninsula

Leaders from China, Japan and South Korea reiterated their commitment to ending North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs at a trilateral summit Tuesday that comes against the backdrop of increasing demands by Pyongyang for sanctions relief. – Associated Press

A new satellite image of a factory where North Korea makes military equipment used to launch long-range missiles shows the construction of a new structure. – Associated Press

While the North American Aerospace Defense Command stays alert for any signs of a North Korea missile launch – what officials in Pyongyang have described as a “Christmas gift” – it is also tracking the legendary figure who delivers presents to children across the world, the command said on Monday. – Reuters


Infrastructure stimulus measures to offset the impact of the prolonged trade war with the U.S. have boosted consumption, while Beijing has taken a softer stance on coal use after a missile attack in September on Saudi Arabia, China’s biggest source of oil imports, underscored the country’s reliance on foreign energy. – Wall Street Journal

Rising space power China on Monday attacked the newly created U.S. Space Force as a “direct threat to outer space peace and security.” – Associated Press

China dismissed accusations of forced labor at a Shanghai prison on Monday, a day after media reports that a message had been found in a Christmas card saying it had been packed by inmates. – Reuters


Russian President Vladimir Putin triumphantly stood Monday at the front of the first train car to cross the controversial Crimean Bridge, a symbolic trip across the Kerch Strait more than five years after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. – Washington Post

Russian officials say a top-of-the-line fighter jet has crashed on a training mission but that its pilot bailed out safely. […]Some of them have been flown in combat during Russia’s military campaign in Syria.- Associated Press

A U.S. diplomat on Monday visited an American jailed in Moscow for nearly a year on spying charges and said he is in good condition mentally. – Associated Press

Russia’s envoy at talks between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists said Monday that they agreed on conditions for a prisoner exchange following a deal reached by the two nations’ presidents. – Associated Press

Russia on Tuesday released five Japanese fishing boats detained last week near Russian-controlled islands claimed by Japan, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, adding that all crew members are in good health. – Reuters

Greece’s top administrative court has suspended a decision to extradite a Russian man suspected of laundering billions of dollars in digital currency to France until it hears an appeal, his lawyer said on Monday. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin on Monday opened a rail route linking Russia’s two biggest cities to Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and said it proved that the country could deliver on giant infrastructure projects. – Reuters

According to Elena Ananyeva, head of the Center for British Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, the collapse of the EU will lead to a war on Russia’s border. She also added that one should not bemoan Labour’s defeat as anti-Russian sentiment is as strong in the Labour Party as it is in the Conservative Party. Stanislav Byshok, executive director of the CIS-EMO monitoring organization, assessed that before and after Brexit, the attitudes towards Russia in Britain will not change. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Despite Mr. Tusk’s passionate pleas, sometimes awkward jokes and Twitter commentary, the European Union signally failed to show the solidarity he demanded on the biggest issue of the last five years — migration. The crisis fed identity politics and populism in countries like Germany, Hungary, Italy and Mr. Tusk’s Poland, and helped set Britain on its path out of the European Union — another painful failure for Mr. Tusk, who had been fervently against Brexit. – New York Times

U.S. military aid to the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — three NATO members that border Russia — will climb to $175 million for 2020, Estonia’s defense ministry said Monday. – The Hill

Giorgio Cafiero and Sina Azodi write: By embracing Erdoğan, as well as Putin and Assad, while continuing to upset fellow EU members, Orbán’s “eastern bromance” will continue to make Hungary the best European friend of Turkey, Russia, and Syria. What remains to be seen is how Budapest’s maverick foreign policy impacts Hungary’s ties with the rest of the EU, which may consider taking steps to pressure Orbán’s administration into rejoining the European consensus on many of these hot-button issues. – Middle East Institute


Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper is weighing proposals for a major reduction — or even a complete pullout — of American forces from West Africa as the first phase of reviewing global deployments that could reshuffle thousands of troops around the world, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. – New York Times

Ivory Coast has issued an arrest warrant for Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader and candidate in next year’s presidential election, the public prosecutor said on Monday, forcing Soro to call off a planned homecoming after months overseas. – Reuters

The Trump administration has withdrawn the U.S. ambassador to Zambia after the country’s government became incensed over the diplomat’s criticism of the country’s highest court for jailing two men over homosexual relations. – The Hill

Seven players from the Eritrean football team have gone missing after playing in the East African regional championship in Uganda. – BBC

Eight West African countries have agreed to cut some of their financial links with France in a move which will see the end of a currency known as the CFA franc. – BBC

Nathaniel Allen writes: Defeating Boko Haram will require a fundamental shift in how the Nigerian government has handled the insurgency. To date, policymakers in Abuja have relied on a combination of neglect, ruthlessness, and over-confidence, downplaying the scale of the problem and relying on military force to substitute for a broader political strategy. A growing acceptance within Nigeria’s armed forces and governing institutions that the insurgency is once again a rising threat provides an opportunity for policymakers to change course. – War on the Rocks

The Americas

The religious paraphernalia and occult items that Noriega left behind in what soldiers dubbed “the witch house” provided a fascinating glimpse into the psyche of an enigmatic man who had been a CIA asset during his rise to power, yet had also helped rebels in Central and South America and had profited from drug and arms trafficking – Washington Post

Cracks have even appeared in Guaidó‘s base of support in the National Assembly, the only major institution controlled by the opposition. His re-election as congressional president is no longer assured and legislators’ official terms expire in a few months. – Associated Press

Venezuela has arrested 11 people in connection with a weekend raid of a remote military outpost in southern Bolivar state, but some suspects have fled across the border to Brazil with stolen weapons, President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday. – Reuters

Mexico on Monday accused Bolivia of intimidating its diplomats while Bolivia said Mexico had hijacked a regional summit and dragged its feet in recognizing its new, conservative premier. – Reuters

Editorial: There is no debate that the peacekeeping forces, which involved dozens of countries, helped bring a modicum of security and relief to a dysfunctional, impoverished and battered country. But the documented sexual predation cries out for a far stronger response from the United Nations and its members. – New York Times

Roberto Mangabeira Unger writes: The troubles of South America seem all too familiar. To overcome them, however, requires a new direction in the economy, in politics and in thought. Citizens of the United States, take note: This story is also about you. – New York Times


The Air Force Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapons Systems (CROWS), established by a provision in a 2016 law charging the Department of Defense to identify and mitigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities of weapon systems, initially focused on legacy systems. However, its director says now it’s also taking aim at new ones. – Fifth Domain

A chat app that quickly became popular in the United Arab Emirates for communicating with friends and family is actually a spying tool used by the government to track its users, according to a newspaper report. – Associated Press

Russia completed a series of tests on Monday checking that its internet services could function if the country were to get cut off from the worldwide web, Deputy Communications Minister Aleksei Sokolov said. – Reuters


The White House wants the U.S. Navy to go back to the drawing board and find new ways to replace its aging sealift fleet, a move that could set back efforts that military officials see as vital to maintaining the military’s ability to project power across the globe. – Defense News

Just three years after Congress created a new civilian position focused on Defense Department reforms and named it the No. 3 official in the Pentagon, key lawmakers are leaning toward eliminating the office. – Defense News

While essentially killing the U.S. Army’s plan to competitively acquire a replacement for the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, Congress in its fiscal 2020 defense spending package is injecting more than $100 million to fund the advancement of next-generation combat vehicle technology and is allocated another couple hundred million dollars for technology that will benefit related efforts. – Defense News

The U.S. State Department said on Monday it has stopped sending explosive-detecting dogs to Jordan and Egypt over concerns of deaths of deployed dogs from causes like heat stroke and poisoning. – Reuters

Gen. James C. Mcconville and Maj. Gen. J.P. Mcgee write: For all the reasons we have laid out here, we made the decision to have all officers competing for battalion command complete BCAP beginning in January 2020. We are changing the paradigm. No longer will we spend weeks selecting a private for the Ranger Regiment while spending an average of two minutes to select battalion commanders. We can and will do better. We may not have it exactly right with BCAP in its current form. If not, we will learn and adapt. – War on the Rocks

Eric Lofgren writes: The trends toward deep tech provides a major opportunity for the Department of Defense. […]Enterprise tools, whether in the DoD or at shared services companies, must expand into hardware to lower barriers to entry. Bigger bets on commercial deep tech companies must also be made. For both of these initiatives to occur, the budget process needs investigation by leaders in defense and Congress. – Defense News

Jack Yoest writes: The market appears to be showing increasing confidence in large mergers. Our military should also be as confident in relying on the private sector as a partner to defend against China. – Defense News

Trump Administration

The efforts came at the same time they were assisting Mr. Giuliani in his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter. Both have denied wrongdoing. That campaign is now at the center of the impeachment case against Mr. Trump. – Wall Street Journal

Republican and Democratic leaders in the US Senate have clashed over rules of President Trump’s impeachment trial. Democrats are demanding assurances that witnesses and documents will be allowed, to enable what they term a fair trial. – BBC

The House is open to the prospect of impeaching President Donald Trump a second time, lawyers for the Judiciary Committee said Monday. – Politico

Attorney General William Barr’s defense of President Donald Trump amid impeachment is raising questions about potential conflicts of interest as legal experts accuse the Justice Department chief of ignoring his responsibility as the nation’s top prosecutor. – Newsweek

Walter Russell Mead writes: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants to make religious freedom the centerpiece of American human-rights policy. This is not just about shoring up President Trump’s support among religious voters. Mr. Pompeo tells me that religious liberty is a key condition of prosperity and security, and putting it at the center of American human-rights advocacy will highlight what he calls “the central premise of American foreign policy and the Trump administration,” that “the essential dignity of every human being matters.” – Wall Street Journal