Fdd's overnight brief

December 26, 2019

In The News


Iran’s armed forces will hold a joint, four-day naval exercise with Russia and China in the northern part of the Indian Ocean, a spokesman said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Iran’s authorities have restricted mobile internet access in several provinces, an Iranian news agency reported on Wednesday, a day before new protests were expected to kick off following calls for demonstrations on social media. – Reuters

But even more than Eisenkot in the latter’s speech in this same place last year, Kochavi sounds almost fatalistic in his assessment that military friction between Israel and Iran is expected to increase over the next year and could, under extreme circumstances, even deteriorate into war. – Haaretz

Iran’s top ranking chess player is reportedly seeking to renounce his citizenship to get around the country’s policy of not competing against Israeli athletes. – Times of Israel

Iranian security forces confronted demonstrators in multiple cities in Iran on Wednesday night, reported Al Arabiya, as demonstrations began in Tehran and other cities around the country – Jerusalem Post

Jason Rezaian writes: To me, this little girl symbolizes just how sinister Iran’s hostage-taking is. As Western leaders calculate the costs of negotiating the releases of their innocent citizens held in Tehran, I hope Moore-Gilbert’s words ring in their ears and they see Gabriella’s face when they close their eyes. Continuing to ignore them is no longer an option. – Washington Post

David Burnett writes: The recent protests were sparked by a sharp rise in gasoline prices and underscored widespread economic discontent. But there were also slogans for the removal of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is unlikely there will be a change in leadership, but it is always a bad idea to underestimate the power of the people in the streets. – New York Times


A crushing military offensive by the Syrian government and its Russian allies in northern Syria has killed dozens of civilians and displaced more than 100,000 people in less than 10 days, humanitarian aid groups and medical officials there say. – Washington Post

More than 200,000 men, women and children fled their homes in northwest Syria in buses, trucks and cars in recent weeks, amid intense air and ground bombardment by government forces, a Syrian relief group said Wednesday. – Associated Press

A spokesman for Turkish president Recep Erdogan said they have asked Russia for a ceasefire. The spokesman said Russia told Turkey they will try to stop attacks in Idlib. – Sky News (UK)

A top adviser to Syria’s president says the United States has no right to Syria’s oil and has warned of “operations” against American troops guarding the oil fields. – NBC

At least five pro-Iranian militants were killed in strikes by unidentified aircraft in eastern Syria on Wednesday night, a Syria war monitor reported. – Times of Israel

American and Russian troops brawled in Tell Tamer in northeast Syria on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. – Jerusalem Post


Turkey’s president has warned that he would evict U.S. forces from two military bases in his country if Washington imposes new sanctions on his government—creating a quandary for the NATO alliance as it seeks to cope with Ankara’s deepening ties to Russia. – Wall Street Journal

Turkey’s president has met with Tunisia’s president in a surprise visit to Tunis to discuss the conflict in neighboring Libya. – Associated Press

Lawmakers seeking to counter Turkey and Russia are investing in new efforts in the Mediterranean region to bolster U.S. allies like Israel, Greece and Cyprus. – The Hill

On December 22, 2019, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke about the movement of Syrians toward the Turkey-Syria border amid an ongoing offensive in Idlib by Syrian government forces in a speech he gave at the İlim Yayma Ödül Töreni (“Spreading Knowledge Award Ceremony”) at Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul President Erdoğan said: “[…]All European countries, above all, Greece, will feel the negative reflections of the pressure to which we will be exposed. In such a situation, a repeat of what happened before the March 18 concord will be unavoidable.” – Middle East Media Research Institute 


Israel said a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip into its southern territory Wednesday, forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be hustled from a stage during an election rally in the city of Ashkelon. – Associated Press

Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett signed an order on Wednesday to seize financial payments made by the Palestinian Authority to eight jailed Israeli-Arab terrorists. The PA has provided substantial sums of money over the years to both imprisoned terrorists and their families in what has been nicknamed a “pay-to-slay” policy.  – Algemeiner

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin told him the two countries could have found themselves at war had it not been for the close relationship between their leaders. – Times of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday defended an airstrike that killed nine civilian members of the same family in Gaza last month, saying the compound targeted was used by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group and that it did not anticipate that civilians would be killed there. – Times of Israel

Israel has many detractors, real and imagined, but since Friday the country has a brand new public enemy number one: Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. […]Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly accused her of “pure anti-Semitism,” comparing the legalistic argumentation she put forward to the anti-Jewish decrees by the villains of the Hanukkah story. – Times of Israel

The Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, the “military wing” of the Popular Resistance Committees terrorist organization, on Wednesday sent a threatening message to Israel in response to the comments of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi regarding the possibility of Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip. – Arutz Sheva

Hamas on Wednesday called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to issue a “presidential decree,” setting a date for new presidential and parliamentary elections, without waiting for Israel’s approval to hold the vote in east Jerusalem. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iranian-recruited Afghans affiliated with the group Liwa Fatemiyoun posted a video on Tuesday showing them near the Golan Heights and claiming that they had come to fight the “Zionists.” […]The long-term role of the Fatemiyoun is unclear in Syria but their reference to fighting Israel is part of a larger nexus of Iranian-backed militias in the country, including those from Iraq such as Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which also view Israel as their main enemy. – Jerusalem Post


The Iraqi Parliament made good on its promise to overhaul the country’s election laws, voting on Tuesday to make sweeping changes in how lawmakers are elected, seemingly in response to demands from protesters to give citizens a greater voice. – New York Times

An Iranian-backed bloc in Iraq’s parliament proposed Wednesday the governor of oil-rich southern Basra province as the country’s next prime minister, two officials said. The nomination was promptly rejected by Iraqi protesters who want an independent candidate to take over the government. – Associated Press

Anger over Iran’s stranglehold on Baghdad’s political system has helped propel an unprecedented protest movement — and now Iraqi activists are hitting the Islamic Republic where it hurts, with a goods boycott. – Agence France-Presse

Iran’s Quds Force is moving advanced weaponry into Iraq on a monthly basis, Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said on Wednesday, adding that this is something Israel cannot allow to go on unchecked. – Haaretz 

Dennis Ross and Dana Stroul write: Protests and upheaval are sweeping Iraq and Lebanon. The wrath of demonstrators in the streets is being directed against their own political classes and at Iran’s government. Citizens in Lebanon and Iraq are not only fed up with economic mismanagement, ineffective governance, and entrenched corruption of political elites at home, but they also directly link their dismal situation to Tehran’s corrupting influence and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s exploitation of their countries to fund and arm militias unaccountable to their countries. – Foreign Policy

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is facing a growing number of calls to lift a travel ban on a prominent Saudi American physician who has been in legal limbo since being jailed and allegedly tortured as part of a mass crackdown in the kingdom more than two years ago. – Washington Post

Editorial: The U.S. has to deal with MBS given U.S. interests in an ugly region and Iran’s desire for regional dominance. But America doesn’t have to give credence to Saudi Arabia’s dubious explanations. The murder and its aftermath have revealed the recklessness of MBS, and the need to be cautious in trusting his judgment or cooperating with his adventures. – Wall Street Journal

Dominic Waghorn writes: The impression given has been of a government scrambling to cover up a disastrous murder, after its every step was exposed by Turkish intelligence, whose cameras and microphones were able to catalogue the outrage in a way the Saudis never anticipated. – Sky News (UK)

Middle East & North Africa

The founder of an Egyptian publishing house was sentenced to five years in prison for distributing an Arabic version of an Israeli novel, his brother said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry condemned Israeli visits to the Temple Mount on Wednesday, referring to them as “ongoing Israeli violations against the Al-Aqsa Mosque”, according to Jordan’s official news agency. – Jerusalem Post

Arab League Secretary General Ahmmed Aboul Gheit has expressed increasing concern regarding the expanding roles of Iran and Turkey in the region. He has described their aspirations in Syria, and Turkey’s threats to send forces to Libya, as threats to Arab national security. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be planning to give him “a nice present” such as a “beautiful vase” for Christmas rather than a missile launch. – Associated Press

The U.S. military sent four surveillance airplanes over the Korean peninsula on Christmas Eve after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a veiled threat of a possible missile launch. – Washington Examiner

Days before a troop-funding deal was set to expire, the U.S. has dropped its demand that South Korea pay five times more to host its military personnel after receiving assurances Seoul would purchase more American weapons, a newspaper report said. – Bloomberg

North Korea’s threat to deliver a “Christmas gift” to the U.S. appears to have fizzled, with no reports of military action by Pyongyang as of late Wednesday. – The Hill


Tens of billions of dollars in financial assistance from the Chinese government helped fuel Huawei Technologies Co.’s rise to the top of global telecommunications, a scale of support that in key measures dwarfed what its closest tech rivals got from their governments. – Wall Street Journal

China made overtures on trade to Japan and South Korea and offered support for an infrastructure initiative as it hosted the leaders of its two neighbours this week amid strained ties with the US. – Agence France-Presse

Christopher Balding writes: Washington is wary, and prefers a more discretionary approach contingent upon commitments being met. This will be a hot-button issue in Beijing and probably the one most likely to scupper the current deal and any hope of a phase two if China feels tariffs aren’t being reversed fast enough. Normally, each side would agree to scheduled reductions based on performance or time. The lack of a schedule speaks to the depths of distrust on each side. – Bloomberg


So when the white-haired 66-year-old was shot dead by mysterious gunmen on a motorbike while he walked home from afternoon prayers on Nov. 20, the shock here was widespread and the chilling effect instant. – Washington Post

Afghan roads are some of the most dangerous in the world, turned into killing grounds through years of bitter guerrilla warfare. Off-duty police officers and soldiers, judges, government officials, human rights workers, businessmen, prosecutors — all have been killed on highways in Afghanistan’s rugged countryside. – New York Times

The Taliban ambushed a peace convoy in western Afghanistan and abducted 26 activists who are members of a peace movement, a police spokesman said on Wednesday. – Associated Press

Taliban militants ambushed a government checkpoint in Balkh province in Afghanistan’s north, killing at least 15 members of the security forces, local officials said on Tuesday, the latest in an escalating series of insurgent attacks. – Reuters


As violence escalated in Hong Kong over recent months, senior officials repeatedly ruled out a full inquiry into increasingly aggressive police tactics toward pro-democracy demonstrators. […]Concerns over a lack of police accountability underpin the sentiments fueling the unrest — growing fears that Hong Kong’s rule of law is being eroded as Beijing tightens its grip over the territory. – Washington Post

With Tsai’s reelection, the divide between millennials who want an independent Taiwan and older generations who have generally been more amenable to Communist-run China will only grow wider. Perhaps irrevocably so. – Washington Post

Angry citizens have swelled the streets of cities across the globe this year, pushing back against a disparate range of policies but often expressing a common grievance — the establishment’s failure to heed their demands for a more equitable future. […]Elsewhere, as in Hong Kong, Algeria and India, calls for greater political freedom have become a potent rallying force. – Agence France-Presse

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen urged parliament on Wednesday to have more discussion on a proposed anti-infiltration bill which the government says is needed to combat Chinese influence and has been condemned by the main opposition and Beijing. – Reuters

The Kuala Lumpur Summit was designed by the leaders of Malaysia, Turkey and Pakistan to proactively address the challenges facing the Muslim world. Instead, the last-minute withdrawal of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, under pressure from his ally Saudi Arabia, highlighted the fissures in Muslim international politics. – Ahval

Joseph Bosco writes: In addition to announcing that security commitment formally, President Trump should communicate it in a congratulatory telephone call to the winner of Taiwan’s election in January. Considering that such calls are made to the leaders of states that threaten America’s interests and seek to undermine our values, it’s the least that can be done for a valiant democracy that is contributing to U.S. national security. Brave leaders who share America’s values and interests should be at least as welcome in Washington as genocidal dictators who threaten them. – The Hill


After trying a number of methods to silence the dissident Aleksei A. Navalny and his supporters, the Russian authorities tried something new this week: They seized one of his key allies, put him into compulsory military service and sent him to the Arctic. […]In October, the country’s Justice Ministry classified the Anti-Corruption Foundation as a “foreign agent,” a label often used to stigmatize anti-Kremlin groups in Russia. – New York Times

President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia has got a strong edge in designing new weapons and that it has become the only country in the world to deploy hypersonic weapons. – Associated Press

Talks in Moscow between a Turkish government delegation and Russian diplomats lasted for three days, much longer than expected, as the two sides tried to find compromises on Syria and Libya, the Vedomosti daily reported on Thursday. – Reuters

Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused the U.N. secretary general of turning a blind eye to what Moscow says is U.S. delays in issuing visas for Russian officials seeking to travel to the U.N. headquarters in New York. – Reuters

Western allies fear that Russia will gain sovereignty over Belarus, a former Soviet satellite state that could help preserve Vladimir Putin’s grip on power and sharpen Kremlin threats against NATO members. – Washington Examiner


Jihadists attacked a town in northern Burkina Faso and killed 35 civilians, most of them women, and ensuing clashes with security forces left 80 jihadists dead, the West African nation’s president announced late Tuesday. – Associated Press

Zambia’s home affairs minister said on Tuesday that a U.S. ambassador who criticised the jailing of a gay couple for 15 years had “crossed the line,” adding that the United States had responded to an official complaint by recalling him. – Reuters

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki flew to Addis Ababa Wednesday for his first meeting with the Ethiopian prime minister since Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize for initiating a thaw between the sparring neighbors. – Agence France-Presse

David A. Andelman writes: But, of course, Africa does have a tangible impact on American interests. An American pullback would leave a large hole that China and Russia would be only too happy to fill. […]Both countries have invested broadly in the continent, seeking to win hearts and minds, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping even making a swing through a number of key countries last year. – CNN

The Americas

Last Christmas, devastated Venezuela saw shortages of everything from tinsel to toilet paper. This year, the socialist government has given a weary nation an unexpected holiday gift. A dose of the free market. – Washington Post

Amid a political crisis that has consumed the country for more than two months, the Bolivian police have stepped up their presence around the Mexican Embassy, which has given refuge to allies of the country’s former president, Evo Morales. – New York Times

Former Bolivia president Evo Morales told AFP on Tuesday that he was forced from office by a United States-backed coup d’etat aimed at gaining access to the South American country’s vast lithium resources. – Agence France-Presse

Mexican authorities arrested a Texas woman after she illegally crossed the border trying to give Christmas presents to migrants awaiting asylum. – Washington Examiner

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday requested a meeting with Bolivia’s charge d’affaires to protest the “harassment and intimidation” of its diplomatic personnel in the Bolivian city La Paz. – Reuters

Marion Smith writes: The Trump administration should persistently and loudly urge other nations to follow the example of Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil and end their participation in the communist slave-trade spy ring. The U.S. should also re-establish the Cuban Medical Parole program, which President Obama ended as he left office. It allowed Cuban doctors who defect to obtain U.S. visas quickly, weakening the oppressive regime while giving doctors a fast track to freedom. – Wall Street Journal


Military cyber officials are developing information warfare tactics that could be deployed against senior Russian officials and oligarchs if Moscow tries to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections through hacking election systems or sowing widespread discord, according to current and former U.S. officials. – Washington Post

A Chinese malware broker who was sentenced in the United States this year for dealing in malicious software linked to major hacks is back at his old workplace: teaching high-school computer courses, including one on internet security. – Reuters

New Department of Homeland Security draft guidance on an updated version of the federal government’s external network security program takes a new approach to trust, moving toward a more “nuanced” view to allow for flexibility across different agencies’ mission areas. – Fifth Domain


The U.S. Air Force is set to complete a major upgrade of its C-21 fleet in 2020, officials told Defense News. – Defense News

The U.S. Army has awarded a $16.5 million contract to Robotic Research LLC for footwear-mounted trackers for dismounted soldiers to keep track of each others’ whereabouts in GPS-denied environments or places with poor connectivity. – Defense News

Congress is planning to withhold half of the U.S. Army’s funding for an enduring indirect fire protection system until the service produces a report on its plans to develop and field such a system as well as results on the performance of its interim capability — Rafael’s Iron Dome. – Defense News

A small but potentially substantial change in the Pentagon’s five-year budget projection slows down the buying profile for the U.S. Navy’s new frigate, which is expected to be awarded in 2020, according to a memo from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to the Department of Defense obtained by Defense News. – Defense News

The US Navy has put forward a proposal to decommission the first four littoral combat ships in 2021 as part of a cost-savings measure, according to a memorandum from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to the Defense Department. – Defense News

The Department of Defense has sent a plan to the White House that would cut the construction of more than 40 percent of its planed Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyers in in fiscal years 2021 through 2025. – Defense News

The U.S. military will likely take a hybrid approach to meet its satellite communications needs in the future, relying on bandwidth from commercial services and government-owned systems. But the mechanics of how the Pentagon will get there isn’t exactly clear. – C4ISRNET

Trump Administration

President Trump will face a volatile world in 2020 as he seeks to make his case for reelection. From North Korea’s renewed threats of a nuclear escalation to Trump’s perennial desire to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, global hotspots will test Trump in myriad ways in the coming year. – The Hill

Since its announcement earlier this month, US President Donald Trump’s executive order on combating antisemitism has drawn both praise and criticism, underscoring the tensions that have surrounded efforts to protect Jewish students from a years-long escalation in campus hostility. The ensuing debate has raised valuable questions — foremost among them, whether the order will help those it was designed to protect, and at what cost. – Algemeiner

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, now the personal attorney for President Trump, pushed back against criticism of his claim that he is ‘more of a Jew than George Soros’, rejecting allegations his comments were anti-Semitic. In a tweet Tuesday, Giuliani wrote that George Soros, the 89-year-old billionaire hedge-funder and left-wing donor, funded groups which work to destroy the State of Israel. – Arutz Sheva