Fdd's overnight brief

December 27, 2019

In The News


That seemingly simple tribute led to the arrest of Bakhtiari family members this week, according to Iranian media and human rights groups. On Thursday, Iran limited Internet and phone services in some major cities and put security forces on high alert for protests — or even unsanctioned acts of honoring the dead. – Washington Post

Forty days after the first protesters were killed in Iran’s worst unrest in decades, Iranians took their grievances against the government to cemeteries on Thursday, marking both the end of the traditional mourning period and their determination not to back down. – New York Times

A French-Iranian researcher locked up in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison has gone on a hunger strike along with an academic and co-prisoner from Australia, a rights group said. – Associated Press

Iran, China and Russia began joint naval drills on Friday in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, an Iranian naval spokesman said. – Reuters

Editorial: The Iranian model is to present a credible threat to Israel from Syria and also from Iraq. […]Iran is not secretive about its goals: It says that it wants to attack and destroy Israel. This is an existential threat that the international community must take seriously. Israel is taking it seriously – but the ability to deter Iran from its role in Iraq will be a long-term challenge. – Jerusalem Post


President Trump criticized Russia, Syria and Iran for intensifying attacks on the last major rebel stronghold in Syria, which have forced tens of thousands to flee toward the Turkish border. – Wall Street Journal

But this week, it was time to leave. For days, the thumps of artillery had been coming ever closer, the roar of warplanes more frequent; harbingers of a no-holds-barred offensive launched by the Syrian government and its Russian allies in northwest Syria’s Idlib province, the rebels’ last major bulwark against forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. – LA Times

Russian military police have taken control of a base near the Syrian city of Raqqa that was controlled by U.S. forces until a few days ago, the TASS news agency reported on Thursday. – Reuters

Editorial: Still, it should be clear who is responsible for the latest wave of Syrian suffering: the Assad regime and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. Congress recently approved new legislation sanctioning the Syrian government and all who do business with it, including Russia; legislators should insist that it be rigorously enforced. – Washington Post

Jonathan Spyer writes: So goes Syria, and so goes the region. As 2019 draws to a close, the good news from Israel’s point of view is that it is not currently faced with a potent, focused and united enemy camp – in Syria or in the region more generally. Iran is a powerful enemy, Turkey a determined adversary. But both are beset by problems and contradictions requiring their urgent attention. – Jerusalem Post


A high court in Turkey ruled on Thursday that the country’s ban on Wikipedia was unconstitutional, dealing a victory to free speech advocates more than two and a half years after the ban was imposed amid a crackdown on access to information. – New York Times

A federal judge in Manhattan on Thursday rejected a request by Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank to put on hold a federal prosecution accusing it of helping Iran evade U.S. economic sanctions. – Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Turkey next month to urge President Tayyip Erdogan to uphold the migration pact he agreed with the European Union, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported, responding to fears that conflict in Syria could unleash a new refugee wave. – Reuters


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won an overwhelming victory in a primary contest for control of his Likud party, despite corruption charges against him and months of political deadlock, to lead the party into Israel’s third national vote in a year. – Wall Street Journal

The organizers of the weekly Palestinian demonstrations along the Gaza Strip’s frontier with Israel said Thursday that they will significantly scale down the gatherings early next year. – Associated Press

Israeli security forces have unveiled a new laser-beam system designed to take down incendiary aerial devices which have burned countless acres of land over the past two years as well as drones infiltrating into Israeli airspace. – Jerusalem Post

Former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal looks set to make a return to the leadership role, KAN News has reported. – Jerusalem Post

Gal Perl Finkel writes: The willingness to act sends a message to the enemy that contrary to Israel’s image as a country that only launches airstrikes and is not prepared to absorb casualties, the willingness to exert force and risk that price to ensure peace for its citizens, reinforces Israel’s deterrence and may delay a major confrontation, or alternatively allow us to control one when it finally happens. – Ynet

Yossi Yehoshua writes: Speaking at the Inter-Disciplinary Center outside Tel Aviv, the military chief laid out his perception of the challenges facing Israel from Iran and its proxies, concentrating on the northern frontier. […]The United States is also remiss in their response to the Iranian aggression which according to the chief of staff “had increased first and foremost in regard to the Gulf states,” and a lack of U.S. response is harmful and undermines any deterrence Iran might have felt before this year. – Ynet

Amos Harel writes: The Iranians have concomitantly changed their policy regarding Israel. In recent months Tehran decided that every significant attack in Syria, Iraq or Lebanon would be met with a military reprisal. […]The tests that will face Kochavi will soon become harder, given the friction with Iran in the north, Netanyahu’s impending trial and the approaching third election. – Haaretz

Israel Harel writes: The good, desirable way out is for Tehran, Hezbollah, Hamas and the rest of our enemies to accept our existence. […]If they are not convinced – as they probably won’t be – and when the intelligence agencies warn that they’ve decided to carry out their plan, there will be no option but to land a painful, paralyzing, preemptive strike, rather than a retaliatory one. This is the miracle the IDF must perform – before the missiles land on us. – Haaretz

Ehud Olmert writes: The international community has not come to terms with these circumstances, and will never reconcile itself with the Bibi-Bennett-Ben Gvir annexation strategy. It will continue searching for ways to strike out at Israel, and find sensitive spots that will hurt Israel even more than a UN Security Council decision can. – Jerusalem Post

Emmanuel Altit, Jennifer Naouri, and Dov Jacobs write: The fact remains that the position that settlements are illegal as such serves a war-like narrative that denies any legitimacy to Jewish presence on the entire territory of Israel, as exemplified by numerous declarations, including a recent declaration by a Fatah official that Palestinian people will not relinquish a grain of soil from the land of historical Palestine from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River. – Jerusalem Post

Herb Keinon writes: The cessation of the Gaza protests removes, even if temporarily, a thorn in the side of the IDF that had to deal with them on a weekly basis, but it is unlikely to restore a sense of security to residents who live near the Gaza fence. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

Japan said Friday it would dispatch a small naval squad to waters near Iran as part of efforts to ensure safe navigation, a rare move to send military forces into an area of international strains. – Wall Street Journal

In the months since a missile and drone attack widely seen as the work of Iran left two Saudi oil facilities smoldering, the Saudi crown prince has taken an uncharacteristic turn to diplomacy to cool tensions with his regional enemies. – New York Times

The United Nations has condemned the shelling of a busy market that killed at least 17 people earlier this week in northern Yemen, a region which has been under control of Yemen’s Iran-backed rebels known as Houthis. – Associated Press

Iraq’s president refused on Thursday to designate a prime minister candidate nominated by the Iran-backed parliamentary bloc and offered to resign, plunging the country into further political uncertainty amid nearly three months of unprecedented mass protests. – Associated Press


Turkey moved closer to a major military intervention in Libya’s escalating civil war on Thursday, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a parliamentary vote that could send troops in a matter of weeks to support the embattled government of the North African country. – New York Times

Turkey’s president said Thursday that the U.N.-supported government in Libya has asked Ankara to send troops to help authorities in Tripoli defend the city from an offensive by rival forces. – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi agreed in a phone call on Thursday that they reject “foreign exploitation” in Libya and urged parties to the conflict to take “urgent steps” to resolve the fighting, the White House said. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte agreed on Thursday that the situation in Libya must be resolved in a peaceful way, the Kremlin said. – Reuters

Turkey-backed rebels from Syria will soon join the internationally-recognized Libyan government’s forces in the fight against strongman Khalifa Haftar. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

A U.S. Army base in South Korea accidentally blasted an emergency siren Thursday night instead of the somber notes of taps, officials said, igniting brief panic on the base amid North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s threats of an unwelcome “Christmas gift.” – Washington Post

North Korea’s yet-to-materialize threat of a “Christmas gift” for the United States is keeping the world on edge. Christmas came and went with no indication of military action or even fiery rhetoric from North Korea. But U.S. officials have said they will be on high alert through New Year’s Day with the possibility the unspecified gift could be delivered at a later date. – The Hill

Japanese public broadcaster NHK on Friday sent a news bulletin that incorrectly reported North Korea had launched a missile that fell into waters east of the Japanese archipelago, issuing an apology explaining it was a media training alert. – Reuters

North Korea has not yet followed through on its ominous warning of a “Christmas gift,” but that doesn’t mean the rogue regime’s threat is not real, former CIA officer Bryan Dean Wright said Thursday. – Fox News

The U.S. this week dramatically ramped up surveillance over North Korea ahead of Pyongyang’s anticipated “Christmas gift,” while the Pentagon sent an unmistakably blunt message by leaking news of a November special-operations drill that practiced taking out top North Korean officials. – Washington Times


As the company competes to build Europe’s next-generation 5G wireless networks, Huawei is spending millions of dollars on an intensive advertising and lobbying campaign, while making a bold argument to European policymakers: That while the Trump administration is unpredictable and unreliable, Huawei is a guarantor of privacy, transparency and globalization. – New York Times

When President Trump gathered his top economic advisers at the White House to decide whether to make a deal with China, Peter Navarro, his hawkish trade adviser, was ready with a flurry of arguments against the move. – New York Times

The head of China’s quantum-technology program has links to Chinese defense contractors, even as he and his team maintain research ties with Western universities, according to documents identified by a U.S. security company. – Washington Post

China has sailed its new aircraft carrier into the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Thursday, as a presidential election campaigning was in full swing on the island amid heighten tension with Beijing. – Reuters

From Beijing to America’s farm belt, skeptics are questioning just how much China has actually committed to buy — and whether U.S. farmers would be able anytime soon to export goods there in the outsize quantity that Trump has promised. – Associated Press

Abdul Malik Mujahid writes: Thus, in a moment when Muslim-majority countries the world over have abandoned their brothers and sisters in Xinjiang, it falls on the United States to take up their cause, along with the stewardship of human rights in a world that no longer respects them. Addressing this crisis could alleviate the suffering of the Uighurs and would be a victory for human rights defenders everywhere — and it’s in the national security interest of the U.S., as it would put authoritarian regimes everywhere on notice. – Washington Examiner


Islamic State in Afghanistan has become the strongest branch of the militant group outside of Iraq and Syria, according to U.S. officials, posing a persistent threat despite a U.S.-led offensive and the killing in October of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. – Wall Street Journal

The Taliban released 27 peace activists Thursday, a day after they were abducted in an ambush on their convoy in western Afghanistan, a leader of the activist organization said. – Associated Press

A powerful suicide car bombing targeted an Afghan army compound in the country’s north on Thursday morning, killing six Afghan soldiers, the defense ministry said. The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack. – Associated Press

The events of December 27, 1979 would have a lasting effect, unleashing a four-decade war that has yet to end. The Soviet Army soon got bogged down in a costly military quagmire against the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels. The Soviet Union pulled its troops out of Afghanistan in 1989 after an estimated 2 million Afghans and at least 15,000 Soviet soldiers had been killed. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

South Asia

Mobile internet was cut on Friday in parts of India’s most populous state and thousands of riot police were deployed as authorities readied for fresh protests over a citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim. […]Coupled with a mooted citizens register, it has stoked fears including in Washington and the UN rights office about the marginalisation of Muslims who make up 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people. – Agence France-Presse

Rebels in Myanmar’s Rakhine region said a captured official from Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party has died, two weeks after being taken for organizing protests against genocide accusations faced by Myanmar at the World Court. – Reuters

A Norwegian woman on holiday in India’s southern state of Kerala has been told to leave the country after she joined a protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new citizenship law, authorities said on Friday. – Reuters


The Philippines has banned two U.S. lawmakers from visiting and will introduce tighter entry restrictions for U.S. citizens should Washington enforce sanctions over the detention of a top government critic, the president’s spokesman said on Friday. – Reuters

Piracy has surged this year along Southeast Asia’s straits of Malacca and Singapore, one of the world’s busiest trade routes, according to a watch group that tracks maritime security. – Bloomberg

South Korea’s Constitutional Court dismissed on Friday an appeal by a group of women forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels to strike down an agreement signed by the two countries to settle claims over the abuse. – Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on South Korean President Moon Jae-in to initiate efforts to improve ties between the neighbors, just days after the two met and decided to tone down a feud that had sent relations to new lows. – Bloomberg

Singaporean diplomats are taking the lead in defending a two-month-old fake news law, challenging international media outlets it says are publishing misleading claims on the contentious legislation. – Bloomberg


In Russian authorities’ latest crackdown this week on Kremlin critics, opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation office was raided Thursday, just days after one of his top aides was suddenly conscripted and sent to a desolate base in the Arctic. – Washington Post

A new rail bridge from Russia to Crimea is solidifying Moscow’s hold on the peninsula it seized from Ukraine five years ago, and could prove a headache for Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky just weeks after he agreed to a raft of measures to dial back tensions with Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country. – Wall Street Journal

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has repeatedly expressed concern to Washington over U.S. visa delays for officials from Russia and other countries, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday after Moscow accused Guterres of turning a blind eye. – Reuters

Russia will take retaliatory measures against British media operating on Russian territory over what it regards as unfriendly action taken by British authorities against its own journalists, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday. – Reuters

A Russian court extended the detention of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan as he awaits a trial on charges of espionage. – Washington Examiner


Israel’s embassy to Ukraine on Thursday asked the country’s parliament to remove from its “List of Heroes” 10 people who oversaw massacres of Jews or supported the Nazi regime. – Times of Israel

Ukraine will purchase a second consignment of U.S. Javelin anti-tank missiles and launch units, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters 

A plurality of Germans think President Trump poses more of a threat to world peace than the leaders of North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran. – Washington Examiner  

Lawmakers in Montenegro passed a controversial bill on religion that may strip its biggest denomination — part of the Serbian Orthodox Church — of vast assets, and fan passions in a region still reeling from ethnic conflict. The former Yugoslav republic, which joined NATO in 2017 despite opposition from Russia, ignored objections from Moscow and former ally Serbia as it adopted the law, which requires religious communities to prove ownership over temples and land they hold or see the property become assets of the state. – Bloomberg   

The state-owned gas companies of Russia and Ukraine are set to meet in Vienna on December 26 to finalize a new transit contract. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

The incident in Halle is a turning point, warned David Gurov, a 20-year-old student originally from Cologne, whose friend was barricaded in the German synagogue as the gunman tried to force his way in. […]Now, eight decades since it was almost entirely wiped out in the Holocaust, the Jewish community of Groningen is focused on protecting what’s been salvaged in the face of rising anti-Semitism. – Politico 


When a court in Zambia sentenced a gay couple to 15 years in prison last month for breaching anti-homosexuality laws, the U.S. ambassador to the southern African country said he was “horrified.” […]This month, the Zambian government said Foote’s position was no longer “tenable,” an escalation that the State Department said it considered “to be the equivalent of a declaration that the Ambassador is Persona Non Grata.” – Washington Post

The Islamic State group has released a video claiming to show the killing of 11 Christians in Nigeria. – BBC

Islamic extremists on motorcycles killed 14 security force members who were escorting election officials in the West African nation of Niger, the first large attack there since 71 soldiers were killed in a massive ambush earlier this month, authorities said Thursday. – Associated Press

A jihadist attack that left 42 dead in the north of Burkina Faso, the worst assault in the country for five years, plunged the nation into mourning over Christmas and sparked messages of solidarity from the United Nations and Pope Francis. – Agence France-Presse

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki promised Thursday to boost cooperation with Ethiopia on the last day of his two-day visit that came as the peace process was seen as having lost momentum. – Agence France-Presse

Col. Christopher Karns writes: It was great to see an uptick and cross section of visitors to the U.S. Africa Command Headquarters and interest in the African continent in 2019. […]The roughly 5,200 U.S. Africa Command teammates supporting an African continent three-and-a-half times the size of the U.S. are definitely a force for good. Our African partners take notice, and like Santa, place U.S. actions on the good list. This is good for America and for its future security. – Military Times

The Americas

Most countries have a historic villain. For Cuba, it is Uncle Sam. For some in the Middle East, it is Israel. Here in Argentina, many direct their rage at the International Monetary Fund. Hating on the multilateral lender, which steps in to bail out indebted governments, is something close to a national sport in this country of 44 million. – Wall Street Journal  

In the weeks before U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration last month that he would forge ahead with designating Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, Cabinet members and top aides from across the government recommended against it, five people knowledgeable about the matter told Reuters. – Reuters

Emily Mendrala writes: As time passes, it becomes clear that the only way forward is for Venezuela’s parties to negotiate a path toward new elections. […]Congress unequivocally has signaled its bipartisan support for negotiations and for an active, productive U.S. role. Now, action rests with the Trump administration. – The Hill


The Air Force is looking for industry help in securing security and industrial control systems networks on its bases. – Fifth Domain

That officer and other past and present national security leaders had a message to convey to officials from 24 states gathered for a recent training held by a Harvard-affiliated democracy project: They are the linchpins in efforts to defend U.S. elections from an attack by Russia, China or other foreign threats, and developing a military mindset will help them protect the integrity of the vote. – Associated Press

Fron Nahzi writes: The struggle is providing Western democracies with an opportunity to counter Russia’s disinformation by undertaking efforts to strengthen civil society and civic engagement. Some analysts believe the best way to counter Russia’s social media disinformation campaigns is by increasing funding to social media projects that promote Western values and campaigns to allow for efforts to identify and counter anti-West bots and trolls. – The Hill


Aviation regulators want virtually all drones to be identified and tracked in U.S. airspace within three years, under proposed rules that attempt to balance law-enforcement and safety concerns with industry interest in an array of commercial uses. – Wall Street Journal

As the militaries of the world struggle to adapt to the threat posed by small cheap drones, sometimes the obvious needs answering. Which is why, when the Air Force announced that a fighter jet had successfully shot down a small drone, it caught the attention of the counter-drone world. – C4ISRNET

U.S. Navy patrols to the Black Sea have remained consistent over the last several years despite testimony during President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings that he ordered the maneuvers be canceled. – Military Times

The Navy awarded Northrup Grumman a pair of contracts worth nearly $287 million to buy unmanned surveillance aircraft and to develop upgraded tactical jamming capabilities on manned aircraft. – USNI News

Jake Yeager writes: The tactical defense has always been the stronger form of battle — that reality is woven into the very nature of war — but it is by no means dominant and has never been the decisive form of battle. The defense “should be used only so long as weakness compels.” This new concept will enable the Marine Corps to go on the offensive. […]The expeditionary advanced maritime operations concept would be an important step for the Marine Corps — both back to its roots and toward readiness to take the fight to a littoral opponent. – War on the Rocks