Fdd's overnight brief

December 3, 2018

In The News


Iran defended its contentious ballistic missile program Sunday after U.S. allegations that the regime was violating a U.N. resolution by continuing to develop weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads. – Wall Street Journal

Iran tested a ballistic missile capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads throughout the Middle East and into Europe, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Saturday. – Washington Examiner

The outcome of this week’s Opec meeting in Vienna is uncertain. […]The key unknown factor in the calculations of all those involved is the impact on the market of the newly strengthened US sanctions on Iran. Will they succeed in cutting off revenue and forcing Tehran back to the negotiating table? – Financial Times

Iran’s navy on Saturday launched a domestically made destroyer, which state media said has radar-evading stealth properties, as tensions rise with arch-enemy, the United States. In a ceremony carried live on state television, the Sahand destroyer — which can sustain voyages lasting five months without resupply — joined Iran’s regular navy at a base in Bandar Abbas on the Gulf. – Reuters


A senior Islamic State commander involved in the execution of U.S. hostage Peter Kassig was killed in an airstrike in southeastern Syria on Sunday, the U.S. military said. Col. Sean Ryan, a U.S. military spokesman, identified the Islamic State commander as Abu al-Umarayn and said he was killed in “precision strikes” in a desert area known as Badiya. – Washington Post

Syrian media reported on Sunday evening that the US-led international coalition launched air strikes against positions of the Syrian army. – Arutz Sheva

Tensions in Syria are once again on the rise after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated his demand that the United States ends its support for the Kurdish militia group YPG[…] and since the so-called Astana peace talks between Iran, Syria, Turkey and Russia collapsed. A series of recent events in the war-torn country, furthermore, indicate that the civil war in Syria is turning into a regional conflict with the potential to become a world war. – Arutz Sheva

Matti Suomenaro and Jennifer Cafarella write: Russia has finished an advanced anti-access/area denial (A2AD) network in Syria that combines its own air defense and electronic warfare systems with modernized equipment formerly commanded by Syria. Russia can use these capabilities to mount a long-term strategic challenge the U.S. and NATO in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East. – Institute for the Study of War


The Israeli police recommended Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on bribery, fraud and other charges, accusing him of trading regulatory favors for fawning news coverage, in what is potentially the most damaging of a series of corruption cases against him. – New York Times

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels later on Monday, the prime minister’s office said in a statement. – Reuters

The Israeli special forces operation’s failure in early November was allegedly due to the fact that IDF soldiers were outed, posing as NGO members, according to report on Sunday by the Independent, a British newspaper. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has accused CNN of “total acquiescence to pressure from the Zionist lobby” for its decision to sever ties with contributor Marc Lamont Hill, who called for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.” – Jerusalem Post

The UN General Assembly in New York on Friday approved six anti-Israel resolutions including two that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

The C.I.A. has evidence that Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, communicated repeatedly with a key aide around the time that a team believed to have been under the aide’s command assassinated Jamal Khashoggi, according to former officials familiar with the intelligence. – New York Times

A Saudi dissident close to the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi has filed a lawsuit charging that an Israeli software company helped the royal court take over his smartphone and spy on his communications with Mr. Khashoggi. – New York Times

The Trump administration’s determination to maintain warm ties with the Saudi royal family came into clear focus this week when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis showed up at the Senate. – Washington Post

A Saudi dissident is suing an Israeli surveillance company, claiming its sophisticated spyware helped lead to the killing of his friend, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo held an hour-long meeting with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina amid growing congressional pressure to punish the kingdom further over its killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi. – Bloomberg

In light of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and ongoing humanitarian concerns with the situation in Yemen, members of Congress have expressed unprecedented concern about continuing to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia. Now, the newly announced top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee has thrown her weight behind the option to end the long-standing arms relationship with Riyadh. – Defense News


Two years after al-Qaida militants withdrew from Yemen’s eastern city of Mukalla, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates patrol the streets in armored vehicles, driving past secessionist murals and keeping an eye out for jihadi sleeper cells. – Washington Post

A UN plane will evacuate 50 wounded Huthi militants from Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sanaa on Monday as a “confidence building measure” ahead of planned peace talks in Sweden, a Saudi-led military coalition said. – Agence France-Presse

More than three years into Yemen’s war, the horrifying statistics induce a sense of hopelessness: 57,000 people killed, 14 million at risk of famine, 10,000 new cholera cases each week. Save the Children estimates 85,000 under-fives have starved to death. – The Guardian

Jordan Tama writes: If Congress approves the resolution — which is opposed by Trump and still faces major legislative hurdles — it would mark the first time that lawmakers have formally terminated a U.S. military engagement since ending the U.S. war in Vietnam. And it would signal quite strongly that Congress will no longer tolerate business as usual with Saudi Arabia. Here’s what you need to know. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

A pro-Syrian Lebanese politician urged calm on Sunday after one of his aides was killed by gunfire during a police attempt to bring him in for questioning over accusations of stirring civil strife. – Reuters

Vice-admiral Scott Stearney, the head of US navy operations in the Middle East, has been found dead in Bahrain, with the military saying no foul play is suspected. – Agence France-Presse

Qatar said on Monday it was quitting OPEC from January 2019 but would attend the oil exporter group’s meeting this week, saying the decision meant Doha could focus on cementing its position as the world’s top liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter. – Reuters

Iraq is finally on its way to getting a new government more than half a year after elections were held. Those elections resulted in a political earthquake when Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s list the Sairoon bloc beat its opponents. – Arutz Sheva

Editorial: Just as it has abetted Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to escape responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder, the White House has tacitly backed the repression in Egypt and Bahrain, lifting restrictions on U.S. military aid and arms sales. […]It’s a strategy that ignores history, as well as fundamental U.S. values; unless checked by Congress, it’s likely to produce more trouble in the Middle East. – Washington Post

Korean Peninsula

A North Korean soldier defected to South Korea on Saturday morning, fleeing across the countries’ heavily armed land border, officials said. South Korean soldiers guided the North Korean to safety after they found him walking across the eastern sector of the Demilitarized Zone, the buffer zone separating the Koreas, the South Korean military said in a brief statement. – New York Times

President Trump has a “very friendly view” of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and will make his wishes come true if he gives up his nuclear weapons, said South Korean President Moon Jae-in, while cautioning that sanctions will remain in place until then. – Washington Post

President Trump said late Saturday he expects to have another meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in January or February. – Washington Examiner


The trade truce between the U.S. and China calms their economic battle and opens a brief window for the two nations to explore whether they can bridge deep divides on a range of difficult disputes. – Wall Street Journal

China announced a number of steps over the weekend that take the country closer to the promised opening of its financial markets, away from the glare of the high-stakes meeting where Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump called a truce in their trade war. – Bloomberg

China said this weekend’s summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and counterpart Xi Jinping yielded progress on a highly sensitive issue for hundreds of thousands of Chinese families: The ability to send their children to study at American schools. – Bloomberg

President Donald Trump framed his weekend trade truce with China’s Xi Jinping as an “incredible deal,” yet the leaders’ Buenos Aires steak dinner risks extending rather than ending the trade war. The postponing of a planned U.S. tariff hike on Chinese goods for three months was greeted by analysts and business groups as a welcome détente, avoiding for now a worsening of relations between the world’s largest economies. – Bloomberg

Editorial: Donald Trump had one of the most productive foreign trips of his Presidency this weekend as he announced a tariff truce and new trade negotiations with China. […]The larger message of this truce is that both sides seem to appreciate that an economic Cold War would benefit neither. The Chinese are worried about their slowing and heavily indebted economy, while Mr. Trump needs growth to have a chance at re-election. The incentive to strike a deal is compelling. – Wall Street Journal

Tyler Cowen writes: Overall, the grievances on the U.S. side are significant, and the possible concessions on the Chinese side are minor. So the most likely outcome is only modest progress in difficult negotiations. It’s also likely that the power and focus of the Trump administration will wane as it deals with investigations from the new Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. – Bloomberg


A top Taliban leader was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan, officials from the Taliban, the Afghan government and the U.S.-led military coalition said, just as Washington is in delicate peace talks with the insurgent movement. – Wall Street Journal

At least ten civilians were killed following an airstrike in the eastern Paktia province bordering Pakistan, Afghan officials said Sunday. – Associated Press

Islamic banking in Afghanistan has nearly tripled its holdings since 2014, but is constrained by uneven profitability, limited investment options and few financing tools, the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) said. – Reuters


Controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, wanted in his home country of India, said he has not broken any Indian law and was being targeted by the “enemies of Islam,” in a rare public speech in Malaysia where he has sought refuge. – Reuters

As the Hong Kong government ratcheted up the pressure on the city’s democracy movement, prosecuting activists, blocking opposition politicians from running in elections and banning a political party, investors said that local politics did not impact business. – Financial Times

Japan’s planned upgrade of its Boeing F-15 Eagle fighter jets will involve support from the United States and Boeing, the Japanese Defense Ministry has confirmed. – Defense News


President Trump kept his distance from Vladi­mir Putin at a global summit here Friday that was clouded by an escalating Russia investigation in Washington and sniping with the Kremlin over why Trump canceled a planned meeting with the Russian president. – Washington Post

George H.W. Bush’s presidency will be forever linked with the Soviet Union’s collapse. But in Moscow, his death provoked an outpouring of nostalgia Saturday for an American leader who chose careful diplomacy over brinkmanship as the postwar order was thrown into disarray. – Washington Post

Ukraine’s president has announced a call-up of reservists amid tensions with Russia. Relations between the two neighbors have strained further following the Nov. 25 incident in which Russia fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews. – Associated Press

Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed to extend into 2019 their deal to manage the oil market, known as OPEC+, although Moscow and Riyadh have yet to confirm any fresh output cuts. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the extension after a meeting Saturday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. – Bloomberg

The Kremlin hopes that U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin can meet and hold talks before a G20 summit in Japan in June next year, a Kremlin aide said on Saturday. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday there had been no discussion with Ukraine about the possible release of the Ukrainian sailors who were seized along with their ships by Russia last month. – Reuters

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Saturday took aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of trying to “muck around” in the U.S. midterm elections, of duplicity in arms control and of acting irresponsibly in last weekend’s naval confrontation with Ukraine. – Associated Press

Editorial: Russia claims, in typically melodramatic fashion, that the ships “crossed the Russian state border and illegally entered the temporarily closed waters of the Russian territorial sea.” This stunt isn’t about protecting Russia’s borders from aggression. It is a test. Vladimir Putin wants to know how far the United States is willing to go to check Russian expansionism. – Weekly Standard

Ilan Berman writes: Last weekend’s maritime dust-up between Russia and Ukraine — in which the Russian navy fired on Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov — caught Western capitals by surprise. […]The bottom line, then, is that the West has plenty of potential leverage that it can marshal against Russia’s government in order to punish it for its most recent provocation — and to deter future ones. All that is necessary is for the United States and its partners in Europe to find the political will to use it. – USA Today


President Emmanuel Macron returned to France on Sunday from a summit meeting in Argentina to find his country in turmoil after a day of violent protests. – New York Times

Ten years after an international treaty banned cluster munitions, several financial institutions are slashing investment in companies that produce the weapon, according to a European organization that campaigns for a global ban. – New York Times

Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service director is set to give a rare public speech detailing the need for “fourth generation espionage” to combat hybrid threats. – Associated Press

Theresa May has been threatened with a vote to bring down the government should Parliament reject her Brexit deal, raising the stakes even further as lawmakers begin debating her plan this week. – Bloomberg

The head of MI6 will on Monday highlight the urgent need for a new era of spying in which artificial intelligence and robotics are deployed to combat rogue states hellbent on “perpetual confrontation” with the UK. – Telegraph

Anne Applebaum writes: With their origins firmly in cyberspace, the gilets jaunes aren’t connected to any existing political parties, although several are already trying to claim them. […]Most of the rest of the democratic world is or will face the same kinds of challenges. If presidents, parliaments, existing parties and existing institutions can find ways to listen to them, to incorporate them and change with them, then democracy will survive in the 21st century. If they don’t, it might not. – Washington Post

Desmond Lachman writes: With global financial markets already wobbling because of fears of an escalation in the U.S. trade war with China, one has to wonder what is to be gained by contributing to the destabilization of the U.K. political scene. By opening a Pandora’s box that could lead to the U.K. crashing out of Europe or to Corbyn becoming prime minister, President Trump may come to regret his unhelpful role in the Brexit process. – The Hill

The Americas

U.S., Mexico, and Canada took a step on Friday toward easing commercial tensions in the region, as leaders of the three countries signed a new pact overhauling and updating their quarter-century-old free-trade zone. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump announced his intention late Saturday to quickly withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, a move intended to force House Democrats to enact a revised version of the pact despite concerns that it fails to protect American workers. – New York Times

The Trump administration is pushing to finalize an agreement with Mexico’s new government in the coming days that would make asylum seekers wait outside the United States while their claims are processed, but officials from both countries caution that key provisions of the plan, known as Remain in Mexico, have yet to be settled. – Washington Post

The Department of Homeland Security formally asked the Pentagon on Friday to extend the mission of active-duty troops on the southwest border through the end of January. – New York Times

Mexican authorities are investigating an apparent grenade attack on the U.S. consulate in the city of Guadalajara, officials said on Saturday, underscoring the security challenges facing Mexico’s new president. – Reuters


Congress should not cut defense spending next year due to the renewed rivalry with Russia and China, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday during a defense policy forum. – Washington Examiner

For military planners, the biggest question heading into 2019 is whether the president’s proposed $700 billion defense budget plan is a negotiating ploy or a sincere target. – Defense News

Elbridge Colby writes: Washington’s task is clear. It must demonstrate to Moscow and Beijing that any attempt to use force against U.S. friends and allies would likely fail and would certainly result in costs and risks well out of proportion to whatever they might gain. This requires conventional military power, but it also means having the right strategy and weapons to fight a limited nuclear war and come out on top. – Foreign Policy

Long War

This was Mohammed Haydar Zammar, the man who recruited the hijackers who carried out the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, killing over 2,900 people and propelling the United States into unending conflict. […]His story demonstrates the extent to which the ever-evolving terrorist threat that continues to grip the United States has, to a large degree, been sustained by a core of now-aging Islamist militants who came of age in the orbit of Osama bin Laden.  – Washington Post

The U.S. military said it killed nine militants in an air strike targeting al Shabaab in Lebede, Somalia, as part of its operations to support the government’s efforts to weaken the militant group. – Reuters

Hassan Hassan writes: Recognizing the central role of Anbari in the formation of ISIS, and of the events that cultivated leaders like him before the 2003 invasion, establishes that the group was not merely the creation of one cunning Jordanian jihadist. […]The distinction matters. If ISIS grew organically for at least a decade before the U.S. invasion, and before Zarqawi’s arrival, that helps explain how it was able to rise in and then dominate a country as demographically diverse as Iraq. The group has deeper roots than has previously been acknowledged. – The Atlantic

Trump Administration

A weekend summit of the Group of 20 nations papered over global disagreements on trade, climate and human rights, as President Trump and other leaders were distracted by domestic and logistical issues. – Wall Street Journal

The former director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, has reached an agreement with Republican lawmakers to testify behind closed doors about investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server and whether President Trump’s campaign advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. – New York Times

Last week’s admission by Michael Cohen that he lied to Congress about a Trump Organization real estate project in Moscow suggests the Russian government may have damaging information about President Trump, a top Democrat said Sunday. – Washington Post

The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee said Sunday that a new plea deal from Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former longtime lawyer, raises questions as to whether the Kremlin still has a “hold over” President Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in New York on Thursday to one count of lying to Congress about a real estate project the Trump Organization was pursuing in Moscow. – Washington Examiner

Facing pressure as his former advisers are caught lying by special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump is launching fresh attacks on the probe as politically biased and Mueller as hopelessly “conflicted.” This runs counter to ethics experts in Trump’s Justice Department who concluded that Mueller — a Republican — could fairly lead the probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. – Associated Press

Editorial: Trump ought to accept that it was a mistake to keep his Moscow project open after he launched the campaign. He should apologize for that and for keeping the public in the dark about it. That small gesture would indicate that he at least sees that some things that are legal for the president to do are not necessarily very cool for him to do. – Washington Examiner

Catherine Lucey and Zeke Miller write:  If there has been a constant to President Donald Trump’s tumultuous first two years in office, it has been that his foreign trips have tended to be drama-filled affairs — the president barreling through international gatherings like a norm-smashing bull, disrupting alliances and upending long-standing U.S. policies. But at this year’s Group of 20 summit, Trump appeared to settle in among his global peers. […]The question now, as always, is just how long can this moment last? – Associated Press