Fdd's overnight brief

December 3, 2019

In The News


While Iran saw a long stretch of calm following the Green Movement protests, anger and dissent over the economy have become more frequent in recent years, in turn sparking more brutal repression by the government. – Wall Street Journal

While Iran’s sanction-battered economy has sparked protests across the nation, U.S. officials cite new intelligence suggesting Tehran’s finances are more dire than previously thought and are bringing it closer to a financial crisis. – Wall Street Journal

At least 208 people in Iran have been killed amid protests over sharply rising gasoline prices and a subsequent crackdown by security forces, Amnesty International said Monday, as one government official acknowledged telling police to shoot demonstrators. – Associated Press

Iran is still selling its oil despite U.S. sanctions on Tehran’s exports, the country’s Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri was quoted on Monday as saying by state TV, adding that Washington’s “maximum pressure” on Tehran had failed. – Reuters

An expanded soccer tournament, a direct flight, clandestine meetings and a pledge to release prisoners of war; diplomacy is breaking out as Gulf Arab nations back away from a Donald Trump-inspired confrontation with Iran. And the signs are everywhere. – Bloomberg

Two weeks after the deadliest anti-regime protests in the four-decade history of the Islamic Republic, there are several reports on the “grave condition” of detained protesters, especially underage and child prisoners. – Radio Farda

Raha Bahreini writes: A hike in fuel prices sparked protests across Iran. Ms. Bahreini exposes and analyzes footage of human rights abuses by Iranian security forces, including shootings into crowds of unarmed protesters. And she warns of what may come next — incarceration, torture and forced confessions that will further oppress the Iranian people. If the world does not take a stand, Ms. Bahreini fears, Iran’s internet blackout may foreshadow the nation’s darkest days. – New York Times

Eli Lake writes: Perhaps Europeans believe the supreme leader has more staying power than the shah did. But if history is any guide, Iranians will not soon forget the violence and torment their regime has inflicted on them. Nor will they forget those foreign powers that offered that regime an economic lifeline. – Bloomberg

A.J. Caschetta writes: Every day that people openly defy the mullahs in the streets of Iran makes it harder for the clerics to maintain control. If the anti-regime protests continue throughout the winter, can a “Persian Spring” be far behind? – The Hill

Afshon Ostovar and Henry Rome write: While the Iranian leadership may not recognize it, the protests reflect a broader rejection of the Islamic Republic’s system of governance among parts of the Iraqi, Lebanese, and Iranian populations. And Iran’s playbook for responding to public concerns — repression, not concession — will only exacerbate the erosion of its standing over the longer term. – War on the Rocks


Three Russian military police were wounded in Syria when an improvised explosive device exploded near their convoy. Russia’s TASS reported that the vehicles were near the village of Koran somewhere near Kobani in northern Syria. – Jerusalem Post

Three separate attacks targeted busy marketplaces in northwest Syria, producing a brutal death toll Monday in the war-torn area, according to local volunteer and rights groups. At least 19 people were killed, 12 of them children. – CNN 

Kurds in Syria have been U.S. allies but now they’re making a deal with Russia. Russian flags are flying in Kurdish territory, a sign that the Kurds want a hedge in case the U.S. pulls out. – NPR

A defense industry source told Russian news outlet Izvestia last month that the S-500 recently underwent field testing in Syria, where the Russian Aerospace Forces continue to maintain a significant presence. – National Interest


U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper urged Turkey on Monday to stop holding up support for a NATO defence plan for the Baltics and Poland, as Ankara presses the alliance to support its fight against U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia in Syria. – Reuters

U.S. lawmakers pressed the Trump administration on Monday to impose sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of a Russian missile defence system, saying the failure to do so sends a “terrible signal,” and a key Senate committee set a vote on additional legislation to punish Ankara. – Reuters

The jailed former head of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party was taken to hospital on Monday, his party said, after he lost consciousness last week following chest pains. – Reuters

The relationship between Erdogan, president of NATO’s most troublesome member, and Trump will be at center stage during the summit. The alliance’s most pressing concern is Erdogan’s cultivation of ties to Russia and his military offensive against Syrian Kurds, an incursion that began after the U.S. president cleared the way by withdrawing American forces. – Bloomberg

Germany’s government re-authorized weapons deliveries to the Islamic Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria, according to German media reports on Friday. – Jerusalem Post

Can Dundar writes: The rising number of abductions and the open acknowledgment of a policy of targeted killings all suggest that Erdogan is preparing to become even more aggressive in his treatment of his enemies abroad. He appears to need no pointers from Trump on this score. – Washington Post

Katie Bo Williams writes: Turkey has long felt underappreciated and disrespected in NATO. Although the country almost always contributes manpower to NATO missions — in Afghanistan and elsewhere — its most important resource, as far as the West is concerned, is not its economic or military might but its strategic location. – Defense One

Rachel Ellehuus writes: Yet these foundational factors remain valid: Turkey’s geopolitical position at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa still provides NATO with needed political and operational reach, and Turkey continues to benefit from the collective military power of NATO. With the relationship close to (if not at) its nadir, Turkey and NATO, with the support of the EU, need to take active measures to anchor it for the future, while avoiding steps that could destroy the relationship entirely. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Christmas tree is up at the entrance to the Imperial Hotel in Jerusalem, but for its Palestinian hosts there is little festive cheer amid fears they could be evicted in favour of Israeli settlers. – Agence France-Presse

Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour claimed that Israel was constructed upon the belief that Jewish people are superior to others while speaking at a conference on Friday. – Washington Examiner

A war against Iran and Hezbollah will see Israel pounded by over a thousand rockets per day, causing never-before-seen images in the Jewish State, an unnamed former senior officer from the Israeli Air Force told The Jerusalem Post. – Jerusalem Post

During a visit to the southern city of Ashkelon on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed some of the details of his telephone call with US President Donald Trump the previous day. – Algemeiner

According to a report in Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu Ajansı, in his speech at the conference, Tanrıverdi “emphasized that it was not possible for the Islamic world to give up on Jerusalem,” and that “Israel governed 85 percent of Palestinian land.” – Middle East Media Research Institute


The Trump administration told Congress on Monday that it had lifted a hold last week on $105 million of military aid to Lebanon that budget officials had imposed without explanation. – New York Times

The Lebanese army says protesters have hurled stones at soldiers opening a highway south of Beirut, injuring several troops. – Associated Press

Lina Mounzer writes: The isolating sense of feeling personally responsible for my inability to improve my financial situation, regardless of how hard I work, is being replaced with a sense of collective responsibility to expose and change the inequalities of the system we allow to regulate our lives. – New York Times


The resignation of Iraq’s prime minister presents the U.S. with an opportunity for a fresh start with an essential—if often frustrating—partner, but the Trump administration faces Baghdad’s unpredictable succession process, entrenched political interests and competition from Iran, U.S. officials and independent experts said. – Wall Street Journal

The United States on Monday called recent violence in Nassiriya, Iraq in which at least 29 people died “shocking and abhorrent,” calling on the Iraqi government to investigate and punish those responsible for the “excessive” use of force. – Reuters

Iraq’s rival parties were negotiating the contours of a new government on Monday, after the previous cabinet was brought down by a two-month protest movement insisting on even more deep-rooted change. – Agence France-Presse

Saudi Arabia

From taboo-busting religious support to easy credit and fervent jingoism, Saudi Arabia pulled out all the stops to prop up Aramco’s IPO but it is unlikely to be the blockbuster it once hoped for. – Agence France-Presse

Saudi Arabia is hosting a two-day media summit that began on Monday, just days after a crackdown on writers and bloggers and a year after journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.  – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: By excusing the murder of Khashoggi, President Trump encouraged Mohammed bin Salman to believe he could indulge in brutality and still attract the Western investment needed to rescue the Saudi economy. The past month’s events point to a different outcome: a regime in which intolerance and international isolation are feeding on each other. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

Yemen’s civil war has exacted an enormous toll on people with disabilities, who find themselves on the margins of society and excluded from badly needed humanitarian assistance, Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday. – Associated Press

Efforts to end Libya’s war face another hurdle after its internationally-recognized government signed a preliminary maritime agreement with Turkey, angering neighboring states that see it as a brazen Turkish bid for dominance over gas-rich Mediterranean waters. – Bloomberg

Jordan held a military drill simulating an attack on the Hashemite Kingdom’s western border with Israel amid rising tensions with the Jewish state, Arab media reported on Monday. – Associated Press

In his Facebook post Thair Al-Haymouni writes: “I thank the Palestinian Authority for making payments that have never stopped for 20 years to [the family of] my martyred brother, Hamas member Ghazi Al-Haymouni, and to my imprisoned brother, Fatah member Mu’taz Al-Haymouni, just as it pays tens of thousands of [other] Palestinian fighters, regardless of their organizational affiliation.”- Middle East Media Research Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea on Tuesday repeated its assertions the Trump administration is running out of time to salvage nuclear negotiations, saying it’s entirely up to the United States to choose what “Christmas gift” it gets from the North. – Associated Press

A high-ranking Chinese diplomat is visiting Seoul this week for the first time in five years as the two countries seek to improve ties amid a spat over a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea. – Reuters

Bruce Klinger writes: The U.S.–South Korean military alliance is strong and fundamentally sound. Military officers and policymakers from both countries highlight the strength of their military forces and the unique integrated command structure that enables highly effective warfighting capabilities. […] The problem is with the politicians and policymakers, not the warfighters. There are perceptions that neither President Moon Jae-in nor President Donald Trump values the alliance to the degree of their predecessors. – Heritage Foundation


The chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei marked the first anniversary of her detention in Canada with an unusually poetic open letter describing “moments of fear, pain, disappointment, helplessness, torment, and struggle,” but also time for reading, oil painting — and gratitude. – Washington Post

China said Monday that it would sanction U.S.-based nonprofit organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy and Human Rights Watch, in retaliation for new U.S. legislation that supports Hong Kong’s protesters. – Washington Post

With a million or more ethnic Uighurs and others from predominantly Muslim minority groups swept up in detentions across Xinjiang, officials in Tumxuk have gathered blood samples from hundreds of Uighurs — part of a mass DNA collection effort dogged by questions about consent and how the data will be used. – New York Times

President Donald Trump suggested legislation he signed that expresses U.S. support for Hong Kong protesters complicates his efforts to reach a trade deal with China. – Bloomberg

A senior adviser to President Donald Trump said on Monday a U.S.-China trade deal was still possible before the end of the year, adding that the first phase of the agreement was being put to paper. – Reuters

One of China’s highest-ranking Uighur officials and the former head of the troubled northwest Xinjiang region was sentenced Monday to life in prison over graft charges, a court said. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: U.S. technology companies are used to setting the rules of the road for the world, and that has meant a radical openness, with all its ups and, more recently, its downs, as well. China has never wanted to let that openness in, but it has always been eager to spread its closed system out. Countries that still want their own citizens to live freely should say no. – Washington Post


Afghans are increasingly fearful for their personal safety, but slightly more believe their war-weary country is moving in the right direction, compared to previous years, according to a new survey released Tuesday. – Associated Press

Malik went home last month having spent years in the comparative safety of a nearby town, after Afghan military officials announced that IS’s Afghan branch, also known as IS in the Khorasan, or IS-K, had been completely defeated in Nangarhar. – Agence France-Presse

U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday that any future troop drawdowns in Afghanistan were “not necessarily” linked to a deal with Taliban insurgents, suggesting some lowering of force levels may happen irrespective of the ongoing peace push. – Reuters

Richard P. Mills writes: The U.S. may be readying itself to wind down America’s involvement in Afghanistan, but there are dangerous consequences for doing so improperly. Conducting a precipitous withdrawal ignores the steep price the U.S., coalition, and Afghan partners have already paid in blood and treasure for a stable, free Afghanistan. This could potentially undo significant counterterrorism and democracy-building steps that would roll back the clock to before the 2001 invasion. – Washington Examiner

Sandeep Gopalan writes: Further, inviting the Taliban to the White House and signing a peace deal so that Trump can get a photo op would have ugly consequences. It would give the Taliban legitimacy and undermine the credibility of the U.S. in the region. The Taliban’s spinmeisters and propagandists would spin the peace deal as American defeat. – The Hill


Hong Kong’s retail sector is shrinking at a record pace, piling fresh pressure on an economy already in a steep recession amid six months of antigovernment protests. – Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday that clashes between protesters and police last weekend have dampened her hopes that a recent lull in the violence would allow the territory’s economy to recover. – Associated Press

Hong Kong is set to record its first budget deficit in 15 years, the city’s finance chief warned Monday, as the business hub reels from the twin shocks of the trade war and seething democracy protests. – Agence France-Presse

For mainlanders in Hong Kong, the city’s protests pose a complicated challenge, with even some who backed the demonstrations now wary of a movement that has become vocally and sometimes even violently anti-China. – Agence France-Presse

An explosion of a suspected smoke grenade on Tuesday at a park near Indonesia’s presidential palace in the heart of the capital injured at least two military personnel, Jakarta’s police chief said. – Reuters

Bangladesh is blocking hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children from accessing meaningful education, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday, urging authorities to lift restrictions on schooling in refugee camps. – Reuters

While neither statement committed Thailand to anything concrete, Prayuth’s balancing act showed the extent to which China has made inroads in a nation with deep U.S. military connections going back decades. – Bloomberg

Melvyn P. Leffler writes: But we should not encourage or institutionalize a zero-sum approach to international politics, as Cold War metaphors incline us to do. The United States should solidify its long-standing alliances in the western Pacific; enhance relations with India, Vietnam, and Indonesia; and thwart intellectual-property theft and Beijing’s practice of forcing Western firms to hand over proprietary technologies as a condition of entering the Chinese market. – Defense One


For years, nonprofit organizations in Russia have contended with a law branding them as “foreign agents” if they took money from abroad, presenting fines and bureaucratic hurdles that sometimes pushed those groups to shut down. Now, individuals who publish anything online and get paid from foreign sources will face the same legal obstacles. – New York Times

Russia deliberately allowed a suspect in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to leave the country, Dutch prosecutors said Monday, calling it a breach of a European extradition treaty. – Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed legislation requiring all smartphones, computers and smart TV sets sold in the country to come pre-installed with Russian software. – Reuters

The FBI has classified FaceApp as a counterintelligence threat due to its ties to Russia, with the FBI emphasizing that it will take action if it assesses the face-editing app is involved in election interference efforts. – The Hill

Emily Estelle writes: Mr. Putin aims to undermine America’s post-Cold War leadership of the international order by casting the West as hypocritical and building an alliance system of like-minded autocrats. […] The U.S. has only worsened the situation by appearing to be an unreliable ally—to the Kurds in Syria and to the Libyan forces who fought ISIS with U.S. support but now face Mr. Haftar’s airstrikes. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: If Putin gets back into the EU’s good graces, sanctions relief will follow. NATO will then fray between America, Britain, the Baltics, and Poland on one side, and all the other powers on the other. That’s a tragedy, in that France is a critical NATO ally. Putin is just doing what he has to in order to win and win big. – Washington Examiner


Upheaval in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner is likely to hinder the government’s work in coming months, threatening Germany’s prospects for retaking the Continent’s political leadership, politicians and experts warned. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration proposed tariffs of up to 100% against $2.4 billion of French imports, saying the nation’s new digital-services tax unfairly targets U.S. tech companies such as Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit. – Wall Street Journal

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the European Union would strike back against the U.S. if President Trump follows through on a plan to impose tariffs on French imports, in what could develop into a trans-Atlantic tit-for-tat on trade. – Wall Street Journal

NATO has choreographed its 70th-anniversary meeting in England this week to display unity and avert the kind of blowup by President Trump that scarred last year’s summit for alliance leaders. But this time the public broadside came before the meeting from French President Emmanuel Macron, who declared that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is experiencing “brain death.” – Wall Street Journal

Despite pleas to set aside bickering over military spending so the issue doesn’t dominate a third NATO summit in a row, the United States is almost certain to demand again this week that its 28 NATO partners respect their pledges to boost defense budgets. – Associated Press

Italy’s education minister says a state university professor will be disciplined for Twitter posts defending Hitler. – Associated Press

Angela Merkel will visit the Auschwitz death camp in Poland on Friday for the first time in her 14 years as chancellor, as Germany grapples with a resurgence of anti-Semitism. – Agence France-Presse

NATO member states will affirm the bloc’s collective defense guarantee at their summit this week in the United Kingdom, a German government official said on Monday. – Reuters

Nurses and doctors will lead a protest against President Trump in London to highlight what they claim is a threat to Britain’s health service if the United States strikes a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom. – Washington Examiner

Hal Brands writes: Today, Macron is exploiting the damage Trump has inflicted to offer bold policy ideas. Yet those ideas, if enacted, would simply exacerbate differences within Europe, while weakening transatlantic institutions that have worked so well. If the U.S. declines play a uniting role in the democratic world, more parochial, divisive visions will come to the fore. Macron’s gambit reminds us that a U.S. geopolitical withdrawal will indeed stimulate the initiative of others, but perhaps not the sort of initiative the democratic world needs. – Bloomberg

Mike Watson writes: Since French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed the brain death of NATO, the alliance’s troubles have been thrust back into the headlines, and observers are lamenting the lost Cold War consensus that guided the United States and Western Europe through the half-century confrontation with the Soviet Union. A question: What consensus are they talking about? – Hudson Institute


President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute on Monday to 13 French soldiers killed in Mali last week and vowed no respite in the fight against Islamist militants in the region. – Reuters

Hundreds of Parisians lined the streets of Paris on Monday to pay their respects to 13 French soldiers killed in Mali last week as hearses bearing their flag-draped coffins crossed the heart of the city. – Reuters

Burkina Faso is facing a challenge on how to protect its gold industry against a wave of jihadist violence that last month left scores of mining employees dead in a single attack. – Bloomberg

The US ambassador to Zambia has said he has been threatened over his comments on the sentencing of a gay couple, deepening a diplomatic row. – BBC

Latin America

This was the year things were supposed to change between Brazil and the United States. […]But rather than lead to a new beginning between the largest countries in the Americas, the rapprochement has led instead to false starts, unfulfilled expectations and ignominious tweets. – Washington Post

President Trump revved up his global trade war on two fronts Monday, announcing tariffs on industrial metals from Brazil and Argentina while threatening even harsher penalties on dozens of popular French products. – Washington Post

President Trump said Monday he would raise tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Brazil and Argentina, surprising financial markets and opening a new front in the global trade war. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday accused Cuba and Venezuela of attempting to hijack democratic protests in Latin America, vowing that Washington would support countries trying to prevent unrest in the region from turning into riots. – Reuters


Facebook says it has removed a Conservative Party ad that used BBC news footage on the grounds that it infringed on intellectual property rights. – Associated Press

Russia’s communications watchdog has blocked one of U.S. stock photography and footage provider Shutterstock’s domains over content the company said had been “deemed objectionable” by the Russian authorities. – Reuters

A digital operation to amplify leaked documents in the run-up to the Dec. 12 U.K. election “closely resembles” Russian tactics, according to a U.S. social media research firm. – Bloomberg

A California college student has sued TikTok, the viral video service run by social media giant ByteDance Inc., for secretly funneling her personal information to China while using her videos to create an online profile for targeted ads. – Bloomberg

Small companies are struggling to meet the Pentagon’s newish network security rules, and even larger contractors aren’t doing as well as they think they are, a recent department study has found. – Defense One


A United States Marine has been charged with illegally smuggling guns into Haiti as part of what he told investigators was a plan to train the Haitian Army and bring stability to the country, according to court documents. – New York Times

If Congress does not approve the fiscal 2020 budget by the end of December, the Army may seek an exemption that would allow its Synthetic Training Environment program to proceed at pace, a service official said Monday. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is driving realism into virtual training to enhance effectiveness, but it’s not an easy task — even for the gaming industry. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy on Monday awarded its largest-ever shipbuilding contract to General Dynamics Electric Boat for construction of nine Virginia-class attack submarines, eight of which will have 84-foot section that boosts the boat’s strike missile capacity. – Defense News

Last week’s ouster of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer marked the latest in a string of leadership disasters for a beleaguered service, one that has seen a slew of admirals and senior captains reprimanded, fired or had their careers cut short for everything from ethics violations to poor performance on their watch. – Defense News

Long War

Usman Khan, who killed two people in the London Bridge terror attack last week, was a convicted terrorist who had been released halfway through his sentence. – Agence France-Presse

Former taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Bertie Ahern remembers Lisa Smith as a “lovely lady”, who loved her job. The 38-year-old, who has been arrested on suspicion of terrorist offences, was a soldier who worked on the Irish government jet. – BBC

Irish police are to question Irish Islamic State bride Lisa Smith for a further 24 hours after her arrest was extended on Monday morning. – BBC

In an editorial published in the latest issue of its weekly Arabic magazine, Al-Naba’, the Islamic State (ISIS) responds defiantly to the recent widespread campaign to suspend accounts belonging to its media apparatus, media activists, and supporters on social media platforms, most notably on Telegram. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Tom Rogan writes: None of this takes away from the suffering of the two innocents who died last week. But for counterterrorism officials over the past few years, the abiding thought has been that attacks in London would involve many more deaths. For that reason, last week’s attacks will see heavy hearts matched to sighs of relief. – Washington Examiner

Trump Administration

Attorney General William P. Barr has told Justice Department officials that he is skeptical of a conclusion by the department’s inspector general that the F.B.I. had sufficient information to open the investigation into whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential race, according to two people familiar with the conversations. – New York Times

Congressional Democrats on Monday named the four witnesses who will testify this week at a public hearing in the impeachment inquiry of U.S. President Donald Trump, in what is seen as a likely precursor to the announcement of formal charges within weeks. – Reuters

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar suggested that Democrats should handle President Trump’s impeachment in the same way prosecutors took down mob bosses such as Al Capone. – Washington Examiner