Fdd's overnight brief

December 4, 2018

In The News


A U.S. aircraft carrier strike group will arrive in the Middle East within days, U.S. defense officials said, ending the longest period in two decades that such a military presence has been absent from the region. The USS John C. Stennis and accompanying ships will arrive by this week’s end, the first such military presence in the region in eight months, the officials said, to exhibit a show of force against Iran. – Wall Street Journal

The United States will not be able to stop Iran exporting its oil and any move to prevent Iranian crude shipments passing through the Gulf would lead to all oil exports through the waterway being blocked, Iran’s president said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The United States is calling on the European Union to enact its own set of sanctions targeting Iran following Tehran’s test of a missile this past weekend. – CNN

France and the UK have echoed warnings by Donald Trump’s administration that Iran may be in breach of United Nations obligations by testing medium-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads. – The Guardian

Iran supports U.N.-sponsored Yemen peace talks and is ready to help find a political solution, Iranian state television reported on Monday. – Reuters


The United States is urging allied nations to help deal with the growing number of foreign fighters that are being held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, saying the militants should be turned over to face justice in their home countries. – Associated Press

The U.S.-led coalition has targeted a senior member of the Islamic State group involved in the 2014 killing of American aid worker Peter Kassig, a military spokesman said Monday. – Associated Press

A senior Hezbollah source said on Monday neither the group nor Iranian positions in Syria had been struck last week during what Syrian state media had reported as an attack south of Damascus.- Reuters


Israel announced on Tuesday that it had begun a military operation to expose and thwart offensive tunnels it said Hezbollah had been building across the Lebanese border. – New York Times

For the third time this year, the Israeli police have recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on bribery, fraud and other charges. But Mr. Netanyahu, who denies all wrongdoing, is not giving up easily, and it is far from clear what will happen next. – New York Times

In a fiery Hanukkah speech to his fellow Likud party stalwarts a year ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Israeli left for the corruption investigations engulfing him, saying that because his opponents couldn’t defeat him at the ballot box, “they tried to beat us with slander.” – New York Times

A Canada-based Saudi activist filed suit this week against an Israeli cybersecurity firm, alleging that the Saudi government used the firm’s spyware to hack his cellphone and access sensitive conversations he conducted with slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Washington Post

Israeli Jews are more worried about Jewish infighting than the Arab-Israeli conflict, for the first time since the Israel Democracy Institute began polling the public on the subject 16 years ago. – Bloomberg

Amos Harel writes: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unusual trip to Brussels – the announcement in the morning and the flight in the afternoon to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – is an Israeli attempt to quickly utilize this diplomatic channel to deal with the increasing security problem in Lebanon. – Haaretz

A Hanukkah message tweeted on Monday by the US envoy to Israel drew a critical response from Ireland’s top diplomat. – Algemeiner

Israel and China have expanded a protocol that helps finance Israeli exports to China by offering $500 million in government guarantees, Israel‘s Finance Ministry said on Monday. – Reuters

In a telephone call with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif vowed his country’s continued backing of the “Palestinian resistance movement” — the euphemism used by the Tehran regime to describe anti-Israel terror groups. – Algemeiner

David Pollock writes: Two surveys conducted by different Palestinian pollsters in October show unexpected popular flexibility on core issues of an eventual peace deal with Israel, despite widespread skepticism among Palestinians about current prospects. These findings suggest that American, Israeli, and Arab policymakers should all pay more attention to what the Palestinian people really want and less attention to what their politicians or partisans say they “should” want. – Washington Institute

Jeremy Rosen writes: Boycotts rarely have the desired effects. At most, they can make the person who applies a boycott feel self-righteous. […] One of the reasons for the existence of the BDS movement — and its popularity — is that Israel is portrayed as an imperialist, colonial invader in the Middle East. And this is precisely why Hanukkah is the best answer to the BDS movement. – Algemeiner

Saudi Arabia

The international chess governing body has stripped Saudi Arabia of hosting rights to a prominent tournament, just a few weeks before it was to be held in the country for the second consecutive year. The announcement, made in a Twitter posting, did not explain the reason for the sudden change. But a nonprofit legal advocacy group that represents Israeli chess players, who were banned by the Saudis from attending the tournament in 2017, said Monday that the decision came after it had pressured the association, known as FIDE, to act. – New York Times

Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel will brief Senate leaders Tuesday morning on what the spy agency knows about Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death at the hands of Saudi operatives, people familiar with the matter said. – Wall Street Journal

Sen. Lindsey Graham writes: The Saudi regime’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi, its reckless military campaign in Yemen, its blockade of Qatar, and its effort to remove Lebanon’s prime minister all show astounding arrogance entitlement, and disregard for international norms. If these actions make Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia a “source of stability” in the Middle East, I’d hate to see what destabilizing behavior looks like. – Wall Street Journal


Proposed UN-led talks in Sweden mark a “critical opportunity” to bring peace to war-torn Yemen after four years of conflict, a top Emirati official said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

The United Nations appealed for $21.9 billion on Tuesday to address 21 humanitarian crises worldwide next year, including $4 billion for Yemen, its largest aid operation. – Reuters

Qatar has found a new way to irritate Saudi Arabia. Since June last year, the tiny gulf state of 2.6 million people has dealt with a hair-raising blockade by its neighbour with relative insouciance. Now it is equally nonchalantly leaving the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the once all-powerful club of which Saudi is the de facto leader. – Reuters

Daniel De-Petris writes: What U.S. officials past and present have failed to explain is why Yemen’s internal political conflict is such a national security threat to the U.S. that the U.S. military assets should be deployed. American military involvement in Yemen’s civil war does not in any way make the U.S. homeland safer — our involvement has threatened our security interests by strengthening al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. – Washington Examiner

Middle East & North Africa

Decades after he led a CIA-backed military campaign against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, a powerful Libyan warlord has become central to international efforts to stabilize the warring nation that holds Africa’s largest oil reserves. – Wall Street Journal

OPEC and its allies gather in Vienna this week to discuss production cuts after the biggest monthly drop in oil prices in a decade. They have the broad outlines of a deal after Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed over the weekend to extend their cooperation into 2019, but details are lacking. Whether the group bring about the end of the oil rout will depend on the size of any cut, how clearly it’s communicated and whether members follow through on what they’ve promised. – Bloomberg

A growing rivalry between two powerful Shi’ite Muslim factions has paralyzed efforts to form a government in Iraq six months after an election aimed at steering the country toward recovery from years of war. – Reuters

A Navy vice admiral has landed in Bahrain on temporary duty with U.S. 5th Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, after the previous commander was found dead in his home over the weekend from an apparent suicide. – USNI News

Korean Peninsula

The demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas has been off limits to nearly all human habitation for more than 60 years. […] Now, as North and South Korea give peace a chance, conservationists fear the same can’t be said for the DMZ’s wildlife. – Wall Street Journal

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could still visit Seoul for the first time in the next few weeks, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday, describing the possible trip as a major boost in efforts to make the peninsula nuclear-free. – Agence France-Presse

North Korea’s foreign minister will visit China this week for three days to meet senior officials and discuss the situation on the Korean peninsula, China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters


President Trump’s aggressive trade strategy accelerated on two fronts Monday, with the White House pressing China to quickly follow through on commitments made over the weekend while simultaneously clashing with lawmakers over a fragile North America pact. – Washington Post

President Trump named a China hard-liner to lead negotiations with Beijing, indicating the U.S. will pursue a tough stance in what is bound to be contentious talks over a trade dispute that has sent shivers through global markets. – Wall Street Journal

China provided domestic audiences with upbeat, vague accounts of its trade truce with the U.S., reflecting the pressure on President Xi Jinping to prove he can manage Beijing’s critical relationship with Washington. – Wall Street Journal

After the negotiations over steak dinners were done, after he said his goodbyes to President Xi Jinping of China and after both governments issued their public statements about the trade truce between the United States and China, President Trump had one more surprise to drop. – New York Times

President Donald Trump left his top advisers scrambling on Monday to explain a trade deal he claimed he’d struck with China to reduce tariffs on U.S. cars exported to the country — an agreement that doesn’t exist on paper and hasn’t been confirmed in Beijing. – Bloomberg

China has a radical plan to influence the behavior of its 1.3 billion citizens: It wants to grade them based on aspects of their lives to reflect how good (or bad) a civilian they are. Versions of the so-called social credit system are being tested in a dozen or so cities with the aim of creating a network that encompasses the whole nation. – Bloomberg

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Portugal Tuesday for a two-day visit to strengthen ties, amid concern in some EU capitals over China’s growing influence on the continent. – Agence France-Presse

The United States said Monday it will need to see “something concrete” from China in the next 90 days to build a real agreement on trade, two days after Donald Trump and Xi Jinping called a truce in the escalating confrontation between the two economic powerhouses. – Agence France-Presse

Timothy McLaughlin writes: A string of moves in recent months—from the opening of major infrastructure projects to the expulsion of a British journalist and the stifling of dissident voices—has, however, raised urgent questions about the sustainability of Hong Kong’s unique status and culture. – The Atlantic

Stephanie Segal and Matthew P. Goodman write: On December 1, President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping met at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Argentina following months of rising tensions and tit-for-tat tariff retaliation between the United States and China. What resulted from the meeting can best be described as a ceasefire: President Xi agreed to purchase “a very substantial” amount of U.S. products to reduce China’s trade surplus with the United States, and President Trump agreed to a temporary pause on any tariff increases. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Everyone, it seems, is pushing for peace in Afghanistan these days. President Trump’s special envoy is racing around the region, trying to drum up support for talks with the insurgent Taliban. The Russians, eager to get into the act, have hosted a conference on the issue. The Pakistanis, long accused of abetting the insurgents, insist they want to help end the war. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani hopes to win reelection in April as the man who brought peace to his country after 17 years. The Taliban, however, seems to be in no hurry at all. – Washington Post

The U.S. special envoy tasked with finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s 17-year old war has arrived in Islamabad for meeting with the country’s political and military leadership about bringing the Taliban to peace talks. – Associated Press

The Defense Department has identified another U.S. Army soldier killed in the Nov. 27 enemy bomb explosion that killed two other soldiers and an Air Force airman in Afghanistan. – Military.com


President Trump is making a personal appeal to Pakistan’s new prime minister to help end the war in Afghanistan as one of his special envoys returns to the region to try and lay the groundwork for substantive peace talks with the Taliban-led insurgency. – Wall Street Journal

The Myanmar military’s mass killings of the Rohingya minority amount to genocide, according to the law firm hired by the U.S. government to investigate the crisis, a finding that raises pressure on the U.S. to impose harsher sanctions against the country. – Wall Street Journal

Australia’s two main parties struck a deal Tuesday to pass sweeping cyber laws requiring tech giants to help government agencies get around encrypted communications used by suspected criminals and terrorists. – Agence France-Presse

New Zealand will send 14 new diplomats to the Pacific region next year, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said on Tuesday, the latest move by Western governments to counter China’s growing influence in the strategic region. – Reuters

Security forces in Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua are hunting for a separatist group suspected of killing at least 24 construction workers building a bridge in a remote district, a military spokesman said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Cambodia’s parliament is reviewing a five-year ban on more than 100 members of the main opposition party, which could allow them to return to politics, following threats by the European Union to deny duty-free trading access to the Southeast Asian nation. – Reuters


Russia’s seizure last week of three Ukrainian naval ships and their 24 sailors promised to dominate a NATO foreign ministers meeting that starts Tuesday, with members on both sides of the Atlantic grappling to craft a robust response. – Wall Street Journal

The head of the U.K.’s Secret Intelligence Service warned Russia it would pay for hostile acts carried out on British soil as he blamed tactics employed by the Kremlin for creating a state of “perpetual confrontation” with Britain and its allies. – Wall Street Journal

Gabe Lezra and Conor Shaw write: The report that the Trump organization might have offered Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse apartment in a Moscow development that was under negotiation adds to President Donald Trump’s mounting legal troubles and represents a potential national security vulnerability. – USA Today


Central European University, founded in Hungary after the collapse of the Soviet Union to champion the principles of democracy and free societies, announced on Monday that it was being forced from its campus in Budapest by the increasingly authoritarian government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. – New York Times

British Prime Minister Theresa May brushed aside questions Monday about whether she will resign if her Brexit deal is rejected by Parliament next week, saying she’s confident she’ll still have a job after the crucial vote. – Associated Press

The French government is preparing to suspend fuel tax increases, said a government source, in the wake of violent protests against the measures. The source added that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was due to announce the suspension later on Tuesday. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s approval ratings hit new lows as the “yellow vest” protests gathered pace, according to an Ifop-Fiducial poll for Paris Match and Sud Radio published on Tuesday. – Reuters

Russia’s intelligence services were behind cyber attacks targeting the Czech foreign ministry last year, the Czech security service said on Monday in its annual report. – Reuters

Ishaan Tharoor writes: French President Emmanuel Macron likes to present himself to the world as the suave centrist who can hold the line against the anger of the fringes. But at home, he’s a politician under siege, at risk of being overwhelmed by a growing rebellion. – Washington Post

Petr Byson writes: The Alternative for Germany party (AfD) is the only party in Germany standing up against Islamic terror and anti-Semitic attacks caused by the uncontrolled influx of migrants from the Middle East. Now the AfD wants to expose the funding by Berlin and Brussels for anti-Israel groups. Absurdly, the AfD is often defamed as “far-right” or even “anti-Semitic” by the people who have been campaigning against Israel for years. – Arutz Sheva

Matthias Schulze writes: Until recently, Germany has prioritized defense over offense in cyberspace. The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), Germany’s cybersecurity agency, has a strictly non-military defensive mandate and is a vigilant advocate of strong encryption and full disclosure of zero-day vulnerabilities to vendors. Germany’s foreign intelligence agency (BND) has historically had a relatively small cyber espionage budget. – Defense One

The Americas

If any migrants still thought Mr. Trump might be moved by their plight, they were disabused of that notion a week ago, when hundreds broke away from a peaceful march and ran toward the American border. They were repelled by United States border guards firing tear gas, and scores of migrants were arrested by the Mexican authorities. – New York Times

A soldier based in Hawaii is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday for trying to help the Islamic State group. – Associated Press

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday criticized sanctions on Venezuela during a visit to Caracas, while President Nicolas Maduro defended the country’s right to export gold after U.S. sanctions last month targeted its shipments of the metal. – Reuters

Panama and China on Monday signed 19 cooperation agreements on trade, infrastructure, banking, tourism and other areas on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s inaugural visit to the isthmus nation after the two countries opened diplomatic ties last year. – Reuters


President Trump is worried that the newest class of American supercarriers may have a fatally flawed system for launching aircraft, and has ruminated publicly about why the new electromagnetic catapults have replaced the old-fashioned steam version. – Washington Examiner

The B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber program recently completed a developmental review and remains on schedule, the top civilian of the Air Force said at the Reagan National Defense Forum. – DoD Buzz

Arthur Holland Michel writes: Drones are operated by numerous state and nonstate actors in the Middle East. […]Given the rapidly expanding use of small drones in conflicts around the globe, especially among nonstate groups and criminal organizations, counter-drone or counter-unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) technology—devices used to detect and/or intercept such aircraft—has received considerable attention of late, and is now adopted widely. Yet this emerging field still faces a number of critical issues.  – Washington Institute

Lindsey Ford writes: In both the South China Sea and North Korea, U.S. strategy has lost its way. Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warned in senate testimony in April that China “is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war.” Similarly, a stream of reporting has confirmed that Kim Jong-Un’s weapons programs are alive and well. This gap between U.S. rhetoric and the realities on the ground has become impossible to ignore. […] The United States has lost this equilibrium in North Korea and the South China Sea. – War on the Rocks

Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia write: The second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment was released by the White House last Friday. […] During this administration, concerns about the national security implications of climate change have grown, rather than decreased. This is consistent with assessments from the U.S. military and the intelligence community over the past two years, and is based on one simple truth: We are already seeing the effects of climate change on national security, and it isn’t pretty. And if not enough is done, it will only get much worse. – War on the Rocks