Fdd's overnight brief

December 4, 2019

In The News


Iranian authorities finally admitted that they killed protesters in the country’s streets. On Monday evening, state media said the country’s security officials used lethal force against “thugs and rioters” last month after protests broke out in reaction to a gas price increase. – Washington Post

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called on Wednesday for the release of any unarmed and innocent people who were detained during protests against gasoline price hikes, after two weeks of violent clashes. – Reuters

Families of several U.S. and British people held in Iran expressed fear for their loved ones Tuesday amid the deadliest unrest in decades in the Islamic republic. – Associated Press

The United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency is still waiting for information from Iran on the discovery of uranium particles at a site near Tehran, the agency’s new director general told The Associated Press on Tuesday in an interview. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump on Tuesday decried the Iranian government’s crackdown on protesters, saying Tehran is killing its citizens for speaking out at demonstrations. – Associated Press

Iran has proposed President Hassan Rouhani visit Japan, a U.S. ally which also has close relations with Tehran, to try to resolve Iran’s nuclear impasse with Washington, Kyodo news agency reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Aides to President Donald Trump are weighing imposing new sanctions on Iranian officials implicated in human rights abuses, relying in part on intelligence gleaned from some 36,000 pictures, videos and other tips sent in by Iranians caught up in the regime’s recent crackdown on mass protests. – Politico

Iran will hold joint naval drills with China and Russia starting on December 27, the head of Iran’s navy said on Tuesday. – Times of Israel

David Ignatius writes: The recent wave of demonstrations against the Iranian regime has been powerful partly because it gathers so many streams of dissent — from Iran and the diaspora; from women’s rights activists and working-class Iranians angry about living standards; and from the diverse ethnic groups in Iran. – Washington Post

Thomas L. Friedman writes: But the bad guys at the top won’t go easily, quietly or bloodlessly. And since no outside power will be riding to the rescue, it will take sustained, organized, bottom-up mass movements — in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran in particular — to enable the future to bury the past and topple all those at the top who want to use the past to bury the future. – New York Times

Seth J. Frantzman writes: For Israel, which views the Iranian threat with utmost concern, an Iranian initiative in the Gulf would be aimed at prying away countries that share interests with Jerusalem. Iran knows this. Tehran hopes for the best in coming months. If not, it may bring out more sticks than carrots. – Jerusalem Post

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Going into the US presidential election year, Trump has repeatedly tried to present himself as disengaging the US from war and conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere. Iran may see all of this as an opening to strike the US to try to push Trump into cutting a deal for reducing sanctions, which otherwise he may not agree to. If Iran makes this decision, then the question will be whether US intelligence will move fast enough to thwart the attack. – Jerusalem Post


All attacks against Syrian civilians, including in the rebel-held area of Idlib, must end, the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Turkey agreed on Tuesday ahead of a NATO summit in London. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates’ top diplomat in Syria has praised President Bashar al-Assad for his “wise leadership”, in one of the strongest expressions of support yet from a country that once backed Damascus’ enemies in the civil war. – Reuters

Hundreds of Syrian refugees have headed home in the first batch to leave Lebanon since protests broke out in the small Arab country more than a month ago. – Associated Press



Against a backdrop of spiralling tensions, Greece’s prime minister is to meet his Turkish counterpart in an attempt to ease frictions over energy exploration and Ankara’s deal with Libya on Mediterranean maritime zones. – The Guardian

Turkey has rejected claims it is blackmailing Nato by blocking a military plan for the Baltics and Poland unless it receives support for its effort to defeat Syrian Kurd forces on its borders. – The Guardian

Michael Rubin writes: Today, the truth is all too clear: Any possibility of a Western-leaning Turkey is gone. It is long past time that not only Trump but also his would-be Democratic successors accept and address Turkey’s new strategic reality. – American Interest


Israel wants the United Nations to recognize as refugees hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled Arab and Muslim countries in the last century, its U.N. envoy said Tuesday. Ambassador Danny Danon told the U.N. General Assembly that he plans to propose a resolution about what he called “the ‘forgotten’ Jewish refugees.” – Associated Press

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to depart Wednesday for a two-day visit in Lisbon, where he will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, after an initial plan to meet Pompeo in London during the NATO summit had been called off. – Haaretz

Israeli military officials are reportedly warning that Jordan may take drastic steps if Israel continues to push for annexation of the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, including possibly freezing a quarter-century-old peace treaty between the nations. – Times of Israel


Iraq and some other oil-exporting nations will support deeper production cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies as the cartel attempts to shore up sagging oil prices. – Wall Street Journal

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

Anti-government protesters burned an Iranian consulate in southern Iraq for a third time on Tuesday, as the country’s political leaders continued talks over selecting a new prime minister following weeks of widespread unrest. – Associated Press

Sardar Aziz writes: All this being said, while the Syrian withdrawal may have harmed the Kurdish-American relationship, it is by no means the end. The ongoing global and regional shifts and crises are likely to bring the United States and the Kurds closer together as their interests continue to align. Twenty-first century conflicts make local partners necessary, and local partners and proxies appears set to shape the coming decades. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Tuesday he supports the nomination of a prominent contractor to become the next premier, a move that will likely pave the way for the formation of a new Cabinet amid a severe economic and financial crisis. – Associated Press

Two U.S. senators plan to confront the Trump administration Wednesday over delays in sending military aid to Lebanon amid mass demonstrations and financial turmoil in that country. – Bloomberg

General (ret.) Joseph Votel writes: Today the Middle East is as complex as it has ever been. All of the underlying issues that have undermined progress remain present: sectarianism, corruption, disenfranchisement, economic disparity, terrorism, and extraordinary human suffering. But these long-standing issues are now being exacerbated by super-modern communication capabilities and a more youthful and anxious population that serve to amplify the challenges of the region. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is back on his white horse, inspecting “revolutionary battle sites” in knee-high virgin snow on a sacred mountain, state media announced on Wednesday, as Pyongyang foreshadowed a major policy decision later this month. – Washington Post

North Korea said on Tuesday that its leader, Kim Jong-un, had opened a new mountain resort this week, calling it “an epitome of modern civilization,” as the isolated country tries to attract more foreign tourists to blunt the pain of international sanctions. – New York Times

Tom Rogan writes: If Pyongyang returns to long-range missile tests, its ability to deliver nuclear warheads against the U.S. homeland will quickly become operational. Trump must thus make clear to Kim that while he favors a grand diplomatic bargain, any escalation will be met in greater kind. – Washington Examiner


A federal judge in Brooklyn has ordered the removal of the lead defense lawyer for a major Chinese firm fighting bank fraud and sanctions violations, after the government argued the lawyer had a conflict of interest arising from his prior position as a senior Justice Department official. – Washington Post

President Trump said he was willing to wait until after next year’s presidential election to strike a limited trade deal with China, sending stock prices down and casting doubt on whether the two sides will find enough common ground to head off new tariffs. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration considered banning China’s Huawei from the U.S. financial system earlier this year as part of a host of policy options to thwart the blacklisted telecoms equipment giant, according to three people familiar with the matter. – Reuters

Already strained relations between China and the United States were further muddied after U.S. Congress overwhelmingly approved a bill targeting Beijing’s mass crackdown on ethnic Muslim minorities Wednesday, less than one week after President Donald Trump signed separate human rights legislation on Hong Kong. – Associated Press

US diplomats may soon be barred from entering Xinjiang, the far north-western Chinese region where more than a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to be detained in internment camps. – The Guardian


A Japanese physician and aid worker in eastern Afghanistan died of his wounds after an attack Wednesday that also killed five Afghans, including the doctor’s bodyguards, the driver and a passenger, a hospital spokesman said. – Associated Press

Prosecutors are appealing to judges at the International Criminal Court to authorize a wide-ranging investigation into alleged crimes in Afghanistan’s brutal conflict. – Associated Press

David Fickling writes: If Taiwan took on Hong Kong’s role as China’s banker it would rightly be worried that Beijing might want to meddle even more aggressively in its affairs. In light of this year’s events in Hong Kong, where people are protesting for rights that Taiwanese have long taken for granted, that bargain looks less attractive than ever. – Bloomberg


German prosecutors now believe the murder of a Chechen rebel in Berlin this summer was likely linked to the Kremlin, according to an official familiar with the investigation, putting pressure on Berlin to punish Moscow. – Wall Street Journal

Russia has accused Washington of deliberately delaying the issuing of visas for Russian officials traveling to the United States, something it said could further damage already strained relations. – Reuters

Russia on Tuesday accused a former U.S. Marine it has held for almost a year on spying charges of faking health problems in custody and lying about his ill-treatment, comments the U.S. embassy rejected as factually inaccurate “pulp fiction”. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the United States and Russia wanted to reach a new treaty agreement on nuclear weapons. – Reuters

The House on Tuesday passed a resolution disapproving of Russia being included in future Group of Seven (G-7) summits in a 339-71 vote on Tuesday.  – The Hill

Russia is arming its tanks with controversial depleted uranium shells. While depleted uranium, or DU, is extremely dense and can punch through thick tank armor, many believe that these shells release small doses of radiation, like miniature neutron bombs. The U.S. has used DU shells in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. – The National Interest


With only two weeks to go before the British election, murky allegations of supposed Russian interference are flying, hitting numerous party leaders. – Washington Post

A Democratic-controlled House committee approved a report accusing President Trump of soliciting foreign election interference and placing “his own personal and political interests above the national interests” by pushing Ukraine to announce an investigation into a 2020 political rival. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump openly jousted with French President Emmanuel Macron — a leader who until recently had been one of Trump’s earliest and most prominent partners in bromance. – Washington Post

NATO leaders on Wednesday played down their differences and insisted that they remain united over security issues and determined to defend each other despite a series of spats between the presidents of some of the alliance’s biggest member countries. – Associated Press

The defense ministers of Estonia and Lithuania appeared unworried by the prospect of Turkey holding up NATO’s eastern European defense plans over the security of its own border with Syria, portraying the standoff as a second-tier problem that would be easily sorted out. – Defense News

Anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism, France’s National Assembly determined on Tuesday, voting on a resolution calling on the government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. – Jerusalem Post

The head of an EU mission to Malta has called on the country’s embattled prime minister to quit immediately amid anger over his handling of the investigation into the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. – The Guardian

Mark Landler writes: Likewise, Mr. Trump’s newfound discretion on British politics will probably last only until Dec. 12, when Britons go to the polls, if that long. If Mr. Johnson is successful in winning a parliamentary majority and takes Britain out of the European Union, he will be more dependent than ever on his relationship with Mr. Trump, particularly since he has sold Brexit on the promise that he can cut a lucrative trade deal with the United States. – New York Times

The Americas

Mexico’s government and business leaders are voicing opposition to a key demand of U.S. Democratic lawmakers in a renegotiated North American trade pact, jeopardizing the deal’s passage this year. – Wall Street Journal

Guatemala received the first Salvadoran citizen from the United States under a new migration agreement that designates the Central American nation a so-called safe third country for asylum seekers, Guatemalan authorities said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Fifteen countries in the Americas agreed on Tuesday to ban 29 Venezuelans, including the oil-producing country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, and his close allies, from traveling within their borders as part of diplomatic efforts to push him to step down. – Reuters

The United States on Tuesday blacklisted the former Guatemalan infrastructure minister for his alleged involvement in “significant corruption,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. – Reuters

If the United States designates Mexican drug cartels as terrorist groups, it would hamper cooperation between the two countries, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A proposal to rebuild Venezuela’s collapsed power grid with the help of the United Nations is proving a political hot potato for Nicolás Maduro’s opponents. – Associated Press

For the better part of two weeks, the world has watched, in hope and horror, as 13 countries embarked on a frantic search for the ARA San Juan, the Argentine sub that went missing on Nov. 15 with a crew of 44 aboard. It’s almost certain now that all hands have been lost, and it could be weeks or months before we know what caused the sub to sink. The first challenge is to locate it. – The National Interest


Next year, Air Force F-35 pilots will be able to hop into a simulator and practice large-scale coordinated attacks with other F-35A users in simulators around the globe, Lockheed Martin’s head of F-35 training said Tuesday. – Defense News

As the U.S. military prepares for the release of its fiscal 2021 budget request, Air Force leaders have made clear that a massive financial hike is needed for multidomain command-and-control efforts to connect weapon systems across the joint force. – Defense News

The Navy’s ability to keep on track its top acquisition program, the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, rests heavily on its ability to keep the Virginia-class attack boat program on track – something the two submarine builders have struggled with in recent years amid challenges with their workforce and supplier base as the Virginia program increased to a two-a-year production cadence. – USNI News

Defense contractor Raytheon has just unveiled a new virtual training simulator designed to immerse full platoons of soldiers at a time into realistic battlefield settings, where they can shoot enemy targets with individual weapons and even call in close-air support. – Military.com

A Colorado weapons manufacturer has agreed to a $1 million settlement for allegedly shipping subpar grenade launchers to the U.S. Army, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday. – Associated Press

The U.S. Navy’s fighter pilots lack the skills to defeat Chinese and Russian pilots in combat, one officer warned. To better prepare for high-tech combat, the sailing branch’s F/A-18 crews should fire more live missiles in exercises and better focus their training, Navy officer Graham Scarbro advised at War on the Rocks. – The National Interest

Long War

A naturalized U.S. citizen who was a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison Tuesday for gathering intelligence on potential sites for terrorist attacks in New York City. – Washington Post

In the last decade, Jehad Serwan Mostafa has become what the federal authorities call the “highest-ranking U.S. citizen fighting overseas with a terrorist organization.” […]But Mr. Mostafa, 37, who is on the F.B.I.’s list of most wanted terrorists, has eluded capture. – New York Times

Iraqi security forces have arrested a man said to have been former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s deputy chief during an operation in the Kirkuk Governorate north of Baghdad, according to Al-Arabiya. – Jerusalem Post