Fdd's overnight brief

December 5, 2019

In The News


Faced with a simmering fury in the country, Iran’s leaders on Wednesday abruptly softened their stance toward street protests that are believed to have left hundreds of civilians dead last month, the most lethal crackdown since the 1979 revolution. – New York Times

France, Germany and the United Kingdom say “Iran’s developments of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles” go against a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Tehran not to undertake any activity related to such missiles. – Associated Press

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran hasn’t closed the window on talks with the U.S. but reiterated his government’s standing condition that the Trump administration lift sanctions imposed on Iran before any negotiations can take place. – Associated Press

A Navy warship has seized a “significant cache” of suspected Iranian guided missile parts headed to rebels in Yemen, U.S. officials said Wednesday, marking the first time that such sophisticated components have been taken en route to the war there. – Associated Press

Protests in Iran are a sign of “real popular dissatisfaction” with the country’s leaders, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday. – Reuters

A senior Pentagon official said on Wednesday there were indications that Iran could potentially carry out aggressive actions in the future, amid simmering tensions between Tehran and Washington. – Reuters

There is fresh intelligence of a potential Iranian threat against US forces and interests in the Middle East, according to several US defense and administration officials. – CNN

Long-simmering tensions between Washington and Tehran are escalating, with Iran’s special foreign operations force using so-called “suicide drones” near U.S. military personnel in the Middle East in a series of intense provocations, Newsweek has learned. – Newsweek

Iran’s top judiciary has ordered the United States to pay up $130 billion in damages about a year after the United Nation’s top court ruled that President Donald Trump’s administration should ease sanctions against Tehran to ensure the continued flow of humanitarian goods. – Newsweek


A suspected terrorist in Syria was reportedly killed with a rare US missile packed with swords, according to multiple reports. – Business Insider

The United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria, settling into a more stable posture of about 600 troops in the rest of the country after repositioning and reducing forces, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said. – Reuters

Wives and children of former Islamist insurgents in Syria who are Bosnian citizens will return home to Bosnia this weekend, its presidency chairman Zeljko Komsic said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Large explosions were reported at an Iranian base in Al-Bukamal in eastern Syria after unidentified aircraft targeted a weapons depot at the site, according to the Step news agency. – Jerusalem Post


President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning participated in an unannounced meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, following months of scrutiny over the administration’s posture toward Ankara and controversial shifts in Syria policy. – Politico

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to back NATO’s defense plans for Poland and the Baltic states, Lithuania’s president said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Andreas Kluth writes: A Turkish bomb in the Middle East would therefore be a disaster. It would almost certainly lead to an arms race, as not only Iran but Saudi Arabia joined Israel in going nuclear. […]NATO can’t let that happen. Nor, of course, can it simply shrug off the political and military implications of a member state that might turn on its allies. It must draw up plans for new and scary scenarios. – Bloomberg


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu here Wednesday, holding talks on collaborative efforts to counter Iranian aggression. – Wall Street Journal

Israel Police released footage on Wednesday of the arrests of two residents of the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber who were indicted on terrorism charges in a Jerusalem court on Sunday after they allegedly planned terrorist attacks on military and civilian targets on behalf of Islamic State in Jerusalem on Independence Day. – Jerusalem Post

Israel’s prime minister on Wednesday praised the tough U.S. sanctions on Iran, saying the financial pressure has sparked protests against Tehran’s influence across the region and urging even stronger action. – Associated Press

Israel is working to stop Iranian belligerence throughout the Middle East, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday in Lisbon, at the start of his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Portuguese capital. – Jerusalem Post

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz has instructed his office’s representatives to present all Iranian violations of the 2015 nuclear agreement with the international community to the United Nations Security Council for a December 19th meeting on the matter. – Arutz Sheva

Maurice Hirsch writes: With the political conundrum that has seized Israel for the last year, there would appear to be zero reason to believe that either of the two potential candidates who eventually will become Israel’s prime minister, will suddenly decide to abandon all of his principles and allow Palestinian terrorist groups to campaign and run in Jerusalem. […]In this manner, the Palestinian elections will be avoided. Abbas and Fatah will continue to control the areas of Judea and Samaria currently under their control, and Hamas will continue to control Gaza. Israel will, of course, be blamed. – Jerusalem Post


Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for formal consultations on Monday with lawmakers to designate a new prime minister, a statement from the presidency said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Lebanon’s House Speaker Nabih Berri said that efforts to form a new government had been very positive as of Tuesday evening, according to MP Ali Bazzi speaking on Wednesday. – Reuters

Lawmakers with the Future Movement led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri will nominate Sunni businessman Samir Khatib to be Lebanon’s new prime minister in formal consultations on Monday, a source familiar with Future’s position told Reuters. – Reuters


Iran has used the continuing chaos in Iraq to build up a hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq, part of a widening effort to try to intimidate the Middle East and assert its power, according to American intelligence and military officials. – New York Times

The Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group has joined Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Qassem Soleimani in negotiations to select Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s replacement, according to the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. – Jerusalem Post

Phillip Smyth writes: In seeking creative ways to at least temporarily wean Shia and Sunni tribes away from Iran, policymakers should address the actual issues on which these factions are currently focused. For example, the United States has long concentrated on providing security and military solutions to the central government in Baghdad. Yet by broadening this focus to include retraining and equipping some sections belonging to local Shia tribes, Washington could do much more to demonstrate its soft and hard power while countering Iran’s. – Washington Institute

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is threatening to boost oil production unilaterally if some OPEC nations continue to defy the group’s output curbs, cartel officials said. The ultimatum comes ahead of a gathering between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and oil-producing allies including Russia on Thursday and Friday in Vienna. – Wall Street Journal

The Saudi monarch’s personal invitation to Qatar’s emir to take part in a Gulf summit in Riyadh next week is the latest sign of a highly anticipated thaw in a damaging two-year row. – Agence France-Presse

Morocco and Saudi Arabia have discussed closer defence-industrial co-operation within the framework of their existing military relationship, Moroccan state-run news agency MAP reported on 4 December. – Jane’s 360

Middle East & North Africa

The Trump administration is considering a significant expansion of the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East to counter Iran, including dozens more ships, other military hardware and as many as 14,000 additional troops, U.S. officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Officials in Libya’s U.N.-supported government say they plan to confront Moscow over the alleged deployment of Russian mercenaries fighting alongside their opponents in the country’s civil war. – Associated Press

Israeli officials are hopeful that a breakthrough in normalizing relations with Morocco can be achieved in the next few days, Channel 12 news reported Wednesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hoping to use the news to bolster his political chances. – Times of Israel

Mohamed Chtatou writes: Long separated by political ideology, a new Algeria and Morocco have the opportunity to, God willing, become responsible partners in democracy. These two major regional actors may then be able to lead the greater Maghreb region into an era characterized by solidarity rather than division. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea warned Wednesday that tensions on the Korean peninsula will increase and the situation “take a turn for the worse again” if the United States goes ahead with a U.N. Security Council meeting on the country’s human rights situation. – Associated Press

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday the global diplomatic push to defuse the nuclear standoff with North Korea is at a “critical crossroads” and has called for China to continue serving a “positive role” in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and stabilizing peace. – Associated Press

South Korea and China agreed to beef up diplomatic and cultural exchanges to “completely normalize” ties that soured over the deployment of U.S. anti-missile systems in 2017, Seoul officials said on Wednesday. – Reuters

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced on 4 December that it has decided to advance the development of an indigenous long-range surface-to air missile (SAM) system amid concerns about North Korea’s growing ballistic missile capabilities. – Jane’s 360


The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill late Tuesday that would impose sanctions on ­senior Chinese officials involved in the country’s mass detention of its Muslim Uighur minority, ­setting up another clash between Washington and Beijing at a time of broadening disputes between the two powers. – Washington Post

Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation will diminish as foreign governments look to the island for a model of how democracies can stand up to Beijing, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu predicted, amid an international backlash against China’s assertive foreign policy. – Wall Street Journal

Leaders of the 29-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization formally recognized the challenge of China’s rise for the first time. They designated land, naval and air units that can be ready to fight within a month—a central part of the alliance’s response to the threat from Russia. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei said on Thursday it has petitioned a US court to overturn a ban that prevents carriers in rural America from buying the firm’s equipment by tapping an $8.5-billion federal fund. – Agence France-Presse

China’s envoy to the United States on Wednesday said the two countries were trying to resolve their differences over trade, but he warned of forces that he said were trying to drive a wedge between the two, without providing any details. – Reuters


As the United States urgently pushes a peace deal with the Taliban to end its costly military presence in Afghanistan, the World Bank has warned that the war-stricken country will still require billions of dollars in international aid over many years after a peace deal to deliver basic services and sustain any potential peace. – New York Times

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s negotiator for peace talks in Afghanistan, is traveling to the region as the White House seeks to restart negotiations with the Taliban. – The Hill

Japan is working on a plan to send about 270 seamen to the Middle East to guard ships supplying Japan under a law that allows military deployments for research and intelligence gathering, the Nikkei business daily said. – Reuters

Page after page, the names stack up: 629 girls and women from across Pakistan who were sold as brides to Chinese men and taken to China. The list, obtained by The Associated Press, was compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable. – Associated Press


Vladimir Putin has had a good year, and it just keeps getting better. He now is collecting his winnings on multiple fronts. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote as soon as next week on legislation that would impose stiff new sanctions on Russia over its meddling in U.S. elections and aggression against Ukraine, a committee spokeswoman said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Ukrainian and Russian leaders will try to seal a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and agree on prisoner swaps when they meet next week, but with Kiev politically constrained and Moscow unlikely to bend, the prospects for peace remain bleak, diplomats said. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the United States was rapidly developing its military forces for potential operations in space and that Washington openly viewed space as a potential theater of war – Reuters

Britain and its NATO allies have used their strongest language yet against Russia, mentioned China for the first time and agreed to a rethink about the future. – Sky News (UK)

National security expert Tom Nichols said that Moscow benefits from President Donald Trump’s foreign policy moves without “having to lift a finger” in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Wednesday. – Newsweek


German authorities said Wednesday they suspect that Russian agents were behind an execution-style killing in Berlin in the summer and expelled two Russian diplomats in connection with the case. – Washington Post

Wives and children of former Islamist insurgents in Syria who are Bosnian citizens will return home to Bosnia this weekend, its presidency chairman Zeljko Komsic said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Greece said on Wednesday it opposed an accord reached by Turkey and Libya to define their maritime boundaries, but said it and Ankara – both members of NATO – were committed to talks on confidence-building measures. – Reuters

Nato leaders have agreed to undergo a review on the alliance’s future direction, attempting a show of unity at the end of a summit characterised by public spats and open divisions on policy. – The Guardian

President Donald Trump on Wednesday abruptly canceled a press conference that was scheduled to cap a contentious trip to the U.K. for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 70th anniversary meeting. – CNBC

Allies have delivered on NATO’s Readiness Initiative, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced in his press conference after the 3-4 December meeting of alliance heads of state and government in London.  – Jane’s 360

An organization set up to combat antisemitism in the ranks of the British Labour party said on Wednesday that five percent of the candidates being fielded by the party in next week’s general elections were tainted by allegations of antisemitism. – Algemeiner

Editorial: This is a bigger problem for Mr Johnson than Mr Trump. The US can afford to rip up the rules of international engagement. It is an unwise path but technically available to a superpower. The UK has no such luxury. A British prime minister who plays Mr Trump’s game exposes the country to dangerous diplomatic isolation and economic decline. – The Guardian

Dan Sabbagh writes: But the events of the last two days also serve to underline that Nato is becoming an ever more complex organisation whose persistent squabbling means that questions will linger over precisely how effective it would be in the unlikely event collective military defence would ever be required. – The Guardian

Tom McTague writes: There is no realistic scenario in the foreseeable future in which a combined European force can match the U.S.’s military strength, political will, and operability. The region’s emerging military capacity remains painfully weak and is likely to remain so, British officials who spoke with me said. […]If NATO were abolished, the West would quickly try to re-create something that looked very similar. The NATO that does exist, though, remains trapped by knowing it needs to change, while not quite knowing how. – The Atlantic


The U.S. and Sudan have agreed to forge closer diplomatic relations and will exchange ambassadors for the first time in 23 years, the State Department said. – Wall Street Journal

West African leaders need to make it clear they want and need France’s military presence, French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday, just days after a helicopter collision killed 13 French soldiers fighting Islamic extremists in Mali last week. – Associated Press

Pirates boarded a fully loaded supertanker off the coast of Nigeria, an act that is sure to ring alarm bells for insurers about the risk of collecting oil from Africa’s biggest producer. – Bloomberg

Latin America

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday his government will seek to strengthen cooperation with the United States to control the flow of “arms and dollars” during meetings this week with U.S. Attorney General William Barr. – Reuters

Brazil is in danger of losing its vote at the cash-strapped United Nations if it does not pay some of the $400 million it owes by the end of the year, U.N. and Brazilian officials said. – Reuters

Mac Margolis writes: Latin Americans might take a cue from Uruguay. In October, when right-wing lawmakers stoking fear over spiking crime proposed a constitutional amendment to militarize policing, tens of thousands of angry citizens poured into the streets of Montevideo — not to jeer a discredited government but decry what they saw as a menace to democracy. Happily, Uruguayans voted to keep the military where they belong, in their barracks. – Bloomberg


NASA’s sun-skimming spacecraft, the Parker Solar Probe, is surprising scientists with its unprecedented close views of our star. – Associated Press

Members of the Senate’s bipartisan cybersecurity caucus received a classified briefing Dec. 4 on the ransomware threat and how Congress can help businesses, states and local governments mitigate it. – Fifth Domain

The Air Force is asking for industry’s help developing advanced cyber and signals intelligence technologies. […]The notice states that technology needs range from quick reaction to critical near-term shortfalls to proof-of-concept. – C4ISRNET

A new agreement between a civilian government agency and the private sector will assist the Department of Defense’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center in “further enhancing cyber operations,” according to a new release. – Fifth Domain

Emerging 5G networks promise to bring powerful new connectivity to military bases and soldiers in the field. But how exactly will we get there? – C4ISRNET


The Navy’s stepped-up freedom of navigation transits in the South China Sea sends an unmistakable message to China and other nations in the region, a State Department official said this week. – USNI News

With a focus on three core themes, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday released a streamlined effort chopping up last year’s “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0” into a more digestible document. – USNI News

The U.S. Navy’s top officer released his first planning guidance Wednesday, the first major document released since ascending to the office earlier this year. – Defense News

In a war against Russia or China, U.S. fighter pilots could have to contend against fifth-generation fighters, drone swarms and layers of integrated air defenses. How can the U.S. military train pilots to handle those highly advanced threats without breaking the bank? After a series of demonstrations in 2018, the Air Force and Navy might be closer to a technical solution. – Defense News

On Nov. 13, the Center for Strategic and International Studies released a report titled “Assessing the Affordability of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift Portfolio,” drawing additional attention to one of the U.S. Army’s six main modernization priorities. – Defense News

The National Reconnaissance Office expects to issue additional study contracts for commercial satellite imagery in the coming weeks, the agency’s director said Dec. 3, and at least one of those contracts will be for a new type of imagery. – C4ISRNET

Trump Administration

Democrats signaled their impeachment case centered on President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine could include multiple alleged offenses, including bribery, abuse of power and obstruction of both Congress and justice, at a hearing that marked the start of the next phase in the impeachment inquiry. – Wall Street Journal

A day after impeachment investigators released a report detailing phone calls between Rudy Giuliani and administration officials, questions remain about who spoke with President Trump’s personal lawyer as he conducted an unusual independent diplomacy campaign in Ukraine outside official U.S. channels. – Wall Street Journal

Federal prosecutors have interviewed the head of Ukraine’s state-owned gas company as part of an investigation into the business dealings of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two of Giuliani’s business associates. – Associated Press