Fdd's overnight brief

December 6, 2018

In The News


A wealthy businessman who until recently was head of the company that feeds American troops in Afghanistan has been charged in federal court with violating sanctions against trade with Iran, along with other offenses. – New York Times

The reimposition of U.S. sanctions has begun to harm Iran’s economy as major companies exit the Iranian economy rather than risk being penalized by the United States. Iran’s oil exports are decreasing and difficulties paying Iran for oil with hard currency are evident. The value of Iran’s currency has sharply declined and economic-based unrest has continued, although not to the point where the regime is threatened. – USNI News

Days after indicting Iranian hackers accused of masterminding the spread of malware, the U.S. government is warning critical infrastructure firms such as hospitals, scientific institutions and local governments, to protect themselves from the SamSam virus. – Fifth Domain

A suicide car bomber attacked a police headquarters in the southeastern Iranian port city of Chabahar on Thursday, killing at least two people and wounding 15, state TV reported. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though a semi-official news agency blamed a Sunni jihadi group for the assault. – Associated Press

The frigate Sahand officially joined the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) during a ceremony held at the main naval base at Bandar Abbas on 1 December, more than five years after it was ostensibly launched. – IHS Jane’s

During a show on Channel 1 TV (Iran), the IRGC’s Aerospace Force commander General Amir Ali Hajizadeh reviewed maps of different U.S. airbases in the region, including Al-Udeid in Qatar, Al-Dhafra in the UAE, and Kandahar in Afghanistan, saying that they are all within Iranian missile range. He also said that American aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Oman are within range, and that the U.S. military presence that used to be a threat to Iran is now an opportunity. – Middle East Media Research Institute

More than 700,000 undocumented Afghans have returned from Iran this year as the Iranian economy tightens, with a knock-on effect on the Afghan economy, according to data from the UN’s migration agency. – Reuters


The United Nations has reports of Islamic State (ISIL) executing people perceived as cooperating with rebel fighters in Deir al-Zor governorate in eastern Syria, the U.N. human rights boss said on Wednesday. – Reuters

President Donald Trump’s nominee for head of Central Command has warned that the potential introduction of even more advanced Russian air defenses in Syria could threaten U.S. forces deployed there. – Newsweek

Danny Makki writes: Against all odds, the Syrian government has managed to hold on and win the country’s seven-year civil war. As the focus now shifts from fighting to recovery, the transition to governance in a post-conflict environment is creating new and unexpected challenges. Areas of Syria previously loyal to the government are becoming increasingly vocal about these challenges, especially on social media. – Middle East Institute


Turkish authorities have issued an arrest warrant for journalist Can Dundar as part of an investigation into protests in Istanbul in 2013 against President Tayyip Erdogan’s rule, state-run Anadolu agency said on Wednesday. – Reuters

A Turkish journalist suspected of links to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric blamed by Turkey for orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, was temporarily detained Wednesday in Romania, authorities said. – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump told Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan that he didn’t want any problems with the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday. – Reuters


Israel provided no evidence of cross-border attack tunnels in a meeting with U.N. peacekeepers on Wednesday, Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said. – Reuters

The UN General Assembly will vote Thursday on a US-drafted resolution condemning the Palestinian terror group Hamas, in what could mark US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s parting gesture at the United Nations. – Agence France-Presse

Hezbollah released purported footage of IDF engineers taking part in Operation Northern Shield to locate and neutralize infiltration tunnels near southwestern Lebanon, adjacent to moshav Zar’it, on Wednesday. Also, Lebanese media aired footage of the concrete block factory that concealed the Hezbollah tunnel that was destroyed by IDF Tuesday. – Ynet

Four years after launching a preliminary review, International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said late Wednesday that she is close to a decision on whether to open a full-fledged criminal probe against Israel and Hamas for alleged war crimes. – Jerusalem Post

Jerusalem and Washington are focusing efforts to pass an anti-Hamas resolution in the UN on Thursday on countries that abstained on a similar motion in June, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said. – Jerusalem Post

France granted a human rights prize to Al-Haq, a leader in the anti-Israel lawfare and boycott efforts with ties to the terrorist group the Popular Front to Liberate Palestine (PFLP), and Israeli NGO B’Tselem, which advocates for Palestinians’ human rights. – Jerusalem Post

Moscow expressed reserved support on Wednesday for Israel’s efforts to neutralize terror tunnels from Lebanon, but said it hoped these efforts will not conflict with UN Security Council Resolution 1701. – Jerusalem Post

The cross-border Hezbollah tunnel discovered early Tuesday morning by the IDF outside of Metulla would have been used by the terrorist group to send militants from their elite Radwan unit to cut the community off from Route 90, a senior IDF officer said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Smadar Perry writes: We must recall that Hezbollah has huge quantities of missiles, some of which can reach almost the entire territory of the State of Israel. And yet Hezbollah does not use them. And another fact: Israel knows exactly where Nasrallah is hiding, at what address, on what floor, and yet did not even try to kill him once. To some extent he is protected, unless he commits a terrible folly. – Ynet

Saudi Arabia

A Turkish court issued arrest warrants for two former aides of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, marking a new attempt by Turkish authorities to prosecute high-ranking Saudi nationals they blame for the killing of a dissident journalist. – Wall Street Journal

A bipartisan group of senators filed a resolution Wednesday to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, directly challenging President Trump to do the same. – Washington Post

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo knowingly misled senators in a closed-door briefing last week on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Sen. Chris Murphy said Wednesday — joining two key Republicans who have raised questions about the officials’ credibility in the matter. – Defense News


Yemen’s warring parties convene in Sweden on Thursday for U.N.-led peace talks for the first time since 2016 in a small victory for special envoy Martin Griffiths as he attempts to relaunch negotiations to end nearly four years of war. – Reuters

The Senate could begin debating a measure as early as Monday that would override the Trump administration and force the withdrawal of U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. – Washington Examiner

Martin Griffiths writes: At no other time has there been such a palpable international urge for the warring parties in Yemen to find a solution. Yemen has been on the top of the agenda for the United Nations secretary general. The Security Council is united in the desire to end this conflict. […]Yet, it is only those around the table in a serene, remote part of Sweden who can deliver on these hopes. For the sake of Yemen’s children, we hope they will deliver. – New York Times

Middle East & North Africa

A wave of economic austerity is squeezing the Arab world’s middle class, pushing a segment of society that is key to growth and stability into making painful cutbacks and fueling discontent. […]The protests have stirred memories of the Arab Spring revolts, which toppled a number of governments and united the poor and middle class over shared complaints. – Wall Street Journal

Three decades after the Soviet Union collapsed and the United States emerged as the undisputed superpower in the Middle East and North Africa, a resurgent Russia is back. Under the personal direction of Putin, Russia is stepping into the vac­uum left by the disengagement of the Obama administration and the unpredictability of the Trump one to challenge the United States’ dominant role in the region. – Washington Post

The United Arab Emirates said on Thursday the Gulf Cooperation Council remained valid despite a bitter row with Qatar that has fractured the bloc ahead of an annual summit next week. – Reuters

An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and his deputy Khairat al-Shater to life in prison, judicial sources said, in a retrial over violence during the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013. – Reuters

Jonathan Spyer writes: The Sunni Arab populations of Syria and Iraq have been the main losers of the region’s decade of disarray. Islamic State looks to harness the fury of many of the young men of these communities to the banner of its brand of political Islam. Something familiar is stirring in the dusty and remote corners of central Iraq. The West should pay attention. – Wall Street Journal

Korean Peninsula

North Korea is expanding military facilities thought to house long-range missiles that can hit the U.S., according to a think-tank report that revives doubts about the regime’s sincerity in disarmament negotiations. – Wall Street Journal

Day after day, rampant speculation about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s possible trip to Seoul is making headlines in South Korea, despite no official confirmation from either government. – Associated Press

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has cleared three days later this month to make a historic first visit to Seoul to discuss ridding the Korea peninsula of nuclear weapons, according to a report Wednesday.  – New York Post


Canadian authorities in Vancouver have arrested Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer at the request of the U.S. for alleged violations of Iran sanctions, the latest move by Washington against the Chinese cellular-technology giant. – Wall Street Journal

A former Hong Kong home-affairs minister who toured the world marketing China’s global investment and infrastructure program was convicted Wednesday of bribing African officials to secure oil rights for a Chinese energy conglomerate. – Wall Street Journal

Just when investors were hoping to take a breather following the weekend’s trade truce between the U.S. and China, the arrest of Chinese telecom-equipment company Huawei’s chief financial officer at the behest of the American authorities has served a warning that they shouldn’t get too complacent. – Wall Street Journal

Huawei Technologies Co. is losing a chunk of business from one of its biggest and oldest Western customers, as the U.S. pushes allies to avoid the Chinese telecom-equipment maker because of national security concerns. – Wall Street Journal

China will always stick to “mutual respect” in its efforts to deal with global challenges, President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday in Lisbon, where he signed agreements to link Portugal to Beijing’s belt and road initiative. – Reuters

Hong Kong business groups are starting to worry the Trump administration will open the door to ending the financial hub’s preferential trade status, rendering it “just another Chinese city” as its government gets closer to Beijing. – Bloomberg

Ralph Gomory writes: If China’s President Xi is serious about ending conflict with the United States, he should end the actions his country is taking that destroy our industrial capabilities. If President Trump is serious about rebuilding our capabilities he should act to keep our companies from offshoring to China and incent them to consider the welfare of our country. Tariffs on goods from China are being considered and they should be. – The Hill


In an instant, the Green Berets raiding the compound, and the Taliban fighters holed up in it, faced the near certainty that someone wasn’t getting out of there alive. U.S. commanders have long abandoned hope for a purely military victory in the 17-year conflict. Instead, they see this kind of calibrated military pressure—an approach they call “metering the violence”—as a means of strengthening the American and Afghan position in peace negotiations. – Wall Street Journal

A fresh effort by the Trump administration this week to seek Pakistan’s help in arranging Afghan peace talks has produced no signs of progress but suggests that the chill between the longtime security allies may be starting to thaw. – Washington Post

The death last week of the Taliban’s senior leader in southern Afghanistan in a U.S. air strike highlights a surge in operations amid pressure to coax the increasingly confident insurgents to accept talks to end the 17-year war. – Reuters

Fifteen years after NATO took the lead on international security efforts in Afghanistan, the military alliance’s foreign ministers on Wednesday reaffirmed their commitment to stay the course despite mounting Afghan casualties and the slow pace of peace efforts. – Associated Press


Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the prospect of an arms race with the U.S. on Wednesday in response to Washington’s warning it could suspend a Cold War-era treaty that prohibits intermediate and shorter-range nuclear missiles. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Navy sent a warship through the Sea of Japan, in a rare challenge to Russia’s maritime claims in international waters, officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Russia has asked Italy to drop charges against a former ambassador caught up in a Nigerian corruption case, legal documents showed on Wednesday. – Reuters

President Donald Trump wants to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin once Moscow has resolved its standoff with Ukraine over the use of the Kerch Strait, Russian state media claimed, citing an anonymous “high-ranking” U.S. official. – Newsweek


The U.K. Parliament released on Wednesday a trove of internal Facebook Inc. emails that show Mark Zuckerberg and other executives pursuing hard-nosed tactics to stifle competitors, as well as considering a range of possibilities for monetizing the massive amounts of data the company collected on its users. – Wall Street Journal

Italy’s populist government is looking for a route out of a fight with the European Union over its budget, as the financial fallout from the clash pushes the economy to the brink of recession. – Wall Street Journal

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal came under fire from allies and opponents alike on Wednesday after the government was forced to publish legal advice showing the United Kingdom could be locked indefinitely in the European Union’s orbit. – Reuters

Serbia’s prime minister suggested on Wednesday that any creation of a standing army in Kosovo could provoke a military intervention by Belgrade, two decades after Kosovo Albanians’ uprising against Serbian rule. – Reuters

The UK could be stuck in “repeated rounds of negotiations” to leave the EU for years with no lawful power to exit, according to the government’s legal advice. A six-page document analysing the implications of Theresa May’s deal warned the mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland returning could remain indefinitely. – Sky News (UK)

Desmond Lachman writes: A weakened President Macron would put a dent in any hope that he might fill Europe’s leadership vacuum at the very time that the European project desperately needs strong leadership. Before the Trump administration yields to the temptation of taking delight in Europe’s troubles, it might want to reflect on the crucial role that Europe plays in curbing Russian adventurism abroad. – The Hill


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

The U.N. secretary-general’s envoy for Western Sahara is meeting with foreign ministers from Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania plus leaders of the Polisario Front over the future of the Morocco-annexed territory. – Associated Press

France and 14 West African nations recently held the first Grand African NEMO (Navy Exercise for Maritime Operations) drill, a week-long training session that is slated to become an annual event. – Defense News

Amir Idris writes: South Sudan now trembles constantly from political instability. The United States should care because it has interconnected interests in South Sudan. These are focused on three strategic policy objectives: countering terrorism, utilizing development, and promoting democracy and governance. […]the United States must recognize the threat of changing regional dynamics, and seek to engage in finding solutions for sustainable peace in South Sudan that could present openings for U.S. democracy and governance programs in the region. – The Hill

The Americas

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered firm support Wednesday for Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, who is visiting Moscow to shore up political and economic assistance even as his country has been struggling to pay billions of dollars owed to Russia. – Associated Press

Mexico’s leftist new president said Wednesday that relations with U.S. President Donald Trump are “good,” and the two will probably talk soon about the immigration issue. – Associated Press

The number of people killed or wounded by landmines in Colombia more than tripled in 2018 to 180, a landmine monitoring group said on Wednesday, as militants occupying territory abandoned by demobilized leftist rebels have expanded their use of the weaponry. – Reuters

Cyber Security

Two Iranian men already indicted in New Jersey in connection with a broad cyber crime and extortion scheme targeting government agencies, cities and businesses now face new federal charges in Georgia related to a ransomware attack that caused havoc in Atlanta earlier this year. – Associated Press

The Department of Homeland Security wants to create a social network that businesses can use to exchange advanced knowledge of cyberattacks, an effort that echoes what a number of private sector organizations have created but is intended to operate on a larger scale. – Fifth Domain

Days before the midterm elections, one of the Pentagon’s top cyber official was asked if there was any metric that could be used to judge the success of the Trump administration’s new cyber policy, one which promises more aggressive offensive operations. […]Judgement day is coming soon. – Fifth Domain

The demand for legalizing corporate hackbacks is growing – and there is significant interest by private corporations to utilize hack back if the technique was lawful. […]Here are five assumptions commonly made in discussing hack backs – Fifth Domain

The Marine Corps is finalizing a new cloud strategy and looking for ways to modernize its hardware and software quickly. – C4ISRNET


U.S. submarines are in the Arctic to deny a bastion to Russia to attack the United States, but the probability of adding surface warships to the region in the near future as another maritime deterrent is slim, a Navy policy official said Tuesday. – USNI News

Lockheed Martin and Airbus have agreed to develop a new aerial-refueling service aimed at the U.S. Air Force, upping the pressure on incumbent Boeing to deliver its KC-46 tankers on time. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy took delivery of the last piece of the littoral combat ship’s anti-submarine warfare mission module Nov. 30, according to a release from Naval Sea Systems Command, pushing the service closer to declaring the well-delayed capability operational despite continued headwinds. – Defense News

Trump Administration

Lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved blocks of rooms at President Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump’s election in 2016 — paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents obtained by The Washington Post. – Washington Post

Federal prosecutors in Virginia are investigating a secret Turkish lobbying effort that once involved Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, even as Mr. Flynn’s role in the special counsel’s investigation winds down, according to people familiar with the inquiry. – New York Times

The Senate is on the verge of an extraordinary rebuke of Donald Trump’s foreign policy, underscoring a bipartisan willingness to encroach on the president’s powers as commander in chief. – Politico