Fdd's overnight brief

December 6, 2019

In The News


A State Department official said Thursday that 1,000 or more protesters may have been killed during weeks of unrest in Iran and that the United States has received video that shows troops firing machine guns mounted on trucks at protesters in one incident. – Washington Post 

 The scale and speed of Iran’s crackdown was significant — and different from the reaction to public discontent in 2017 and 2018. Why? Because Tehran is both confident regarding the weakness of its population — strangled through the “maximum pressure” campaign — and less confident of its standing in the region because of ongoing protests in Lebanon and Iraq. – Washington Post

U.S. officials released photos Thursday of the missile parts intercepted by military personnel believed to be from Iran headed to Yemen. – Fox News 

Iran on Thursday rejected pressure to shelve its ballistic missile program after a European letter to the U.N. Security Council accused Tehran of developing missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs. – Reuters 

Russian state nuclear company Rosatom has suspended work on revamping a factory at Iran’s Fordow nuclear complex due to an issue with uranium compatibility, Rosatom’s nuclear fuel cycle unit TVEL said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Lawrence J. Haas writes: All else being equal, the demise of the clerical regime in Tehran undoubtedly would benefit the United States by eliminating a terror-sponsoring, nuclear weapons-developing, hegemony-seeking, human rights-abusing government that threatens U.S. interests in the region and beyond. For reasons both moral and strategic, America should put itself on the side of those seeking progressive change. – The Hill 


A year after uncovering a network of cross-border Hezbollah tunnels, the Israeli military says the Lebanese militant group has beefed up its presence along the volatile frontier. – Associated Press 

Troops from the IDF’s 215 Artillery Division have completed a week-long tactical drill simulating war on the Lebanese front using a new operational concept aimed at producing a higher level of effectiveness on the battlefield. […]And while the battalion is drilling for possible war with Hezbollah in the North, they took part in the last round of violence between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip (Operation Black Belt). – Jerusalem Post 

Joseph Haboush writes: The Amal Movement, meanwhile, needs Hezbollah to maintain the two parties’ long-time political stranglehold on the Shi’a community. While Hezbollah supporters were reportedly initially among those protesting against Berri in south Lebanon, as the threat to both parties has become more apparent, their interests have converged. This means that their tactical shift toward street-level violence is likely to intensify if no political solution is reached soon. And as this threat continues, all options are on the table for Hezbollah as per orders from Iran and what it sees as an expanding foreign plot against the “axis of resistance.” – Middle East Institute

Amos Harel and Yaniv Kubovich write: Hezbollah’s years of fighting in Syria alongside Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Russian army officers have given the organization and its commanders critical experience in fields that were unfamiliar to them in the past. […]But the return to the south gives Hezbollah another advantage: The proximity of its top units to the border theoretically shortens the time it needs to carry out a surprise attack against Israel, in the nature of a move talked about it recent years – a surprise takeover of communities or Israeli army positions along the border. – Haaretz 


The House on Thursday overcame a final hurdle to bringing a controversial resolution supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict to the floor for a vote. – The Hill 

The Norwegian parliament called on the Palestinian Authority on Thursday to remove violent, racist and antisemitic materials from its school curriculum, or else face a drop or cessation in funding. – Algemeiner 

Eric R. Mandel writes: Israel’s legal rights over the 1967 line must be recognized for there to be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Counterintuitive, yes, but considering the failures of all previous negotiations, it is something that should be championed for those who want both a Jewish state and an Arab state. – Jerusalem Post 

Yaakov Katz writes: But what happens if Iran succeeds in hitting Israel with an Aramco-style attack? What happens if it hits a strategic installation and causes extensive economic damage or worse – loss of life? What will Israel do? […]The problem, though, is that anything Netanyahu does today will be seen as politically driven. – Jerusalem Post 

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Aramco priced its initial public offering Thursday at the high end of the targeted range to give the oil giant a total value of $1.7 trillion in the world’s biggest-ever IPO. – Wall Street Journal 

An oil producers’ committee led by Saudi Arabia and Russia recommended deepening crude-production cuts by 42% next year, according to Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, signaling the plan is likely to be adopted Thursday by OPEC. – Wall Street Journal 

In a shift that analysts said reflects progress in Saudi talks with Yemen’s Houthi rebels to end the Yemen war, State Department Iran envoy Brian Hook said today that Iran does not speak for the Houthis, whom he described as playing a more constructive role in issuing a cease-fire proposal. – Al-Monitor 

David Ignatius writes: The U.S.-Saudi security relationship needs a reset — but the only way to rebuild shattered trust is a new system of accountability and controls to prevent abuses. The GIP training issue reminds us of what went so badly wrong in the kingdom with Khashoggi’s murder a year ago, and the urgent need to begin fixing it. – Washington Post


Two mortars landed inside Iraq’s Balad air base on Thursday, two Iraqi military sources said. […]Balad base hosts U.S. forces and contractors and is located about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Baghdad. – Haaretz 

More than a dozen people have been stabbed in a Baghdad square that has become a focal point for anti-government and anti-Iran protests after supporters of an Iranian-backed militia flooded the area. – The Guardian 

The U.S. State Department announced Thursday it was offering $15 million for information related to an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Commander who planned one of the most sophisticated attacks against coalition troops in Iraq, killing five soldiers in 2007. – Military Times 

Middle East & North Africa

The United Nations center in Libya was opened as an “alternative to detention,” a last, safe stop for migrants before they were resettled in other countries. Now, just a year later, it looks increasingly like the notorious Libyan lockups it was supposed to replace. – Associated Press 

The Department of Defense has been struggling to explain its position on the possibility of sending more troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. – Business Insider 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not discuss normalizing ties with Israel with Moroccan officials while visiting that country, a senior State Department official said Thursday. – Agency France-Presse 

Russia and Turkey are working on a contract for the delivery of a new batch of Russian S-400 missile systems, the Interfax news agency cited a senior official at a Russian military cooperation agency as saying on Friday. – Reuters 

Frederic Wehrey writes: All this may sound like good news to Haftar, who, for the first time, could conceivably take Tripoli. But the battlefield advantages that come with Russian aid may carry costs. On Nov. 14, the U.S. State Department issued its most forceful condemnation yet of his war, singling out his militia by name and asserting that his alliance with Russian mercenaries is a dangerous breach of Libyan sovereignty. In tandem, the U.S. Congress is growing considerably more concerned about the war’s effect on civilians and its boon to Russian influence in the region. Bipartisan legislation is pending in both the House and Senate that would place sanctions on the Russian contractors and their enablers. – Foreign Policy

Korean Peninsula

North Korea threatened Thursday to resume insults of U.S. President Donald Trump and consider him a “dotard” if he keeps using provocative language, such as referring to its leader as “rocket man.” – Associated Press 

An Australian man charged with trying to broker missile deals for the North Korean regime has told a court he cannot get a fair trial in Australia, saying his phone calls with his lawyer are being listened to, and even prime ministers have publicly condemned the allegations against him. – The Guardian 

A new satellite image obtained by CNN indicates North Korea may be preparing to resume testing engines used to power satellite launchers and intercontinental ballistic missiles at a site President Donald Trump previously claimed was dismantled after his Singapore summit with dictator Kim Jong Un this summer, according to experts who analyzed the photo. – CNN 


China’s trade negotiations with the U.S. remain on track, Beijing said, offering official reassurance after tensions flared between the world’s two biggest economies over human-rights issues in China. – Wall Street Journal 

But whereas Trump and other U.S. officials tweet in English to a largely domestic audience, China’s Foreign Ministry appears to be targeting international audiences with a sometimes crude message. […]However, changing international attitudes via tweet may be an uphill battle for China. – Washington Post 

China reacted angrily to President Donald Trump’s approval of legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters last month, but movement on another congressional bill, backing Uighur Muslims in China’s northwest, has cut even closer to the bone and could trigger reprisals and hurt efforts to resolve the U.S.-China trade war. – Reuters 

China is reportedly demanding a reduction in U.S. tariffs ahead of the “phase one” trade deal between the two countries. Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters that Beijing and Washington remain in “close communication,” but he did not have additional information, according to multiple reports. – The Hill 

The World Bank said its board on Thursday adopted a new plan to aid China with $1 billion to $1.5 billion in low-interest loans annually through June 2025, despite the objections of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and several U.S. lawmakers. – Reuters 

If the U.S. military intends to technologically keep pace with China, now is the time to invest in the long-term health of the defense industrial base, including creating a new national guard-esque unit for technology and adding a special visa program, a new report warns. – Defense News Tom Rogan writes: Well, Huawei’s real motivation here isn’t actually about America. It’s about the rest of the world and about Europe in particular. […]Huawei’s litigation is only one part of a much broader lobbying effort led by Xi’s government. And the Chinese are playing hardball here, making clear to Berlin, Paris, and London that lucrative trade deals depend on their compliance. – Washington Examiner 


Seeking a second term as Taiwan’s leader, President Tsai Ing-wen has cast herself as a bulwark against authoritarian China’s efforts to undermine democracy in the self-ruled island. – Wall Street Journal 

Bowing to pressure from the White House, a Republican senator blocked a resolution Thursday that would recognize the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide. – Associated Press 

In a wood-panelled hall of the ornate Peace Palace at The Hague, lawyers pressing a case against Myanmar for alleged genocide against its Muslim Rohingya minority will next week ask judges to order immediate action to protect them from further violence. – Reuters

Chinese investors more than doubled their Hong Kong stocks purchases this year, braving market headwinds from violent street protests and the protracted Sino-U.S. trade war, which have battered the Asian financial hub’s economy. – Reuters 

As Hong Kong’s protesters gear up for another mass march downtown this weekend and possibly a strike next Monday, some of those who have fought on the front lines are reassessing their strategy. – Bloomberg  


The Trump administration Thursday placed a $5 million bounty on the leader of a Russian hacker group called Evil Corp for his alleged work for Moscow’s intelligence agency, part of what U.S. officials say is a broader reprisal for a Kremlin-directed cyber offensive against the U.S. – Wall Street Journal  

Russia is ready to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty by the end of this year without any more conditions or discussion, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, appearing to drop Moscow’s earlier defiant tone. – Reuters 

NATO, the U.S. and Russia have a new domain to compete and conflict over: space. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Wednesday that the U.S. saw space as as “theater of military operations” and that the development of the U.S. Space Force posed a threat to Russia. – CNBC 

In the article, Patrushev explained that his job as Russia’s Security Council Secretary, is to identify scenarios for global development, in order to preserve a role for Russia. […]The first is the transition to a polycentric world order. The second is the continuation of the US attempts to preserve its dominance. The third is the formation of a bipolar world order. And, the fourth development scenario is the enhancement of regionalization processes. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Alina Polyakova writes: Past Russian behavior suggests that when the West is preoccupied elsewhere, Russia seeks out new opportunities to advance its influence. As the United States grows skeptical of Chinese technology companies and tries to pressure other countries to join a crackdown, Russian surveillance technology exporters may step in to offer an alternative, and perhaps more affordable, model of digital authoritarianism. – New York Times 


While the rest of the U.K. is arguing ahead of next week’s elections about whether to leave the European Union, in this town on the silvery waters of the River Tay, another union is in question: Scotland’s 300-year-old tie to England. – Wall Street Journal 

Bosnia must overhaul its complex and opaque justice system and do more to protect the rule of law if it wants to press its case to join the European Union, legal experts said in an EU-commissioned report on Thursday. – Reuters 

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

A group of elite Russian military intelligence officers, including some of those who planned the poisoning of a defector in Britain, have been operating out of picturesque villages in the French Alps, Western intelligence officials tell NBC News. – NBC 


Armed militants in northeast Nigeria have kidnapped 14 people, including two Red Cross workers and an army sergeant, security sources said on Thursday. – Agence France-Presse 

Burundi’s ruling party youth league is forcing citizens to donate money to fund next year’s election, Human Rights Watch said on Friday, as fears of abuses and renewed violence grow ahead of the vote. – Reuters 

Ivory Coast, the largest economy in francophone West Africa, is too focused on doing business with France and should open up its market to investors from a wider range of countries, an opposition leader said. – Bloomberg 

Being caught with alcohol in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum used to mean 40 lashes under former President Omar al-Bashir, who turned the African country of 40 million into an autocratic Islamic state over three decades. He was ousted by the army in April, and now the country that emulated Saudi Arabia in its pursuit of puritanism is rivaling the kingdom when it comes to loosening up. – Bloomberg 

The Americas

Peru and Washington are in the final stages of talks on a deal to promote American investments in the South American country as part of a U.S. initiative to counter Chinese influence in the region, a Peruvian diplomat told Reuters. – Reuters

A public backlash in Mexico to provisions in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade that would allow U.S. inspectors into Mexican factories has created a new obstacle to the trade deal’s passage. – Washington Examiner 

U.S. President Donald Trump will host Paraguay’s President Mario Abdo Benitez for a White House visit on Dec. 13, the White House said on Thursday. – Reuters 


ManTech and General Dynamics are joining forces to compete for the Pentagon’s top cyber training contract, a deal that is thought to be worth nearly $1 billion. – Fifth Domain 

The bipartisan Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus is concerned about the lack of coordination between individual federal departments’ AI offices. – Federal Times 

When the Navy returns to holding large-scale fleet exercises in summer 2020, the operations will involve information warfare and tactical cyber teams, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said Thursday morning. – USNI News 

The U.S. State Department, which is hoping to slow the spread of 5G networks using hardware from China, said it supports a plan from the European Union Council that highlighted the risks to 5G networks if they are built from certain companies, according to a Dec. 4 statement. – C4ISRNET 

To keep up with the changing nature of war and in response to nations such as China and Russia restructuring their militaries around a consolidated information warfare discipline, senior leaders at the Navy and Marine Corps recently said they are looking to boost their own prowess in that area. – C4ISRNET 


The Coast Guard is recompeting its potentially $10.5 billion Offshore Patrol Cutter contract because the program risks falling fatally behind schedule due to hurricane damage to the shipyard initially awarded the contract. – USNI News 

The Navy and industry are still facing a lot of unknowns during a “dynamic” conversation about what ships to build and how to best support future operations, leaders said today. – USNI News 

The Navy is unclear how it will proceed with its next generation of aviation combatants following the introduction of the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter into the carrier air wing, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Thursday. – USNI News 

The U.S. Navy and Air Force are teaming up to rapidly develop a battle network that can link together Air Force and Navy assets, an effort the Navy’s top officer compared to the 1940s program to develop an atomic bomb. – Defense News 

The Air Force’s stopgap polar satellite communications payload successfully completed its critical design review in October, the Space and Missile Systems Center announced Dec. 3, putting it on track for a December 2022 launch. – C4ISRNET

Long War

The head of Britain’s armed forces has publicly contradicted Donald Trump’s repeated claims of victory over Islamic State. – Sky News (UK) 

Editorial: But Mr. Trump was making a crucial point—granted, in his undiplomatic way—about European irresponsibility in the fight against Islamic State. […]Mr. Trump’s rash decisions often distract from his antagonists’ bad choices and undermine his more considered policies. The President’s abrupt shift in Syria made the foreign fighter problem worse, but he is right to press Mr. Macron. – Wall Street Journal 

Rita Katz writes: It was a big deal when accounts for the Islamic State and al-Qaeda started disappearing from the Telegram messaging app over the past month. […]The Internet is a critical lifeblood for terrorists, so they are more disoriented online now than they have been since they embraced social media in the early 2010s. This is progress, no doubt. But why did it take so long for Telegram to act with such aggression? – Washington Post 

Trump Administration

President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani met Thursday in Ukraine with one of the key figures working to build a corruption case against Hunter Biden, the Ukraine lawmaker said, after posting Facebook photographs of himself with the former New York mayor. – Washington Post 

President Trump has routinely communicated with his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and other individuals speaking on cellphones vulnerable to monitoring by Russian and other foreign intelligence services, current and former U.S. officials said. – Washington Post 

The Justice Department’s inspector general found no evidence that US intelligence agencies tried to plant spies in the Trump campaign, undercutting a repeated claim from President Donald Trump and his allies, people familiar with a draft of the report due out Monday tell CNN. – CNN 

President Trump appears to take his orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin, rather than working on behalf of the American people, Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., claimed Thursday. – Fox News