Fdd's overnight brief

December 7, 2018

In The News


China’s Iranian oil imports are set to rebound in December after two state-owned refiners in the world’s largest oil importer began using the nation’s waiver from U.S. sanctions on Iran, according to industry sources and data on Refinitiv Eikon. – Reuters

Four policemen were killed and 42 other people were wounded in a suicide car bomb attack on a police headquarters in Iran’s southeast on Thursday. – Al Jazeera

The spokesman of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, IRGC, has denied ‘rumors’ about one of its seniors officers. Unconfirmed reports say that the officer was arrested in Dubai. […]Some Persian-language news websites had reported that General Abdollah Abdollahi was arrested in the United Arab Emirates. One Twitter message even said that during his arrest $100 million in cash and a similar amount in gold was confiscated. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Some 95 members of Iran’s parliament (Majles), including 22 prominent reformists, have tabled a motion on Sunday December 2 that would tighten Iranian government’s grip on domestic and foreign messaging services. The reformists have been harshly criticized on social media for the move. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Benny Avni writes: Iran on Saturday launched a ballistic missile that can deliver nukes — and the near-complete silence of the media aside, it’s a big deal. The latest test revealed, once more, the flaws in the Iranian nuclear deal and the confusion of our European allies, who are alarmed by the mullahs’ behavior but fear losing the deal that enables it. […]To preserve the deal, its promoters always err on the lenient side. So Iran forever pushes the envelope and receives only mild knuckle raps. For all their harrumphing about the recent missile launch, the Europeans are more angry with Trump for walking away from the deal than they are with Iran. – New York Post


The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday rejected a U.S. resolution condemning Hamas as a terrorist organization, delivering a blow to Ambassador Nikki Haley’s parting action before leaving her post at the end of the year. – Wall Street Journal

A Palestinian court on Thursday extended the detention of a hunger-striking Palestinian-American activist who claims she was tortured in captivity. – Associated Press

Israel told Lebanon’s army and U.N. peacekeepers on Thursday to destroy a tunnel it said had been dug by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement across the border into Israeli territory. – Reuters

Max Singer writes: The U.S. should demand that Palestinian leaders recognize the Jewish connection to the land, no less than Israelis recognize the Palestinian presence and demand for statehood. The denial of Jewish history leads to the denial of Israel’s right to exist. So long as this continues, it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are refusing to accept a two-state solution—and the U.S. should say so. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia on Friday said it remained skeptical of an agreement to cut oil output as nonmember Russia emerged as the ultimate deal breaker. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. senators, bent on punishing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, said on Thursday they want to vote next week to penalize Riyadh, but struggled to agree on how best to do so. – Reuters

After weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, the kingdom eventually acknowledged that its officials were behind the gruesome murder. The whereabouts of his body are still unknown. […]Here are the latest related developments. – Al Jazeera

Turkey should submit a formal request to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to conduct an independent international probe into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Human Rights Watch said. – Al Jazeera

On December 1, 2018, Egyptian and other Arab media reported that, for the first time, a Coptic Mass had been held in Saudi Arabia, in the city of Riyadh. The Mass was performed by Ava Morkos, Coptic Bishop of Shobra Al-Kheima in Egypt, as part of his visit to Saudi Arabia. […]This document reviews the reports on the Mass held in Riyadh, as well as reports from the past year indicating Saudi openness to Christian leaders. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Daniel DePetris writes: Mohammed bin Salman has dug a gaping hole the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will have an incredibly treacherous time digging itself out of. The amount of damage the crown prince has done to his family and to his country is too grand to measure. […] By his actions, the crown prince still appears to believe the whole thing will blow over. – Washington Examiner

Krishnadev Calamur writes: The Saudi ambassador to the United States may have quietly returned to Washington, but he’s going to have some trouble getting meetings on Capitol Hill. – The Atlantic

Gulf States

Pope Francis will make an historic visit to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in February to attend an interfaith meeting, the Vatican announced on Thursday. – Al Jazeera

The European Union is opening a new delegation in Kuwait City, its press office announced Wednesday. The delegation will be its third in the Gulf Cooperation Council, joining offices previously established in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. – CNBC

Steven Wright writes: Qatar’s decision to end its nearly 60-year-old membership in OPEC caught many observers by surprise earlier this week. […]In this sense, Qatar’s exit from OPEC makes sense not only from a business perspective but also from a strategic one. All things considered, it is the right decision made at the right time. – Al Jazeera   


Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels agreed Thursday to revive a United Nations-brokered peace process, announcing a comprehensive prisoner exchange as one of several steps to win mutual trust in an effort to end a nearly four-year war that has left tens of thousands dead and pushed millions to the brink of starvation. – Wall Street Journal

The Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen has armed and financed local militias, including some with alleged links to Islamic extremists, that are now turning on one another in a competition for territory, wealth and control over the country’s future. – Washington Post

Baakar and his patient are among thousands of people who have been imprisoned by the Houthi militia during the four years of Yemen’s grinding civil war. Many of them, an Associated Press investigation has found, have suffered extreme torture — being smashed in their faces with batons, hung from chains by their wrists or genitals for weeks at a time, and scorched with acid. – Associated Press

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani has sparked anger in his country after he demanded Houthi rebels, who control the capital and large swaths of territory, hand over power to his exiled government. – Al Jazeera

The UN’s special envoy has appealed to Yemen’s warring sides to “act now” for the future of the country, as representatives from the government and Houthi rebels gathered for UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden. – Al Jazeera

Barbara A. Leaf writes: The Trump administration’s halting response to the war accelerated recently to stay ahead of potential congressional action aimed at cutting off all U.S. support for coalition operations. But simply calling for a ceasefire is insufficient. To reinforce the work of Griffiths, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi, Washington should choreograph its own political outreach to various Yemeni factions. This would have the added benefit of pressuring the Hadi government and the Houthis to make substantive progress toward a peace deal. – Washington Institute

Madyson Hutchinson Posey and James Phillips write: The Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia will continue to fight this war with or without U.S. support. Those who would connect two unrelated issues, condemn Saudi involvement, and ignore Iran’s hostile role inside Yemen will only do more harm to innocent Yemeni civilians and empower Iran and its Yemeni proxies. – Heritage Foundation

Middle East

A Lebanese businessman accused of providing millions of dollars to the Hezbollah militant group pleaded guilty Thursday and admitted his role in a money laundering conspiracy in an effort to evade U.S. sanctions, the Justice Department said. – Associated Press

Kamal Alam writes: While America’s great concern has been out to push Iran out of Syria, a new question is coming to the fore: Can Russia supplant Iran or at least reduce its footprint in Syria? The answer seems yes and no. […]That is not a question many Arab states care about; The rapprochement with Assad and Syria is about bringing Syria back into the Arab League, and slowly but surely reducing Iran’s influence there. The reopening of the U.A.E. Embassy and the first official Jordanian delegation in Damascus are significant shifts in Syria’s realignment. – War on the Rocks

Lela Gilbert writes: But the truth is that Christian women in Egypt face an epidemic of kidnapping, rape, beatings and torture. Innumerable girls and women vanish forever, and even if they are somehow rescued, their stories are thought to be so shameful that they’re hidden as dark family secrets. Meanwhile, doctors quietly repair internal damage and “restore virginity” to abused teenagers and twenty-somethings. Priests try to protect family reputations when the girls return. – Hudson Institute

Korean Peninsula

The foreign ministers of China and North Korea held talks in Beijing Friday amid a lack of progress in international efforts to persuade Kim Jong Un’s regime to halt its nuclear weapons program. – Associated Press

To hear a beaming Donald Trump at his June summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, the solution to North Korea’s headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons was at hand. Since the remarkable claims made during the first-ever meeting of leaders from the archrival nations, however, there have been recriminations, simmering bad blood — and very little progress. – Associated Press

Tom Rogan writes: North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear warhead development rolls on. But that doesn’t necessarily mean President Trump’s diplomacy with Kim Jong Un’s regime is failing. – Washington Examiner


The Trump administration’s efforts to extradite the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies Co. over criminal charges mark the start of an even more aggressive phase in the technology rivalry between the U.S. and China and will increase pressure on Washington’s allies to shun the telecommunications company. – Wall Street Journal

Boeing Co. said Thursday it was canceling a controversial satellite order that was financed by a Chinese government-owned firm, citing default for nonpayment. […]Boeing’s decision follows a Wall Street Journal investigation this week that highlighted China’s opaque role in funneling around $200 million to the project. – Wall Street Journal

More than 160 China experts from around the world have signed a letter urging New Zealand’s government to protect an academic who said she was the subject of harassment and intimidation for publishing research critical of the Chinese Communist Party. – New York Times

Cross-border arrests of high-profile business executives don’t happen often, making the arrest of a top Chinese tech executive a significant event that could possibly chill commercial relations between the United States and China, lawyers and trade experts said. – Washington Post

China was preparing to launch a ground-breaking mission early Saturday to soft-land a spacecraft on the largely unexplored far side of the moon, demonstrating its growing ambitions as a space power to rival Russia, the European Union and U.S. – Associated Press

Ahead of the rollout of that faster internet technology, several countries have warned against using Chinese hardware because of security concerns, which stem from the Chinese government’s use of Huawei’s products to spy on people around the world. […]So far, four countries have officially said they will not allow Huawei to take part in the 5G trials. – Al Jazeera

Editorial: Beijing might counter by arresting U.S. CEOs in China, and trade talks could break down. But enforcing laws and negotiating a trade deal aren’t incompatible. The U.S. has to enforce its laws or they’re meaningless, and China has to see there is a price for violating norms in pursuit of economic and security dominance. Play by the rules, and everyone can prosper. – Wall Street Journal

Eli Lake writes: When I heard the news of the arrest in Canada of Wanzhou Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer, my thoughts turned to Al Capone. Capone was targeted for running Chicago’s underworld but was ultimately brought down for tax evasion. Canadian authorities detained Meng on what appears to be Huawei’s evasion of U.S. sanctions against Iran. These are serious allegations, but U.S. intelligence agencies have an even greater concern: that China’s largest telecom company will allow the Chinese state to monitor the electronic communications of anyone using Huawei technology. – Bloomberg

Tanner Greer writes: Now to attack the Belt and Road Initiative is to attack the legitimacy of the party itself. The Belt and Road Initiative is evidence that the party’s once responsive policymaking system is breaking down. The rest of the world must recognize that BRI persists only because it is the favored brainchild of an authoritarian leader living in an echo chamber. – Foreign Policy


An election complaints agency on Thursday invalidated all of the votes cast in Kabul Province in October’s parliamentary election, more than a million in all, over fraud allegations, pushing the country toward another political crisis just as a top American diplomat arrived to build momentum for peace talks with the Taliban. – New York Times

The Taliban staged a coordinated attack overnight on two Afghan army outposts in western Herat province, killing 14 Afghan soldiers and taking another 21 captive, a provincial official said Friday, the latest in a series of daily attacks by insurgents on the country’s beleaguered national security forces. – Associated Press

Husain Haqqani writes: The Taliban have a long pattern of following up peace overtures with highly visible attacks, such as the assassination in October of Kandahar’s police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq, in an attack that narrowly missed the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. […]The purpose of such attacks, soon after secret talks with U.S. interlocutors, is to demonstrate to true believers that the American eagerness to negotiate is the result of weakness, whereas the jihadis are willing to talk only to ease the withdrawal of infidels without giving up on their ideology. – Hudson Institute

South Asia

Historical rivals New Delhi and Islamabad have agreed to build a visa-free corridor that traverses their heavily militarized border and promises to ease bilateral tensions. But political realities may limit any real progress toward reconciliation. – CNBC

Pakistan’s powerful military on Thursday warned a peaceful nationwide civil rights movement which accuses it of abuses that it will use force against them if they “cross the line”. – Agence France-Presse

Maoist rebels in the Philippines declared a ceasefire on Friday for the Christmas and New Year holidays, but the government said it would not be fooled into joining the truce. – Reuters


The Pentagon said Thursday that it carried out a rare flight over Ukraine under the international Open Skies Treaty to “reaffirm U.S. commitment to Ukraine” amid heightened Russia-Ukraine tensions. – Wall Street Journal

A new survey of 25 countries has found largely negative views of Russia and its leader, President Vladimir Putin, all around the world. At the same time, however, Russia’s influence on the world stage is seen as growing, according to the survey data released by Pew Research Center on Thursday. – Washington Post

Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels is a manifestation of its disregard for global rules and intent to test the West, the top U.S. military officer said Thursday. – Washington Post

OPEC prepared for a further day of talks on oil-production curbs after a summit on Thursday ended with no deal, as Russia resisted the big output cut that Saudi Arabia was demanding. – Bloomberg

The Russian father and son were in a Hungarian jail, charged in an elaborate plot to ship weapons to Mexican drug cartels and cocaine to the U.S. They found an American lawyer anticipating an inevitable extradition and trial in New York. But then the case took an unexpected turn.  […]Instead of being extradited to the U.S., Vladimir Lyubishin Jr. and Sr. were sent back to Russia, where, the State Department says, it’s not clear if they will face trial. – Associated Press

Russia must scrap its 9M729 nuclear-capable cruise missiles and launchers or modify the weapons’ range to return to compliance with a key Cold War-era arms control treaty and avert a U.S. pullout from the pact, a senior U.S. official said Thursday. – Reuters

Edward Goldberg writes: Putin has been rightfully accused of following a 19th century foreign policy, but that is a symptom, not a problem. His problem is that Russia has remained a 19th century market. All his fears about the West are truly illusionary compared to the reality of the economic achievements of his Asian neighbor. – The Hill


The three main contenders to succeed Angela Merkel as chairwoman of Germany’s largest political party have called for a review of a planned gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, potentially putting the party at odds with the chancellor’s own government. – Wall Street Journal

Just days before scores of countries sign up to a landmark U.N. migration pact, a number of European Union nations have begun joining the list of those not willing to endorse the agreement. – Associated Press

French authorities will close dozens of museums, tourism sites and shops on Saturday, including the Eiffel Tower and Louvre, fearing a recurrence of last week’s violence in Paris, officials said on Thursday. – Reuters

Ecuador’s president said Thursday that conditions have been met for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to leave the country’s embassy in London, which would end a six-year standoff with British authorities. – Agence France-Presse

Joseph C. Sternberg writes: The lesson from France is that restraints on majority rule are a good thing. Democrats would do better to focus on the practice of politics rather than on constitutional re-engineering. Mr. Macron is discovering that those politicians who live by strict majoritarianism can die by the social unrest it triggers. So can their agendas. – Wall Street Journal

George G. Mitchell writes: So widely recognized are the benefits of a “soft” border that a year ago, as they began their final negotiations, the E.U. and the U.K. publicly pledged that, whatever the outcome of those negotiations, they would not include the return of a “hard” border. But, as the Brexit process hurtles to an uncertain conclusion, keeping that promise is proving difficult. It is a promise that must be kept. – Washington Post

Janusz Bugajski writes: […]Today, it is the reborn Ukrainian state that stands on Europe’s front line in thwarting Moscow’s new expansionism. If over the next five years, Ukraine remains on track in its political and economic development and in its aspirations toward European and transatlantic integration, then Moscow’s imperial project will have suffered a major defeat. – Center for European Policy Analysis

The Americas

The Trump administration has donated dozens of new military vehicles to the Guatemalan government, just weeks after authorities in the Central American nation were accused of using similar U.S.-supplied Jeeps to intimidate international anti-corruption investigators and American diplomats. – Washington Post

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro announced $6 billion in Russian oil and gold mining investments in his crisis-wracked South American country Thursday, after talks in Moscow with Kremlin officials. – Agence France-Presse

Police have given the all-clear after a phoned in bomb threat forced the evacuation at the offices of the US cable channel, CNN, in New York. – Al Jazeera

America turned into a net oil exporter last week, breaking almost 75 years of continued dependence on foreign oil and marking a pivotal — even if likely brief — moment toward what U.S. President Donald Trump has branded as “energy independence.” – Bloomberg

Cyber Security

The top U.S. general said on Thursday that it was “inexplicable” that technology giants like Alphabet Inc’s Google did not want to work with the Pentagon even as they seek out business with China, where companies have less freedom than in the United States. – Reuters

Indian advertisers wanting to run political ads on Facebook will have to confirm their identity and location to help prevent abuse of the system in the build-up to national elections, the company said on Thursday. – Reuters

Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon reportedly interviewed with the Senate Intelligence Committee last month about Cambridge Analytica. – The Hill

James Andrew Lewis writes: […]The ability to create and use new technologies is the source of economic strength and military security. Technology, and the capacity to create new technologies, are the basis of information age power. 5G as the cornerstone of a new digital environment is the focal point for the new competition, where the United States is well-positioned to lead but neither success nor security are guaranteed without action. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Five U.S. Marines remained missing as a search continued in the waters off Japan after a midair collision Thursday between two military aircraft, U.S. and Japanese officials said. – Wall Street Journal

The F-35 has officially entered into its operation test phase, paving the way for a full rate production decision next year, the program office announced Dec. 6. – Defense News

A group of 70 House lawmakers are urging President Donald Trump to stick to a planned top line of $733 billion for his fiscal 2020 defense budget request to Congress and forgo a proposed $33 billion cut. – Defense News

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe said he used a recent two-hour White House meeting with President Donald Trump, Vice Mike President Pence and national security adviser John Bolton to urge the administration to reverse course on a planned cut to the fiscal year 2020 national defense budget. – Defense News

Vice Adm. James Malloy, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy (N3/N5), was nominated to lead U.S. 5th Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command on Thursday and confirmed by a voice vote in the Senate about an hour after the announcement. The rapid confirmation follows the sudden death of former commander Vice Adm. Scott Stearney on Dec. 1. – USNI News

The duties of the Air Force’s international affairs shop may be changing soon, but its outgoing head believes that may not be a bad thing. The Air Force is currently considering stripping out the strategy functions of its international affairs office and transferring them to the Air Staff’s office for plans and requirements, also known as the A5. – Defense News


Trump Administration

President Trump plans to nominate State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, two senior administration officials said Thursday, as he seeks to advance his “America First” agenda on the world stage. – Washington Post

Former attorney general William P. Barr is President Trump’s leading candidate to be nominated to lead the Justice Department, according to people familiar with the deliberations — a choice that could be announced in coming days as the agency presses forward with a probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. – Washington Post

Editorial: As always, Mr. Pompeo’s reform task isn’t made easier by his boss simultaneously imposing a 19th-century tariff model on America’s European and Asian allies. But the Secretary is raising legitimate questions about the future of global governance. Shooting them down because he is Donald Trump’s messenger won’t make the tough questions disappear. – Wall Street Journal