Fdd's overnight brief

December 9, 2019

In The News


An American scholar held for three years on espionage charges in Iran has been released from prison and was flown out of the country in exchange for an Iranian biologist imprisoned in the United States, officials said early Saturday. – Washington Post

European powers will take the first step towards re-imposing international sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks if Tehran further violates the 2015 nuclear deal, diplomats said. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday presented to parliament what he called a “budget of resistance” against crippling sanctions imposed by arch-enemy the United States. – Agence France-Presse 

A pair of former defense secretaries said U.S. leaders need to get back to the negotiating table with Iran, because of the potential threat they represent to the Middle East and the world at large. – Military Times 

Israeli leaders stepped up aggressive rhetoric against Iran and a Palestinian proxy as a crucial domestic deadline looms. – Bloomberg

The United States and Morocco discussed efforts to isolate Iran, officials said Thursday, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a visit to the kingdom. – Agence France Presse

Jason Rezaian writes: While we celebrate Wang’s release and hope for freedom for the others very soon, we must change the calculations for the Iranian and other regimes that practice state-sponsored hostage taking. This is a problem that is only getting worse and will require a collective approach to end it once and for all. – Washington Post


The uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is set to go on trial in Paris Monday on charges of building up a property empire in France using funds from Syrian state coffers. – Agence France-Presse 

Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett warned the Islamic Republic on Sunday that Syria “will become your Vietnam” shortly after an air strike on a pro-Iran militia in the war-torn country. – Algemeiner 

Air strikes by Syrian government and Russian forces killed at least 20 people in rebel-held northwestern Syria on Saturday, activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. – Reuters


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused allies-turned-rivals of defrauding a state-owned bank. – Bloomberg

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Turkey early Sunday morning, Palestinian news sites reported, marking the first time he has traveled outside the Gaza Strip and Egypt since he assumed the role as the terror group’s top leader in May 2017. – Times of Israel

Turkey’s AKP government has over the past year shipped drones, armored vehicles, “laser weapons,” and other arms and ammunition to Libya’s Tripoli-based pro-Islamist Government of National Accord (GNA), which is led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj and which the UN recognizes as Libya’s legitimate government. The AKP government has also trained GNA military and police personnel. – Middle East Media Research Institute 


With just days left for Israel’s parliament to find a solution to the country’s ongoing political deadlock, there have been a flurry of proposals that lawmakers hope will prevent a third election in less than a year. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump declared the American-Israeli alliance “unbreakable” and slammed anti-Israel Democratic lawmakers at a major conference of pro-Israel activists on Saturday night. – Algemeiner 

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a symbolic resolution on Friday backing a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, following initiatives from President Donald Trump seen as heavily favoring the Jewish state. – Reuters

Former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused Canada on Thursday of making a “deal with the devil” by recently voting in favor of an anti-Israel General Assembly resolution. Speaking at the annual UN Watch gala in New York City, Haley said Canada was “trading its integrity for a seat on the Security Council” with its turn against the Jewish state. – Algemeiner

Ami Ayalon, Gadi Shamni and Danny Yatom write: We appreciate the resounding two-party support for two states that Congress has voiced and believe Congress should send an equally forceful bipartisan message opposing unilateral annexation — whether full or partial. These congressional steps would be particularly important now, as our annexationist minority, emboldened by the change in U.S. policy, seeks to jeopardize Israel’s security and future as a Jewish democracy by making good on its destructive, messianic vision. – The Hill

Asher Fredman writes: The positive feelings regarding Israel’s current international position should not lead us to complacency. Both the Israeli government and the pro-Israel community must prepare today for tomorrow’s battles. While the skies above are mostly clear, there are storm clouds on the horizon. – Jerusalem Post


The president-elect of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, said Monday that he would designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization upon taking office. – Jerusalem Post

Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician, Saad al-Hariri, re-emerged as a candidate for prime minister on Sunday when businessman Samir Khatib withdrew his candidacy to lead a government that must tackle an acute economic crisis. – Reuters

A possible candidate for prime minister of Lebanon said Sunday he is withdrawing from consideration for the post, prolonging the country’s political crisis. Samir Khatib said the country’s top Sunni religious authority told him the community supports the re-appointment of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned Oct. 29 under fire from anti-government protesters. – Associated Press 

Lebanon appealed to more friendly states on Saturday to help it import essential goods as it wrestles with an acute economic crisis and hard currency shortages, the office of caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said. – Reuters


A pact to halt illegal migration between Italy and Libya, and backed by the European Union, has made the Libyan Coast Guard the de facto border patrol for Europe. Migrants and refugees, who arrive to Libya after fleeing conflict and poverty at home, are hazarding the dangerous crossing through the Mediterranean only to be intercepted and returned to Libya. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. military officials believe that the unmanned American drone that went missing near Libya’s capital late last month was shot down by Russian air defenses. – The Hill

Aaron Y. Zelin writes: On December 6, 2016, the Islamic State in Libya (ISL) lost its last vestige of territorial control when it surrendered the north-central city of Sirte. Three years later, the group is a shadow of its former self… […]Even so, Washington needs to continue coordinating airstrikes and sharing intelligence with its partners in Libya in order to break up ISL camps and prevent the group from carrying out an Iraq/Syria-style resurgence. In addition, U.S. diplomats should mediate between various Libyan parties locally and internationally to help avert the negative consequences that a full-on assault of Tripoli could have in terms of boosting ISL’s prospects for a comeback. – Washington Institute


Gunmen opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in the Iraqi capital late Friday, killing and wounding scores of people and unleashing scenes of chaos as protesters scrambled for cover. – Washington Post

The Trump administration on Friday blacklisted the leaders of three militias in Iraq that U.S. officials said opened fire on peaceful protesters and killed dozens of people. – Washington Post

Four Katyusha rockets struck a military base next to Baghdad International Airport on Monday wounding “six fighters”, a statement from the military said. Security forces found a rocket launcher and several rockets in a search of the area, the statement said. – Reuters

Thousands attended angry protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq Saturday, grieving but defiant after 20 of them were killed in an attack the previous day that demonstrators described as “slaughter”. – Agence France-Presse 

A drone has struck the home of Iraqi populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr following a night of violence in Baghdad, where unidentified knife and gunmen reportedly killed up to 25 people, including police officers, in a central square that is a hub for anti-government protesters. – Financial Times

Middle East & North Africa

EU foreign ministers are to hold talks on Monday on a maritime territory deal between Turkey and Libya that has stoked tensions between Ankara and EU capitals and raised the stakes in an escalating battle for resources under the Mediterranean Sea. – Financial Times

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday he believed the U.S. military had sufficient capability in the Middle East for now to deter conflict, dismissing a media report that a major troop increase was under consideration amid tension with Iran. – Reuters 

Yemen Shiite Houthi rebels say they have identified a range of Israeli military targets they are able to attack. – Bloomberg

Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is scheduled to travel to Rwanda on Monday as Gulf Cooperation Council leaders prepare to meet in Saudi Arabia a day later. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

North Korea said Sunday that it had conducted a “very important test” at a rocket launch site, even as a senior diplomat said denuclearization is off the negotiating table. The test paves the way for North Korea to launch a satellite or intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) around the end of this year, experts said, fulfilling a threat to give the United States an unwelcome “Christmas gift.” – Washington Post

President Donald Trump warned Sunday that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had “everything” to lose through hostility towards the United States, after Pyongyang said it had carried out a major new weapons test. – Agence France-Presse 

Satellite imagery captured before and after North Korea conducted what it called a “very important” test at its missile launch site suggested it had tested a rocket engine, experts said on Monday. – Reuters

President Donald Trump said on Saturday he did not think North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to interfere in next year’s U.S. presidential election and said he would be surprised if Pyongyang acted hostilely. – Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un opened a new mountain spa and ski resort that’s intended for people to enjoy “high civilization under socialism” in another example of the country using tourism exemptions in sanctions to build revenue for its broken economy. – Associated Press 

North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said Saturday that denuclearization talks with the U.S. are off the table. – The Hill

The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign has “failed” to prevent North Korea from obtaining resources to continue developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, according to an influential U.S. think tank calling for a significant revamping of the campaign. – Washington Times 

Ramon Pacheco Pardo writes: As Washington and Pyongyang seek to solve the most intractable of conflicts, we should not forget that it is North Korea that has the most to lose if the process fails. The United States can live without a deal. Kim, in contrast, needs an agreement to realize his goals. – The Hill


People held in controversial training camps in Xinjiang have “graduated” and new students will have the “freedom to come and go”, the government of China’s far western region said on Monday, slamming foreign estimates of the numbers detained. – Reuters

China on Monday defended its vast network of re-education camps in Xinjiang and said it would continue “training” residents, following explosive government document leaks detailing surveillance and control of the region’s Uighur population. – Agence France-Presse 

In his Twitter bio, Chinese diplomat Lijian Zhao says he wants to “spread the voice of China.” That voice apparently has a lot of nasty things to say about the United States. – Politico 

The biggest threat posed by Russia and China lies in advancements in space capabilities, said the Air Force chief during a panel at the Reagan National Defense Forum. – Defense News 

Just because China might be able to hit U.S. Navy aircraft carriers with long-range anti-ship missiles doesn’t mean carriers are worthless, the service’s top officer said Thursday. – Defense News 

A Uighur woman who lives in the Netherlands has reportedly said she leaked documents on China’s “re-education” camps for Uighur Muslims. – The Hill

Editorial: Halfway through the five years, the bank will assess China for “graduation.” We can only assume that, in the meantime, any lending that directly or indirectly enables human rights violations would be selected out. Congress must keep the pressure on to make sure that it is. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: This is another false claim that proves too much — much like China’s assertion that the grass-roots activism in Hong Kong is due to the machinations of human-rights organizations. The reason that China’s Communist Party fears the promotion of democratic values is clear: because it fears the empowerment of the Chinese people. – Bloomberg

Louise Lucas writes: One question is whether bending to China’s will can jeopardise business elsewhere — say, from flocks of millennials spurning sneakers or movies from companies that make what they see as unpalatable choices. Accessing China’s market may look less attractive if it means being shunned by an entire generation of consumers across the rest of the world. – Financial Times


Washington resumed talks with the Taliban in Qatar Saturday, both sides said, three months after President Donald Trump abruptly halted diplomatic efforts that could end America’s longest war. – Agence France-Presse 

Nearly 100 Afghans are killed every month by unexploded mines, and yet when Gulandam first signed up to help with de-mining efforts, men would hurl insults at her in the street. […]But despite the risks, women like her have been at the forefront of recent de-mining efforts and in October this year, Bamyan was declared the first province in Afghanistan to be completely cleared of all known mines. – Independent

The government accuses the Taliban of commonly using the tactic to intimidate families caught up in the 18-year-long war. “The Taliban torture and even kill innocent people to make them join, mostly in remote rural areas where people have no other option,” said Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan government. – Reuters


Six months after an estimated one million people marched in an antigovernment rally, large crowds again took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in a renewed sign of demonstrators’ determination to wrest democratic concessions from their leaders. – Wall Street Journal

The president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong was denied entry on Saturday to the nearby city of Macau, which like Hong Kong is a semiautonomous region of China and normally grants Hong Kong residents rapid entry, reflecting the two cities’ close business, economic and historical ties. – Wall Street Journal

Aung San Suu Kyi spent the best part of two decades under house arrest when a military junta ruled Myanmar. This week in The Hague, the Nobel laureate and former democracy campaigner will defend some of the same generals and her country against allegations of genocide. – Washington Post

USS America (LHA-6) arrived at its new homeport of Sasebo, Japan, on Thursday, a move that puts the big-deck amphibious assault ship designed to accommodate the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters in the Western Pacific. – USNI News

Three square miles of volcanic rock on the edge of the East China Sea may one day be used as an unsinkable aircraft carrier for the United States Navy in the event of war in Asia. – CNN

Simon Cartledge writes: Yet unless a way can be found to have a government that is answerable to Hong Kong’s people, not only will political discontent continue to fester, but the economy – still the city’s principal reason for being – will also remain stifled. Hong Kong will become an also-ran, far behind Shenzhen – and far sooner than almost anyone seems prepared to contemplate. – Bloomberg


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to travel to Washington next week for his first visit to the United States since his controversial Oval Office meeting with President Trump in 2017, diplomats familiar with the trip said. – Washington Post

When Ukraine’s boyish-faced TV-comedian-turned-president meets Russia’s Vladimir Putin for the first time Monday, the issue at hand will be about trying to end a war. But perhaps the bigger question is about setting the tone: whether Ukraine’s relatively untested President Volodymyr Zelensky is capable of standing up to Russia’s formidable and calculating leader. – Washington Post

Some 5,000 Ukrainians rallied in Kiev on Sunday warning President Volodymyr Zelensky to resist pressure from Russia’s Vladimir Putin when the two men meet on Monday for talks on the conflict in Ukraine’s east. – Agence France-Presse 

Ukraine will ask the British Supreme Court on Monday not to force it to pay billions of dollars in debt to Russia without a trial that would determine whether Kiev was forced to borrow the money under duress. – Reuters

Editorial: The highlighted sentences said Russia is willing to renew the New START nuclear weapons treaty immediately, before the year is out, and without any preconditions. This is an offer that President Trump ought not refuse. […]New START is the last of the major nuclear agreements still in force, and it should be given five more years. – Washington Post

Nick Butler writes: In common with all the other petroeconomies, Russia is trapped by circumstances beyond its control and highly exposed to any further downward shift in global energy prices. – Financial Times


The International Monetary Fund has agreed to lend $5.5 billion to Ukraine, a move viewed as a stamp of approval for President Volodymyr Zelensky’s anti-corruption and economic policies. – New York Times 

The United States ambassador to Denmark barred an American NATO expert critical of President Trump from speaking at an international conference hosted by the American embassy and a Danish think tank, prompting the event’s cancellation, organizers said. – New York Times 

NATO allies are warning French President Emmanuel Macron not to “soften” his support for Kyiv days before he hosts a summit focused on resolving the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. – Washington Examiner

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of NATO, said Sunday he believes President Donald Trump remains committed to the 70-year-old military alliance. – Politico 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was nervous about his narrowing lead in opinion polls ahead of Thursday’s election but pledged to deliver a “transformative” Brexit that will allow lower immigration. – Reuters

Hamas officials in both Gaza and London are working in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, ahead of the UK general election on Thursday. According to Tazpit Press Service (TPS), the “We Support Jeremy Corbyn” Facebook page, one of the largest and most influential Corbyn support networks globally with some 72,000 members, is managed from the Gaza strip. – Jerusalem Post

“We just put forward a resolution on labelling. It’s difficult because the European Court of Justice ruled that all products from disputed areas should be labelled, and we put forward a resolution that this can only be implemented if all other disputed areas in the world are also labelled, and that resolution was accepted by our parliament,” said Voordewind in relation to the actions his party has taken against the labelling requirement. – Arutz Sheva

Bret Stephens writes: But as far as models go, the story of France’s economy in the past 40 years is mostly one of bad turns, thwarted hopes, and forgone opportunities. Americans should not imagine that we can walk down that same familiar cul-de-sac and not hit the same dismal dead end. – New York Times 

Ben Judah writes: All this is happening at a moment when Europeans, encouraged by French President Emmanuel Macron, are more willing than ever to turn a blind eye to the Kremlin. Ironically, leaving Europe is making Britain more continental — at least when it comes to Russia. – Washington Post

Jane Harman writes: If petty feuds suck all the oxygen out of the urgent priorities for NATO, then brain death may not be far behind. But the good news is that the average adult has about 100 billion brain cells, and NATO leaders have nearly 3 trillion altogether. The challenges to the transatlantic alliance number far fewer than that, and if world leaders can focus on the current and emerging threats that really matter, then the 75th anniversary of the critical alliance will be a real cause for celebration five years from now. – The Hill

Tom Rogan writes: In short, Russia has good reason to see Corbyn triumph over Johnson. Where does this leave us? With more questions than answers, but interesting questions nonetheless. Did Russia just hack another election? – Washington Examiner

Jonathan Brunson writes: Amid the tumult surrounding impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald J. Trump, which center on his actions with regard to Ukraine, an unnoticed headline is what’s happening to Ukraine’s own President Volodymyr Zelensky. […]But Trump is only one of his problems, and far from the most significant. Resentment is growing among many patriotic and civically minded citizens about what they view as peace on Russian terms after almost six years of war over the Ukraine-Russia border region of Donbas. – The Daily Beast


Sudan is weeks away from reaching a settlement with families of those killed in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, one of the last steps in getting the African country removed from the U.S. list of state sponsorsof terrorism, new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said in an interview. – Wall Street Journal

Sudan’s prime minister said on Sunday Khartoum had reduced the number of troops it has in Yemen from a peak of 15,000 to 5,000, confirming a drawdown in a conflict which he said could not be solved militarily. – Reuters

Judd Devermont writes: The international community has become seized with the spiraling crisis in the Sahel. […]The deteriorating situation in the Sahel and its implications for regional security, migration, criminality, and corruption have spurred foreign partners—including the United States, European capitals, Gulf states, and some West African governments—to throw soldiers, diplomats, and development experts at the problem. A missing part of the global response, however, has been a focus on domestic politics in the Sahel. – Center for Strategic & International Studies

The Americas

House Democrats and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are nearing a deal for Congress to pass a modified U.S. trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, though hurdles remain, according to people familiar with the negotiations. – Wall Street Journal 

President Trump said Friday that he would temporarily hold off on designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, saying he was doing so at the request of the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. – New York Times 

The U.S. and Mexico have resolved the major sticking points in negotiations to make changes to the new North American trade pact, clearing the way for a deal to be announced in the coming days, three people close to the talks told POLITICO. – Politico 

Ryan Dube writes: Today, Mr. Maduro appears in firm control. […]The rosier outlook for Mr. Maduro underscores the difficulty for the U.S. and its allies in ousting a leader who has control of the armed forces and police and readily uses those forces to repress the opposition. It also highlights the excessive optimism of the Trump administration and what critics of the American policy said were unrealistic expectations that pressure tactics would easily force Mr. Maduro and his lieutenants from power. – Wall Street Journal

Peter Andreas writes: U.S.-Mexican relations have often been tumultuous, requiring extra diplomatic care on both sides of the border. But perhaps now more than at any time in recent decades, Mexicans are painfully reminded of their old saying, “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.” – Washington Post

Carlos Abadi writes: So, no currency manipulation here: punishing Argentina and Brazil with national security-inspired tariffs on steel and aluminium on grounds of currency manipulation is a thinly veiled effort to get those two countries to “do a deal” by curtailing their soyabean exports to China (a trade over which the Administration has no jurisdiction) and restore Mr Trump’s support among a key constituency, which views itself as collateral damage of the president’s trade wars. – Financial Times


The future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) was christened Saturday morning during a ceremony at Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding. Named for President John F. Kennedy, CVN-79 is the second aircraft carrier named for Kennedy built by Huntington Ingalls and is the second Ford-class aircraft carrier built by Huntington Ingalls. – USNI News

House lawmakers are expected to vote on — and pass — the annual defense authorization bill this week, and the massive policy bill could be headed to the White House for final signature as early as next week. – Military Times 

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos warned Saturday that America will find itself “in trouble” if the leadership of large tech companies decide not to work with the Pentagon. – Defense News 

On the 78th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, defense advocates voiced concerns that too many Americans are supporting isolationist military policies at a time when the U.S. military needs to take a larger role in international security issues. – Military Times 

The Army needs to “get religion” on 3D printing, especially for parts that require constant replacement, service secretary Ryan McCarthy said Saturday. – Defense News 

Lack of international standards for proper behavior in cyberspace prevents the United States and allies from policing adversaries as needed to protect data and systems, the chief of naval operations said during a service chiefs panel at the Reagan National Defense Forum. – Fifth Domain 

The Marine Corps is building new information command centers that will help commanders better understand the information environment. […]The data for the new centers will come from the Marine Corps Air-Ground task force and will include social media, intelligence, and information on the cyber and electromagnetic spectrum. – C4ISRNET 

The U.S. Navy inked a deal with General Dynamics Electric Boat on Dec. 2 to be the lead contractor for the newest iteration of the Virginia-class attack submarine. – Defense News

Long War

Saudi authorities are investigating whether a member of its air force who shot dead three people on a U.S. military base was radicalized during a trip back to the kingdom that began late last year, according to Saudi officials. […]U.S. authorities are investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism, federal officials said Sunday. – Wall Street Journal

After a Saudi gunman killed three people at a naval base in Pensacola, Fla., some of President Trump’s Republican allies took to the airwaves to condemn the attack as an act of terrorism, call for a halt to the training program that admitted the shooter and sharply press the Saudi government to cooperate in the investigation. Trump did none of that. – Washington Post

Glenn Kessler writes: But Trump has given no indication that he intends to add Saudi Arabia, and in fact, he has rushed to relay that “they are devastated in Saudi Arabia” and that “the king will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones.” Just like Obama, Trump has not used the word “terrorism” to describe the attack. But the attack shows the limits of Trump’s travel ban. We will be watching to see whether the president repeats his claims about it at his next rally. – Washington Post

Trump Administration

From the very first days of the announcement of his presidential run, when few expected him to be elected, Trump has been a magnet for criticism from foreign officials. Since he won the election in November 2016, the pace has slowed down — or at least, his critics are more discreet in their degradation. But while Trump may have a reputation as a Teflon man, there are signs that the criticism sticks to him. – Washington Post

Even as the House of Representatives began drafting charges against President Trump this week, his private attorney, who many believe is partly responsible for leading Trump on the path to his likely impeachment, made an audacious trip to the country at the center of the scandal. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump said Saturday his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, will provide the Justice Department information on his investigation of Ukraine, the country at the center of the impeachment investigation of Trump. – USA Today 

The rules-based international trading order is likely to suffer serious damage this week as the US carries out a longstanding threat to cripple the World Trade Organization system for dispute settlement. – Financial Times

Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff said there is “overwhelming evidence” to support the theory that President Trump attempted to coerce a foreign leader in the 2020 election. – Washington Examiner