Fdd's overnight brief

October 24, 2018

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


The Trump administration on Tuesday levied sanctions against Taliban and Iranian agents in a joint action with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf governments, some of which have political ties to Tehran, in a move U.S. officials argue underscores Riyadh’s strategic value to the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that it and Bahrain had added Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and senior officers from its Quds Force to their lists of people and organizations suspected of involvement in terrorism. – Reuters

A report by the Institute for Science and International Security said that combining new information produced by the Mossad during its January raid on a Tehran warehouse along with satellite imagery “conclusively shows that the Parchin site did house high explosive chambers capable for use in nuclear weapons research and development.” – Jerusalem Post

David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Olli Heinonen, and Frank Pabian write: The archive provides the public its first look inside the Parchin nuclear weapons development facility and at the type of nuclear weapons related activities that took place at the site. This report, in particular, for the first time publicly correlates photos from inside the main building, called Taleghan 1 by Iran, to satellite imagery, updates previous discussion of the purpose of the second major building at the site, called Taleghan 2, and touches upon the operation of the facilities[…]. – Institute for Science and International Security


France is working to bring back children held by Syrian Kurdish forces and belonging to suspected French Islamist militants, but will leave their mothers to be prosecuted by local authorities, French officials said. – Reuters

The roads are unpaved. Many of the buildings still standing are riddled with bullet holes. But this secretive U.S. base, located near Syria’s eastern border with Jordan and visited by journalists for the first time Monday, is now seen as a crucial bulwark against Iran. – NBC News

Turkey and the United States will begin joint patrols in the northern Syrian Manbij area soon after training is completed within the next couple of days, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told state-owned Anadolu news agency on Wednesday. – Reuters


Turkish authorities have detained a Swedish citizen over suspected links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, police said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Turkey warned Greece on Tuesday it would not tolerate a shift in Greece’s maritime border, drawing a sharp rebuke from Athens that it would decide when and how it exercises its sovereign rights. – Reuters

Germany is cautioning its citizens to be careful about their social media activity when visiting Turkey. – Associated Press


Citing those cases and others in a report published on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy organization, accused both the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and its rival, Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, of routinely using arbitrary arrest and torture as tools to crush dissent. – New York Times

Israeli troops killed a Palestinian man and wounded three others during a raid in a village in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a Palestinian medical official said. – Reuters

A theory that a lightning strike triggered Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza last week gained traction in Israel on Tuesday and might explain the Israeli military’s limited response. – Reuters

Israeli security forces apprehended a Palestinian Authority resident overnight, on suspicion the man aided the terrorist responsible for the deadly shooting attack in the Israeli town of Barkan in Samaria earlier this month. – Arutz Sheva

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official told a Knesset committee earlier this week that if US President Donald Trump did not present an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan within a few weeks after the upcoming Nov. 6 midterm elections, French President Emmanuel Macron would likely unveil a diplomatic initiative of his own, Channel 10 reported on Tuesday. – Times of Israel

Regional solidarity is more important than politics, the head of Israel’s Water Authority told Mako in an interview published on Tuesday. Giora Shoham made the comment following calls by some Israeli ministers to limit the amount of water the Jewish state supplies to Jordan…. – Algemeiner

The Democratic nominee running in New York’s 19th district claimed during a debate on Monday that Israel is not a “Jewish democracy” unless it reaches a peace settlement with the Palestinians. – Jewish Insider

Saudi Arabia

The U.S. has taken diplomatic action against 21 Saudi officials believed connected with the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a public expression of disapproval that came as the kingdom’s powerful crown prince appeared at an investment conference that opened under a cloud. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump on Tuesday condemned Saudi Arabia’s account of the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi as “the worst cover-up ever,” and his administration warned for the first time that it would impose human rights sanctions on some of those who took part in the plot. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia’s premier business conference opened as scheduled Tuesday, missing the star power of Western executives who canceled over a Saudi journalist’s death but packing a surprise: an unexpected visit from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. – Wall Street Journal

The chief executive of the SoftBank Group, Masayoshi Son, one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest business partners, has canceled his appearance at an investment conference in Riyadh, the latest fallout from the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a person briefed on the matter said Tuesday. – New York Times

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey swept into Ankara’s wood-paneled Parliament on Tuesday to level his most direct attack yet against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, accusing his government of planning the “savage murder” and mutilation of the dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi. – New York Times

But what worries the Arabs most, regional officials and experts say, is what they see as the danger to their own stability and security should Saudi Arabia’s status — and its close ties with the United States — be seriously undermined. – Washington Post

In President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech Tuesday about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, there was a glaring omission: the name of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. – Washington Post

The Saudi crown prince is to make his first international speech since the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. – Associated Press

The 15-man team sent by Saudi intelligence to Istanbul planned to hold Jamal Khashoggi against his will for up to two days in a safe house in Turkey while persuading him to return to his home country, Saudi officials said, adding another element to the kingdom’s evolving explanation about the journalist’s killing. – NBC News

Spain’s parliament voted on Tuesday against blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite increasing international pressure to punish Riyadh for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. – Reuters

Adam Taylor writes: So what is Erdogan trying to accomplish? The Turkish leader may have seen a kindred spirit in Khashoggi — the journalist had an affinity for the sort of political Islam that Erdogan espouses — or simply been furious about having a provocative political killing committed by Saudi Arabia on his country’s soil. But it is hard to ignore the broader geopolitical implications. – Washington Post

Theodore R. Bromund writes: The problem for the United States is that Saudi behavior is destructive. But leaving the Saudis to go it alone would merely be more of the same policy that got us where we are today. Since 2011, when most U.S. forces left Iraq, declining U.S. influence has paralleled rising regional violence — and Iranian power. […]Kicking Saudi Arabia to the curb now is tempting, but it will only quicken the descent by making it clear to the Saudis that they’re on their own against the Iranians. – Heritage Foundation

Krishnadev Calamur writes: But while Saudi Arabia and Turkey often find themselves on opposite sides of regional conflicts, they are by no means outwardly hostile toward each other, even when their policy priorities collide, as with the blockade of Qatar or in the Khashoggi case. […]Erdogan’s remarks on Tuesday signaled something of a shift, amounting to a forceful, if implicit, criticism of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. – The Atlantic

Tom Rogan writes: By playing off the global fury that has met Khashoggi’s untimely demise, Erdogan is able to portray himself as an unlikely humanitarian or, at the very least, a not-so-bad leader. He hopes this will allow him to draw international investors and favor away from Saudi Arabia in a way that doesn’t necessarily implicate Turkey as the agent of that decline. – Washington Examiner

Middle East

Jordan’s former counterterrorism chief General Habis al-Hanini has been shot dead outside his home, according to medical and security sources. – Al Jazeera

The U.N. humanitarian chief warned Tuesday that “there is a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen.” – Associated Press

Daniel DePetris writes: The blunt truth is that U.S. national security interests in the Middle East are limited. […]It is about time for our crop of foreign policy leaders to start doing what is best for the security and prosperity of Americans. Those who want to add more security burdens on the country’s shoulders need not apply. – Washington Examiner

Hassan Hassan writes: The political situation in the region is still volatile, and there will continue to be a degree of destructive sectarianism. […]But sectarianism, for now, is at its lowest levels in the 40 years since the Middle East’s transformational moment in 1979, and will likely remain low for the foreseeable future. – The Atlantic

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s liberal president on Tuesday formally confirmed his recent reconciliation deals with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, triggering immediate backlash from conservatives who called him “self-righteous” and “subservient” to the North. – Associated Press

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s summits with the presidents of South Korea and the United States have not changed his country’s abysmal human rights record, the U.N. independent investigator on human rights in the isolated Asian nation said Tuesday. – Associated Press

The latest measures come as the administration of President Moon Jae-in is under growing pressure to revitalise the stalled economy and a weak job market. South Korea’s export-driven economy is threatened by the worsening trade war between the US and China as well as by China’s slowing economic growth. – Financial Times


Japan and China may be getting cozier, but competition in technology is keeping tensions fresh as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe heads to meet President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Friday. The leaders are likely to toast improved ties after Beijing, occupied by its trade fight with the U.S., dialed back anti-Japanese rhetoric and Mr. Abe sought allies in defense of free trade. – Wall Street Journal

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to bolster cooperation and friendship between his country and China in a key policy speech the day before he makes the first trip to Beijing by a Japanese leader in seven years. – Associated Press

“Both ignorant and malicious” was how the official China Daily newspaper recently described comments by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, offering a stinging insight into the current bitter tone of discourse between the countries. – Associated Press

The United States does not plan to send senior government officials to attend a major import expo in Shanghai next month, a U.S. embassy spokesman said on Wednesday, urging Beijing to end what he called harmful and unfair trade practices. – Reuters

Earnings reporting season is underway, and analysts are eager to hear from executives about how an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China is impacting their businesses. A common theme is that they are ready to relocate supply chains if the cost of importing Chinese goods becomes prohibitive. – Bloomberg

Adam Taylor writes: It’s not clear what exactly the United States is hoping to achieve, but there may be hopes for a new treaty that would include China. Such an idea may even get support from Moscow, which has voiced concerns about Chinese missiles in the past. – Washington Post

J. Michael Cole writes: At long last, the United States, without whose leadership a credible counter to Chinese expansionism will never be convincing, is recognizing the urgency of re-engagement, starting with the Asia/Indo-Pacific region, where the dislocating effects of Chinese influence are most immediately felt. – The National Interest


A NATO soldier was killed and two others wounded in a Taliban-claimed attack in Afghanistan on Monday, days after a US general was wounded in a shooting on a high-level security meeting. – Agence France-Presse

Despite a shroud of violence and voting delays, more than 4 million Afghans cast their ballots in parliamentary elections last weekend, according to the country’s election commission. […] But violence leading up to the vote shook the nation, included the shooting death of Kandahar province’s police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq, by one of his own guards. – PBS

Prior to the death of an Army EOD tech, his unit had repeatedly requested better equipment and training but were denied both due to a lack of funds[…]. – Army Times


Jumpei Yasuda, a Japanese freelance journalist who went missing in Syria in 2015, appeared to be freed from his captors on Tuesday, according to Japanese government officials. – New York Times

Pakistan’s new prime minister came away from a controversial Saudi economic conference with a pledge of at least $6 billion in financial support to help the country over a balance-of-payments crisis, the Pakistani government said. – Wall Street Journal

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday vowed to hold peace talks with arch-rival India following elections in the neighbouring country, after a similar offer from the former cricketer was “rebuffed”. – Agence France-Presse

Sri Lankan police on Tuesday won permission from a court to ask Chinese phone manufacturer Huawei to help recover data from a phone used by a police informant who has alleged a plot to kill President Maithripala Sirisena. – Reuters


National security adviser John Bolton said Tuesday that President Trump would welcome a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at next month’s commemorations in France to mark the centennial anniversary of the end of World War I. – Wall Street Journal

Despite warnings that withdrawal could lead to a new nuclear arms race, the United States national security adviser rejected Russian entreaties on Tuesday to remain committed to a disarmament treaty. – New York Times

President Donald Trump said Monday the United States is ready to build up its nuclear arsenal after announcing it is abandoning a Cold War-era nuclear treaty, as Russia warned the withdrawal could cripple global security. – Agence France-Presse

Russian President Vladimir Putin poked fun at the official seal of the United States while hosting U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Tuesday, saying he wondered if the American eagle had plucked all the olives from the branch in its talon. – Associated Press

Peter Brookes writes: As challenges arise in the Pacific involving China and potentially North Korea, the INF Treaty prevents the United States from being able to freely develop and deploy our military capabilities to the fullest extent possible in support of our national security interests. It would be both risky and unsound for the U.S. to ignore concerns over Russia’s violations of the INF Treaty, as well as China and its growing missile arsenal, which threatens U.S. forces and interests in Asia. – Heritage Foundation


The European Union took the unprecedented step Tuesday of rejecting Italy’s draft budget as incompatible with the bloc’s rules on fiscal discipline, escalating a battle between Europe’s establishment and populists in Rome. – Wall Street Journal

The UN Human Rights Committee on Tuesday criticised France’s so-called burqa ban, saying the law “violated” the rights of two women who were fined for wearing full-face veils in public. – Agence France-Presse

British Prime Minister Theresa May will address Conservative Party lawmakers at a private meeting in parliament on Wednesday after anger at her Brexit negotiating strategy prompted some of them to discuss toppling her. – Reuters

Four U.S. soldiers were injured in a major North Atlantic Treaty Organization exercise in Norway in an accident involving four vehicles on Tuesday, the U.S. military said. – Reuters


Somali intelligence officials say the deputy leader of an Islamic State-affiliated extremist group based in northern Somalia has been killed in the capital. – Associated Press

The United Nations is concerned about rising sectarian violence in parts of northern Nigeria, its resident coordinator in the West African country said, citing attacks in the past week in which more than 90 people were killed. – Bloomberg

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking documents from Glencore about intermediary companies that the commodities firm has worked with in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela and Nigeria, sources familiar with the matter said. – Reuters

The Americas

Thousands of Honduran migrants gathered in a Guatemalan city near the border with Honduras Tuesday to prepare for a new caravan that would follow in the footsteps of a larger group currently marching to the U.S.-Mexico border, posing a fresh challenge to Guatemalan and Mexican authorities seeking to contain a surge in mass migration. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump has painted a dark picture of the caravan of Central American migrants marching north toward the U.S., accusing participants of being criminals, “Middle Easterners” and political pawns paid off by Democratic operatives, all intent on illegally crossing the border. – USA Today

Vice President Mike Pence misstated federal statistics when trying to help President Donald Trump make the case that terrorists are among thousands of migrants moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border. Trump himself acknowledged he’s got no proof terrorists are in the mix. – Associated Press

A former lawmaker accused by the Honduran government of organizing the thousands-strong group of migrants heading toward the U.S. denied that Venezuela is financing the caravan. – Bloomberg

The FBI on Tuesday was investigating an explosive device found in the mailbox at the New York home of US billionaire and liberal donor George Soros, a target of right-wing groups, officials confirmed. – Agence France-Presse

President Trump defended his tweeted claim that “unknown Middle Easterners” are part of a 7,000-person migrant caravan traveling through southern Mexico, but conceded Tuesday there was “no proof.” Trump said that it was a reasonable assumption that there were Middle Eastern participants. – Washington Examiner

A migrant caravan traveling from Central America through Mexico will not be permitted to enter the United States, the top American diplomat pledged in “a message” for “this caravan or any caravan which follows.” – Washington Examiner

Cyber Security

U.S. Cyber Command has begun targeting Russian operatives, warning them that the military is tracking their activities in an attempt to deter them from disrupting the fast-approaching midterm elections, according to defense officials. – Washington Post

Malicious computer code used in a cyberattack against a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia has been linked by U.S. researchers to a research institute owned by the Russian government. – Wall Street Journal

Cybersecurity warning and intelligence is nascent and ill-defined, according to an October survey and report from the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a membership group of national security officials. – Fifth Domain

As they approach the Nov. 6 midterm vote, federal and state officials fear an election-day nightmare where unofficial results have been altered by hackers, leading to confusion and mistrust of the final result. – Fifth Domain

The Army is experimenting with new concepts, capabilities and forces that will be needed within traditional formations as cyber, electronic warfare and information operations become the new normal. – C4ISRNET

In the not-so-distant future, commanders and infantry units will need to have a better understanding of cyber effects and capabilities. – C4ISRNET

Team8, which creates cybersecurity firms, launched on Tuesday a second fund of $85 million to build about eight cybersecurity and data companies over the next five years. – Reuters


The U.S. military has placed a renewed importance on Europe, and Northern Europe in particular– a geography that a much smaller number of today’s sailors and Marines have first-hand experience in. U.S. Navy and Marine Corps officials acknowledge they have a lot to learn about operating in that part of the world, and they hope the ongoing Trident Juncture 2018 NATO exercise will help highlight areas that need improvement. – USNI News

Lockheed Martin officials say their loss to Boeing in three recent aircraft competitions indicates that Pentagon weapon buyers are valuing low price tags over high-tech capabilities, which may lead the company to question its participation in some future competitions. – USNI News

The Navy has been procuring Virginia (SSN-774) class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) since FY1998. The two Virginia-class boats that the Navy has requested for procurement in FY2019 would be the 29th and 30th boats in the class, and the first two to be covered under a multiyear procurement (MYP) contract for at least 10 Virginia-class submarines to be procured in FY2019-FY2023. – USNI News

The National Space Council on Tuesday served up six recommendations to President Donald Trump to enable the creation of a Space Force, moving the birth of a sixth military branch one step closer to fruition. – Defense News

The Army’s rapid procurers are turning their focus to aerial electronic warfare solutions in response to ongoing needs in the European theater. – C4ISRNET

As the Trump administration moves closer towards exiting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, experts are left to wonder whether another nuclear treaty may be in the administration’s crosshairs. – Defense News

If officials can advocate for reusable rockets to deliver cargo to troops from space ports, perhaps more firepower in space is possible, too. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday didn’t immediately rule out positioning nuclear weapons in space sometime in the future. – Military.com

Trump Administration

President Trump’s complaints about the World Trade Organization have prompted American allies to seek ways to overhaul the body before the U.S. protest effectively cripples the global commercial arbiter by the end of next year. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Tuesday that he told Russian officials the Kremlin hurt itself by meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. – Associated Press

The House Armed Services Committee is poised to see a significant amount of turnover even before the first votes are cast in the mid-term elections. […]Meanwhile, almost half of the Senate Armed Services Committee is also up for re-election this year. – Military Times

Jack Caporal and Dylan Gerstel write: Without reforms, one or more major economies could leave the WTO, as President Trump has threatened. This would cripple the other two pillars of the WTO—its negotiating and monitoring arms—which are already atrophying. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Matthew P. Goodman writes: The Trump administration is not wrong that the WTO needs reform, or that China needs brushing back on its disruptive trade and industrial policies. But forcing countries to “pick a lane” seems bound to fail and only to put global peace and prosperity at risk. The administration should focus instead on more constructive work with allies and partners to address the China challenge, as it is doing in its trilateral efforts with Japan and the European Union. – Center for Strategic and International Studies