Fdd's overnight brief

February 1, 2019

In The News


Furious after President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed punitive banking sanctions last year, European leaders vowed to find a way to enable Tehran to keep doing business with the rest of the world. After months of delay, and after enduring mockery from the Trump administration, three major European allies on Thursday finally introduced a financial mechanism to do just that. – New York Times

Facebook says it has removed 783 Iran-linked pages, accounts and groups from its service for what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” That’s the social network’s term for fake accounts run with the intent of disrupting politics and elections. – Associated Press

On Feb. 1, 1979, Iran’s exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini descended from a chartered Air France Boeing 747 to return to Tehran, a moment that changed the country’s history for decades to come. […]Now, 40 years later, The Associated Press is making its story and historic photographs of Khomeini’s arrival to Iran available. The story has been edited for typographical errors, but maintains the AP style of the day, such as using “Moslem” as opposed to Muslim. – Associated Press

Iran’s government and military look to be doubling down on their support for Maduro regardless. Iran is preparing to take part in military exercises with Venezuela this month, according to a person in Caracas familiar with the planning. Known as Operation Angostura, the exercises will involve Nicaragua and Cuba and take place from Feb. 10-15, said the person. – Bloomberg

One day after calling U.S. intelligence chiefs “naive”, President Donald Trump accused the Democrats of being “weak and passive with Iran”. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iran has unveiled a new missile, Ghassed 3(Messenger), on Thursday in a military exhibition in Tehran, Mehr news agency reports. The weapon is presented as a air-launched cruise missile, although details of its capabilities have not been fully disclosed. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A top Iranian general said Thursday his country has developed a “strategic capacity” to destroy Israel. – Times of Israel

Tehran on Thursday cautiously welcomed as a “first step” the expected launch of an EU trade entity aimed at saving Iran’s nuclear deal by bypassing US sanctions. – Agence France-Presse


A federal court has held Syria’s government liable for the targeting and killing of an American journalist as she reported on the shelling of a rebellious area of Homs in 2012. The decision could help ease the way for war-crimes prosecutions arising from the Syria conflict. – New York Times

As families have made the long, frozen, sometimes barefoot trek out of the last shards of Islamic State territory to a refugee camp in northeastern Syria over the past two months, at least 29 children and infants among them have died before reaching help, mainly from hypothermia, the World Health Organization said on Thursday. – New York Times

The Senate, in a bipartisan rebuke to President Trump’s foreign policy, voted overwhelmingly to advance legislation drafted by the majority leader to express strong opposition to the president’s withdrawal of United States military forces from Syria and Afghanistan. – New York Times

Islamic State on Thursday denied being behind a suicide blast that hit the governing council of insurgent-held Idlib in northwest Syria on Tuesday, its Amaq news service said. – Reuters

Sinam Mohamad writes: It has been almost a month since U.S. President Donald Trump’s abrupt announcement that American forces would leave Syria shocked American enemies, allies, and Trump’s own officials alike. For Washington, the question of what comes next has been a matter of significant debate and speculation. – Washington Institute

Grace Wermenbol writes: After years of ambiguity, Israel is increasingly going public with its strikes on Syria. […] This change in policy, according to Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, is due to the fact that Israel is intensifying its attacks against Iranian “terror ambitions” in Syria. – Middle East Institute


U.S. security funding to the Palestinian Authority is set to dry up by midnight Thursday unless administration officials find a workaround to circumvent a law that was intended to help American victims of terrorist attacks secure damages, but which has also sparked concerns that it may hurt Israel’s security. – Washington Post

With the war of words heating up between Israel and Iran, the IDF completed a large scale drill in northern Israel this week, simulating war against Hezbollah. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli and Palestinian officials on Thursday signaled that security coordination between them will continue, despite a midnight deadline that cuts off all US assistance to the Palestinians. – Times of Israel

The Israel Navy this week simulated an attack on the country’s natural gas platforms, including a live-fire test of sea-to-sea missiles to destroy an “enemy ship,” the military said Thursday. – Times of Israel

Iranians have been using hundreds of fake accounts on Israeli social media pages in an effort to sow social division and influence the upcoming general elections, according to a report released Thursday by American media company Vocativ. – Ynet

Dana Stroul and Daniel Shapiro write: Is U.S. assistance to the Palestinians an indulgence we can do without? Will its elimination leave Israelis, Palestinians and U.S. interests better off? Unless Congress and the Trump administration act quickly, we are about to find out. – Washington Institute

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: If Israeli intelligence is seen as siding against their US counterparts, some CIA and other officials may remember the affront for decades after Trump is gone. So there are no easy answers. The truth is that the only clear rule for Israel is that it will need to work overtime to walk a tightrope between the divided US camp. Even if it sometimes works more closely with one side or the other, Israeli intelligence will need to try to convince both Trump and the US intelligence community that it is on their side. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has failed to pay more than $1 billion it owes for military trucks built by defense industry giant General Dynamics Corp., the company and Canadian officials said, thrusting into public a complaint Western firms have quietly made for years: that the kingdom is slow to pay its debts. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia said on Thursday that it had concluded a crackdown on high-level corruption that began 15 months ago with the detention of hundreds of prominent businessmen and former officials at the Ritz-Carlton in the capital. – New York Times

President Trump likely won’t be able to count on Saudi Arabia to help defray the impact of his Venezuela oil ban, which could cause prices to rise. – Washington Examiner

Gulf States

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a return to “unity and harmony” on Thursday as he welcomed gas-rich Qatar’s emir to Beijing, amid a dispute that has seen some Arab states led by Saudi Arabia severing relations with Doha. – Reuters

A United Arab Emirates senior diplomat denied on Thursday the country had targeted “friendly countries” or American citizens in a cyberspying program that a Reuters report said involved a hacking team of U.S. mercenaries. – Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has attacked a site east of the capital Sanaa which the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement used to store drones, Saudi news agency SPA said on Thursday. – Reuters

Islamic State

Rumors ran rampant this past week – starting in Syria and spreading across social media in a matter of minutes – that notorious ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been seized by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as they ran the brutal insurgency from its final pockets of territorial control. Only it would prove to be yet another false alarm. – Fox News

A draft Pentagon report warns that without continued pressure, ISIS could regain territory in six to 12 months, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the draft. – NBC News

A man was indicted on a federal hate crime charge for planning a mass shooting at a synagogue in Ohio, the Associated Press reported on January 30. Damon Joseph, 21 from a suburb of Toledo, was partly inspired by the deadly attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

As U.S.-backed forces close in on Islamic State’s last territory in Syria, some militants are fleeing to Iraq—using longstanding smuggling networks and posing as nomadic shepherds to slip through the border, according to Iraqi officials. – Wall Street Journal

Rival factions in Lebanon agreed Thursday to form a unity government nearly nine months after the elections, ending a political standoff that has pushed the country to the brink of economic collapse. – Wall Street Journal

Six Arab foreign ministers have held a “consultative meeting” in Jordan on Thursday in a bid to unify their stances on regional crises, the Jordanian foreign minister has said. – Al Jazeera

Korean Peninsula

The Trump administration on Thursday outlined its goals for next month’s summit with North Korea, saying it will defer some of its most stringent demands on North Korea while stressing that the U.S. is willing to reciprocate. – Wall Street Journal

A top American diplomat signaled on Thursday that the United States might no longer demand that North Korea turn over a complete inventory of its nuclear assets as a first step in the denuclearization process that President Trump is pursuing. – New York Times

U.S. and North Korean negotiators haven’t agreed on a common definition of “denuclearization,” the lead State Department negotiator said Thursday. – Washington Examiner

The US special envoy for North Korea laid out an extensive list of demands for North Korean denuclearisation on Thursday that was likely to anger Pyongyang, even as President Donald Trump said the date and place for a second summit were set and hailed “tremendous progress” in his dealings with the country. – Al Jazeera

North Korea has promised to destroy all its facilities for making nuclear-bomb fuel, the top U.S. top negotiator said, in a sign that President Donald Trump is seeking clearer disarmament steps from his upcoming summit with Kim Jong Un. – Bloomberg

President Trump, in a meeting with American manufacturers to sign an executive order Thursday at the White House, said a time and location location has been agreed upon for a second summit with North Korea. The White House has said a second summit will take place at the end of February, although the details have yet to be announced. – CBS News


President Trump expressed optimism Thursday about reaching a landmark trade deal with China, but said in an interview that he would consider leaving in place some tariffs on Chinese goods even if the two sides strike an agreement. – New York Times

Hong Kong-listed Frontier Services Group (FSG), co-founded by former U.S. military services contractor Erik Prince, has signed a deal to build a training base in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, the company said in a statement. – Reuters

The United States and China said their trade war negotiations resulted in major progress as the clock ticks on a March deadline to avert a massive escalation of tariffs that could bruise the global economy. – Agence France-Presse

China sees a widening void at the United Nations, thanks to President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy. Trump’s skepticism of global bodies and alliances — his top diplomat recently singled out the UN as an organization that needs to be “reformed or eliminated” — means Beijing has freer reign to impose its own vision of globalism on the body. – Bloomberg


The Afghan government’s control of its country declined late last year, in terms of both territory and population, according to a United States government report released Thursday. – New York Times

Republican lawmakers are worried President Trump’s tentative deal with the Taliban to end the Afghanistan War is ignoring the new danger posed by an Islamic State offshoot group that’s on the rise. – Washington Examiner

The last time a foreign power withdrew troops from Afghanistan, peace talks collapsed and the Taliban dragged the body of the country’s former president through the streets in a gruesome public execution. – Bloomberg

Jonathan Schroden writes: All of these are essential questions for the future security of Afghanistan, and there are certainly many more. Working through these issues is going to require a lot of effort and patience, detailed planning and challenging of commonly held assumptions, and the continued investment of significant funding and personnel for years to come. After all, a country that’s been in a state of civil war for 40 years will not easily be turned away from it. – War on the Rocks


Back-to-back explosions at a Roman Catholic cathedral followed by a grenade attack on a mosque last week have swiftly ended the honeymoon for Filipinos celebrating the ratification of the Bangsamoro, a political agreement designed to end decades of violence in the southern Philippines by strengthening self-rule for the country’s Muslim minorities. – Al Jazeera

South Korean protesters marched alongside the coffin of a ‘comfort women’ campaigner to the Japanese embassy on Friday in a protest over Japan’s use of forced labor in its wartime brothels. – Reuters

A Thai public prosecutor on Friday submitted to a criminal court Bahrain’s extradition request for jailed footballer Hakeem Al Araibi, who fled his country amid political upheaval and has refugee status in Australia. – Reuters

Lawyers for two Reuters reporters jailed for seven years in Myanmar lodged an appeal on Friday at the Supreme Court against their conviction on charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act. – Reuters

Indonesia wants to re-position its Batam island as an alternative shipping and manufacturing hub to Singapore with a potential to draw $60 billion in new investment. – Bloomberg

Joshua W. Walker writes; Abe’s bromance with Putin may be over, but there is still hope for a Russia-Japan peace treaty. […]Abe’s vision for preventing a Moscow- Beijing alliance is in line with Washington’s regional interests. Recognizing such convergence would be a starting point for crafting a new regional balance of power in the Far East and securing a peace deal with an eye toward Japan’s integration into the emerging Eurasian supercontinent. – War on the Rocks


Russia has expanded its deployment of a missile system the U.S. says violates a 1987 treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces, widening the differences with Washington over a pact the U.S. is expected to exit on Saturday, Western officials said. – Wall Street Journal

The United States will soon announce plans to suspend compliance with a landmark nuclear missile pact with Russia, responding to an alleged violation of the treaty by Moscow, U.S. officials said on Thursday. – Reuters

The Russian security services could soon have access to the personal data of thousands of Apple users in Russia, following the tech giant’s decision to comply with Russian law and store user data on servers in the country. – Foreign Policy

As Washington mulls a full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Moscow is angling to take a leading role in the country’s future as part of a broader effort to counter the United States and NATO in the region. – Foreign Policy

The U.S. special envoy for Ukraine says Washington and Europe are considering measures against Russia for its detention of 24 Ukrainian crew members captured in the Kerch Strait. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Zalina Gabibulayeva has had five children, four husbands and two jail sentences. All her spouses were Islamist militants who are either dead or in prison, the last two in Syria, where she was among hundreds of women stranded by the war before officials brought her back to Russia. – Bloomberg

Josh Rogin writes: A better approach would be to redouble U.S. involvement in these institutions, in recognition that they represent a key battleground in the long-term fight between the West and revisionist powers such as Russia and China for influence over international rules and norms. […]For too long, Western democracies have taken a laissez – faire approach to defending the rules of rules-based institutions, while authoritarian regimes work to shape them to do their bidding. – Washington Post


Germany is considering purchasing 45 Boeing Co. -made F/A-18 warplanes for its air force, German government officials said Thursday, in what would be a win for the Trump administration but a surprise blow to Boeing rival Lockheed Martin Corp. – Wall Street Journal

Just when friendly faces are scarce for Donald Trump across the Atlantic, a populist leader is knocking at the U.S. president’s door with an offer to become his closest European ally. – Bloomberg

A U.S. demand that Hungary diversify its energy supplies away from Russia is being stymied by its European Union and NATO allies, the government in Budapest said, pushing back against critics of its close ties with Moscow. – Bloomberg

There is a clear correlation between BDS sentiments and antisemitism in the UK, according to a report released this week by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) and the Community Security Trust (CST). – Jerusalem Post

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations said Thursday that the country appreciates the support of its newfound allies in Eastern Europe but expects “stronger actions” from them when it comes to their stance against anti-Semitism. – Associated Press

Therese Rapheal writes: Evangelists for a no-deal Brexit haven’t given up. On the contrary, they have been emboldened by this week’s vote in parliament, by polls showing support for a no-deal exit, and by a new plan that they claim will give Britain a quickie divorce from the European Union with none of the pain experts predict. If it all sounds too good to be true, it is. – Bloomberg


The United States armed forces said it has killed 24 members of the al-Shabab armed group in an air strike carried out on Wednesday. – Al Jazeera

The bomber who blew himself up outside a Nairobi hotel this month, launching an attack that killed 21 people, was already so well-known to Kenyan police that they had emblazoned his face across billboards under the slogan “WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE”. – Reuters

The United States said on Thursday it was imposing visa restrictions on Ghana, accusing the African country of not cooperating in accepting its citizens ordered removed from the United States. – Reuters

The Americas

Mexico has stopped buying U.S. light crude oil under its new president, a decision that former government officials say has likely aggravated the country’s gasoline shortage crisis. – Wall Street Journal

Leaders from Colombia’s ELN rebel group said on Thursday they would not leave Cuba, once the site of peace talks with the Colombian government, unless Colombia’s president complies with conditions agreed to by his predecessor for their return home. – Reuters

When China built a military-run space station in Argentina’s Patagonian region it promised to include a visitors’ center to explain the purpose of its powerful 16-story antenna. The center is now built – behind the 8-foot barbed wire fence that surrounds the entire space station compound. Visits are by appointment only. – Reuters


The Venezuelan government has stepped up efforts to quash news coverage of an opposition effort to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, arresting at least 10 journalists over the past week in moves that have drawn protests from the European Union and Spain. All were subsequently released or deported. – Washington Post

One week after President Donald Trump’s administration recognized an opposition leader as Venezuela’s interim president, the Latin American nation’s disputed leader Nicolas Maduro warned Wednesday that the United States was in danger of turning his country into another Vietnam War. – USA Today

Global jostling intensified on Thursday between countries that want Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in power and those trying to force him to resign, as opposition leader Juan Guaido made overtures to his rival’s allies Russia and China. – Reuters

The European Parliament recognized Venezuela’s self-declared interim president Juan Guaido as de facto head of state on Thursday, heightening international pressure on the OPEC member’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro. – Reuters

The Trump administration issued a stern warning to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Thursday after reports emerged of “last-minute looting” by Russia and other countries of gold and oil — and “egregious” acts of intimidation against opposition leader Juan Guaido. – New York Post

Jackson Diehl writes: Poorly informed leftists are peddling the notion that the political crisis in Venezuela is the product of yet another heavy-handed U.S. “intervention” in Latin America. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) compares it to the U.S. support for coups in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. […]There’s a decent chance Maduro will be forced out by sanctions and diplomacy. If there is an intervention, it will be multilateral and come at the impetus of Guaidó and his Latin American allies. – Washington Post

Jared Genser writes: What can compel Mr. Maduro to step down? A crucial first step for countries aligned against his regime is to kick his diplomats out of the United Nations and replace them with Mr. Guaidó’s. Known as a “credentials challenge,” the move would require a majority vote in the U.N. General Assembly. I’ve published a legal opinion explaining why this goal is so important, the precedents for such an action, and how committed countries can pull it off. – Wall Street Journal

Eli Lake writes: Their reasons are at least understandable: Under Chavez and Maduro, China has gotten oil and infrastructure projects. Russia has been allowed to send war ships into Venezuela’s ports. And Cuba has been able to infiltrate the country’s military and intelligence services. These nations support Maduro because they want to be able to continue to exploit their relationship with Venezuela – Bloomberg

Cyber Security

Russia created a playbook for spreading disinformation on social media. Now the rest of the world is following it. Twitter said on Thursday […] while Facebook detailed a broad Iranian disinformation campaign that touched on everything from the conflict in Syria to conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11 attacks. – New York Times

The Navy’s approach to information warfare continues to mature, as the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is conducting the first pre-deployment training with a board-selected Information Warfare Commander serving on the strike group admiral’s staff. – USNI News


A Marine veteran who fought the Pentagon for 12 years over a war-crimes case brought against him and six others will have his permanent record wiped clean, an extraordinary affirmation of his claim that their reputations were destroyed by the military’s effort to imprison the men. – Washington Post

Even after years of updates and improvements, the F-35’s logistics system continues to be beset by data gaps and bugs that make it more difficult for maintainers to keep the joint strike fighter mission-ready, stated the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester in a new report. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy has signed a $14.9 billion contract with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls for two Ford-class aircraft carriers, the Navy announced Thursday evening. – Defense News

A study commissioned by the German government recommends considering U.S. technology in a quest to make the military “Eurodrone” safe to fly alongside civilian airliners, the Defence Ministry told lawmakers. – Defense News

The leadership of the U.S. Army is responding to the challenge by expending significant effort and resources to close these capability gaps. Long-range precision fires is the Army’s No. 1 modernization priority. – Defense News

Defense analysts expect President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 national security budget will request about $750 billion, a funding level they consider barely enough to sustain the Pentagon’s current operations. – USNI News

Charles Vandepeer writes: Positive illusions of military capabilities are easier to maintain and reinforce in a culture that promotes good news. Encouraging and accepting only positive internal feedback and analysis might be a comfortable short-term strategy, but risks surprise on the battlefield, where an adversary will welcome the opportunity to deliver a catastrophic and undeniable reality check. Leaders should pause to consider what Mao Zedong reportedly said about MacArthur before the Chinese entered the Korean War: “An arrogant enemy is easy to defeat.” – War on the Rocks