Fdd's overnight brief

February 10, 2020

In The News


An Iranian rocket failed to put a satellite into orbit on Sunday, state television reported, the latest setback for a program the U.S. claims helps Tehran advance its ballistic missile program. – Associated Press

Iran’s clerical establishment is so determined to fix this month’s parliamentary elections that hardliners are likely to sweep to power, bringing closer the final collapse of the Iran nuclear deal, according to western diplomats. – The Guardian

Iran will soon disclose new information about the missile attack it carried out against a U.S. base in Iraq last month, the ISNA news agency on Friday reported Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards’ aerospace division, as saying. – Reuters

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will break with diplomatic tradition in the federal republic and not send a congratulatory telegram to the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran this month, it was announced on Saturday. – Jerusalem Post

Canadian attorneys have filed a class-action lawsuit against Iran on behalf of some of the victims on board a Ukrainian flight shot down by an Iranian missile system last month. The attorneys represent an anonymous client and demand Iran to pay at least $1.1 billion in damages, according to Reuters. The lawsuit says the client is family to one of the victims of the downed airliner. Neither are named because the client’s “Iranian family would be put at risk of harm or death by the Iranian regime.” – Washington Examiner

Near the hometown of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, workers at a small Iranian factory diligently add all 50 stars and 13 red-and-white bars to what are supposed to be U.S. flags, and carefully imprint the blue Star of David on Israeli ones. – Associated Press

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told air force commanders Saturday that in order to prevent war they must strengthen their military. – The Hill


Pope Francis called on Sunday for respect of humanitarian law in Syria’s Idlib province, amid an escalation of a Syrian government offensive that has displaced more than half a million in two months. – Reuters

The Syrian army took control of a strategic northwestern crossroads town on Saturday, its latest gain in a weeks-long offensive against the country’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib. – Agence France-Presse

Syria’s military vowed on Sunday to keep up its campaign to regain control of the whole country, days after capturing large chunks of territory from the last rebel holdout in northwestern Syria. – Associated Press

Asli Aydintasbas writes: This is more than a humanitarian tragedy. If the Assad forces continue their advance and Idlib implodes, the resulting mass exodus would destabilize both Turkey and parts of Europe, and would push Islamist militants well beyond Syria’s borders. There are no good options. But the price of inaction is too costly for everyone. Idlib has to be contained — though the price will be high. – Washington Post

Michael Land writes: Russia has set conditions for a full retaking of the M5 Highway in the coming weeks. Russia may attempt to gain significantly more terrain in Greater Idlib, including Idlib City, once the highway is secure. However, the terrain of Greater Idlib beyond the M5 is tactically advantageous for the defending anti-Assad forces. – Institute for the Study of War


Turkey has sent major reinforcements to Syria’s northwestern Idlib region and “all options are on the table”, a senior official said on Sunday, as Ankara tries to stem rapid advances by Syrian government forces. – Reuters

A federal court in Washington, D.C., denied a request Thursday by Turkey to dismiss a civil suit by protesters who are seeking damages after they were violently beaten while demonstrating against the visit of the Turkish president to the Capitol in 2017. – The Hill

U.S. aviation investigators have arrived at the site of a fatal plane crash in Istanbul, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported Saturday. – Associated Press

Cyprus won’t put its exploratory gas drilling plans on hold despite Turkey’s attempt to force the east Mediterranean island nation to halt its activities by conducting its own gas search in Cypriot waters, the president of Cyprus said Sunday. – Associated Press


The U.S. ambassador to Israel warned that any unilateral move by Israel to annex territory in the West Bank could jeopardize future U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in the occupied areas. – Wall Street Journal

Israel has begun to draw up maps of land in the occupied West Bank that will be annexed in accordance with U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed peace plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday. – Reuters

It might have seemed to be one of the more innocuous elements in President Donald Trump’s deeply divisive Middle East peace initiative: the suggestion that a densely populated Arab region of Israel be added to a future Palestinian state, if both sides agree. – Associated Press

Jared Kushner, the chief architect of the Trump peace plan, has said that it will take “a couple of months” to complete work on detailed West Bank maps before Israel will be able to annex settlements and the Jordan Valley. – Times of Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday both issued warnings of possible Israeli military action against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, against the backdrop of continuing rocket and explosive balloon attacks on southern Israel. – Algemeiner

A top Israeli security expert dismissed on Friday Russia’s claim that the IAF had endangered a civilian plane during an air strike conducted in Syria the previous day. – Algemeiner

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is under intense pressure from Israeli settlers to begin annexing parts of the occupied West Bank, after the White House ordered him to delay the process. – Telegraph

Waiting for annexation, rather than having it be done immediately, is in the interest of settlers, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Burak Bekdil writes: This could be overly optimistic, given the “bad blood” that has arisen between Turkey and Israel since 2010 (except for a brief normalization period between the end of 2016 and mid-2017).[…] Erdogan’s endless love affair with Hamas (and the Muslim Brotherhood) stands in the way of full normalization — but he may be inclined to downplay this ideological kinship as the nearest Turkish elections are more than three years away. – Algemeiner


The United States has signaled to Iraq its willingness to extend sanctions waivers enabling the country to continue importing vital Iranian gas and electricity imports, three Iraqi officials said this week, a move that would be a key test of Baghdad-Washington ties. – Associated Press

Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric called for security forces to protect anti-government protesters in a Friday sermon, after weeks of violence in Baghdad and southern Iraq, and amid seething tensions between demonstrators and followers of a radical preacher. – Associated Press

Ahmed Mehdi and Bassam Fattouh write: Iraq’s strategic relegation in Washington can’t be thought of in isolation of the fundamental changes in the oil market. The US shale industry has given Washington the confidence to impose sanctions that can take out large volumes of oil without risking raising crude prices. While US shale is showing signs of strain, an oil market that ignores geopolitical shifts is likely to persist — one where supply-side shocks, even from a big producer such as Iraq, no longer shock in the same way. – Financial Times


Libya’s warring parties will continue talks this month to try to reach a lasting ceasefire in a war for control of the capital Tripoli, the United Nations said on Saturday, after a first round in Geneva last week failed to yield an agreement. – Reuters

The United Nations (UN) envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, recognized the right of Libyan Jews to take part in future meetings about the country’s peace process during a meeting with the President of the Union of Jews of Libya Raphael Luzon, according to Asharq Al-Awsat. – Jerusalem Post

Nicholas Saidel writes: Egypt and Turkey’s diplomatic ties are strained and, with little optimism for a long-term political solution in Libya, there may be more friction and belligerence between them this year. The U.S. needs a clearer vision for Libya, where a sudden frenzy of diplomacy is occurring with America playing only a marginal role. The U.S. also needs a policy for the fierce regional competition under way in the eastern Mediterranean, where a Russo-Turkish axis is forming. If not, America may find it increasingly difficult to pursue its objectives in either area. – Wall Street Journal

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said on Saturday that foreign states, particularly France, had expressed a desire to help his country emerge from a severe economic crisis. – Reuters

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday that he raised the cases of Canadians being detained in Egypt with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. – Reuters

A suicide bomber attacked a military barracks in southern Algeria on Sunday morning, killing a soldier, the defense ministry said. – Reuters

James J. Coyle writes: No two countries’ national interests align perfectly, and the United States and Qatar do not see eye to eye on every issue. The appointment of a new prime minister from Pacific Lutheran University, however, is an opportunity to work with a trusted aide to the emir who knows the United States. – The Hill

Elana DeLozier writes: The United States should double down on its diplomatic efforts to get the local combatants to the table. For their part, both sides must commit to implementing real confidence-building measures in order to maintain momentum. Neither the Hadi government nor the Houthis benefit from a longer war, especially as the economy continues to degrade and both are likely to face more dissent in their ranks. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea has vastly expanded its use of the internet in ways that enable its leader, Kim Jong-un, to evade a “maximum pressure” American sanctions campaign and turn to new forms of cybercrime to prop up his government, according to a new study. – New York Times

North Korea has clamped down on trade and travel as one of the world’s most reclusive nations isolates itself even further in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus. – Financial Times

While inequality in South Korea is not necessarily worse than many other countries, the concept has exploded onto the political scene in recent years amid runaway home prices and a stagnating economy, undermining support for President Moon Jae-in. – Reuters


The two-year trade war between the U.S. and China upended commerce world-wide, slamming the brakes on global trade growth—but also delivering modest benefits to a handful of industries and countries that saw gains as the giants tussled. – Wall Street Journal

Taiwan’s air force scrambled armed fighters on Sunday to intercept Chinese jets that flew around the island claimed by Beijing as its own, in a move denounced by Taiwan’s Defence Ministry as a threat to regional peace and stability. – Reuters

Editorial: The coronavirus outbreak presents a vast public-health challenge to China and will for months to come. But at the same time, it is shaking the foundations of a political system built on President Xi Jinping’s assurance that the party knows best for all. China’s people have some doubts. – Washington Post


Two U.S. troops were killed and six others were wounded in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday after a gunman wearing an Afghan military uniform ambushed a team of Americans and their Afghan colleagues, officials said. – Washington Post

In one of Afghanistan’s most insecure provinces, government forces say they made key territorial gains over the past year, retaking three districts that had been contested by Taliban forces for years. But for many civilians in the area, the military victories upended their lives and brought ongoing clashes. – Washington Post

For years, the bombing and infiltration attacks that racked Kabul have dominated headlines and reshaped the city. […]Now, the headlines are coming to grips with the rampant crime that has become a steady drumbeat in the city: kidnappings, robbery at gunpoint, extortion, murder. Even without the bombings, Kabul is proving a dangerous place to be. – New York Times

The Pentagon identified two U.S. Army special operations forces soldiers killed in an ambush Saturday in Afghanistan. According to a Defense Department statement, the two soldiers were Sgt. Javier Jaguar Gutierrez of San Antonio, Texas, and Sgt. Antonio Rey Rodriguez of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Both men were 28 years old. – Washington Examiner


A prominent Taliban official who served as the group’s spokesman during some of its most devastating attacks, including the attempted assassination of the young activist Malala Yousafzai, has escaped from detention in Pakistan, claiming he had made a secret deal with the country’s security forces. – New York Times

A soldier armed with an assault rifle went on a shooting rampage at a military base and a shopping mall in Thailand on Saturday, killing at least 29 people, wounding 58 and posting video on Facebook Live, officials said. – New York Times

Indonesian president Joko Widodo told Australia’s parliament on Monday that he wanted to work with the traditional Pacific power to expand influence in the region in the face of China’s stepped-up efforts to do the same. – Reuters


Ratcheting up pressure on Belarus to join it in a “union state,” Russia rejected pleas from its increasingly balky ally on Friday to provide it with cut-rate oil supplies, insisting that it could not provide any discount. – New York Times

An alliance between Saudi Arabia and Russia has helped prop up oil prices for the last three years. But the two big oil producers were not in perfect harmony this week, as they have tried to recalibrate production targets to cope with reduced demand from China, whose economy has been crippled by the coronavirus epidemic. – New York Times

Supporters of a key arms control treaty between the United States and Russia are raising pressure on the Trump administration to renew the pact after the one-year deadline to do so passed. – The Hill

Vladimir Kara-Murza writes: To the untutored observer, that diverse input might look like evidence of democracy. In reality, like so many other aspects of government in today’s Russia, the amendment process is nothing more than an ornate facade for Putin’s authoritarian system. – Washington Post

Madeleine Albright and Igor Ivanov write: Right now, the most important thing to do is extend New START. Russia has indicated, at the highest levels, its willingness to do so. All that President Trump needs to do is agree. Legislative approval is not required. Time is critical. Doing nothing while waiting for a “better” agreement is a recipe for disaster: We could lose New START and fail to replace it. The treaty’s agreed limits on nuclear arsenals are too important to be put at risk in a game of nuclear chicken. – New York Times


The parties will now have to find a compromise candidate or hold new elections. The small drama had already succeeded in setting off a big round of soul-searching in Germany, which is still deeply conscious of its Nazi past and anxious about where the present inroads by the far right might lead. – New York Times

After decades on the run, a notorious Spanish far-right terrorist was returned to a prison outside Madrid on Friday, following his extradition from Brazil. – New York Times

The debate over an apology comes as the Netherlands continues to grapple with an influx of migrants and a backlash against them that has complicated the country’s image as a bastion of liberal tolerance. – New York Times

Ireland’s left-wing nationalist Sinn Fein party shattered the country’s center-right status quo in the weekend’s general election with its strongest-ever performance, throwing Irish politics into uncertainty. – Washington Post

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked Pope Francis on Saturday for help to win the release of prisoners of war held by Russia and Russian-backed separatists. – Reuters

The race to lead Germany was thrown wide open on Monday when Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced that she will step down as leader of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and won’t run as the party’s candidate for chancellor in the next election. – Bloomberg

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and his Japanese counterpart agreed Saturday to seek an “ambitious, high standard” trade accord matching Japan’s agreement with the EU. – Agence France-Presse

Europe and Africa have changed and should forge a post-colonial relationship focused on the shared challenges of global warming and the digital revolution, European Council President Charles Michel told African leaders Sunday night. – Politico

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday advocated a more coordinated European Union defense strategy in which France, the bloc’s only post-Brexit nuclear power, and its arsenal would occupy a central role. – Associated Press

The Trump administration is reportedly considering a novel source of leverage against the European Union in seeking a trade deal: “carousel” retaliation, meaning tariffs applied to a shifting set of products. The practice is rarely used but considered particularly disruptive because it would create uncertainty across a range of industries that would have to cope with the prospect of tariffs. – Washington Examiner

The German Defence Ministry on Wednesday sent lawmakers new study plans for the Future Combat Air System, revealing that partner nation Spain has yet to be fully brought along to the next stage. – Defense News


Despite tentative government efforts to wrestle parts of the gold industry away from Sudan’s security services and back under state or private control, questions remain about whether Sudan can truly transition to democracy while the politically powerful RSF run a parallel economy all of their own. – The Guardian

Armed militias and Islamist extremists in Mali killed at least 500 civilians and wounded many more last year in an intensifying wave of violence that threatens to undermine efforts to stabilise the poor west African state, a new report has found. – The Guardian

French soldiers killed more than 30 Islamist militants in Mali in three separate operations on Thursday and Friday targeting al Qaeda and Islamic State-linked groups, France’s armed forces said. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: Some diplomats achieve greatness, but others do permanent damage to U.S. diplomacy. By placing a billion-dollar bet on an undemocratic and corrupt leader, ignoring his strategy’s contribution to the al Shabab resurgence, and most recently blessing a fraudulent election, Yamamoto has gravely undercut U.S. interests in Somalia and across the Horn of Africa. It is time to bring him home. – Washington Examiner

United States

Both former Vice President Joe Biden and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg criticized President Trump for ordering the killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: The answers were revealing and mark a sharp difference in the coming campaign. Mr. Trump shares some of the isolationist impulses of Democrats, but he is willing to use force to kill America’s enemies. The mayhem that critics said would follow the killing of Soleimani hasn’t happened. Mr. Sanders’s answer is no surprise. But Messrs. Buttigieg and Biden missed a chance to show they would act decisively as President to deter those who kill Americans. – Wall Street Journal

Hal Brands writes: Uncovering the actual legacy of John Quincy Adams might make one think differently. It reminds us that America has long been an incredibly ambitious, even aggressive, country. Its foreign policy has always been unsettling to autocracies because it has always been driven by a potent mix of democratic values and geopolitical calculation. – Bloomberg

Latin America

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, under pressure from the Trump administration, has beefed up his strategy to fight drug cartels, including bringing the marines, Mexico’s elite security force, back to the front lines of the drug war. – Wall Street Journal

After decades of dominating its oil industry, the Venezuelan government is quietly surrendering control to foreign companies in a desperate bid to keep the economy afloat and hold on to power. – New York Times

Argentinian judicial authorities seeking to prosecute officials suspected of covering up Iran’s alleged role in a 1994 Buenos Aires terrorist attack have suffered another setback with the death of a judge who led the legal battle against those officials. – Voice of America


Sen. Ted Cruz led fellow Republicans this week in a letter demanding Twitter cut business with Iran, saying that as an American entity it could face sanctions for allowing the ayatollah and the regime’s other political leaders to hold accounts — while censoring American political speech. – Washington Times

Britain should focus more on Russian cyber attacks and fake news than major conflict, a think tank has warned, ahead of this year’s Defence review. The government’s forthcoming ‘Integrated’ defence, security and foreign policy review should focus on the national interest to make sense of the “brew of complex and interrelated problems”, the Royal United Services Institute has said in a new report. – Telegraph

Senior Conservatives have written to MPs to express concerns at Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network, calling on Boris Johnson to rule out the involvement of “high risk” vendors now and in the future. – Financial Times


The Trump administration, which came into office pledging to end “endless wars,” has now embraced weapons prohibited by more than 160 countries, and is readying them for future use. Cluster bombs and antipersonnel land mines, deadly explosives known for maiming and killing civilians long after the fighting ended, have become integral to the Pentagon’s future war plans — but with little public rationale offered for where and why they would be used. – New York Times

A renewed presence of U.S. warships in Southern Command has military dimensions beyond providing a platform for law enforcement to interdict drug traffickers. – USNI News

The first of a new generation of carrier onboard delivery aircraft delivered to the Navy, the service announced on Friday. Manufacturer Bell-Boeing turned over a CMV-22B Osprey to the Navy in a ceremony at its Texas assembly facility after four years of design and production. – USNI News

America is facing a decision point with regard to our national ballistic missile defense capability. Do we chose protection today, protection tomorrow, or try to cover both? We cannot afford to forget the future, nor can we go naked into the briar patch today. We have to adequately protect both. In this threat environment, we cannot have a gap in our defenses. – Defense News

Connor O’Brien and Jacqueline Feldscher write: Defense hawks agree and are quick to note that, regardless of the Pentagon’s focus on Russia and China, the U.S will still need to remain involved in the Middle East. Ultimately, the National Defense Strategy is about making a priority of great power competition rather than abandoning the Middle East, said Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. – Politico

Long War

But the White House’s announcement last week that the United States had killed the group’s leader, Qassim al-Rimi — confirming what The New York Times first reported several days earlier — was the latest in a string of setbacks over the past few years that have damaged the group’s ability to orchestrate or carry out operations against the West, American and European counterterrorism specialists say. – New York Times

Afghan officials estimate that hundreds of Islamic State fighters continue to operate across the country, raising the dangerous potential for a resurgence. – Washington Post

Shamima Begum, the woman who left Britain as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State in Syria, has lost the initial stage of her appeal against the Home Office’s decision to revoke her UK citizenship. – The Guardian

Michael Rubin writes: Perhaps with Belgium taking a fresh look at the PKK, it is time for the United States also to reconsider the evidence that led to the PKK’s terror designation under U.S. law. It is now clear that Turkish evidence is not reliable and is often fabricated. Further, the circumstances of PKK designation in 1997 — thirteen years after its insurgency began and apparently timed to be a sweetener to a Clinton administration arms sale to Turkey — suggest that its original designation is more diplomatic than objective. – Washington Examiner