Fdd's overnight brief

February 11, 2019

In The News


Forty years ago, Iranians swelled with pride, hope and the expectation of a better future. Dreams of freedom and independence from the United States fired up the revolutionaries. But great, rapid change can leave deep and lasting wounds. There were lashings, hangings, amputations and mass imprisonment. Thousands of people died and hundreds of thousands left the country, some fleeing for their lives, never to return. – New York Times

When Iran uses the slogan “Death to America,” the country’s supreme leader said on Friday, it is specifically wishing death on President Trump and two of his senior officials. – New York Times

As labor unrest, corruption and the toll of a currency reeling from U.S. sanctions fuel discontent, Iran’s leaders today are worried about fortifying national unity. To rally Iranians behind the state, they employ the same imperialist stance that powered the 1979 revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic. – Wall Street Journal

Iran is waiting for Lebanon to show a desire to accept its military assistance, Iran’s foreign minister said on Sunday, reiterating an offer of support to the U.S.-backed Lebanese military. – Reuters

Mossad, British secret services and the CIA extracted an Iranian nuclear scientist out of Tehran and provided him with a safe haven in the US, the Daily Mail reported on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post

But Iran’s protest movements show little sign of abating. As security forces step up their crackdown, dissidents have continued to stage demonstrations. Rather than quashing dissent, experts say, Iran’s repression may have emboldened activists. – CNN

Tony Blair writes: We view Iran as a state with an ideology; but it is more accurately seen as an ideology with a state. The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran was of vast consequence not only to Iran and its people, but also to the broader Middle East, to Sunni Islam as well as Shia, and to the development of extremism around the world. It continues to exert an often misunderstood and underestimated influence today. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: No serious person believes Iran is a democracy. And yet it is still possible to hear, in some quarters of Brussels and Washington, pleasant nonsense about the contest of ideas between Iran’s moderates and hardliners. Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, still sits for fawning interviews and pretends to be the envoy of a free country. – Bloomberg

Shukur Khilkhal writes: Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s recent visit to Baghdad has pushed the American project to counter Iranian influence in Iraq back to square one. The visit came just after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s tour in Baghdad and several other Middle Eastern capitals, through which he sought to form a Middle Eastern coalition to counter Iran in the region in general and in Iraq in particular. During the tour, he discussed activating American sanctions on Iran with Iraqi officials, as well as limiting commercial activity with Iran and diminishing the role of Iranian-backed factions. – Washington Institute


The top U.S. commander in the Middle East said the military is pulling equipment out of Syria in preparation for a troop withdrawal that comes as the U.S.-led coalition has entered what it says is the last stages of its fight against Islamic State in Syria. – Wall Street Journal

U.S.-backed forces aided by coalition airstrikes have captured more than three dozen positions and destroyed fortifications as they moved to retake the last territory under Islamic State control. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria has triggered a scramble among international powers and local forces to figure out how to fill the potentially destabilizing vacuum the Americans will leave behind. – Washington Post

The United States is likely just weeks away from starting the withdrawal of ground troops from Syria ordered by President Donald Trump, the top U.S. commander overseeing American forces in the Middle East said on Sunday. – Reuters

The Trump administration’s reported plans to pull out all U.S. forces from Syria by the end of April put key anti-ISIS allies on high alert, with many now worried that a hastened withdrawal will leave Washington’s Kurdish partners without any protection. – The Hill

US-backed forces were locked in fierce fighting Sunday as they pressed the battle against the last shred of the Islamic State group’s “caliphate” in eastern Syria. – Agence France Presse


The Shin Bet security service announced Sunday that the brutal murder of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher was a nationalistically motivated terror attack. – Times of Israel

A declassified document from the United States Government Accountability Office says that schools in Palestinian Authority areas run by UNWRA have an anti-Israel bias, bordering on incitement to violence. – Jerusalem Post

According to a Knesset study, such education is becoming more popular than before; while in 2013-14 some 1,100 pupils were studying in joint schools throughout the country, during this school year the number rose to 1,700. The increase is even more pronounced in preschool; five years ago there were only 80 children in the preschools run by Hand in Hand, which runs most of the country’s bilingual schools; this year there are 15 preschools with 470 children. – Haaretz

Dozens of pro-Palestinian activists protested outside the Manchester studio where Netta Barzilai performed during the final round of the televised competition to pick the British entrant in the Eurovision Song Contest. – Times of Israel

Hamas escalated its struggle against Israel on Sunday night with the resumption of night time clashes on the Gaza border, months after stopping them. – Ynet

Christian Zionists were instrumental in Donald Trump’s lightning-rod decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the American embassy there, a move many imbued with spiritual meaning. Now, a Christian group aims to harness that same evangelical people power to alter radically the status quo at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the most bitterly contentious holy site in the Middle East. – Daily Beast

The Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Religious Affairs Youssef Ideiss condemned Israeli forces on Sunday for entering a mosque over the weekend while in pursuit of the murderer of an Israeli teenager. – Algemeiner

Bret Stephens writes: What’s unsettling is that the far-left’s hostility is now being mainstreamed by the not-so-far left. Anti-Zionism — that is, rejection not just of this or that Israeli policy, but also of the idea of a Jewish state itself — is becoming a respectable position among people who would never support the elimination of any other country in any other circumstance. – New York Times

Dahlia Scheindlin writes: The moment Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called early elections last December, Israel’s political parties sprang into action, reshuffling themselves at a pace that was frenzied even by Israeli standards. All of them hope to be next in line; after a decade of practically unrivalled leadership, Netanyahu may finally be vulnerable. – Foreign Affairs

Saudi Arabia

The Trump administration declined Friday to submit a report to Congress determining whether Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is personally responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Washington Post

The former head of a Saudi-owned broadcaster has been sworn in as the kingdom’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, days after the New York Times reported that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had told him he might use “a bullet” on Jamal Khashoggi. – Bloomberg

Riyadh does not know the location of dissident Jamal Khashoggi’s body, despite having detained the Saudi team that murdered him, a high-ranking foreign affairs official in the kingdom said in an interview broadcast Sunday. – Agence France Presse

President Donald Trump appeared prepared Friday to ignore the US Congress’s deadline to determine who ordered the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi amid new revelations that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince spoke of going after the journalist “with a bullet.” – Agence France Presse

The wife of jailed Saudi journalist Raif Badawi is seeking a meeting with President Trump when she visits Washington next week after hearing repeatedly that only Trump can win his release. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: It has gradually become clear that one of the most heinous recent cases of torture of political prisoners occurred last year in Saudi Arabia — and may still be ongoing. The victims are women who were arrested for advocating basic civil rights, such as the right to drive. […]As in the case of the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it is essential that they face consequences. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

The Trump administration is pressuring Iraq to stop buying energy from its neighbor and sole foreign supplier, Iran, in what has become a major point of conflict between Washington and Baghdad. – New York Times

Their home countries don’t want them and holding trials in Syria isn’t an option: now suspected foreign jihadists could end up facing tough justice over the border in Iraq. – Agence France Presse

Palestinian officials have been invited to a U.S. conference on the Middle East hosted by Poland next week, a senior U.S. official said on Friday, but top Palestinian officials said they would not attend. – Reuters

Bahrain informed Israel more than two years ago that it was interested in normalizing relations, an Israeli TV station claimed Sunday, amid persistent reports that Israel has been close to establishing ties with an Arab state. – Times of Israel

Egypt pumped toxic gas into a smuggling tunnel, killing two Palestinians. The Hamas-run Gaza Interior Ministry was quoted by Wafa news as identifying the two as 39-year-old Hamas officer Abdul Hamid al-Aker, who was killed during a “security mission to inspect the tunnel,” and 28-year-old Sobhi Abu Qarshin. Abu Qarshin was said to have died during a rescue attempt. – Jerusalem Post

When the Islamic State group overran the town and the rest of northern Iraq in 2014, Bartella’s entire population fled — since both communities were persecuted by the radicals. But two years after Bartella was liberated from IS, fewer than a third of its 3,800 Christian families have come back. Most remain afraid, amid reports of intimidation and harassment by Shabak, who dominate the Shiite militias now controlling the town. – Associated Press

Korean Peninsula

Washington and Seoul on Sunday signed an agreement on how to share the cost of the American military presence in South Korea, resolving a dispute between the allies before President Trump’s meeting this month with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. – New York Times

President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the reclusive leader of North Korea, will attempt to iron out the details of a history-making agreement on denuclearization when the pair meet later this month in Vietnam for their second face-to-face dialogue. – New York Times

The U.S. and South Korea signed a one-year deal outlining the shared costs of their military alliance on Sunday, removing a potential distraction ahead of the second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for late this month. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. special envoy for North Korea concluded three days of nuclear-disarmament talks in Pyongyang ahead of the second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, scheduled for this month in Vietnam, expressing confidence that “real progress” was possible if both sides remain committed. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump is set to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in less than three weeks, yet the biggest question hanging over the leaders’ second summit is why they’re even having it. – Bloomberg


The Pentagon raised an alarm last year over what it deemed a troubling development in this ice-cloaked territory: China was looking to bankroll and build three airports that could give it a military foothold off Canada’s coast. – Wall Street Journal

Turkey demanded that China end its mass incarceration of Turkic Muslims, as concern over the fate of a well-regarded Uighur musician in China prompted a rare public rebuke of the forced assimilation campaign from a government in the Muslim world. – Wall Street Journal

On Friday, Uighurs across Australia rallied in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide to highlight the plight of their communities in China, but also to protest against their treatment by Beijing abroad. Uighurs in Adelaide said efforts to infiltrate their community go back more than a decade. […]Open intimidation on Australian soil is a much more recent concern. – Washington Post

America’s global campaign to blacklist China’s Huawei Technologies Co. is facing a major challenge on Europe’s eastern flank, where countries are debating whether to side with Washington against a Chinese government that has courted the region’s leaders. – Wall Street Journal

Two U.S. warships sailed through waters claimed by China in the South China Sea, an action that could infuriate Beijing as a new round of trade talks gets underway ahead of a looming deadline. – Bloomberg

Editorial: Remember Interpol? The global crime-fighting agency was in the spotlight last year when Beijing arrested its Chinese-national leader Meng Hongwei and it looked like a Vladimir Putin crony might take his place. The appointment of a South Korean to Interpol’s top job ended that controversy. Yet Interpol’s obeisance to dictators remains a problem, and reform should be on Washington’s agenda. – Wall Street Journal


Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said Saturday that the country’s special forces had arrested a Taliban operative responsible for two major attacks in Kabul. And in a separate operation, agents apprehended a university professor whom they described as a top recruiter for the Islamic State. – New York Times

At least 10 civilians were killed and several others were wounded over the weekend during American airstrikes in southern Afghanistan, local officials and residents in Helmand Province said on Sunday. – New York Times

The Pentagon’s top official arrived in Afghanistan on Monday on an unannounced visit, signaling American support for the jittery Afghan government while the U.S. holds talks with the Taliban to end the country’s 17-year war. – Wall Street Journal

The Pentagon has stepped up airstrikes and special operations raids in Afghanistan to the highest levels since 2014 in what Defense Department officials described as a coordinated series of attacks on Taliban leaders and fighters. – New York Times

Major obstacles remain before the first concrete steps can be taken to end the war in Afghanistan, a top U.S. envoy said Friday after months of talks with the Taliban. – Wall Street Journal

The US diplomat leading talks with the Taliban said Friday he hoped to see a peace deal in place before Afghanistan’s July presidential elections, though he cautioned he did not trust America’s long-time adversary. – Agence France Presse

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday offered the Taliban the possibility of opening an office in Afghanistan but the proposal was swiftly spurned by the group that is determined to keep his government out of accelerating peace talks. – Reuters


Relations between Japan and South Korea, the most important U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region, are unraveling fast. And while the leaders of both countries share the blame, the Trump administration has taken its eye off the ball, experts say. This has allowed spats to grow that could undermine U.S. efforts to sustain a coalition of Asian democracies and contain China. – Washington Post

Australia formally signed a Aus$50 billion “strategic partnership” with France to build 12 state of the art submarines Monday, a signal of Canberra’s willingness to project power across the Pacific. – Agence France Presse

Joseph Bosco writes: Is the United States government about to declare a clear and firm commitment to defend Taiwan? At long last, after decades of strategic ambiguity, will Beijing be put on public notice that an attack on Taiwan will certainly mean wading into a conflict with America that could readily escalate into outright war? – The Hill


Does Mr. Guaidó hope for foreign intervention? “It’s important to remember that a dictator will not freely relinquish power after having hijacked the constitution and ruled with threats and promises,” he tells me in an interview in his office at the National Assembly. “Sometimes it is necessary to put enough pressure on him that he leaves. A military operation may be the most effective form of pressure, but it is not the form we hope for and believe in.” – Wall Street Journal

The story of Guaidó’s rise involves stealthy travel, diplomatic maneuvers in Washington, Canada and South America, and months of strategizing by Venezuelan activists. But it is also the story of an accidental leader who assumed his party’s mantle at the moment when it suddenly mattered. – Washington Post

What were the ultimate objectives of USAID/OTI in Venezuela during the years they worked with the student movement? US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield specifically laid them out in a secret embassy cable secured by Chelsea Manning and released by WikiLeaks: “1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions, 2) Penetrating Chavez’ Political Base, 3) Dividing Chavismo, 4) Protecting Vital US business, and 5) Isolating Chavez internationally.” – The Nation

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: Nicolás Maduro’s decision to block humanitarian aid to the starving Venezuelan people is no surprise. It’s already well-established that the dictator and his Cubans backers are tyrants. […]A severe cash-flow disruption increases the odds that Mr. Maduro will have to move out of the presidential palace. Even so, democracy advocates had best not get ahead of themselves. Many risks would remain even if Mr. Maduro retires. – Wall Street Journal

Hal Brands writes: The political crisis in Venezuela has pitted the U.S. against a dictator who refuses to leave office. But the crisis has a broader significance: It shows that Latin America has again become an arena in which rival great powers struggle for influence and advantage. As the U.S. faces surging geopolitical rivalry around the world, its position is also coming under pressure in its own backyard. – Bloomberg

Cyber Security

In an attempt to push back against attempts to limit its reach in Europe, the Chinese technology giant Huawei threatened legal action against the Czech Republic if its cybersecurity agency did not rescind its warning about the risk the company poses to the nation’s critical infrastructure. – New York Times

When mysterious operatives lured two cybersecurity researchers to meetings at luxury hotels over the past two months, it was an apparent bid to discredit their research about an Israeli company that makes smartphone hacking technology used by some governments to spy on their citizens. The Associated Press has now learned of similar undercover efforts targeting at least four other individuals who have raised questions about the use of the Israeli firm’s spyware. – Associated Press

Facebook is pushing back against a German ruling that could make it harder for the company to combine data from all the services it runs in order to target ads even more precisely. Thursday’s ruling, though aimed at current practices, hints at potential troubles ahead if Facebook follows through with plans to integrate the messaging functions of WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger as early as next year. – Associated Press


Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan heads to NATO this week to reassure allies that the U.S. path on key security issues remains steady, amid major policy shifts in Syria, Afghanistan and its recent withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty. – Defense News

Remaining ahead of adversary capabilities means investing now in multi-domain and interoperable weapons systems, says the military department secretaries. – USNI News

The Pentagon’s drones are an iconic symbol of war abroad, plane-sized matchsticks with wings lurking over cities and countrysides waiting for the moment routine patrol becomes un-routine. For the most part, the missions of those drones have remained abroad, but over the years the Department of Defense has flown drones a handful of times over the United States in support of civil authorities. From 2011 to 2017, the Pentagon reports just 11 total domestic drone missions. But in 2018, that total doubled, with 11 domestic missions flown by military drones. – Defense News

Trump Administration

Congressional efforts to reach a border security deal ahead of another government shutdown broke down on Sunday over Democratic demands to limit the detention of undocumented immigrants, as President Trump moved more troops to the border and prepared to rally supporters in Texas on Monday. – New York Times

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Hungary, Slovakia and Poland this week he wants to make up for a lack of U.S. engagement that opened the door to more Chinese and Russian influence in central Europe, administration officials say. – Reuters