Fdd's overnight brief

February 11, 2020

In The News


More than 100 American service members have traumatic brain injuries from Iranian airstrikes on Al Asad Air Base in Iraq in January, the Defense Department said, a number that was more than 50 percent higher than previously disclosed. – New York Times

Tens of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran and other cities on Tuesday morning to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the Islamic revolution, against a backdrop of escalating tensions with the United States. – Reuters

Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian military commander killed in a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3 in Baghdad, had sought to bring stability to the Middle East, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday. – Reuters

France on Monday condemned a bid by Iran to put a satellite in space, urging Tehran to abide by international obligations on its controversial ballistic missile program. – Agence France-Presse

For a fourth time Iran’s mission to launch a satellite was aborted on Sunday when Simorgh, the rocket used for the launch, failed to lift Zafar into orbit. Zafar, which was anew Iranian satellite reportedly crashed in a rural area in southeast Iran where locals reported hearing eight massive explosions and saw a huge light in the sky. – Radio Farda

The head of Iran’s nuclear program said Monday the US killing of a high-ranking Iranian general has weakened the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group in the region. – Times of Israel

A former leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has warned that Iran is just looking for an excuse to attack Israel and “raze Tel-Aviv to the ground,” blaming Israel for allegedly helping the US kill top commander Qassem Soleimani. – Times of Israel

An Iranian opposition figure who had been living in exile before being arrested in a Revolutionary Guards operation went on trial in Tehran on Monday, Fars news agency said. – Agence France-Presse

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening commented on the failure of Iran to launch a satellite into orbit. – Arutz Sheva

Jason Rezaian writes: It’s time for that deprivation to end, she says. Iranians should have the right to live open, connected and free lives. Like all of us who watch developments in Iran from afar, Googoosh knows there are limits to her ability to affect the events playing out in her homeland. By providing Iranians a dignified and always evolving soundtrack to their experience, though, she affirms that they are heard. – Washington Post

Eric R. Mandel writes: Since the elimination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, leader of its Quds Force, the U.S. has regained leverage with its sanctions campaign against Iran. Iran might not agree to make any significant concessions, but America needs to continue the pressure. The Iranian strategy has a set date: November 2020. If Trump wins a second term, the negotiations begin. – The Hill

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In this view, Iran is the great leader of a mass of fighters across the regional all arrayed against the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and some other states. Iran’s rhetoric seeks to instill in a new generation this imperial impulse to dominate the Middle East via these factions and see them all as not only allies but directed from Tehran. – Jerusalem Post

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Many countries in the developing world acquired Scud missiles from the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and Crail wrote that the missiles have served as the template around which several missile programs have centered. […]None of this proves that Iran’s space program is for sure directed at helping it deliver a nuclear weapon, but the large amount of evidence gives Israel and the US serious reasons to worry. – Jerusalem Post


Five Turkish soldiers were killed during a clash with Syrian government forces in northwestern Syria, raising the country’s troop losses to 13 over the past week and testing Turkey’s resolve to support rebels in an area that President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to reclaim. – Wall Street Journal

Turkish officials have told a visiting Russian delegation that attacks on Turkish observation posts in northwestern Syria must be stopped immediately and that such assaults will not remain unanswered, the Turkish presidency said on Monday. – Reuters

Turkish forces have hit 115 Syrian government targets and destroyed 101 of them in retaliation for an attack that killed five Turkish soldiers in Syria’s rebel-held northwest, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Monday. – Reuters

Throughout Syria’s civil war, Maad al-Khalaf helped other Syrians find shelter in the opposition enclave in the northwest as they fled government military advances around the country. Now he’s the one in need of refuge as a swift offensive overwhelmed his home village. […]Nearly a quarter of the 3 million people in Idlib and surrounding areas have surged north as Russian-backed government forces advanced in recent weeks, determined to capture the last remaining opposition-held territory. – Associated Press

Syrian government forces seized control of the entire length of the main Aleppo-Damascus highway on Tuesday for the first time since 2012, after driving rebels from their last foothold on the road, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. – Reuters

Nearly 700,000 civilians have been displaced by a renewed Russian-backed Syrian government offensive against the rebel-held northwest since early December, including nearly 100,000 in the last week alone, the United Nations said on Monday. – Reuters

Fabrice Balanche writes: Until these questions are resolved, the threat of a new refugee march toward the EU will keep rising, leading some states to consider ways to fortify their frontiers—Greece, for example, has proposed the construction of floating walls in the Aegean Sea to block migrant boats. In this sense, the course of events in Idlib may play a decisive role in Europe’s most pressing dilemma: how to maintain its humanitarian principles while still preserving its security and unity. – Washington Institute

Giorgio Cafiero writes: Looking ahead, there is a high probability that China and the West’s divergent positions on the Syrian conflict and questions regarding Assad’s (il)legitimacy will make Syria — in addition to other files ranging from Hong Kong and human rights to trade and technology — more of a hot-button issue in Sino-Western relations against the backdrop of a strengthening Beijing-Damascus partnership. – Middle East Institute


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will reiterate his rejection of the Trump administration’s Mideast plan in an address to the U.N. Security Council Tuesday, but members will not be voting on a draft resolution opposing the U.S. proposal. – Associated Press

The Egyptian security delegation that visited the Gaza Strip on Monday warned Hamas to avoid escalating the military conflict with Israel and to stop supporting Iran, according to Al-Arabiya. – Jerusalem Post

The Trump administration excluded funding for the Palestinian Security Services in its budget request for the 2021 fiscal year, after 27 years of bipartisan support and Israeli backing. – Haaretz

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Monday that his government has instructed diplomats to urge their host countries to pressure Israel to reverse its decision to ban Palestinian agricultural exports through Jordan, the official PA news site Wafa reported. – Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau said Monday that Israel will only extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and areas of the West Bank with the agreement of Washington, taking another step back from his initial declarations that he would speedily move ahead with the measure. – Times of Israel

Jerusalem and Washington have divided up the fight against Iran, with Israel taking responsibility for countering the Islamic Republic in Syria and the United States in Iraq, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Saturday. – Times of Israel

The Palestinian leadership has firmly rejected the Middle East peace plan announced by U.S. President Donald Trump on January 28, 2020, which has been dubbed “The Deal of the Century.” A week after the plan’s announcement, the Arab League foreign ministers convened for an emergency meeting, following which they issued a statement supporting the Palestinian position: they too unanimously rejected the deal while underlining the centrality of the Palestinian cause. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Mohammed S. Dajani writes: By emphasizing why Palestinians are responding the way that they are to this deal, I am hoping to demonstrate a path for adjusting the plan itself and the way it has been developed so that a similar U.S. proposal could actually promote peace. Yet understanding the failures of this current plan for Palestinians is only the first step; the realignment of the plan into an acceptable starting point is likely to require from all sides the emergence of courageous leaderships with good intentions towards the other and the will to effect change. – Washington Institute

Danny Danon writes: Ehud, your commitment to the past blinds you to the future. We must not strengthen the hand of those who reward terrorism and violence against our people. You know very well that the road to resolving this conflict does not pass through New York, but only through Jerusalem and Ramallah. It is not too late to cancel this charade. Do not come to the United Nations. – Jerusalem Post

Gadi Taub writes: The truth is that, short of attempting to justify collective suicide, the moral argument from “apartheid” has no use. As long as we refuse to die, it will not save us from having to limp along with no full solution in sight to the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire. We will have to brace ourselves for a long stretch of political awkwardness and moral ambiguity. Which is still far better than jumping together, with our hands at each other’s throats, into the lava around us. The incantation “apartheid” will not make any of those harsh circumstances disappear. – Haaretz


Iraqi security forces shot and killed at least one protester in the country’s south on Monday, official said as the five-month anti-government protest movement enters a critical stage. – Associated Press

Militants on Monday targeted a convoy carrying food supplies south of Baghdad using an explosive device, the Iraqi military said in a statement, leading to only material losses. – Reuters

Iran’s Tasnim media emphasized an explosion it says targeted a “US military vehicle south of Baghdad.” It used an image of the Popular Mobilization Units or Shi’ite militias in Iraq to emphasize an Iranian connection to the attack. The PMU are part of Iraq’s paramilitary forces and have opposed the US presence in Iraq. – Jerusalem Post


Lebanese security forces fired water canon at stone-throwing protesters seeking to prevent MPs and government officials from reaching parliament on Tuesday for a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s new cabinet. – Reuters

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri believes Lebanon needs technical help from the IMF to draw up an economic rescue plan and a decision on whether to pay a Eurobond maturing in March should be taken based on IMF advice, an-Nahar newspaper and a government source said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The UN’s top official in Lebanon has warned of a potential new migrant crisis unfolding into Europe unless Lebanese politicians take immediate action. – Sky News (UK)


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

A crisis within the world’s greatest humanitarian emergency could be reaching breaking point over the control of lifesaving aid millions of Yemenis need to survive. – BBC

Yemen’s warring sides quietly began U.N.-backed talks about a prisoner swap on Monday, according to the United Nations. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

A military appeals court in Algeria on Monday confirmed 15-year jail sentences against two former intelligence chiefs and a brother of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for “conspiring against the army and the state authority,” state media reported. – Reuters

The greatest threat confronting the US and Israel may be swarms of drones armed with chemical weapons released by Iran or ISIS, an ex-CIA official has told The Jerusalem Post. – Jerusalem Post

Egypt’s legislature on Monday gave its initial approval for toughening up already draconian anti-terrorism laws, with amendments that include life sentences and capital punishment for funding terrorism, the state-run news agency said. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: Perhaps the latest Kurdish tragedy, then, is that Kurds are saddled with a leadership that rather speak about justice for the Yezidis and buy mansions, apartments, and luxury cars, rather than spend a fraction of that cost on affecting freedom for those who still suffer under their kidnappers and tormentors. – 1001 Iraqi Thoughts

Korean Peninsula

North Korea stepped up its exports of illegal coal shipments in 2019, with most of those deliveries headed for China, according to a confidential United Nations report. – Bloomberg

The most senior diplomat to have defected from North Korea will run for parliament in South Korea to “give hope” to tens of thousands of others who have fled the regime, media reports said on Tuesday. – The Guardian

President Donald Trump has told top foreign policy advisers that he does not want another summit with Kim Jong Un before the presidential election in November, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. – CNN


The Justice Department has charged four members of the Chinese military with a 2017 hack at the credit reporting agency Equifax, a massive data breach that compromised the personal information of nearly half of all Americans. – Washington Post

In 2014, the Obama administration accused five Chinese military agents of targeting Pittsburgh-area industrial companies including Westinghouse Electric, Alcoa and U.S. Steel. Since then, the number of companies allegedly targeted by Chinese hackers has only grown. – Associated Press

China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday the Chinese government and the military do not engage or participate in the theft of trade secrets through the internet. – Reuters

European powers must beware that China’s growing missile arsenal can threaten Western nations, according to a senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization official. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: Presenting his credentials to Russian President Vladimir Putin, John Sullivan last week officially began his new role as ambassador to Russia. […]Still, as I say, this is a good start. While Russia is likely to remain a preeminent U.S. adversary as long as Putin remains in power, that should not preclude us from pragmatic diplomacy. And that’s exactly what Sullivan seems to be doing. – Washington Examiner

Guy Redmer writes: This would all be less disturbing if Lee weren’t constantly regurgitating pro-Beijing talking points. She has praised Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power as a a needed step for economic reforms and even as a precursor to his turning China into a Northern European-style democracy. […]So what are we to make of Lee’s claim to be part of the Yang Gang, in the face of denials from the campaign itself? Is she an actual “expert on China” based on academic credentials, or is she simply a radical apologist for the communist regime? – Washington Examiner

Roger Zakheim writes: In the realm of great power competition, our allies are an advantage. Yet when it comes to technological innovation, we treat allies and friends as competitors. If we can exchange intelligence information, share classified information, partner on building major aerospace and defense platforms, and carry out sophisticated joint military exercises, then we ought to be able to do the same with our allies when it comes to partnering on the technologies that will define not just 21st century warfare, but the future of global freedom and privacy. Unless we construct this alternative, the winds of technology and innovation will continue to blow to the East. – The Hill

Derek Scissors writes: The President’s two “bad” trade years averaged 227,000 new manufacturing jobs, the good trade year 2019 only 45,000. The reason, of course, is many factors other than trade balances drive employment. This is President’s Trump’s mistake. When he says “promise made, promise kept” on the China trade deficit, he’s right. The best response is not that there were terrible costs — there weren’t. It’s not to say tariffs will stop working eventually. The best response is: “That promise you kept doesn’t mean much.” – American Enterprise Institute


After months of relative calm in the Afghan capital, a suicide bombing on Tuesday morning outside a military academy left at least six dead and 12 wounded, according to the Interior Ministry. – Washington Post

Rebuilding Afghanistan has cost hundreds of lives, according to a new report released Tuesday by a U.S. government watchdog that monitors the billions of dollars Washington spends in the war-ravaged country. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump traveled Monday to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to pay respects to two U.S. soldiers killed Saturday in Afghanistan when a soldier dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire with a machine gun. – Associated Press


President Trump will travel to India later this month for the first time since taking office to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. – The Hill

The Philippines notified the United States on Tuesday it intended to end a major security pact allowing American forces to train in the country in the most serious threat to their treaty alliance under President Rodrigo Duterte. – Associated Press

In his more than three years as Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte has made a habit of casting doubt on the future of his country’s longstanding defense ties with the U.S., usually in response to U.S. concerns about his deadly drug war. Now he’s taken the first step, having served notice that he intends to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement next year. But whether he has the constitutional authority to make such a move without Congress is a question pending before the nation’s highest court. – Bloomberg

India is set to give final approval to a $2.6 billion deal for military helicopters from U.S. defense firm Lockheed Martin ahead of a visit by U.S. President Donald Trump this month, defense and industry sources said. – Reuters

Singapore’s long-expected decision to acquire the Lockheed Martin-made F-35B Joint Strike Fighter could transform how it generates and sustains air power, with the tiny Southeast Asian island nation no longer reliant on long, vulnerable runways to operate an aircraft. The fifth-generation fighter jet’s short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing capability allows it to operate with little to no airstrip. – Defense News


A Russian military court in Penza convicted seven antifascists of terrorism Monday and sentenced them to prison terms from six to 18 years, in a case widely criticized by human rights groups that claim the defendants were tortured into confessing. – Washington Post

A pair of Russian satellites are tailing a multibillion-dollar U.S. spy satellite hundreds of miles above the Earth’s surface, a top U.S. military commander tells TIME, underscoring a growing threat to America’s dominance in space-based espionage and a potentially costly new chapter in Washington’s decades-long competition with Moscow.- TIME

A Moscow court decided on Monday to extend until May 13 the house arrest of U.S. investor Michael Calvey, an executive at private equity group Baring Vostok who faces charges of embezzlement, an official at the firm said. – Reuters

Editorial: The clock is ticking toward expiration of the last major nuclear arms control treaty, New Start, which will end a year from now if not extended by the United States and Russia. Should it lapse, the path will be open to another dangerous arms race, hardly what the world needs. Right now, all signs are pointing in the wrong direction. […]Arms control takes political willpower. Binding and verifiable treaties are worth the effort. The weapons themselves are as cataclysmic in their power as ever. Have we lost the willpower to keep them in check? – Washington Post

Editorial: No doubt Mr. Pompeo took some satisfaction in that offer at a time when Russia is keeping Venezuela’s oil industry afloat despite U.S. sanctions. But even if delivered, U.S. petroleum would not rescue Belarus’s refineries. Instead Mr. Lukashenko may have to choose between knuckling under to Mr. Putin — or at least taking steps in that direction — and subjecting his economy to the shock therapy that would be necessary to free it from Russia. If he chooses the later course, the United States and the E.U. should do what they can to ease the pain, while continuing to press for improvements in human rights. – Washington Post


German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s succession plan was upended when the head of her conservative party said she wouldn’t seek the chancellery and would step down as party leader this year, adding to uncertainty about the future course of Europe’s largest economy. – Wall Street Journal

An initiative to ensure that NATO forces can respond quickly to any Russian offensive in Eastern Europe is a cause for “grave concern,” according to Moscow’s top diplomat. – Washington Examiner

Pope Francis will make the first trip by a pontiff in 10 years to the tiny Mediterranean island nation of Malta in May, where he is expected to defend the rights of migrants trying to reach Europe. – Reuters

The speaker of Israel’s parliament strongly criticized the European Union’s opposition to US President Donald Trump’s recently-unveiled Israeli-Palestinian peace plan during a visit to Germany on Monday. – Algemeiner

Elisabeth Braw writes: Pay close attention to Defender Europe 20. It underscores the American commitment to Europe, and it can spur European military readiness that should be welcome on both sides of the Atlantic. – Wall Street Journal


Suspected militant Islamists have killed at least 30 people and abducted women and children in a raid in north-eastern Nigeria, officials say. – BBC

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has for the first time acknowledged contacts with jihadist insurgents, an option the government has long rejected. – Agence France-Presse

West African countries have agreed to conduct an investigation into the impact of Nigeria’s decision last year to close off its land borders to trade, Nigeria’s presidency said on Monday. – Reuters

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

Latin America

Two Iranians have been caught using fake Israeli passports as they attempted to leave the South American country of Ecuador to fly to Spain. – Ynet

U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Monday he hopes that his visit to Cuba serves to build bridges between the peoples of the two countries amid tensions between their governments. – Associated Press

Argentina heads into do-or-die talks this week with its biggest creditor, the International Monetary Fund, fresh from a failed bond sale on Monday that augured poorly for the government’s plan for revamping about $100 billion in debt. – Reuters

Walter Russell Mead writes: For this president, and for his electoral base, old-fashioned political ideas like the Monroe Doctrine really matter. Chinese and Russian meddling in Latin America isn’t a mild irritant for this administration. It’s a source of deep strategic concern and an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation. The congressional ovation for Mr. Guaidó suggests that many Democrats are prepared to support policies aimed at easing both Russia and Mr. Maduro from power in Caracas. This could be a dramatic year in the politics of the Western Hemisphere. – Wall Street Journal


Intelligence threats against the U.S. are becoming more complex, diverse and harmful as adversaries turn to innovative hybrid techniques combining traditional spying, economic espionage and cyber operations to steal U.S. secrets, according to a government report released Monday. – Wall Street Journal

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) on Monday unveiled the new National Counterintelligence Strategy, which emphasizes the need to defend against foreign operations aimed at democratic systems and at taking down critical infrastructure. – The Hill

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday introduced a bill that would establish a $400 million grant program at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to help state and local governments combat cyber threats and potential vulnerabilities. – The Hill

The Japanese defense ministry said late on Monday that sensitive data on defense equipment may have been breached as a result of cyberattacks on Mitsubishi Electric Corp, a major supplier of the country’s defense and infrastructure systems. – Reuters

Canada’s military wants the federal government to ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. from supplying equipment for the next generation of wireless infrastructure, according to a senior Canadian official with knowledge of the matter. – The Globe and Mail

The popular social media app TikTok has removed a video glorifying Palestinian terrorism following protests. – Algemeiner

The Army’s push in recent months to adopt cloud technologies is driven by a need to provide data to decision makers around the world. – C4ISRNET

The Pentagon wants to focus its 2021 investments on four critical emerging technology areas that will increase the United States’ comparative advantage against near peer adversaries. – C4ISRNET


The Pentagon is proposing a $15.4 billion fiscal 2021 budget for the Space Force, the newly minted sixth branch of the military. – The Hill

The Trump administration is proposing a $704.5 billion Pentagon budget for fiscal year 2021 that boosts nuclear weapons modernization and cuts shipbuilding. – The Hill

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2021 budget request seeks to buy fewer munitions needed for the fights in Afghanistan and Iraq as it attempts to pivot towards investments in the kind of weapons that will be used in a high-end fight against China or Russia. – Defense News

The Trump administration’s fiscal 2021 budget includes a major increase in nuclear weapons spending from both the Defense Department and the agency in charge of managing nuclear warheads. – Defense News

As the U.S. Air Force prepares for the possibility of a future conflict with a near-peer adversary, it has run into a massive logistical problem: In a time where Russia and China are investing in layers of air- and ground-launched missiles that threaten American air bases, how can the Air Force ensure it will be able to get its planes off the ground? – Defense News

The US Navy’s fiscal year 2021 budget slashes 10 planned ships over the next five years, a move a senior Navy official said shows a commitment to not hollow out the service to buy ships. – Defense News

The Pentagon is requesting $4.5 billion in funds for the European Deterrence Initiative, the second straight year that the department has cut its request for the program. – Defense News

Long War

A British Uber driver, previously cleared of a sword attack on police outside Buckingham Palace, was convicted on Monday of a plot to kill people in the name of Islam at London tourist destinations including Madame Tussauds and the Gay Pride parade. – Reuters

Charles Kenny writes: As the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq drag towards their third decade, and Syria’s civil war ticks towards 400,000 dead, it may seem trite to observe that nobody really “wins” a war. But it nonetheless represents a significant historic change, and one that can help account both for the fact that the number of wars is declining as well as the type and location of wars that remain. – The Hill

Helen Lewis writes: “Punishment is in political vogue,” Snell told me. But punishment alone doesn’t unmake terrorists. No one in Britain would argue that extremists should be given an apartment, much less a spouse, but they do need a new life purpose to replace a perceived feeling of an existential struggle. They also need all the things that the British prison system struggles to give any inmate: mental-health support, education, training, and a future. – The Atlantic

Trump Administration

The Trump administration’s proposal to decimate the budget for foreign aid and diplomacy met with stiff resistance Monday as lawmakers and aid advocates predicted that it would be rejected by Congress. – Washington Post

Attorney General William Barr said Monday that the Justice Department has an “open door” to any individuals, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who have information on issues involving Ukraine, and noted that the agency would “scrutinize” this information. – The Hill

Senate Democrats are mulling forcing a debate as soon as Wednesday on President Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran. – The Hill