Fdd's overnight brief

February 12, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


President Hassan Rouhani, speaking to the sprawling crowd at the Freedom Monument, said the country was in the middle of “a psychological and economical war, waged by cruel enemies.” That was a clear reference to the United States and the sanctions the Trump administration reimposed after it unilaterally withdrew from a global deal over Iran’s nuclear program. – New York Times

President Hassan Rouhani and other Iranian leaders Monday used mass celebrations of the 1979 revolution to lash out against the U.S. and reaffirm Tehran’s pledge to continue developing ballistic-missile systems that Washington says threatens the region’s security. – Wall Street Journal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that Iran was determined to expand its military power and ballistic missile programme despite mounting pressure from hostile countries to curb Iran’s defensive work, state TV reported. – Reuters

Iran’s president on Monday insisted “enemy” plots against the country would fail as vast crowds marked 40 years since the Islamic revolution at a time of heightened tensions with the United States. – Agence France-Presse

A senior Iranian official said over the weekend that the Islamic Republic has the chemical and technical know-how to produce a nuclear weapon, according to Farsi language remarks independently translated for the Washington Free Beacon. – Washington Free Beacon

Hassan Mneimneh writes: While credible reports indicate that components of state establishment in Tehran would welcome a departure of policy that supports non-state actors in the region and a normalization of conventional diplomatic relations, the expectation that it could translate into an actual shift in policy is a case of wishful thinking. A more plausible assessment would consider the floating of this type of policy realignment a deliberate attempt by those with real power in the regime to encourage international calls for a ‘soft approach’ to dilute the resolve of their regional and international opponents. – Washington Institute

Simon Henderson writes: The greatest danger, to my mind, is that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei views Iran’s nuclear program as the modern-day equivalent of seizing the American embassy. It will guarantee the longevity of the Islamic regime. The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the Iran nuclear deal, was a pause, rather than a stop. That’s my personal conclusion but it is obvious that others share that view. – The Hill


Syrian fighters backed by artillery fire from a US-led coalition battled a fierce jihadist counteroffensive as they pushed to retake a last morsel of territory from the Islamic State group in an assault lasting days. – Agence France-Presse

An Israeli drone fired four missiles near a demolished hospital and an army observation post in Syria’s southern Quneitra province near the border with Israel, but there had been only material damage, the Syrian army said on Monday. – Reuters

Two French women who fled the Islamic State group’s last pocket in Syria told AFP on Monday more foreigners were trapped inside, barred from leaving by Iraqi jihadists. – Agence France-Presse

Islamic State group militants cornered in their last foothold in eastern Syria fought back with suicide car bombs, snipers and booby traps Monday, slowing Kurdish fighters advancing under the cover of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Kurdish news agencies and a Syrian war monitor said. – Time

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

An Indonesian militant who appeared on an Islamic State propaganda video showing the execution of a hostage and was said to be close to the militant group’s leader was killed in Syria last month, an Indonesian police spokesman and his brother said. – Reuters


Security officials are raising alarms over Chinese investment in Israeli technology companies, prompting the Israeli government to scrutinize the money flows and businesses to reconsider accepting Chinese funds. – Wall Street Journal

This month, Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit is expected to announce whether he intends to indict Netanyahu in a tangle of corruption cases that have raised painful questions about the state of Israeli politics and the future of a deeply divided country. – Bloomberg

The recent killing of Israeli teenager Ori Ansbacher in what officials have described as a Palestinian terrorist attack drew increased international condemnation on Monday. Israeli security officials said 29-year-old Hebron resident Arafat Irfaiya had confessed to the murder, which took place in a forest southwest of Jerusalem on Thursday. – Algemeiner

The Palestinian Authority is bracing for the publication of U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan and has started working preemptively to ensure that Arab and Muslim countries will not support it. – Haaretz

Israel is set to sign a free-trade agreement with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union in the near future, according to officials in Moscow and Jerusalem. Incidentally, Iran is also in advanced talks about creating a free trade zone with the union, known as EAEU. – Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded on Monday evening to a threat issued by an Iranian commander, saying that if Iran attacks Tel Aviv, it “would be the last anniversary of the revolution that they celebrate.” – Haaretz

The Israeli Justice Ministry on Monday said the government has asked a Dutch court to dismiss war crimes allegations against Benny Gantz, an ex-military chief who is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April elections. – Associated Press

David Makovsky writes: As he seeks his fifth term in Israel’s April 9 elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu may be facing his stiffest competition in recent history: former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz. Several trending factors could be pivotal in shaping how Gantz and his new Israel Resilience Party fare at the polls. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Turkish courts are just weeks from concluding some 300 mass trials intended to draw a line under the most traumatic event of Turkey’s recent history: the failed 2016 coup that killed 251 people, mostly civilians, and wounded more than 2,000. – New York Times

The United Nations is seeking urgent access to a massive supply of grain at risk of rotting in silos in the besieged Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, as it mediates a resolution to the nearly four-year conflict that has pushed millions to the brink of starvation. – Wall Street Journal

A top Saudi official who was fired after being accused of playing a role in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues to serve as an informal royal adviser, and the U.S. is pressing the kingdom behind the scenes to hold him accountable, according to U.S. and Saudi officials. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration threatened on Monday to veto an effort in the U.S. Congress to end U.S. military support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the war in Yemen, continuing a stand-off with lawmakers over policy toward the kingdom. – Reuters

Eastern Libyan military forces have full control of Libya’s biggest oilfield, El Sharara, a spokesman said, in a challenge to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. – Reuters

Lebanon said Monday it will not take part in a Middle East conference in Poland this week that is widely seen as an effort to isolate Iran. – Associated Press

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Warsaw on Tuesday to attend a conference on the Middle East co-hosted by Poland and the U.S. State Department. – Haaretz

Turkey ordered the arrest of 1,112 people over suspected links to the network of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating an attempted coup in 2016, broadcaster CNN Turk reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday for an unannounced trip that he said would emphasize the importance of Iraqi sovereignty and broach the issue of the future of U.S. troops there. – Reuters

Karen Elliott House writes: This is the winter of Mohammed bin Salman’s discontent. The young crown prince is beset on all sides by problems that would depress or deter most leaders, but there is no sign that his optimism or energy are flagging. Whether sheer determination will be enough to secure his success, however, seems more in doubt than ever. – Wall Street Journal

Eli Lake writes: The government of Turkey is facing a choice. Will it defend itself in court against a civil lawsuit that alleges Turkey’s president ordered his bodyguards to beat protesters nearly two years ago on a state visit to Washington? Or will it continue to ignore the case? A decision is due this week. – Bloomberg

Gevera Zaya writes: During the nine-month campaign to wrest the Nineveh Governorate and its capital Mosul from Islamic State (IS) completed in 2017, much of Mosul’s infrastructure was destroyed. […] Even with promises from the international community and the Iraqi federal government to support the reconstruction process, these vital sectors must be strengthened locally if the city is to survive. This is especially so because the city is emerging from destruction not limited solely to its infrastructure or architecture: more dangerous is the destruction of thought that will bog the city down with no real or true revival. – Washington Institute

Muhammad Mansour writes: Ironically, the major policy shift behind Pompeo’s speech—President Trump’s decision to remove American forces from Syria—actually reads as an echo of Obama’s attempts to reduce U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the recent breakthrough in negotiations between the United States and the Taliban only solidifies this image of a continuing policy of military withdrawal. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea has continued to produce bomb fuel while in denuclearization talks with the United States and may have produced enough in the past year to add as many as seven nuclear weapons to its arsenal, according to a study released just weeks before a planned second summit between the North Korean leader and U.S. President Donald Trump. – Reuters

North and South Korea are planning to launch a joint bid to host the 2032 summer Olympics together, the Guardian reports. – Time

The choice of Vietnam as host of this month’s summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shows the Southeast Asian nation is headed in the right direction, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said on Tuesday. – Reuters


China has postponed a major tourism campaign in New Zealand days before its launch and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s visit to Beijing has been further delayed as concerns mount of strained ties over China’s growing influence in the Pacific. – Reuters

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioned U.S. allies on Monday against deploying equipment from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei on their soil, saying it would make it more difficult for Washington to “partner alongside them”. – Reuters

US negotiators met with their Chinese counterparts in Beijing Monday for a new round of high-stakes trade talks, hoping to reach a deal before the March 1 deadline set by Donald Trump as the IMF warned of a possible global economic “storm”. – Agence France-Presse

Erin Dunne writes: President Trump has many justifications for his tariffs: national security, pushing back on unfair trade deals, and protecting American manufacturing. Not on the list: playing favorites with Chinese imports over those from neighboring Canada. But through the convoluted exclusions process of U.S. tariffs, that’s exactly what has happened. – Washington Examiner


Acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan met with Afghan leaders in Kabul on Monday as the Trump administration made an intensified diplomatic push to end the United States’ longest war. […] The Pentagon’s top official assured Afghanistan’s government on Monday that the U.S. wouldn’t desert the country’s security forces, the Afghan Defense Ministry said, signaling American support for the jittery government while the U.S. holds talks with the Taliban to end the country’s 17-year war. – Wall Street Journal

While military leaders are proceeding with a plan to pull American troops out of Syria, ending a ground mission against the Islamic State, officials say a decision has not been reached to withdraw from Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces support local forces battling the Taliban and other militants. – Washington Post

Afghanistan’s first president following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country and the collapse in 1992 of Kabul’s pro-communist government, Sibghatullah Mujadidi, has died. He was 93. – Associated Press

Kori Schake writes: President Donald Trump said in his State of the Union address that “great nations do not fight endless wars.” It was a clear signal that his administration has scaled back its objectives for Afghanistan and is headed for the exit. The only question now is whether the Taliban and their Pakistani sponsors will settle for a partial victory by participating in an Afghan government they do not wholly control, or whether they will bide their time until the occupation ends, then turn on those Afghans who have been fighting alongside U.S. forces and triumphantly return to power, governing as they did before the war. The smart money is on the latter. – Defense One

Jason Dempsey writes: The United States failed in Afghanistan. The only points of debate left for analysts and historians are by how much and who is to blame. With negotiations and withdrawal plans still in the air as of early 2019, nearly 18 years after September 11, 2001, the true extent of American failure remains to be determined, but it is not too early to examine where our institutions and leaders fell short. – War on the Rocks


Thailand’s election commission on Monday disqualified the king’s sister from running for prime minister, formally putting an end to a candidacy that had briefly upended the nation’s political landscape. – New York Times

Japan said on Tuesday it had lodged a complaint with Seoul and demanded an apology after a South Korean lawmaker said the Japanese emperor should apologize over the issue of “comfort women” who were used in military brothels. – Reuters

Joseph Bosco writes: These ongoing hostile actions, which defy Washington’s condition of a peaceful outcome, have long freed the US, morally and legally, to treat Taiwan and its leaders as the model global citizen it is, up to and including formal diplomatic recognition. An address by Tsai to Congress falls well within the range of permissible US options. – Taipei Times


The Bulgarian authorities have reopened a criminal investigation into the poisoning of a prominent arms dealer over questions about a possible connection with the nerve agent attack on Sergei V. Skripal, the former Russian spy poisoned in Britain last year. – New York Times

A senior policy adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin predicted that the nation’s political system will live on for a century and serve as a model for others around the world. – Associated Press

Russia and Turkey agreed on Monday that they needed to take decisive measures to stabilize the situation in Syria’s Idlib province after talks between the two country’s defense ministers, Russia’s RIA news agency reported. – Reuters

Russia is considering whether to disconnect from the global internet briefly, as part of a test of its cyber-defences. – BBC News (UK)

Scared by looming U.S. anti-cartel legislation for the oil industry, the Organization for the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies such as Russia have decided against creating a formal body, at least on paper. – Reuters

Leonid Bershidsky writes: The Putin state with its enforcement bent, expansionist drive, goal of geopolitical greatness and socially conservative impulses is, according to Surkov, traveling in the same direction as the “deep people” and thus “isn’t subject to the destructive pressures of history’s headwinds.” – Bloomberg


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opened a tour of Central Europe aimed at countering growing Chinese and Russian influence there with a warning to Hungary about the dangers of forging close ties with Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

The U.K. plans to send a new aircraft carrier to tour the Gulf and Pacific Ocean in a show of strength aimed at reassuring its U.S. and European allies that Britain won’t dial down its military ambitions following Brexit. – Wall Street Journal

Vice President Pence will visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau site on Friday, and tour a memorial to Jews killed at the former extermination camp run by Nazis in occupied Poland as part of a European trip that will also focus on the Trump administration’s view of Iran as the main source of instability in the Middle East. – Washington Post

Prime Minister Theresa May will tell British lawmakers on Tuesday they must hold their nerve over Brexit to force the European Union to accept changes to the divorce deal that would pave the way for an orderly exit. – Reuters

Twelve Catalan secessionist leaders go on trial in Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, charged for their role in a failed independence bid 16 months ago that deeply divided the country and triggered the biggest political crisis in decades. – Reuters

A tree planted in a Paris suburb in memory of a young Jewish man who was tortured to death in 2006 has been chopped down, authorities said Monday, confirming the latest in a series of anti-Semitic acts in France. – Agence France-Presse

A British departure from the European Union without a deal could put 600,000 jobs around the world at risk, with Germany the hardest hit, a study published Monday found. – Agence France-Presse

France said Monday night that the number of anti-Semitic acts in the country soared last year, and decried the “poison” of hate. – Times of Israel

Belgrade’s Jewish community on Monday denounced comments from a Serbian opposition leader that appeared to embrace supporters of a Nazi collaborator who helped oversee the murder of thousands of Serbian Jews during World War II. – Agence France-Presse

The European Union must quicken its pace toward greater military prowess to ensure the bloc’s 500 million citizens can emerge from an ongoing reshuffling of global order on their own terms, according to a new think tank report. – Defense News

German authorities banned two media organizations it said are linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization by the European Union and Turkey, after raids early on Tuesday. – Reuters

Janusz Bugajski writes: With the imminent entry of North Macedonia, NATO is consolidating its position in the Western Balkans as a producer of security and a facilitator of inter-state cooperation. The Alliance has always combined two missions – military and political. While its military muscle has been consistently acknowledged, particularly by arch-rivals such as Russia, NATO’s promotion of political agreements between members states is often underestimated. – Center for European Policy Analysis


The Defense Department’s research wing has created a new program office to develop bioelectronic implants that stimulate tissue recovery in complex wounds, such as those suffered by troops in battle. – Defense One

Climate change increasingly ranks as the world’s most pressing security threat, with terrorism and cyberattacks also topping the list, according to a new survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center. – Time

Jean-Loup Samaan writes: In the last two years, President Donald Trump and his cabinet invested great efforts to portray the new “Indo-Pacific strategy” as a departure from past American policies in the region and as one of its major foreign policy projects. As of today, the details of the strategy remain classified, but a close examination of official documents and public speeches by the Trump cabinet reveals that the strategy is nothing new and appears to a large extent disconnected from the realities of the Indo-Pacific region. – War on the Rocks



Blessed with the world’s largest oil reserves, this South American nation was once the region’s richest per capita. Twenty years after the launch of the late Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution, it is now one of the poorest. Blanco’s husband, a loyalist of Maduro — Chavez’s anointed successor — still calls socialism society’s great equalizer that gave the poor dignity. But like more and more Venezuelans, Blanco is questioning not just a man — Maduro — but an economic model. – Washington Post

Venezuela’s opposition supporters will take to the streets nationwide on Tuesday to keep up the heat on embattled President Nicolas Maduro and to call on him to let humanitarian aid into the country where food and medicine shortages are rife. – Reuters

Venezuela’s self-declared leader Juan Guaido he was working to restore ties with Israel that Caracas cut off a decade ago in solidarity with the Palestinians. – Reuters

Colin P. Clarke writes: Responding to a question on current instability in Venezuela and the presence of terrorist groups in the region, specifically Lebanese Hezbollah, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed in a recent interview that the Trump administration believes that the “Party of God,” as Hezbollah is known, maintains “active cells” in Venezuela. – RAND

Tom Rogan writes: To save lives, the U.S. should deploy a hospital ship off the Venezuelan coast. Doing so would also allow the Trump administration to show that its interests in Venezuela are ultimately humanitarian in nature. The first interest is clear. With basic medicines gone from Venezuelan hospital shelves, patients are now cared for simply by the best efforts of unequipped doctors. All but the wealthiest cancer patients can forget about treatment. […] This is what socialism and madman Nicolas Maduro have wrought in the nation with Earth’s largest proven oil reserves. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: This week will be pivotal in the revolt against despotic ruler Nicolas Maduro. That’s because on Tuesday, Venezuelans will gather to demand Maduro’s resignation, and will also attempt to bring U.S. aid across the Colombian border. Maduro has ordered his military to stop them. So will the military fire on fellow Venezuelans? […] Where previous street protests have signaled great discontent with Maduro, they have not directly challenged his control over the military. But Venezuelan activist attempts to bring U.S. aid across the border would force Maduro to decide whether to blink and allow the aid to enter, or order action to constrain it. – Washington Examiner

United States

A Minnesota congresswoman apologized Monday for using language that was criticized as anti-Semitic after both Democratic and Republican leaders condemned her suggestion that lawmakers’ support for Israel was driven by money from a pro-Israel group. – Wall Street Journal

Attendees exiting President Trump’s rally at the El Paso County Coliseum Monday night were greeted by a group of protesters outside the venue. Police wearing tactical gear and dozens more in uniform broke up minor arguments and fights as Trump supporters walked past two groups of protesters on opposite corners of Paisano and Washington streets. There were roughly 100 protesters in total. – Washington Examiner

President Donald Trump headed to the Texas border on Monday to argue his case that walls work as Democrats and Republicans back home in Washington announced a deal had been reached to avoid another government shutdown. – Associated Press

The man accused of massacring 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue last year in the deadliest attack on a US Jewish institution pleaded not guilty on Monday in federal court to a dozen additional charges including hate crimes. – Reuters

Rick Noack writes: If 2017 was the year foreign observers of U.S. politics struggled to decide where the country was headed, 2018 was the year they came to a conclusion: not in the right direction. Far more people around the world now believe that their countries are threatened by U.S. power and influence under President Trump than they are by the other global heavyweights, Russia or China, according to a new Pew Research Center survey released on Sunday. – Washington Post

Eugene Kontorovich writes: Identity politics guides its adherents in strange directions. The American Civil Liberties Union, which for decades defended the vulnerable against public discrimination, has begun an assault on several antidiscrimination laws. Its goal is to bring boycotts of Israel into the political mainstream. – Wall Street Journal

Emma Green writes: In the anti-Semitic imagination, Jews run the world through a global conspiracy of cash and power. This belief is both old and resilient, and in the past seven decades, anti-Semites have relied on this framework to explain the tight alliance between the United States and Israel. – The Atlantic