Fdd's overnight brief

February 12, 2020

In The News


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought to rally support for the country’s leadership on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, urging Iranians to turn out in large numbers to vote in parliamentary elections next week and bolster the government as it confronts the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it had charged five people in Texas and New York with conspiring to violate a law on international commerce by arranging to purchase sanctioned Iranian oil and sell it to a refinery in China. – Reuters

Israel will soon disappear from the Middle East, Brig.-Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi of the Iranian army’s public relations sector said on Tuesday. He was speaking to veterans in Zarandieh in northeastern Iran. – Jerusalem Post

Iran overtook Russia to emerge as the top buyer of Indian tea last year, after sanctions against the Islamic Republic halted imports other than specially negotiated deals. India and Iran have been trading through a rupee-based bank account to bypass restrictions imposed by the U.S. – Bloomberg

The U.S. is looking to Sudan and Morocco as key partners in the effort to counter Tehran, part of a larger American and Middle East alliance led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. – The Hill


Shortly after Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, the Tehran-backed Lebanese organization Hezbollah urgently met with Iraqi militia leaders, seeking to unite them in the face of a huge void left by their powerful mentor’s death, two sources with knowledge of the meetings told Reuters. – Reuters

Lebanon’s new government won a vote of confidence from parliament on Tuesday as protesters trying to block the session clashed with security forces, leaving hundreds injured. […]Lebanon’s new cabinet, formed last month with the backing of the powerful Hezbollah group, is hoping a financial rescue plan that formed the basis of its confidence vote in parliament can help pull the country from a deep financial crisis. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Hezbollah is strained through its role fighting in Syria and challenges at home. Iran’s all-powerful proxy network appears to have some question marks at the top now. Reports about Tehran scrambling to get Hezbollah involved in Iraq point to a growing problem for Tehran in coordinating its efforts. – Jerusalem Post


Rebels shot down a Syrian military helicopter in northern Syria on Tuesday, killing its crew members in a fiery crash, while the government kept up its relentless bombing campaign on the opposition-held region, with an airstrike in which seven civilians died, activists and news reports said. – Associated Press

Turkey said on Tuesday 51 Syrian soldiers were killed in northwest Syria as Turkish-backed rebels struck back against Russian-supported government forces who had made gains in their campaign to eliminate the last insurgent bastion in the country. –  Reuters

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to strike Syria should there be any new aggression against Turkish soldiers deployed across the border, escalating threats against Damascus after winning rare support from the U.S. – Bloomberg


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Trump administration’s peace plan at the United Nations, but failed to garner enough support for a Tuesday vote on a Security Council resolution that Palestinian officials had hoped would broadcast strong opposition to the U.S. effort. – Wall Street Journal

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sat beside former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday and said he is ready to resume negotiations under an international umbrella on the peace deal they made significant progress on in 2008 — not on the Trump administration’s plan that he said destroys a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Associated Press

Palestinian terrorist factions in the Gaza Strip, including ruling Hamas, have reportedly agreed to stop launching of incendiary balloons into southern Israel. – Algemeiner

The Foreign Ministry summoned Belgium’s deputy ambassador for the second time in a week on Tuesday, to protest his country’s invitation to an anti-Israel NGO with ties to the PFLP terrorist group to address the UN Security Council. – Jerusalem Post

Khaled al-Batsh, a member of the Islamic Jihad’s political bureau and one of the leaders of the organization, said on Tuesday that American policy forces the Palestinian Arabs to confront and fight using all means to thwart the so-called “Deal of the Century”. – Arutz Sheva

Qatar’s former prime minister claimed on Monday that a non-aggression pact between Gulf states and Israel will soon be signed and may include the North-African country of Morocco. – Ynet


A Chinese lawyer who had been documenting the coronavirus outbreak in the city of Wuhan has not been seen or heard from since last week, and friends and family say they fear he may have been forcibly quarantined by the Chinese government. – NBC

David Ignatius writes: Xi has a pesky problem in the White House, too. President Trump bobs and weaves on China policy, slapping on tariffs and then partially removing them, proclaiming whenever he can a version of “Xi is my friend” but then taking actions that destabilize China. […]Xi has promoted what he likes to call the “Chinese dream” of national ascendancy. We’ll see how it fares during these nightmare weeks when the maximum leader is facing maximum difficulty. – Washington Post

Joe McDonald writes: China’s ruling Communist Party needs to make a politically fraught decision: Admit a viral outbreak isn’t under control and cancel this year’s highest-profile official event. […]There is no indication Xi faces any serious challenge to his position, but public anger could give opponents in the ruling party ammunition to push back against his autocratic rule. – Associated Press


More than 18 years after the United States invaded Afghanistan, President Trump has conditionally approved a peace deal with the Taliban that would withdraw the last American troops from the country, potentially beginning the end of America’s longest war, according to Afghan and American officials. – New York Times

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed Afghanistan’s leaders Tuesday of what President Ashraf Ghani said was “notable progress” in ongoing U.S. peace talks with the Taliban. – Washington Post

James Jay Carafano writes: U.S. troops and their allies have done much to free and stabilize Afghanistan, and their accomplishments serve America’s interests well. […]Today, the U.S. spends less on military operations in a year than we used to spend in weeks. The reality is the U.S. isn’t fighting endless wars. But U.S. efforts are bringing more peace and stability to troubled parts of the world. And U.S. interests are better protected than they were three years ago. One bad day doesn’t erase that. – Heritage Foundation


Three U.S. Air Force aircraft, including two B-52 bombers, flew near Taiwan on Wednesday, the island’s defense ministry said, after Taiwan’s air force scrambled earlier in the week to intercept Chinese jets. – Reuters

Satoru Nagao writes: The rise of China as a global power has posed numerous challenges for Japan and the United States […]In order to maintain their technological advantage, Japan and the United States should form a partnership with another rising power in the region which has the potential to be an important collaborator: India. – Hudson Institute

Eileen Ng writes: Anger still simmers against the government, and the wrath has been channeled against what is perceived as government mishandling of the virus outbreak. […]On the horizon lie potential trigger points that could stir people to return to the streets. – Associated Press


In 2016, CIA Director John Brennan divulged still-classified “wake-up call” intelligence that prompted the Obama administration to reconsider how it viewed Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee. That information was revealed in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s latest report, which focused on the Kremlin’s active measures during the 2016 presidential campaign and on the Obama administration’s faltering response to Russian interference and WikiLeaks dumps. – Washington Examiner

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are raising concerns over Russia’s expanding influence in Venezuela and voicing renewed support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who just last week attended President Trump’s State of the Union address as a surprise guest of the White House. – The Hill

Eli Lake writes: Early reports say that Trump himself weighed in at the last minute in favor of nuclear modernization, over the objections of Mulvaney and the OMB. That should not be a surprise from a president who has boasted about the size and power of the nuclear button on his desk. It does, though, further discredit the theory that Trump is Putin’s stooge. – Bloomberg


Even before Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chosen successor announced this week that she would step aside, sending German politics into deeper disarray, there were complaints about German leadership in Europe. – New York Times

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, fired his chief of staff on Tuesday in a personnel shake-up affecting central figures on the Ukrainian side of the events leading to the impeachment trial of President Trump. – New York Times

Cyprus needs to step up its fight against the laundering of illicit cash generated outside the east Mediterranean island nation, a leading European financial watchdog said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Hungary’s Jobbik was one of the farthest right parties in Europe. […]Recently, though, the party has a new message to voters: we’re not far right any more. […]Jobbik’s claim to have changed has been met by scepticism by many, but the party’s top brass says the election of the 39-year-old Jakab, who is partly of Jewish origin, proves the point. – The Guardian

Kate Aronoff writes: Ireland’s left-leaning nationalist party, Sinn Féin, won a historic upset this past weekend, taking the highest vote share in the country’s general election and effectively breaking a century of centrist and right-wing two-party rule by Fine Gael and Fianna Fái. […]For now, as the postelection haggling over Ireland’s next government plays out, Sinn Féin’s victory may serve as a bellwether for other countries as they embark on the expensive and gravely necessary work of reining in emissions. The EU will have to decide which it cares more about: its fiscal rules or rapid decarbonization. – The New Republic


Sudan’s transitional government has agreed in principle to extradite former leader Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court, a surprise move that could see him face trial over genocide and war crime charges. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. military has switched from trying to degrade Islamic extremist groups in West Africa’s sprawling Sahel region to merely trying to contain them as their deadly threat increases, a new U.S. government report says. – Associated Press

The current leaders of Somalia and the breakaway territory of Somaliland have met for the first time in the latest diplomatic effort by Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister. – Associated Press

The head of the World Health Organization said Tuesday that experts are “very encouraged” after only three new cases of Ebola have been reported in the past week in eastern Congo, a sign that the world’s second deadliest Ebola epidemic in history could finally be waning after 18 months. – Associated Press

The Americas

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, fresh from a global tour that included stops at the White House and in Europe, returned to Venezuela on Tuesday to scenes of airport chaos as he sought to immediately leverage his high-profile international trip into new momentum at home. – Washington Post

Four prosecutors abruptly withdrew on Tuesday from the case of President Trump’s longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr. after senior Justice Department officials intervened to recommend a more lenient sentence for crimes he committed in a bid to protect the president. – New York Times

The House Oversight Committee on Tuesday advanced legislation to make the District of Columbia the 51st state, marking the first vote in Congress in nearly 30 years to grant full congressional representation for residents of the nation’s capital. – The Hill

Max Rose and Ali H. Soufan write: Yet no white supremacist group has ever been designated a foreign terrorist organization under federal law.[…] Designating these groups as foreign terrorist organizations would offer authorities three important advantages — ones they currently enjoy when dealing with jihadists. First, they could monitor communications between people connected to the designated groups. Second, they could share intelligence with our allies overseas, an important asset when dealing with international terrorism. And third, they could bring charges for providing material support to the designated groups, with appropriately severe penalties attached. – New York Times


U.S. officials say Huawei Technologies Co. can covertly access mobile-phone networks around the world through “back doors” designed for use by law enforcement, as Washington tries to persuade allies to exclude the Chinese company from their networks. – Wall Street Journal

The Chinese government has flatly denied — again — any suggestion that its operatives are conducting cyberattacks or espionage in the United States, following the Justice Department’s move to charge four members of the Chinese military with a 2017 hack of the Equifax credit reporting agency. – Washington Post 

China’s pioneering technology and internet companies are investing in artificial intelligence to erode the military advantage enjoyed in recent decades by the United States, according to western military officials. – Washington Examiner

London police started using facial recognition cameras on Tuesday to automatically scan for wanted people, as authorities adopt the technology that has raised concerns about increased surveillance and erosion of privacy. – Associated Press

Swiss authorities said Tuesday they have opened an investigation into allegations a Zug, Switzerland-based maker of encryption devices was a front operated by the CIA and West German intelligence that enabled them to break the codes of the countries that used their products. – Associated Press

The Pentagon wants to spend $11.9 billion on network warfare systems in fiscal year 2021 — a 17 percent increase over the previous year and the largest such request in more than a decade. – C4ISRNET

The Space Force plans to take a new approach to military and commercial satellite communications it’s calling the “Fighting SATCOM” Enterprise, according to its fiscal year 2021 budget request. The new designation is meant to address a long-standing desire within the military to enable war fighters to seamlessly switch between military and commercial SATCOM, ensuring that they have global connectivity even in environments where one or more signals are denied or degraded. – C4ISRNET

Bryan Clark, Daniel Patt, and Harrison Schramm write: Instead of competing with other great powers using capabilities and operational concepts that have already proliferated to adversaries, the U.S. military should consider new approaches to warfare that offer the potential of gaining a prolonged advantage. During the Cold War, for example, the United States was able to combine prominent emerging technologies with new operational concepts to overcome the numerically superiority of Soviet forces; first with nuclear weapons and later with precision weapons and stealth. – Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments


The U.S. Army is establishing a new military headquarters to coordinate with European allies in countering potential threats from Russia, the head of the Army said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal

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 Navy is pouring money into its manpower budget as the number of unfilled billets on ships has swollen to 9,000 — up 2,750 from last year — the Navy’s top personnel official told Defense News. – Navy Times

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? The answer — which the Air Force calls Agile Combat Employment — calls for the service to be able to launch, recover and maintain planes away from its main air bases and instead at unorthodox locations like partner nations’ military airfields or civilian airports. – Defense News

The stunning growth of the Chinese fleet over the past decade has prompted the U.S. Navy to plan a full-on buying spree of ship-killing missiles over the next five years, according to projections in the sea service’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget documents. – Defense News

The Marine Corps is on a course to overhaul its force design in just a matter of years to better position itself to deter and, if needed, defeat China in the Pacific, the commandant said today. – USNI News

When the F-35 fires its 25-millimeter cannon, it doesn’t just damage enemy targets. It also damages the F-35. That’s one finding of a Pentagon audit of America’s flagship warplane. As in previous years, the Pentagon’s Director Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E), which evaluates testing on new and improved equipment, identified numerous problems with America’s flagship warplane. – The National Interest

Editorial: The Ottawa treaty has 164 parties, all of which ban the production and use of APLs (anti-vehicle mines, among others, are still allowed). America is not among them.[…] Mr Trump’s new guidance crucially allows the development and production of new devices. The Pentagon may be especially eager to restock its cupboard as nuclear talks with North Korea falter and the prospect of a conflict returns to the fore. – The Economist

Trump Administration

As he rallies support for his reelection in November, President Trump is closer than ever to delivering on his promise for a United States with taller walls, tighter immigration laws and fewer foreigners entering the country. – Washington Post

President Trump escalated his campaign of retribution against his perceived impeachment enemies Tuesday, railing in the Oval Office about a decorated combat veteran who testified about the president’s conduct with Ukraine and suggesting the Defense Department should consider disciplining him. – Washington Post

The Senate this week is poised to pass a resolution that would limit President Trump’s ability to use military force against Iran, where a drone strike earlier this year killed a top Iranian general and sparked retaliatory missile strikes against U.S forces in Iraq. – Washington Examiner

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he did not intervene to ask the Justice Department to seek a shorter prison sentence for his former adviser Roger Stone, but Trump said he would be allowed to do so. – Reuters

President Trump withdrew his nomination of a controversial former U.S. attorney to become a top official at the Treasury Department. – Washington Examiner