Fdd's overnight brief

February 13, 2020

In The News


He looked past Iran’s cratering economy, ignored the unraveling nuclear deal and tuned out the bellicose threats of war from President Trump. […]For Iranian exporters, a weak currency was good news. They used rials to pay their workers and buy materials, but earned dollars on their sales. Their profits skyrocketed. So did their stock prices. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has once again urged the Islamic Republic of Iran to ratify the conditions set by Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and respect international laws and regulations against financing terrorism and money laundering. – Radio Farda 

Iran is remaining officially neutral in the United States’ upcoming 2020 elections, expressing skepticism that even a Democratic victory over President Donald Trump would immediately ease the soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran, an Iranian official told Newsweek. – Newsweek

The spokesman of President Hassan Rouhani’s administration has once again been forced to deny that his boss is going to step down. – Radio Farda 

The Senate is expected to pass a War Powers resolution this week aimed at restraining the President’s ability to use military action against Iran without congressional approval, a move that comes amid simmering tensions with the country in the wake of a US strike that killed a top Iranian general. – CNN 

Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) announced on 9 February that it has developed a lightweight variant of its Fateh-110 family of tactical ballistic missiles called the Raad-500. – Jane’s 360

Editorial: The resolution gained traction after the killing of Iranian terror master Qasem Soleimani, which proves our point. If Mr. Trump had to consult Congress for his targeting of Soleimani, the Iranian would still be targeting Americans for death today. Adversaries will be less cautious in attacking U.S. forces if they think a President needs approval from the Congress for a military response. – Wall Street Journal 

Loren DeJonge Schulman and Paul Scharre write: These misleading numbers are not a deliberate deception, but the result is the same: The American public is not being told the truth about the human cost of these wars in wounded Americans.In response to public scrutiny, […]It’s time to put that education into practice and start treating traumatic brain injury with the seriousness it deserves. – New York Times 

Michael Rubin writes: U.S. concern about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions and its ballistic missile work may be the stuff of headlines, but Iran’s industry is broader, and the applications from other high-technology sectors can also augment Iran’s programs. […]It is time to undermine the building blocks of Iran’s next-generation military-industrial ambition. – The National Interest 

Ardavan Khoshnood writes: Iran and Russia may both have a strong strategic interest in reducing U.S. influence in the region, but there are no guarantees that the alliance between them is a permanent one. While there are formally no anti-Russian organizations or entities in Iran, […] At the same time, Tehran is in need of new allies, which is why it will look to increase its cooperation with China as well. – Middle East Institute 

Maya Carlin writes: Despite the propaganda Iran’s regime will put forth on this week’s anniversary, the world has witnessed its monumental failures. Blows to Tehran’s nuclear arsenal, economic durability, technological development, proxy strength and military power prove that Iran is indeed losing grip on the Middle East. – Jerusalem Post 


A U.S.-led patrol came under fire in northern Syria after a confrontation with pro-Syria troops at a checkpoint and returned the fire, military officials said, in a rare encounter between American and regime forces. – Wall Street Journal 

Syrian government attacks on Turkish positions in northwest Syria are driving Turkey deeper into the country’s civil war, prompting it to send reinforcements to the region and press for a Turkish-controlled military zone there. – New York Times

In northeastern Syria, prisons and detention camps hold thousands of men, women and children whose lives are in limbo nearly a year after the final defeat of Islamic State to which they once belonged. – Reuters 

Iran will respond forcefully to any Israeli action against its interests in the region, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, according to the Mehr news agency. – Reuters 

Two children and a baby have been pulled to safety from a house hit by an airstrike, as the Syrian regime continues its final push to clear rebels from Idlib. – Sky News (UK)

Seth J. Frantzman writes: For the US, the big question is how to convince the SDF in eastern Syria to keep holding thousands of ISIS prisoners and fighting ISIS, while the US works more closely with Turkey. Quietly, the message has been that the SDF should work with the Syrian regime and Moscow, and find an arrangement for the day after the US leaves the rest of eastern Syria. – Jerusalem Post 

Alistair Bunkall writes: As the civil war has raged over nine long years, Syrians have fled in vast numbers to escape the violence. […]It’s a complete mess. It’s violent and it will soon very likely get worse. Whilst this geopolitical game enters its next phase, you can be sure of one thing: the brunt will be borne by the millions trapped in the middle. – Sky News (UK)


European Union diplomats have reached a preliminary agreement to give Turkey more time to meet tax transparency requirements, two diplomatic sources said, in a move that could weaken the bloc’s blacklist but at the same time avoid a new clash with Ankara. – Reuters

Turkey’s president accused Russia of committing “massacres” in its support of the Syrian government on Wednesday, escalating a war of words as more Turkish reinforcements arrived on the ground. – Agence France-Presse

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to drive Russian-backed Syrian government forces from the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, escalating his threats against Damascus after being buoyed by rare public support from the U.S. – Bloomberg 

Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar challenged Greece’s sovereignty on its islands in the Aegean Sea, saying in two recent interviews that Greece had armed 16 islands in violation of the relevant agreements. – Middle East Media Research Institute


The United Nations released a long-anticipated, and explosive, list of companies doing business with Israeli settlements in the West Bank on Wednesday, a compilation hailed by activists as potential leverage against expanding communities they see as illegal and condemned by Israeli officials as biased and, by some, as anti-Semitic. – Washington Post

Palestinians have welcomed the publication of the United Nation’s blacklist of businesses that operate in Jewish areas over the pre-1967 lines, in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Golan Heights, saying they intend to take legal action against companies listed in the report published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. – Jerusalem Post 

Explosive balloons continued to fly into Israel from the Gaza Strip after reports on Tuesday claimed that an Egyptian security delegation had convinced Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to halt the launches. – Jerusalem Post 

A series of Hamas-sponsored cyberattacks targeting officials in the Palestinian Authority was uncovered during the last several months by Cybereason, the Israeli security company reported on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post 

A Hamas official says the assassination of the terror group’s leaders by Israel would be a massive blow to the organization. – Ynet

Ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, marked on January 27, 2020, Dr. Khalil Nazzal, secretary of Fatah’s branch in Poland, published an article on this topic in the Palestinian Authority (PA) daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

For the second time in a week, the social media app TikTok has been found hosting Palestinian propaganda videos celebrating violence against Israelis and Jews. – Algemeiner


NATO defense ministers agreed on Wednesday to expand the Western alliance’s training mission in Iraq, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, responding to a demand by U.S. President Donald Trump for NATO to do more in the Middle East. – Reuters

Iraqi authorities on Wednesday reopened one of Baghdad’s major bridges, shut for months by anti-government protesters, in a sign of a lull in unrest that has killed hundreds of people and forced the prime minister to resign last year. […]Nearly 500 people have been killed in demonstrations which have raged since October, demanding the removal of what protesters see as a corrupt ruling elite and an end to foreign interference – mainly by Iran and the United States.  – Reuters 

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has arrived in Brussels with a laundry list of polite, but firm, requests from America’s NATO allies. It’s time, he says, for them to start doing more of the heavy lifting in the Middle East, starting with Iraq. – Washington Examiner 


The Lebanese Army opened fire on Israeli drones over southern Lebanon’s Mays al-Jabal, forcing them out of the country’s airspace, Lebanese television channel Al-Mayadeen reported Wednesday night. – Haaretz

Lebanon’s international backers said Wednesday they supported its new Cabinet, while urging it to swiftly tackle the country’s snowballing crises amid ongoing anti-government protests. – Associated Press 

Lebanon on Wednesday formally requested the International Monetary Fund’s technical help in shoring up its economy, a move that a senior government source said would include the fund’s aid in drafting a plan to avert financial collapse. – Reuters 


Three weeks after a summit in Berlin elicited promises from a handful of nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Russia, to end their supply of arms and the flow of mercenaries to Libya, the war has only become more intractable. – Washington Post

The UN Security Council on Wednesday adopted a resolution calling for a “lasting ceasefire” in war-torn Libya, where a fragile truce has been in place since January. – Agence France-Presse

Eastern Libya forces will not allow the United Nations to use the only functioning airport in the capital Tripoli, a spokesman for the group that has been trying to capture the city from the internationally recognized government said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Victims of alleged war crimes in Yemen have demanded that American authorities act on what they say is “compelling evidence” of offenses by American mercenaries acting under the direction of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). – Newsweek  

Michael Singh writes: An in-depth assessment of how Washington should approach Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy at a time when the strategic foundation for American involvement has deteriorated. – Washington Institute 

Abdullah Sawalha writes: Jordan is an indispensable part of the peace equation, evidenced by Jordan’s strong presence at international events related to the Palestinian cause. Therefore, the United States must take the necessary steps to ensure Jordan’s stability, which remains essential to that of the broader Middle East. This requires that the United States to allocate greater monetary aid and encourage U.S. partners in the Gulf to increase investments in the Hashemite Kingdom. – Washington Institute 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea has delayed its much-anticipated “Christmas surprise” of a major intercontinental ballistic missile test out of concern that such a provocation — after two years of stop-start nuclear diplomacy — would trigger sharp negative reactions from Washington and the international community. – Washington Times

Climate change and the coronavirus are threatening Kim Jong Un’s ambition to ski his way out of international sanctions. – Bloomberg

While North Korea has yet to publicly confirm any cases of the new coronavirus, authorities have doubled down on prevention efforts, extending quarantines and dispatching Red Cross workers around the country, state media said. – Reuters 


China replaced its top Communist Party official at the coronavirus outbreak’s epicenter with a protégé of President Xi Jinping, as part of high-level firings that demonstrate Beijing’s dissatisfaction with the handling of the deadly epidemic that has spread across the country. – Wall Street Journal

China’s defense ministry asked the United States on Thursday to correct its mistakes and rescind the indictments against four Chinese military personnel in the 2017 Equifax (EFX.N) hacking case. – Reuters 

China is threatening the sovereignty of small Pacific Islands and undermining the region’s stability, a top U.S. military commander said on Thursday, in comments likely to inflame tension with China. – Reuters 

But after just a year, momentum had stalled — amid a high-profile spat between Stockholm and Beijing over human rights — and the Swedish town voted to end the partnership. – Politico

Jens Bastian writes: What we can observe is the transformation of ad hoc initiatives vis-à-vis China towards the emergence of a set of strategic priorities and a better understanding of the legal implications of infrastructure project finance with Chinese interlocutors. […]In short, countries in the EU and those seeking to join the EU (e.g. in the Western Balkans) are in the process of developing agency towards and competence with China. – Reconnecting Asia 

South Asia

American and Taliban negotiators are meeting in Doha Wednesday following a conditional decision from President Trump to sign a peace deal with the militants, according to officials. – Washington Post

If the sides do succeed in observing a period of reduced hostilities,  the next steps of the deal will fall into place: first a formal signing between the United States and the Taliban that rolls out a schedule for gradual withdrawal of the remaining American troops, and then the start of negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan leaders over the political future of the country. – New York Times

A court in Pakistan convicted high-profile militant leader  Hafiz Saeed on charges of financing terrorist activities and belonging to a banned group ahead of an international meeting to determine whether sanctions should be placed on Islamabad for lax control over terrorist activities. – Wall Street Journal 

A new analysis from Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre says the Afghanistan-based Taliban has surpassed the Islamic State to become the world’s deadliest nonstate armed group. […]Meanwhile, Islamic State attacks and resultant fatalities both fell by around 20% in comparison to 2018. – Washington Examiner 


Beijing replaced the head of its Hong Kong policy-making agency with a political veteran and onetime law enforcer with close ties to President Xi Jinping, who has demanded fresh efforts to tighten control over the protest-racked city. – Wall Street Journal 

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he did not mind Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to end a decades-old military agreement with the United States, a position at odds with that of his defense secretary who viewed the move with dismay. – Reuters 

Taiwan is considering countermeasures if the Philippines does not lift a ban on Taiwanese citizens visiting the country over fears about the coronavirus, the island’s foreign ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters 

The Philippines government has now formally begun the process of terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, Philippines Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin confirmed on Twitter: the U.S. Embassy in Manila has received notice, and the termination will take effect 180 days later. – USNI News

Adam Taylor writes: Despite the geopolitical implications, Duterte has framed the shift in more-personal terms, pointing toward a U.S. decision to revoke a visa for a former police chief, Ronald Dela Rosa, who had been implicated in extrajudicial killings during Duterte’s war on drugs. […]Duterte is ignoring the advice of domestic allies and rivals alike to play hardball in negotiations and conflating personal issues with geopolitics. Trump might admire it, if only he’d done it himself.- Washington Post

John Schaus writes: The United States could also seize on the moment to seek to renegotiate a new and better agreement with the Philippines—one that satisfies President Duterte’s objective of standing strong against the United States, and one that provides President Trump an opportunity to put his unique stamp on another major agreement, this time a defense agreement, that could advance U.S. interests for years to come. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


The Russian public’s trust in President Vladimir Putin fell to its lowest in six years last month, the Levada opinion pollster said on Wednesday, despite the Russian leader’s approval rating remaining high. […]His current term in the Kremlin ends in 2024, but he announced sweeping constitutional changes last month that are widely seen as being designed to help him extend his grip on power after he leaves office. – Reuters

Russia has lashed out against international powers targeting or disrupting the Syrian armed forces’ operations across the country as Damascus’ efforts to restore control were met with resistance from at home and abroad. – Newsweek 

Aides to President Donald Trump want to name a high-level negotiator to oversee nuclear talks with Moscow, former U.S. officials say – an effort that may be delaying a Trump decision on whether to extend America’s last major arms control treaty with Russia. – Politico 

Russia’s key oil producers voiced support for the idea of extending OPEC+ output cuts into the second quarter, as the global oil market awaits a definitive response to the coronavirus outbreak. – Bloomberg 

Russia’s Foreign Ministry was working on its response to concerns voiced by the United States military earlier this week about the “disturbing” behavior of a pair of Russian spacecraft that flew near a U.S. government satellite. – CBS News


Alphabet Inc.’s Google told a court Wednesday that the European Union’s antitrust enforcer had no legal grounds for awarding it a multibillion fine for allegedly abusing its dominance over smaller rivals. – Wall Street Journal 

But the attacks were just the latest in a spate of parcel bombs directed at businesses across the Netherlands that have set the authorities on edge — and they were the first to actually detonate. The police believe that the latest attacks were most likely linked because the mail bombs were accompanied by letters demanding money in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin to prevent future attacks. – New York Times

Britain on Wednesday introduced a plan that would give the government more latitude to regulate internet content, as part of an effort to force Facebook, YouTube and other internet giants to do more to police their platforms. – New York Times

Some of President Donald Trump’s top foreign policy priorities stand at pivotal moments as two high-level national security officials head to an annual security forum in Germany. Strains in the trans-Atlantic relationship have cast doubt on whether they can count on much help from European leaders in advancing Trump’s agenda. – Associated Press

Three U.S. senators will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kiev on Friday, seeking to reinforce the importance of his country as a strategic U.S. ally after he found himself at the center of President Donald Trump’s acrimonious impeachment trial. – Reuters 

Six convicted terrorists have been released from prison and convicted of a further terrorist offence within seven years, it has been revealed, as parliament heads into a debate over emergency laws designed to keep extremist prisoners in jail for longer. – The Guardian

Hal Brands writes: Given Ukraine’s strategic importance, the fact that illiberalism is now roiling a number of European countries, and the fact that the success of democracy in Ukraine will surely undermine the legitimacy of Putin’s autocracy in Russia, the U.S. has a real interest in the fate of political reform in Kyiv. That is why measures to promote good governance and combat corruption in Ukraine are just as important as the military aid America has provided — and why Trump’s casual perversion of Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts are indeed so damaging. – Bloomberg 


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised Senegal’s criminalization of homosexuality during his visit to the West African nation on Wednesday, but Senegal’s leader told journalists afterward that “we’re comfortable with our laws.” The exchange between Trudeau and Senegalese President Macky Sall highlighted the impasse the United States, Canada and other Western nations have had in persuading Senegal and most African countries not to jail gays and lesbians. – Associated Press

Sudan has agreed to compensate the families of sailors killed in an al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole warship 20 years ago, state news agency SUNA said on Thursday, part of government efforts to remove the country from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. – Reuters 

Despite reports U.S. troops could be reduced in Africa, U.S. Army Africa commander Maj. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier Jr. said African partners can remain confident the U.S. will not abandon Africa. – Military Times

The Americas

A high-level delegation of U.S. trade and investment officials will travel to Ecuador in April, the White House said following a meeting of Wednesday between President Trump and his Ecuadorean counterpart. – Wall Street Journal 

Incidents of white supremacist material being spread across the US rose by 120% in 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). – BBC 

Harvard and Yale universities are under investigation by the U.S. Education Department for potentially failing to report gifts and contributions they received from countries including China and Saudi Arabia. – Bloomberg

Latin America

Opposition officials on Wednesday condemned the detention of Juan Guaidó’s uncle after the opposition leader returned home this week from a global tour to build support for his effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro. – Washington Post

The former head of Mexico’s state-run oil company, who faces charges of tax fraud and bribery, was arrested in southern Spain on Wednesday, officials said, delivering a boost to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico in his fight to curb the nation’s endemic corruption. – New York Times

This is a big week for one of Latin America’s biggest economies, which is hosting an IMF team for talks on restructuring $44 billion in debt owed to the lender. All involved are anxious to avoid a replay of 2001, when Argentina defaulted on about $100 billion in debt during the worst economic crisis — and there have been many — in its history. – Associated Press

Argentina is threatening a Falkland Islands team to play under the name “Islas Malvinas” or to pull out of an international competition, it has been claimed. – Sky News (UK)

Tom Rogan writes: Venezuela is the world’s oil reserve richest nation. But under the pathological socialist leadership of Hugh Chavez and now Maduro, Venezuela is now a child starvation kingdom in which professionals prostitute themselves to survive. By virtue of Maduro’s repeated constitutional malfeasance, Guaido is the legitimate president of his country. He deserves greater American consolidation and support. If not, Trump should have the courage to admit his policy has failed. – Washington Examiner


Facebook Inc. said it removed dozens of fake accounts from countries including Myanmar, Iran and Russia that were spreading misinformation, the latest effort by the social-media company to curb manipulation of its platforms. – Wall Street Journal 

The navigation payload for the next iteration of GPS satellites has passed its critical design review, contractor L3Harris announced Feb. 11. – C4ISRNET

The Department of Defense wants to spend $11.6 million in fiscal year 2021 to buy systems that would help cyber operators perform “hunt forward” missions, where teams deploy to other countries to stop malicious cyber activity. – Fifth Domain

As of the end of January, the company had 242 satellites orbiting the planet with plans to launch 42,000 over the next decade. This is part of its ambitious project to provide internet access across the globe.[…]These new satellites have the potential to revolutionize many aspects of everyday life – from bringing internet access to remote corners of the globe to monitoring the environment and improving global navigation systems. – Fifth Domain

Editorial: The Democratic AGs may appeal to help AT&T and Verizon, whose combined market values are four times larger than the new T-Mobile. But this would delay America’s 5G rollout, perhaps by many years, especially for rural areas. Last week’s chaotic Iowa caucuses resulted in part from bad cell service. Can Democrats hear the judge now? – Wall Street Journal 


After years of delays and technical issues, the Air Force is restructuring a key B-2 modernization program, transforming it from a suite of technologies meant to help the bomber evade Russia and China into a less ambitious cockpit display upgrade. – Defense News

The U.S. Marine Corps is getting into the ship-killing business, and a new project in development is aimed at making their dreams of harrying the People’s Liberation Army Navy a reality. – Defense News

The cost of upgrading and repairing the first four littoral combat ships is too high and it’s better just to decommission them, the U.S. Navy’s budget director said during the service’s budget roll-out. – Defense News

The U.S. Marine Corps is getting into the ship-killing business, and a new project in development is aimed at making their dreams of harrying the People’s Liberation Army Navy a reality. – Defense News

The Space Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $253.6 million contract to develop a payload that would provide a higher level of protection to war fighters relying on satellite communications on the battlefield. – C4ISRNET

The House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican has “heartburn” over the proposed shipbuilding budget for Fiscal Year 2021 but is also committed to fully funding the modernization of the nuclear triad and is acutely aware of a congressionally imposed topline for defense spending next year. – USNI News

Gordon de Brouwer writes: Security tensions have deepened, especially between the United States and China, with that relationship now characterised as one of strategic competition. Regional and global financial safety nets are inadequate to deal with another global economic crisis, and it is hard to see the same resolve if 2008 repeats. Digital technology and transformation promise great economic and social benefits, but they also create risks of cyberattacks, abuse of data, and fragmentation. – Center for Strategic and International Studies