Fdd's overnight brief

February 25, 2019

In The News


As Iran marked the 40th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution, a white-turbaned Shiite cleric at one commemoration targeted President Hassan Rouhani, a fellow clergyman, with this sign: “You who are the cause of inflation; we hope you won’t last until spring.” – Associated Press

Iran is continuing to comply with the landmark 2015 deal with major powers aimed at preventing Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic incentives despite the United States withdrawing from the pact and re-imposing sanctions, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Friday. – Associated Press

Iran successfully tested a cruise missile on Sunday during naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, state media reported, at a time of heightened tensions with the United States. – Reuters

Iran has released a French citizen arrested for entering the country illegally after other charges were dropped, the state news agency IRNA reported on Sunday, days after France’s foreign minister discussed her case in parliament. – Reuters

Four decades later, relations between Iran and the U.S. remain sour and the Persian community in Tehrangeles continues to be influenced by divisions and tensions it inherited from the past. Yet older Iranians continue to cherish this piece of Los Angeles that offers them memories of their first home, and younger generations flock here to embrace their Persian heritage. – LA Times

Iranian hackers came worryingly close to Israel’s missile warning system, sending the military scrambling to protect alerts from being compromised, its top cyber defense chief said. – Bloomberg


Head of the Swiss Economics Ministry notified the government on Wednesday that all sales of weapons to Lebanon are halted, Swissinfo.ch reported. The decision was made after Swiss inspectors did a routine follow up to an arms shipment from 2016 and could only locate 9 out of forty weapons sold. Mentioning the concern that the arms reached “an undesirable party” such as Hezbollah, the Swiss authorities will no longer sell arms to Lebanon. – Jerusalem Post

The large British broadsheet The Sunday Telegraph reported on Saturday that the United Kingdom’s home secretary plans to outlaw all of Hezbollah’s organization this week. – Jerusalem Post

Some 43% of Hezbollah fighters who have been killed in the Syrian civil war died fighting for goals disconnected from Lebanese interests, according to an intelligence report released late on Saturday. – Jerusalem Post

Hezbollah’s top commanding body suspended the political activities of a leading legislator because of his spat with rival politicians in Parliament last week, a Lebanese politician said Saturday. – Times of Israel


The continued presence of thousands of civilians, including families of Islamic State fighters, is slowing a push by U.S.-backed forces to oust the extremist group from the last patch of territory it holds in Syria. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration decision to keep hundreds of U.S. troops based in Syria was driven by allies who said they wouldn’t stay behind to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State extremist group without an American presence, a senior U.S. defense official said Saturday. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S.’s main ally in the fight against Islamic State welcomed President Trump’s decision to leave U.S. troops in Syria, a change in American plans that the Syrian Kurds have lobbied for ever since the withdrawal announcement. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump denied Friday that he was “reversing course” in Syria, despite deciding this week to leave at least 400 U.S. troops there, only two months after announcing that all American forces were coming home “now.” – Washington Post

Russian military police could be deployed in a proposed “safe zone” along Syria’s northern border with Turkey, Russian news agencies cited foreign minister Sergei Lavrov as saying to Chinese and Vietnamese media on Sunday. The suggestion is unlikely to appeal to Ankara, which is keen to set up the zone but has stressed it must be under Turkish control, with only its own forces deployed there. – Reuters

ISIS now controls an area of Syria measuring just half a square kilometer, a commander with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said Saturday. – CNN

Thousands of civilians remain inside ISIS’s last enclave in Syria, a commander with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Friday. – CNN

Editorial: The bad news about Donald Trump’s foreign policy is that he often makes damaging comments on impulse (see nearby on Huawei), but the good news is that he can be persuaded to change his mind. We’re glad to see Mr. Trump listen to advisers and decide to allow some 400 American soldiers to remain in Syria as part of an international coalition to prevent the return of Islamic State. – Wall Street Journal

Dan Crenshaw and Mike Gallagher write: The troops maintain pressure on the enemy so as not to allow them the time and space to plan attacks, they train and equip allies to take over the fight eventually, and they collect vital intelligence to prevent future attacks. With these objectives in mind, we expressed grave concern when the Trump administration announced plans to remove U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, repeating the mistake of President Obama with his 2011 removal of troops from Iraq. […]The recent decision to maintain a limited contingent of U.S. forces in Syria to support international peacekeeping forces was a welcome policy adjustment, and should be applauded. – Wall Street Journal

August Pfluger and Michael Knights write: The Trump administration has stated that U.S. troop withdrawals do not signal an end to the campaign against IS in Syria, nor an abandonment of U.S. partners there. Accordingly, one or more of the above options should be exercised to sustain fire support in Syria, destroy IS targets, and protect partner forces. The decision to sustain 200 U.S. troops in Syria is an important first step.  – Washington Institute


Israeli police on Sunday arrested and later released a senior Muslim cleric who helps administrate a sacred compound in the Old City, two days after he re-opened a mosque sealed by Israel during a Palestinian uprising in 2003. – Reuters

As a result of this escalation of tensions, the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida published a number of articles harshly critical of Hamas. The articles depict Hamas as a tumor that threatens the Palestinian national project and therefore must be removed, and also as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and as promoting an agenda inimical to Arab, and particularly Palestinian, nationalism; they also likened Hamas to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS).[7] Other articles accused the Hamas leaders of endangering the lives of Palestinian children and cynically exploiting their blood for media purposes in order to promote their agenda. – Middle East Media Research Institute

The Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror said Sunday evening that it with the help of Iran it had developed a new missile with the help of Iran capable of striking cities beyond Netanya. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli Border Police thwarted an arms smuggling ring that was bringing pistols across the border from Jordan into the West Bank through the Jordan Valley. – Jerusalem Post

Just as everyone was sure he was done, just as his popularity reached an all-time low, the Israeli government has revived Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. – Times of Israel

As the United States experiences a surge in reported anti-Semitic incidents, the newly appointed Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism Elan Carr told The Times of Israel that the Jewish community and Israel “couldn’t have a better friend in the White House” than President Donald Trump. – Times of Israel

Thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip participated in a rally on Sunday, during which they called for the ouster of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. – Times of Israel

Frida Ghitis writes: Nearly simultaneous political earthquakes shook two separate countries — Israel and the United Kingdom[…]. Whether or not either of these centrist uprisings results in a shift in power, their message resonates. Many voters today sense that the looming threats today reside elsewhere, in the unraveling of social and political cohesion. That fear, whether in Europe, Israel, or the United States, does not favor the extremes. It does not favor demagogues. Polarization is propelled by its own momentum, so it’s not easy to break. But the pragmatic, responsible center, which had seemed to have gone extinct, is suddenly showing signs of life — not a moment too soon. – CNN

Yossi Klein Halevi writes: As for Netanyahu – the shadchan, the matchmaker – he has written himself into the annals of our ancient kings whose moral corruption undermined the spiritual immune system of the nation. Netanyahu has committed the secular equivalent of Hillul Hashem: He has desecrated the name of Israel. We have at least this much to be grateful for to Netanyahu and to the leaders of the Jewish Home party: They have clarified the defining issue of this election, a referendum over whether the next government of Israel will be a government of Hillul Hashem. – Times of Israel

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia named a princess as its new ambassador to the U.S., an envoy who faces the challenge of navigating strained relations between the two allies amid the fallout over the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia on Friday signed a wide-ranging set of agreements on energy and trade with China, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accelerated efforts to court an economic power that offers a potential counterweight to the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is calling on Saudi King Salman to do more to end the civil war in Yemen that has left millions facing starvation. – Bloomberg

Iranian-aligned Houthi forces have agreed to draw back from two Yemeni ports on Monday while withdrawal from the main Hodeidah port will occur later alongside a retreat by coalition-backed forces massed outside the city, U.N. and Yemeni sources said. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Leaders from European Union and Arab League countries pledged Sunday to boost cooperation in the fight against terrorism and to tackle unauthorized migration at a first-ever summit high in symbolism but likely to yield few concrete results. – Times of Israel

For the EU, the timing could hardly have been worse. Egypt’s parliament this month backed a proposal to extend President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s increasingly authoritarian rule until as far as 2034, a power grab that has shaken the country. If approved, the move would extend the authority of the military and Mr Sisi, whom critics brand an autocrat responsible for curbing freedoms and jailing dissenters. – Financial Times

If Jews are interested in establishing a Jewish community in Egypt, the government will build synagogues and other communal institutions, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi told a US delegation during a two-hour meeting last week. – Jerusalem Post

Egypt’s foreign ministry on Sunday condemned the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for criticizing trials that led to the execution of nine people last week. – Reuters

Libya’s El Sharara oilfield, the country’s biggest, remains closed because an armed group is still there, the chairman of state oil firm NOC said on Sunday. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

When President Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi this week to discuss rapprochement and denuclearization, Washington will point to their host country as a model: Transforming itself since the war, Vietnam “took the plunge into the big ocean” of global trade, in its own words, to become a vibrant, fast-growing market economy that enjoys a close relationship with its former American foes. […]It is enticing to think that North Korea could transform in a similar way, but it is hardly realistic, many experts say. – Washington Post

Over the past year, Kim Yong-chol has emerged as the 35-year-old dictator’s lead nuclear negotiator — a sharklike operative Trump administration insiders know they will have to outsmart if they are to persuade the regime to truly and verifiably give up its nuclear bombs and long-range missiles. – Washington Times

President Trump will press North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to take his first irrevocable steps toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula when the two leaders meet this week for a second summit in less than a year. – Wall Street Journal

When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets President Trump in Hanoi next week, the venue itself will carry a message for the dictator: If you cooperate with the U.S., you could command an economic transformation like Vietnam’s. A once-poor nation constrained for years by hostile post-war relations with the U.S., Vietnam forged a detente and a fast-growing economy while its Communist Party kept a tight grip on power. – Wall Street Journal

The CIA officer who helped orchestrate last year’s diplomatic breakthrough between the U.S. and North Korea said Friday he remains optimistic about progress between the two adversaries, predicting next week’s second summit would be more productive than the first. – Wall Street Journal

South Korean officials on Monday indicated that President Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, could agree on a joint political statement declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War when they meet in Hanoi, Vietnam, later this week. – New York Times

When President Trump meets Kim Jong Un next week, North Korea’s sprawling Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center will be squarely in the crosshairs. – Washington Post

Just days before President Donald Trump is set to meet for a second time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was confronted about a claim the president made after the first summit. – USA Today

U.S. President Donald Trump has said he would be happy as long as North Korea maintains its pause on weapons testing, and he was in no rush to strike a nuclear deal with its leader, Kim Jong Un, when they hold their second summit this week. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump says sanctions on North Korea are “on in full” ahead of his summit with leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi this week, but analysts say time is running out on Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign. – Reuters

North Korea’s state media criticized U.S. Democrats and American intelligence officials on Sunday for “chilling the atmosphere” ahead of leader Kim Jong Un’s second summit with President Donald Trump this week. – Reuters

Robert B. Zoellick writes: Mr. Kim can become more confident and gain internal support for making hard choices. The Trump administration has floated ideas such as a peace treaty and liaison offices, but these steps make little sense unless they are connected to policy purposes. Mr. Trump shouldn’t toss around diplomatic baubles; he needs to connect actions to strategic objectives. – Wall Street Journal

J. Stephen Morrison writes: What is truly possible will no doubt be shaped by the overall Trump-Kim Jong-un talks. Whether there is progress or not in those talks, important steps can be taken today to reaffirm the neutrality and integrity of the health and humanitarian sectors and renew their vitality. That will require patience and the concurrence of the North Korean government and may require further action at the UN Security Council and in Congress. But these steps are within reach, provided there is the political will. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

James Jay Carafano writes: Trump should walk away if Kim makes demands that would compromise U.S. interests. But, the U.S. should be able to avoid that unsatisfying outcome. […]Instead, Trump should continue to emphasize the advantages of normalization on the backend – and how Pyongyang could wind up on a better side of history, just like Hanoi. Such a path won’t solve every problem for this troubled Asian country. The regime’s human rights record, for instance, is still a major problem. But it’s a path along which North Korea could start transitioning toward becoming a “normal” nation. – Heritage Foundation

Olivia Enos writes: As the U.S. prepares for a second summit with Kim Jong-un, President Trump and negotiators should consider that U.S. foreign policy has historically addressed both values and interests—so much so that Congress and the executive branch have a mix of legal authorities that obligate the U.S. to promote human rights. – Heritage Foundation


President Trump said Sunday he would delay an increase in tariffs on Chinese goods set to take effect at the end of this week, citing “substantial progress” on issues including intellectual property and technology transfer after a weekend of talks. – Wall Street Journal

“U.S. EASES CURBS ON EXPORTS TO CHINA” read a Reuters headline on March 1, 1989, when Washington lifted long-standing restrictions on technology shipments to China. […]Next Friday not only marks the 30th anniversary of the decision, but it is also the deadline set by President Donald Trump for a deal to end the seven-month trade war between the United States and China, now its biggest economic rival. – Reuters

China’s counter-terror and de-radizalisation efforts in its far western region of Xinjiang should be applauded for creating a new method of tackling the problem, a senior diplomat told foreign envoys last week. – Reuters

Huawei unveiled a new foldable smartphone on Sunday on the eve of the world’s top mobile fair in Barcelona and hit out against Washington’s campaign to bar it from developing next-generation 5G wireless networks. The trade fair, which officially opens on Monday and is expected to draw some 100,000 people from across the telecoms industry, comes as the United States has stepped up pressure on its allies to block Huawei from building its 5G networks. – Agence France Presse

China’s Huawei welcomed comments from President Donald Trump about the future of U.S. mobile communications on Sunday and asserted its position as a world-leading smartphone producer as Washington and Beijing seek a trade war ceasefire. – Reuters

Editorial: Mr. Trump should be careful what he promises Mr. Xi on Huawei because he might not be able to deliver. He may find that new Attorney General Bill Barr doesn’t want to undermine his prosecutors by dropping charges, and that Congress could limit the President’s flexibility on sanctions. Mr. Trump should keep the Huawei prosecutions out of any China trade deal. – Wall Street Journal

Bronwyn Howell writes: Clearly, in this complex context, banning or accepting supplies of sophisticated equipment on the basis of imperfect proxies of risk, such as the nationality of the branded assembler-manufacturer, offers no reliable protection against potentially “rogue” components. […]If the IoT horse has already bolted, then banning Huawei from 5G network infrastructure supply may be little more than a loud and symbolic slamming of the stable door just a little bit too late. If not, then the only principled approach guaranteeing state security would be the banning of all componentry from suppliers that could have been compromised by a hostile power. – American Enterprise Institute


Evidence that the 17-year Afghan war is exacting an unprecedented toll on civilians mounted Sunday as U.S. and Taliban negotiators gathered in Doha for another round of talks on a peace deal that are set to start Monday. – Wall Street Journal

A record-high number of civilians lost their lives last year in Afghanistan, due to a mix of increasing aerial attacks by foreign troops and militant ground attacks, the United Nations reported Sunday, as meetings were set to resume Monday in Qatar between Taliban and U.S. negotiators on a potential settlement to the 17-year conflict. – Washington Post

Afghanistan began exports to India through an Iranian port on Sunday, official said, as the landlocked, war-torn nation turns to overseas markets to improve its economy. – Reuters


Five people were killed in a gun battle between members of a Pakistani militant group and Indian security forces in disputed Kashmir on Sunday as India intensified a security crackdown, including detaining more than 160 separatists this weekend. – Reuters

Nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan have been engaged in a fierce war of words since last week, when a suicide bomber in Kashmir killed 44 Indian paramilitary police — carnage for which Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility. […]India’s anger over Kashmir is the latest in a long string of allegations that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism, using Islamist militants as tools to advance its strategic aims. – Financial Times (UK)

A majority of voters in a referendum on Okinawa opposed a plan to relocate a U.S. military base within the southern Japanese island, but the central government said on Monday it intended to press ahead with its construction plans. – Reuters

Japan’s Emperor Akihito, who will abdicate at the end of April in the first such event in two centuries, marked the 30th anniversary of his enthronement on Sunday with a call for the country to open up and forge sincere ties with the world. – Reuters


The Russian company that gave the world the iconic AK-47 assault rifle has unveiled a suicide drone that may similarly revolutionize war by making sophisticated drone warfare technology widely and cheaply available. – Washington Post

Russia’s rebuke of an American organization aligned with opponents of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is “unacceptable,” President Trump’s top national security adviser said Saturday. – Washington Examiner

Russian special forces are training for a potential conflict in the Arctic, a top lawmaker in Moscow said in a warning to the Trump administration. – Washington Examiner

Donald N. Jensen writes: The Kremlin reportedly is considering whether to disconnect briefly from the global internet before April 1 as part of a test of its cyber defenses. […]Given the technological and financial challenges, however, the new architecture probably will fall well short of the firewall the Kremlin wants. More likely are additional restrictions on political information, more efficient means of detecting and suppressing online dissent, and perhaps some shutdowns of a few media sources with democratic agendas. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Early results pointed to a hung parliament in Moldova’s election on Sunday, splitting the vote between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces at a time when the ex-Soviet republic’s relations with the European Union have soured. – Reuters

The European Union is considering telling Theresa May that if she can’t get her Brexit deal through Parliament and wants to delay the departure date, the country will have to stay in the bloc until 2021. – Bloomberg

Only a few days after the Macron said he would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, also stating that anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism, the country saw a rise in antisemitic incidents lately. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: There’s room to improve the trading relationship, such as pressing the EU to lift Europe’s protectionism against American food exports and fending off spurious European tax grabs against American companies. But that can be done through trade negotiations, not unilateral tariffs that will sour relations and damage the U.S. and Europe. Mr. Trump needs continuing U.S. prosperity and rising incomes to win re-election. If a supposedly easy-to-win auto trade war tanks Europe’s economy, it could lead to an impossible-to-win campaign in two years. – Wall Street Journal


U.S.-led special-operations exercises that got under way in the scorched scrublands of Burkina Faso last week look much like they have for the past 15 years, with some 2,000 commandos from 32 African, Western and allied countries swapping notes on their martial craft. – Wall Street Journal

Multiple bomb blasts rocked the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri just hours before presidential polls opened Saturday. – CNN

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Sunday urged partners to stand with Paris in driving back jihadist violence in the Sahel. – Agence France-Presse

Latin America

Venezuela’s opposition called for the first time on the international community to consider the use of military force against President Nicolás Maduro, escalating a standoff after a weekend showdown over humanitarian aid ended in violence. – Wall Street Journal

A high-stakes effort to deliver aid into Venezuela despite a military blockade descended into violence Saturday, with pro-government gunmen opening fire on one side of the border and the National Guard lobbing tear gas at some 5,000 demonstrators attempting to rush across from Colombia. – Wall Street Journal

Diosdado Cabello, a powerful figure in President Nicolás Maduro’s regime, whom the U.S. has accused of drug trafficking, told The Wall Street Journal that the authoritarian leader’s embattled government would withstand an American-led effort at regime change. – Wall Street Journal

Venezuelan soldiers opened fire Friday on a group of civilians attempting to keep open a segment of the southern border with Brazil for deliveries of humanitarian aid, causing two fatalities and multiple injuries, according to eyewitnesses and community leaders. – Washington Post

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday pressured Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s regime to back down as unrest in the country escalates, saying military interference is not off the table. – Politico

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: As the smoke cleared Sunday, Mr. Maduro and his Cuban handlers still had the upper hand. Yet something big has changed. With so many regime atrocities now recorded and circulated on social media and the privation triggering a mass exodus, Venezuelan suffering under Havana control is no longer ignored. – Wall Street Journal


Financial services companies in the UK saw a fivefold rise in data breaches in 2018 compared to the year before, according to the Financial Conduct Authority, in the latest sign of how the sector is under relentless attack from hackers. – Financial Times (UK)

Arleigh Burke DDG-51 Flight III program is on track, with the first ship under construction and two more under contract. But making the transition from the earlier Arleigh Burke-class destroyers has required a significant number of design changes and challenges, driven mainly by the requirement to install the powerful new Raytheon AN/SPY-6 air and missile defense radar, the program manager said on Thursday. – USNI News

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Saturday after visiting the U.S.-Mexico border that the government needs a broader, more effective approach to border control. He suggested the Pentagon might contribute with its expertise in surveillance and monitoring. – Associated Press

Long War

Western countries are scrambling to figure out what to do with the thousands of their citizens who joined the Islamic State, as the militant group loses the last of its territory in Syria and a U.S. military pullout puts pressure on the camps where many have been living. – Washington Post

Iraqi President Barham Saleh is starting a two-day visit to France with a focus on the country’s security and the fight against the Islamic State group in the region. Saleh will have a working lunch Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron. They are expected to discuss the case of French citizens who traveled to fight with IS in Iraq and Syria and are now being detained by the U.S.-led coalition’s forces. – Washington Post

The father of a woman who traveled from her home in Alabama to marry an Islamic State fighter filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s administration as part of an effort to get her and his 18-month-old grandson returned to the United States. – USA Today

Trump Administration

The Justice Department said Friday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report won’t be released next week, tamping down speculation that the end of the investigation into a Trump connection to Russian election interference is imminent. But Mr. Mueller is widely believed to be in the final stages of his sprawling investigation and is expected to deliver his report to Attorney General William Barr in the coming weeks. – Wall Street Journal

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Democrats would seek a full airing of special counsel Robert Mueller’s coming report on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, vowing a legal battle over documents and testimony if needed. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump — already facing opposition on his national emergency declaration from House Democrats and a collection of state attorneys general — will on Monday have to contend with a rebuke by a bipartisan group of 58 former national security officials denouncing the White House’s directive. – Politico