Fdd's overnight brief

February 27, 2019

In The News


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has refused to accept the resignation of his chief diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, according to state television. Zarif submitted his resignation late Monday in a shock decision he said was made to “defend the integrity” of the Foreign Ministry. The move roiled Iranian markets and threatened to further unravel Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. – Washington Post

An analysis of the Iranian nuclear archive seized by Israel in a Mossad operation last year showed that Iran’s nuclear program “never ended” and “could be continuing today,” according to a new report. – Algemeiner

Iran is estimated to have executed 273 people in 2018, the second highest figure in the world, according to a report by the NGO Iran Human Rights. – Euronews

Jason Rezaian writes: International pressure to end the imprisonment of eight environmentalists in Iran is mounting as the farcical trial against them lumbers on. Prosecutors claim that the group spied on some of Iran’s most sensitive military installations at the behest of the CIA and Mossad. The reality is far more mundane (and heroic): The accused are conservationists who were tracking the movements of an endangered species of cheetah. – Washington Post

Ali Bakeer writes: Government policies have primed the region to become a hotbed of radicalism and separatism. Officials have been warned of the threat, but these warnings seem to have gone unheeded. Instead, the government continues to insist that members of minority communities are mercenaries whose attacks are supported by foreign powers. The Iranian government seems to show no interest in confronting the failures of its policies or bearing responsibility for their outcomes. – Middle East Institute

Islamic State

The pro-Islamic State loyalties among evacuees showed the potential risk it still poses despite territorial defeat. – Reuters

An Islamic State supporter who was caught saying he wanted to “redefine terror” by bombing gay nightclubs was sentenced to nearly 16 years in prison for helping create social media accounts for people he believed also supported ISIS. – Washington Examiner

A federal judge in Washington has agreed to move quickly on a lawsuit filed by a former Alabama woman who joined the Islamic State and wants to return to the United States. The family of 24-year-old Hoda Muthana filed suit last week against the Trump administration after the government said she wasn’t a citizen and wouldn’t be allowed to enter the U.S. with her 18-month-old son. – Associated Press

A.J. Caschetta writes: Absent of forensic analysis of all her online activity, it is difficult to determine whether Muthana was in fact the originator of this deadly adjustment to an earlier, less successful tactic, or merely in a position to overhear and repeat a new strategy. One thing is certain though: Muthana disseminated operational advice intended for terrorists, and what she advised was later carried out, culminating in the injury and deaths of hundreds of innocents in truck attacks in France, Germany, Sweden, many in England, Spain, Canada, and New York. – Washington Examiner

Ilan I. Berman writes: What is to be done with ISIS returnees? America’s allies and partners have grappled with this question for more than a year now, ever since the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria began to crumble. But the issue has become more acute in recent days as a result of American policy. – American Foreign Policy Council


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed here on a frigid Moscow morning for talks Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is scheduled to meet Putin in the early afternoon in the Kremlin. A planned meeting in the evening with leaders of the Jewish community was cancelled, and his departure back to Israel — now scheduled for 9.30 pm.– was moved up. – Jerusalem Post

Alan Dershowitz, one of the most prominent Jewish lawyers in the United States and in the world, published an open letter on Wednesday addressed to Attorney-General Avichai Mandleblit, in which he defended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the ongoing investigations against him. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli security forces on Wednesday arrested Zakaria Zubeidi, a former Palestinian terrorist leader long sought by Israeli law enforcement, on suspicion that he was engaged in “serious and current terrorist activities,” the Shin Bet said. In addition to Zubeidi, Israeli forces also arrested the attorney Tarek Barghout on similar charges. – Times of Israel

The Palestinian Authority governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Ghaith, was among 22 people arrested by Israeli security forces in a series of raids overnight Tuesday in the city’s eastern sector, Palestinian media reported. – Times of Israel  

A major surprise IDF exercise that simulated a war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip came to an end on Tuesday. – Algemeiner

Tom Rogan writes: Assuming, as we must, that Trump’s peace plan will include some territorial and political authority concessions to the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu’s post-election support for that plan would implode his government. Correspondingly, Netanyahu will reject the plan per se. Yet, were the new centrist coalition led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid to win election in April, they would both be amenable to Trump’s deal. That’s because the deal will likely seek an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank in return for Palestinian security guarantees to Israel, and protections for Israel’s long term Jewish identity. – Washington Examiner

Middle East & North Africa

The world community’s “chilling complacency toward wide-scale human rights violations” in the Middle East and North Africa emboldened governments to commit “appalling” violations last year, Amnesty International said Tuesday. – Associated Press

White House adviser Jared Kushner, giving a broad outline of a U.S. peace plan for the Middle East, said it will address final-status issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including establishing borders. – Reuters

A peace deal in Yemen’s main port city appears to have stalled again despite U.N. efforts to salvage the pact intended to clear the way for wider negotiations to end the devastating four-year war, sources involved in the discussions said. – Reuters

Air strikes have been stepped up against rebel-held northwestern Syria, the last major bastion of opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, prompting thousands of civilians to flee the town of Khan Sheikhoun, war monitors said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Turkey criticized European Union leaders on Tuesday for attending a summit hosted by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi days after nine men were executed for killing Egypt’s chief prosecutor. – Reuters

In a new bid to force the government in the United States to release information about the killing of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a group of US senators introduced legislation on Tuesday that would require the Director of National Intelligence to submit a public report on the assassination. – Al Jazeera

Marc Lynch writes: Before the Arab uprisings, analysts tended to underpredict revolutionary political change. Since those disruptive events, they have tended to overpredict upheaval. But that should not reassure those who crave stability, or overly discourage those who seek change. The political, economic and social challenges facing almost every Middle Eastern regime today are worse by orders of magnitude than they were in 2011 — and the structural factors enabling protest contagion remain potent. – Washington Post

Yasmine El Rashidi writes: In 2017, in a much-quoted interview with CNBC, he promised to abide by the principles laid out in the Constitution, notably term limits. Whether to uphold those principles is a decision that could be put to the people in the coming months. But it could be seized upon much sooner, by the president himself, and that would be even more significant for the country at large. – New York Times

David Pollock writes: Jordan was the first stop on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Mideast diplomatic tour last month, and it joined the American-led Warsaw conference on Mideast security last week. On both occasions, Jordanian and American officials publicly hailed their common stand against terrorism and against Iran’s interventions in the region. Regarding the latter, more controversial point, a new public opinion poll reveals that the Jordanian “street” is indeed solidly in line with official opposition to Iran. –  Washington Institute

Elana DeLozier writes: Nearly two months after signing the Stockholm Agreement, the internationally recognized government of Yemen and the Houthi rebel group agreed to terms for implementing a narrow but critical part of that accord: the “redeployment” of their forces in certain parts of Hodeida province. The terms were agreed after talks on February 16-17 led by Lt. Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, the newly appointed head of the UN Mission in Support of the Hodeida Agreement and chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee.  – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

President Trump opened two days of summits Wednesday by offering a public embrace of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, referring to the brutal authoritarian ruler as “my friend” and holding up Vietnam as a model for economic growth for Kim’s nation if he pursues steps to denuclearize. – Washington Post

When President Trump sits down this week for a second summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, he will face a young dictator who has grown in outward confidence as a negotiator since their last meeting. That could make it tougher to convince Mr. Kim to give up his nuclear weapons, longtime observers of the secretive leader say. – Wall Street Journal

Looking for a quick way to stop North Korean missiles immediately after lift-off, the Pentagon is studying as a near-term option whether a group of F-35 fighter jets hovering around North Korean airspace could pick off freshly-launched rockets. – Reuters

President Donald Trump and Vietnam President Nguyen Phu Trong on Wednesday agreed to continue to work toward the denuclearization in North Korea, ahead of Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the White House said. – Politico

Michael Auslin writes: The world would be far better off without Kim Jong Un and without a nuclear North Korea. But wishing won’t make it so. Given the failure of all other U.S. attempts, Mr. Trump’s risky revolution might bring unexpected results. The alternative is an endless round of negotiations that simply buy time for Mr. Kim, without any realistic prospect for success. – Wall Street Journal

Erin Dunne writes: For Trump and the United States, agreeing to a bad deal is worse than coming back to Washington with no deal. If Kim isn’t prepared to commit to denuclearization in Vietnam, Trump must not agree to new concessions. – Washington Examiner

Morton Halperin writes: If the Hanoi summit moves in this direction, Trump will, to the dismay of critics, get credit at home and abroad for avoiding a war and rolling back dangerous nuclear proliferation. That is all certainly a price worth paying. – The Hill


American officials inserted themselves into the telecom industry’s biggest trade fair to slam Huawei Technologies Co.—one of the event’s main sponsors—as “duplicitous and deceitful” and to warn other governments they won’t be able to use U.S. aid to buy the Chinese company’s gear. – Wall Street Journal

The United Arab Emirates says it will deploy a 5G network this year developed by Huawei Technologies Co., dealing a blow from a major U.S. ally to American efforts to undercut the Chinese telecommunications giant. – Wall Street Journal

Any proposals from self-ruled Taiwan for a peace deal with China must include a push for “reunification”, Beijing said on Wednesday, after the island’s main opposition party said it could sign one if it wins a presidential election next year. – Reuters

American companies want President Donald Trump’s negotiations with Beijing to win them real improvements in their access to Chinese markets, not just a smaller overall U.S. trade deficit, a business group said Tuesday. – Associated Press

South Asia

Pakistan said it shot down two Indian aircraft inside its airspace and launched strikes on Indian-controlled Kashmir on Wednesday. The operation came one day after India sent jets into Pakistani territory for the first time since 1971 and marked a further escalation in tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors. – Washington Post

The Taliban and Washington’s peace envoy are close to reaching an agreement on U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a spokesman for the Islamic insurgents said Tuesday amid a new round of talks with the United States. – Associated Press

An Indian Air Force plane crashed in the disputed area of Kashmir on Wednesday, killing two pilots and a civilian, a police official said, amid heightened tensions with neighboring Pakistan. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke separately with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan and urged them to avoid “further military activity” following an air strike by India inside Pakistan. – Reuters

Pakistan on Tuesday hinted at a possible nuclear retaliation to Indian airstrikes in its territory, which came as a great embarrassment to Islamabad, where the politically powerful military apparently failed to do anything about an outright attack from its chief rival. – Business Insider

Tom Rogan writes: So what happens next? The U.S. will likely cajole India into avoiding more strikes. At the same time, Pakistan’s primary economic patron, China, will push Islamabad to avoid its own escalation. Again, however, the central problem is the same: powerful Pakistani interests believe they can out-escalate India without suffering major costs. Other Pakistani officials continue to assist Jaish-e-Mohammed in plotting new attacks. In turn, if Pakistan now lashes out at India, or if another terrorist attack against India occurs in the coming weeks, Modi will face immense pressure to respond harshly. – Washington Examiner


The treason trial of some of Russia’s top cybersecurity officials ended on Tuesday without solving the mysteries at the center of the case: Why had the men been arrested and what, if anything, did they have to do with Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 American presidential election? Was the prosecution driven not by geopolitical concerns but by a businessman’s desire for revenge? – New York Times

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will not intervene in the case of a prominent U.S. investor arrested over embezzlement accusations, the Kremlin said on Tuesday, playing down pressure to release him before trial. – Reuters

The U.S. general who oversees America’s nuclear forces expressed concern Tuesday that Russia is developing new strategic weapons outside of the New START Treaty, which is set to expire in 2021. The comments by Air Force Gen. John Hyten come in the wake of the United States’ and Russia’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, freeing Moscow to develop and deploy new missiles, and fueling fears the 2010 New START Treaty may be next to lapse, with nothing to replace it. – Defense News

Edward Lucas writes: As Vladimir Putin threatens the West with a new arms race, memories of the 1980s come flooding back. Back then the USSR was worried about U.S. plans to deploy nuclear-tipped cruise and Pershing missiles to make deterrence credible in western Europe. A Soviet-sponsored “peace movement” enjoyed huge success in West Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Three former executives of German gun maker Sig Sauer went on trial Tuesday in Germany on suspicion of illegally selling firearms to Colombia by funneling them through a U.S. sister company. The trial in the northern city of Kiel centers on 180 shipments of semi-automatic SP 2022 pistols transferred from Sig Sauer’s factory in Germany to its New Hampshire affiliate from 2009 to 2011. – Washington Post

Soldiers in Belarus have unearthed the bones of hundreds of people shot during World War Two from a mass grave discovered at the site of a ghetto where Jews lived under the Nazis. – Reuters

Dutch authorities on Tuesday said they had confiscated some 90,000 bottles of Russian vodka believed to be destined for North Korea in violation of international sanctions. – Reuters

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that French Islamic state detainees in Iraq and Syria should be tried in the countries where they face charges and that France would ask for potential death penalties to be converted to life sentences. – Reuters

Britain’s opposition Labour Party said on Tuesday that interior minister Sajid Javid had to provide evidence to justify his decision to widen a ban on the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah. – Reuters

The British government has confirmed that it will raise the thorny issue of the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during Jeremy Hunt’s visit to Riyadh this week. The Foreign Secretary has been under pressure to present the official finding into the killing of the prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman by the six-month anniversary of his murder in April. – Middle East Monitor

Editorial: Mrs May’s strategy is now to say that if her deal is defeated she will offer MPs something she has so far refused to countenance: asking the EU to extend the deadline set by the article 50 process of leaving the bloc by a couple of months. She also told MPs that the United Kingdom “will only leave without a deal on 29 March if there is explicit consent in this House”. – The Guardian

Latin America

The potential collapse of President Nicolás Maduro’s regime poses a threat to Cuba, which relies on Caracas for about 28% of the island’s oil needs. Venezuela’s opposition says the government’s longstanding oil-barter agreement with Cuba is irrational, coming amid an economic free fall at home, and benefits a Communist dictatorship it reviles. – Wall Street Journal

Ignacio Cruz, a noncommissioned Venezuelan army officer, was part of a military detail escorting a group of expelled diplomats across a border bridge into Colombia on Sunday when he saw his chance to make a dash for freedom. – Wall Street Journal

A United Nations Security Council meeting on Venezuela’s crisis briefly turned into a diplomatic brawl on Tuesday, as the United States and Russia traded rejoinders reminiscent of the Cold War. Nothing was resolved, and it appeared that if anything, the meeting illustrated how antagonists have hardened their positions over the crisis afflicting Venezuela, once Latin America’s most prosperous country, now in an economic free fall. – New York Times

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a fierce critic of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, warned Tuesday that tyrants often believe they’re invulnerable — his first, indirect reference to his own cryptic tweeted images over the weekend showing dictators during their brutal downfalls. – Washington Post

A top Russian security official on Tuesday accused Washington of deploying forces in Puerto Rico and Colombia in preparation for a military intervention in Venezuela to topple Moscow’s ally, President Nicolas Maduro, something the United States denied. – Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said President Trump is surrounded by “bad” officials who are advising him during the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis in the country. “I fear the people that are around him,” Maduro told ABC News in an exclusive interview. – The Hill

A Telemundo correspondent in Venezuela was abducted by armed men and questioned for hours as he tried to cover the detention the previous night of another group of journalists in the presidential palace, according to the network. – NBC News

Following the brutal assault on the Chief Rabbi of Argentina, the victim, Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich recalled the terrifying moments during the home invasion as he was beaten by a gang of seven intruders. – Arutz Sheva

Eli Lake writes: The crucial fact to remember here is that time is not on Maduro’s side. As their access to international capital and bank accounts is constricted, Maduro and his henchmen will find it harder to stay in power. Eventually his most important international backers, Russia and China, will want their debts repaid. Maduro has no chance of doing that with international sanctions on the oil industry. – Bloomberg

Brian Whitmore writes: The Russian propaganda about Venezuela is largely deploying the standard Kremlin toolkit with tropes like anti-globalization, support for nationalist strongmen, and opposition to popular democratic uprisings. But it is also adding a localized element that has particularly strong resonance in the region: the very real history of U.S. intervention in Latin America and the very real resentment that still lingers about this. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Cyber Security

The U.S. military disrupted the internet access of a Russian troll farm accused of trying to influence American voters on Nov. 6, 2018, the day of the congressional elections, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Twitter has suspended the account of Jacob Wohl, a 21-year-old right-wing conspiracy theorist. The suspension comes just hours after the USA Today published an interview where Wohl bragged of plans to disrupt the 2020 presidential election by creating fake Twitter and Facebook accounts in order sow discord during the primaries. – Washington Examiner

Facebook will only launch its political ad transparency feature in Israel in mid-March, less than a month ahead of the country’s general election scheduled for April 9, Sean Evins, Facebook’s government and politics outreach manager for the EMEA region, said at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. – CTech

Robert H. Scales writes: Microsoft employees last week sent an open letter to CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith demanding that they immediately cancel a Defense Department contract for the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, on grounds that IVAS is “designed to help people kill.” Damn right it is. Microsoft’s employees should take pride that they have been entrusted with the privilege of providing a game-changing technology that will allow American soldiers and Marines, not the enemy, to do the killing. – Wall Street Journal


The U.S. Army estimates the Russian army’s military capabilities will peak in 2028, closely followed by the Chinese around 2030, giving the United States almost a decade to prepare for those threats, a senior Pentagon official said in an interview on Monday. – Reuters

Setting the weekly flying and maintenance schedule for an F-35 squadron is a weeklong process. It takes hours for multiple people to download data from the jets and comb through it, paste information into different spreadsheets, and continuously update each system. – Defense News

In October, Hurricane Michael swept through the Florida Panhandle, slicing apart hangars at Tyndall Air Force Base that contained F-22 Raptor fighter jets incapable of fleeing the storm. After the hurricane subsided, a number of those aircraft were moved from Tyndall to manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s facility in Marietta, Georgia, where one was parked at a new dock and contractors began working to restore its stealth coating. – Defense News

If you ask the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, capacity is key to the strategy for the service. And to achieve the right level of capacity to meet mission requirements, the service will need to rely on a perfect mix of aircraft. Gen. David Goldfein is quick to note, however, that acquiring multiple platforms does not detract from the importance of the F-35 fighter jet, but rather enables the Air Force to take fuller advantage of the jet’s capabilities as the command center of an extensive network of systems. – Defense News

In a process reminiscent of what you might see on the TV show “Shark Tank,” U.S. Army leaders have been able to shift more than $31 billion in the Army’s budget to its top priorities, according to Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy. The official shed light on the budget deliberations during a Feb. 26 breakfast sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute of Land Warfare. – Defense News

When does a sensor become a weapon? Networked warfare — this modern vision of combat as nodes of sensors connecting to grids of “battlefield effects” — has expanded both the kinds of information that go into decisions to firing a weapon and the ways in which people can be targeted. As the Pentagon actively brands its mission around lethality, some workers involved in making sensors have called into question their role in making weapons. – C4ISR

The Navy is short about 6,200 sailors to meet its at-sea requirements for its current force, and that gap could grow as the service adds new ships to the fleet, the head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command told a House panel on Tuesday. – USNI News

The Navy’s Pacific and Atlantic fleet commanders have increased their ability to understand surface ship readiness at the individual ship level and have shown their willingness to cancel or delay deployments if a ship has not proven it can safely conduct that mission, the two fleet commanders told lawmakers today. – USNI News