Fdd's overnight brief

February 4, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


To be a European company with links to Iran in the age of American sanctions can mean dealing with challenges that, every day, verge on the existential. Suppliers cut off their shipments with little warning. Phone lines get disconnected. Even having the elevators repaired can be an ordeal, with service contracts canceled. It is all related to the Trump administration’s extraordinary campaign to choke off not only American trade with Iran, but European commerce with the Islamic republic as well. – Washington Post

President Trump plans to keep United States troops in Iraq to monitor and maintain pressure on neighboring Iran, committing to an American military presence in the region’s war zones even as he moves to withdraw forces from Syria and Afghanistan. – New York Times

Iran displayed a new cruise missile with a range of 1,300 km (800 miles) on Saturday during celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, state television reported. – Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday accused the United States of seeking “world hegemony” and denounced Washington for trying to topple Tehran’s ally, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, state media reported. – Reuters

One member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was killed and five were wounded in an attack on a base in southeastern Iran on Saturday, Iranian media reported, as the country holds official celebrations on the 40th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution. – Reuters

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif chided the United States on Friday for saying it may leave an arms treaty with Russia, and said on Twitter that “any deal with US (government) is not worth the ink”. – Reuters

Iran announced the “successful test” of a new cruise missile with a range of over 1,350 kilometres during celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, state television reported. – Al Jazeera

Iran has equipped its most advanced, longest-range missiles, which can hit Israel and US bases in the Gulf, with new precision guided warheads, state media reported Sunday. – Times of Israel


Lebanon’s newly formed government, which gives the Islamist movement Hezbollah key ministries, has raised concerns that the country could run afoul of sanctions by the United States that prohibit material support for the Iran-backed group. – New York Times

A senior Hezbollah leader on Sunday said that Israel was not ready for a conflict with Lebanon and denied allegations from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran was using its proxy to control the Lebanese government. – Times of Israel

Hezbollah’s bigger role in Lebanon’s new unity government points to a growing appetite to shape state affairs and builds on unprecedented military clout the group is wielding after helping turn the tide in Syria’s war. – Reuters

Dozens of Hezbollah supporters rode motorbikes used in military operations along Lebanon’s border with Israel to protest against the IDF, Lebanese media reported. According to Lebanon’s The Daily Star, the group of 60 men rode from the town of Bint Jbeil across from the Israeli community of Yiron on “cross motorbikes which the party has used before for military resistance operations.” – Jerusalem Post

Are US sanctions beginning to have an impact on Hezbollah? Sky News Arabia has reported that the Shi’ite terrorist organization has postponed a number of payments, including to Hezbollah members, as a result of financial difficulties. – Algemeiner


Syrian state media, citing a military source, said U.S.-led coalition jets hit a Syrian army position near the battle front against Islamic State pocket late on Saturday, causing damage and injuries. – Reuters

US President Donald Trump indicated this weekend that some US troops in Syria would remain there “to protect Israel,” in an apparent shift from his earlier insistence on an absolute withdrawal. – Jerusalem Post

The leaders of Russia, Iran, and Turkey are scheduled to meet in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on February 14 to discuss the situation in Syria, according to Turkish and Russian state media. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Nawaf Obaid writes: Despite these horrific war crimes, it was announced recently that a group of Arab countries has begun normalizing relations with Damascus after they were cut off in 2011, when mass killings and repression became the hallmarks of the civil war. […]The Arab approach to Syria and the latest rekindling of ties to Assad typify the incompetence and moral bankruptcy of a dozen of the region’s current rulers. – Foreign Policy

Fuad Shahbazov writes: President Donald Trump’s announcement at the end of 2018 that he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria came as a surprise to all parties involved, sparking particular concern among America’s Syrian Kurdish allies. The move followed President Trump’s declaration of victory over ISIS after a four-year military campaign fighting alongside Syrian Kurdish forces. This sudden and unexpected decision has been widely criticized not only by allies but also those inside the White House, with many analysts arguing that the U.S. withdrawal will expose the Syrian Kurds to an attack by Turkey. – Middle East Institute

Dmitriy Frolovskiy writes: Russia received the best possible gift from the Trump administration right before Christmas and now has a free hand to determine the future of its troubled Middle Eastern ally. With the United States preparing to exit the Syrian conflict, the Kremlin’s strategy won’t change much. That’s because it was never about Syria from the beginning. – Foreign Policy

Alexander Decina writes: Western governments have repeatedly had to downgrade their expectations for Syria. After nearly eight years of war, demands for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s immediate departure slowly whittled down to a reluctant acceptance that no political transition is forthcoming. Now, Western countries find themselves deliberating whether to participate in Syria’s reconstruction without the political transition they have long demanded. – War on the Rocks


It’s been more than a year since senior Palestinian officials have agreed to meet or even speak with representatives of the Trump administration, but now President Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, appears to have adopted a new diplomatic channel: Twitter. – Washington Post

There are more than 100 links between the internationally-designated terrorist organizations Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) with NGOs promoting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, some of which receive funding from European states and philanthropic funds, a new report by the Strategic Affairs Ministry has found. – Jerusalem Post

Israel has said the work to strengthen its fence along the Gaza Strip entered a new phase with construction starting on a massive new barrier along the frontier. – Al Jazeera

The political chief of Hamas, Ismail Haniya, has left Gaza on a trip to Cairo on Sunday as part of a high-ranking delegation to hold talks with Egyptian officials about developments in Palestine, a Hamas statement said. – Al Jazeera

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned a visiting delegation of UN ambassadors on Sunday over growing Iranian influence in Lebanon, where a new national unity government — including a bolstered Hezbollah role — was formed this week. – Algemeiner

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to authorize withholding taxes and tariffs collected for the Palestinian Authority in light of its continued monthly payments to terrorists and their families, for the first time since the Deduction Law was passed last year. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

The government has imposed fees on the dependents of expatriate workers and restricted foreigners from working in certain sectors. Rising costs, as part of an overhaul of the economy intended to make Saudi Arabia less dependent on oil, have hit low-wage foreign workers especially hard. The result has been a massive exodus of foreigners from the labor force. – Washington Post

Pope Francis became the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam, as he arrived on Sunday in the United Arab Emirates on a trip seeking to improve relations with the Muslim world and to offer encouragement to Catholic migrants in a region where his flock has dwindled amid increasing persecution and bloodshed. – New York Times

Three British lawmakers on Monday endorsed reports that women activists detained in Saudi Arabia have been tortured, and said responsibility for what is likely a violation of international law could lie with “Saudi authorities at the highest level”. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon’s new government will start preparing its policy statement on Monday, it said on Saturday, as investors monitor commitment to reforms aimed at boosting the economy. – Reuters

Representatives from both sides in the Yemen conflict met on a ship on the Red Sea on Sunday in a U.N.-led push to implement a stalled troop withdrawal from Yemen’s main port of Hodeidah as agreed at December peace talks, a U.N. official told Reuters. – Reuters

The head of the UN mission in Yemen warned the Saudi-backed government and the Huthi rebels on Sunday that a seven-week ceasefire in the flashpoint city of Hodeida was fragile and urged them to order their commanders on the ground to uphold the truce. – Agence France-Presse

President Donald Trump says he’s determined to get out of “endless wars” in Afghanistan and Syria and “bring our folks back home,” doubling down on his pledge to remove troops from the war-torn region. – Politico

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lashed out at the United States for not taking a tougher position against Saudi Arabia over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, as he demanded answers from the kingdom over the journalist’s killing. – Al Jazeera

Azhar Al-Rubaie writes: With protests originally sparking in July 2018, Basra continues to experience sporadic demonstrations. While many protesters initially emphasized the continuing lack of infrastructure in southern Iraq, slogans against Iran, and attacks against the Iranian consulate have emphasized frustration at Iran’s influence in the region as well. Iran’s influence is directly visible to these protesters, and is especially discernible in the attacks on protesters by Iraq’s Iranian-backed militias. These attacks highlight the complicated relationship between Iraq’s powerful militias—which predominantly recruit from south of Iraq—and the south itself. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

A quarrel between the U.S. and South Korea over the costs of their military alliance threatens to complicate negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump said Sunday he has no plans to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea, potentially assuaging worries in Seoul as Mr. Trump’s end-of-the-month summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un approaches. – Wall Street Journal

Donald Trump has said he sees a “good chance” of reaching a deal with North Korea on denuclearisation, as senior US and South Korean officials met to discuss an upcoming second summit between the US president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. – Al Jazeera

The blacklisted 1970s-era North Korean oil tanker floated in waters a couple of hundred miles south of Shanghai, tethered to a ship half its size by a hose, as if hooked up to an intravenous line. – LA Times

Adam Taylor writes: CNN reported Thursday that the administration was in the process of finalizing a summit in the coastal city of Danang, Vietnam. Local officials have repeatedly said they are open to hosting a meeting between Trump and Kim. If the reports of Vietnam are accurate, this second location would carry a lot of symbolic weight. It shares much of the appeal that Singapore may have for North Korean leaders — though for the United States, the history may be somewhat awkward. – Washington Post


When China hatched the first of a series of oil-for-loans agreements with Venezuela in 2007, it seemed like a perfect match. […]Twelve years and more than $50 billion in loans later, a political crisis in Venezuela is threatening China’s payout and drawing Beijing into a proxy standoff as it supports a Venezuelan leader the U.S. is intent on toppling. – Wall Street Journal

Parag Khanna writes: It is now widely accepted that China aspires to displace the United States as the world’s sole superpower by 2049, the 100th anniversary of its modern founding. Amid a trade war and military escalations, an atmosphere many describe as “Cold War 2.0” has set in. But whatever happens between the United States and China, the outcome will not be a unipolar world, neither under American or Chinese tutelage. – Foreign Policy

Niall Ferguson writes: Are the United States and China heading for a new Cold War? And if they are, what should we call it? These may seem strange questions to ask just four days after President Trump appeared to raise hopes of an end — or at least a continued cease-fire — in the trade war he started against China last year. – Boston Globe


The Taliban are expected to meet with Afghan opposition leaders in Moscow in the coming days, a development that could further undermine the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which has found itself excluded from the talks seeking an end to the 17-year war. – New York Times

India has lodged a protest with the United States government after several Indian students were detained there in connection with their enrollment in a fake university, after an undercover operation. – New York Times

Five soldiers and three members of Abu Sayyaf, a militant group linked to the Islamic State, were killed in a gun battle on Saturday on the southern Philippine island of Jolo, six days after a church bombing linked to the group left 22 dead, the military said. – New York Times

At the edge of a bridge leading into the heart of the devastation from a 2017 siege against Islamic State-linked militants, an electric-blue billboard stands apart from the ruins. “Marawi will rise again! Soon . . .” it proudly declares in rainbow-colored letters. So far, it sounds like an empty promise. – Washington Post

A senior Abu Sayyaf operative and four members of the militant group believed to be behind the deadly bombing of a church in the southern Philippines surrendered to authorities over the weekend, the national police chief said on Monday. – Reuters


Russia’s announcement over the weekend that it would suspend its obligations under a Cold War-era nuclear treaty essentially seals the fate of a pact the U.S. recently said it plans to abandon and heightens the risk of a new arms race. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. decision to start the process of withdrawing from a decades-old treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces is unsettling Europe, which sits in range of a Russian missile system that U.S. officials say breaches the 1987 pact. – Wall Street Journal

The United States’ full withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty would not herald the start of a new Cold War, the RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Monday. – Reuters

The United States should resolve its differences with Russia through dialogue instead of threatening to withdraw from an important nuclear arms control agreement between the two nations, China’s foreign ministry said on Saturday. – Reuters

Aaron Blake writes: Given Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, this question has stalked Donald Trump throughout his presidency: Why hasn’t he taken tougher action against Moscow, beyond the occasional sanction? On Friday, members of Trump’s administration pitched the withdrawal from a nuclear arms control treaty with Russia as evidence the president is willing to push back on Putin. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: No one should be surprised that President Donald Trump has made good on his threat to begin withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. More surprising is the reaction from some leading Democrats. – Bloomberg

Thomas Callender writes: While the U.S. should continue to encourage the Russian government to return to compliance with the INF Treaty, in parallel, it should develop and field new low-yield nuclear weapons as well as improved conventional ground-based cruise missile systems and cruise missile defenses. These actions would better deter Russian use of low-yield nuclear weapons and better defend America’s NATO allies from Russian cruise missile threats. – Heritage Foundation


Should Britain stumble out of the European Union without a deal and riots erupt in the streets, officials have a plan: Evacuate Queen Elizabeth II from London, local news outlets reported on Sunday. – New York Times

France is in discussions about repatriating Islamic State fighters and their families, a policy shift prompted by the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. The French government confirmed this past week that French jihadists detained in Syrian camps may be returned to France. – Washington Post

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday she would seek a “pragmatic solution” to a parliamentary impasse over the terms on which Britain leaves the European Union when she tries to reopen talks with Brussels. – Reuters

While German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas would like to see an “exit from Brexit” – Britain abandoning its plan to leave the European Union – he said in a newspaper interview on Sunday that he saw such an outcome as extremely unlikely. – Reuters

UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has castigated the anti-Israel BDS movement over its effort to organize a boycott of the Eurovision competition set to be held in Tel Aviv in May. – Algemeiner

Jonathan Brunson writes: The long-simmering crisis in Donbas — the Donetsk river basin on Russia’s border, made up of Ukraine’s two south-easternmost regions, Luhansk and Donetsk — that Russia intensified and then dubbed a civil war still threatens to mushroom into conflict between Russia and Western allies. – War on the Rocks


In recent months, as Islamic State has seen its self-described caliphate in Iraq and Syria radically shrink, a Nigeria-born group calling itself the Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP, has taken control of hundreds of square miles of territory, according to Nigerian and Western officials. – Wall Street Journal

A peace deal has been reached between the government of the Central African Republic and 14 armed groups after their first-ever direct dialogue aimed at ending years of conflict, the United Nations and African Union announced on Saturday. – New York Times

Gunman shot dead the head of Dubai government-owned P&O Ports’ operations in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland on Monday, a local government official said, and Islamist group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack. – Reuters


Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan opposition supporters poured into the streets on Saturday, heeding a call from their leaders to stage another day of peaceful protests against President Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian rule in hopes of capitalizing on international pressure to force him from power. – New York Times

He cannot get into the locked Venezuelan Embassy in Georgetown, has no staff and does not even live in a permanent residence in Washington. […] Venezuela’s new ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, is spending his days doing what ambassadors all over the world do — meeting with leaders in his host country to win support for his government. – New York Times

The deepening turmoil in Venezuela is exacerbating a shortfall of dense crude oil, leaving fuel makers in the lurch and underscoring the limitations of U.S. shale. On Monday, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil giant in an attempt to prevent the proceeds of crude sales to the U.S. from reaching the government of President Nicolás Maduro.- Wall Street Journal

A group of European countries is set to recognize Venezuela’s opposition leader as interim president, joining the U.S. and a handful of Latin American countries moving against Nicolás Maduro, even as the European Union struggles to agree a common stance on the Venezuelan crisis. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. President Donald Trump said military intervention in Venezuela was “an option” as Western nations boost pressure on socialist leader Nicolas Maduro to step down, while the troubled OPEC nation’s ally Russia warned against “destructive meddling.” – Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro proposed early parliamentary elections on Saturday, seeking to shore up his crumbling rule after a senior general defected to the opposition and tens of thousands thronged the streets in protest at his government. – Reuters

Venezuela’s opposition leader called on more members of the military to abandon the country’s socialist government following Saturday’s defection of a high-ranking general, as President Nicolas Maduro proposed holding early National Assembly elections that could potentially oust his challenger. – Associated Press

Emiliana Duarte writes: In many countries around the world, this scene would be perfectly normal […] But this is Venezuela and this was Juan Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly, who took the oath of office as interim president on Jan. 23 in a direct challenge to President Nicolás Maduro, the man who represents the normal that Venezuelans are so horribly used to. – New York Times

Jim Golby writes: Was Jim Mattis exercising civilian control, or was he under civilian control? This question is difficult to answer not only because Mattis was just the second retired general to serve as secretary of defense, but also because of the way he conducted himself during his time in office and the degraded state of civil-military relations when he left the Pentagon. Jim Mattis may have become a civilian political appointee, but he never stopped being a marine. – War on the Rocks

Cyber Security

Two internets could emerge in the next five years — one led by China and one led by the United States — a top venture capitalist has predicted, adding to a growing chorus of voices suggesting such a development could take place. – CNBC

Anne Applebaum writes: Both of these stories have something in common: They illustrate who is making the rules of our new information network — and it isn’t us. It isn’t citizens, or Congress, who decide how our information network regulates itself. We don’t get to decide how information companies collect data, and we don’t get to decide how transparent they should be. The tech companies do that all by themselves. – Washington Post

Don Lewis writes: Simultaneous to the efforts described above, NATO is also in the midst of an effort called ‘NATO Command Structure Adaptation,’ which is a restructuring of the military staff organizational design in response to developing security threats to the Alliance. […]Some of those personnel will contribute to cyberspace operations, because cyberspace actors have demonstrated the will, capability, and intent to use cyberspace as a means to conduct aggressive tactics against the alliance. – War on the Rocks


While the president visits Capitol Hill to deliver his delayed State of the Union address this week, the defense lawmakers will begin their work on the annual military authorization bill. – Defense News

If the U.S. Air Force takes two years to conduct a light-attack experiment — made possible in part by industry investments — and then abandons it, why should defense contractors buy into the next one? – Defense News

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address next week will include a call to end America’s ongoing wars overseas, building on his recent comments suggesting troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and the Middle East. – Defense News

Amid the reshuffling of the Defense Department’s senior leaders, 26 senators from both sides of the aisle are urging the acting defense secretary not to drop the ball on the Pentagon audit. – Defense News