Fdd's overnight brief

February 6, 2020

In The News


Iran has not taken further steps to violate its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers since it renounced last month all restraints imposed by the agreement, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Iran will support Palestinian armed groups as much as it can, Iran’s Supreme Leader said on Wednesday, urging Palestinians to confront a U.S. plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. – Reuters 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said America was a terrorist and committed terrorist acts, in a speech broadcast live on state TV, pointing to economic sanctions. – Reuters 

The new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has warned Iran there would be serious consequences if there is any repeat of last year’s detention of an IAEA inspector. – The Guardian 

Iran’s top leader said Wednesday that Donald Trump’s Mideast plan will not outlive the president, state media reported. – Associated Press

When Iranian-born German academic Erfan Kasraie received an email from The Wall Street Journal requesting an interview, he sensed something was amiss. […]U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts see Iran as a digital threat. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued alerts about the threat of Iranian cyberattacks following the controversial U.S. attack that killed Soleimani. – Reuters 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh and Islamic Jihad secretary-general Ziad al-Nakhaleh on Wednesday and condemned the US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The end goal now is to expand the IRGC’s role, through billions sent to the Syrian war for instance. It also involves support for groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, various Shi’ite militias and groups in Iraq such as the Badr Organization and Kataib Hezbollah, and groups in Afghanistan and Yemen. Iran’s expansion via the IRGC is now at its highest point historically. It is aiming for a kind of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. – Jerusalem Post


Russian personnel are engaging in tense standoffs with U.S. troops on highways in northeastern Syria in violation of agreements between Washington and Moscow to stay out of one another’s way in the war-ravaged country, the top U.S. envoy to Syria said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

Syrian state media said early Thursday that Israel launched strikes against several targets near Damascus and claimed the country’s air defenses downed a number of missiles. – Agence France-Presse 

Syrian government forces entered Saraqeb in northwestern Idlib province, a war monitor and eye witnesses said on Wednesday, in a renewed push by President Bashar al-Assad to recapture the last rebel stronghold. – Reuters 

Cold weather, disease and a lack of shelter and medicine threaten hundreds of thousands of civilians as they flee fighting in Idlib province, in one of the biggest upheavals of Syria’s nine-year civil war, aid groups and doctors said. – Reuters 

The United Nations Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss the current situation in the Syrian city of Idlib, a Security Council source said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Adam Taylor writes: An outright Turkish-Syrian conflict would be a geopolitical mess. Syria’s Assad is allied with Iran and its offensive in Idlib has the backing of Russian air power, putting Erdogan’s own relationship with Tehran and Moscow under strain. […]But Turkey and the United States have a deeply damaged military relationship. It was only a few months ago that the United States was condemning Turkey for its moves into Syria against Kurdish forces. – Washington Post  


Two years after Palestinians first started launching flaming kites and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) like condoms and balloons into the South, the phenomenon has yet to abate. – Jerusalem Post  

A car ran down and injured 12 Israeli soldiers and two other people in Jerusalem early on Thursday before fleeing, Israeli military and medical officials said, in an incident police described as a suspected Palestinian attack. – Reuters 

Palestinian supporters have circulated a draft U.N. resolution that would reject the recently launched U.S. plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it violates international law and Security Council demands for a two-state solution based on borders before the 1967 Mideast war. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser warned Palestinians on Wednesday that Israeli settlements will continue to expand because rising anti-Semitism around the world means more Jews will immigrate to Israel. – Associated Press

Israeli troops shot dead a 17-year-old Palestinian who was taking part in a violent protest on Wednesday against U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan, witnesses and medical officials said. – Reuters 

An animated video glorifying real-life terror attacks by Palestinians against Israelis has been shared on the social media app TikTok, which is popular with children. – Jerusalem Post 

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired two mortar shells at southern Israel on Wednesday night, the military said, amid growing tensions in the enclave. – Times of Israel 

The Hamas terror group on Wednesday called on Palestinians to step up confrontations with Israel after Israeli security forces shot dead a Palestinian teenager, who the IDF said threw a Molotov cocktail at troops during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron. – Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told municipal leaders in the Gaza area on Wednesday that Israel could launch extensive military operations in the Palestinian enclave before the upcoming Knesset elections if Palestinian terrorists continued launching rockets and airborne explosive devices  at southern Israel. – Times of Israel

Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is scheduled to brief members of the UN Security Council on Thursday regarding Washington’s Middle East peace plan, which was published last week. – Haaretz



The rockets wounded six people and killed an American contractor, setting off a chain of events that brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war. [..]But Iraqi military and intelligence officials have raised doubts about who fired the rockets that started the spiral of events, saying they believe it is unlikely that the militia the United States blamed for the attack, Khataib Hezbollah, carried it out. – New York Times

A new watchtower rose over an American military base in northern Iraq, and cranes lifted hefty slabs of concrete to reinforce the barricades in beefed-up protections. […]Since then, Iraqi leaders have scaled back the saber-rattling rhetoric. But behind closed doors, the bitterness has poisoned the partnership. – Associated Press

At least eight anti-government protesters were shot dead and 52 were wounded in clashes with followers of a radical Shiite cleric in southern Iraq on Wednesday, Iraqi medical officials and activists said. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran doesn’t want the US to have more defenses in Iraq. Iraqi politicians may think that if they slow down the Patriots then the US will withdraw some forces, which is what Sadr and Amiri and others want. Iran has shown it can strike where it wants in Iraq. The US army, the best equipped army in the world with access to the latest technology and big budgets provided by the Trump administration, may not have access to the one thing it needs most now in Iraq: Air defense. All because of some Baghdad red tape. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia has used a secretive court established to try terrorism cases as “a weapon of repression” to imprison peaceful critics, activists, journalists, clerics and minority Muslim Shiites, including some who were sentenced to death and executed, Amnesty International said Thursday. – Associated Press

The Information minister in the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia, Muammar Al-Iryani tweeted on Wednesday that four women and four children died while others went missing in a Houthi ballistic missile attack over the populated district of Rawda in Marib. – Reuters 

Ellen Wald writes: Instead, the myth that Saudi Arabia and the United States are allies was built and perpetuated by two powerful forces — the Americans who owned and ran the oil company in the kingdom and the Saudi state itself. […]But this myth cloaks the reality of a reluctant partnership. Recognizing this would help policymakers — current and future — reimagine U.S. interests and relationships in the region. – Washington Post 

Abdullah Ali writes: While awareness of the general conflict in Yemen has increased, there has been minimal international attention and resources devoted to securing Ibb, though its wellbeing should be of great concern to the broader community. Ibb not only holds strategic significance—it has the potential to address Yemen’s major food security issues and could easily benefit from rural development. […]International efforts aimed at supporting these women could alter the socio-economic landscape of rural Ibb and, given Ibb’s potential, may create a ripple effect of positive developments throughout the rest of the country. – Washington Institute

Gulf States

Seeking to advance projects with the United States that promote respect and cooperation among the various religions, the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence in Bahrain is signing a memorandum of understanding with the United States in the capital Manama on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

The Qatari press, both inside and outside Qatar, was conspicuous in its opposition to the Trump administration’s peace plan and was harshly critical of it. […]The writers assessed that it is destined to fail, and Qatar’s state press published numerous articles quoting analysts, both Qatari and foreign, making predictions to this effect. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

The Philippines will soon allow some overseas workers to return to Kuwait, as the Labor Department approved Thursday the partial lifting of the government’s deployment ban to the Gulf State. […]News of the possible relaxing of the directive came after the Philippines and Kuwait sealed a deal on the proposed standard employment contract for OFWs in the Gulf State. – CNN

Middle East & North Africa

Israel asked the U.S. to open a consulate in Moroccan-annexed Western Sahara to help it normalize ties with the North African nation, an official said, a move that would bolster both Morocco’s territorial claim and the Israeli leader’s re-election bid. – Bloomberg

A U.N. resolution that would endorse a plan to restore peace to Libya and condemn the recent increase in violence faced opposition Wednesday from Russia and South Africa. – Associated Press

The United States has halted a secretive military intelligence cooperation program with Turkey that for years helped Ankara target Kurdish PKK militants, four U.S. officials told Reuters. – Reuters 


Chinese authorities say everyone has completed their studies at such sites—which Beijing describes as vocational schools. Rights groups and Western governments say that about a million people, most of them Uighurs, have been detained in dozens of such centers across the region in recent years. The government has long said it is fighting extremism. Muslim activists say the aim is to eradicate their culture and religion. – Wall Street Journal

China said it would slash tariffs on $75 billion of U.S. imports in half as part of its efforts to implement a recently signed trade agreement with Washington. […]Even so, the decision to reduce tariffs indicates that the Chinese leadership remains intent on implementing the deal that has helped halt the nearly two-year trade war between the two nations. – Wall Street Journal

The human rights group Amnesty International has urged governments to avoid violating human rights as they strive to contain and end the outbreak of a virus centered in China that has killed more than 560 people. – Associated Press 

Canada and China are both “furious” over the case of a Huawei executive detained in Canada in 2018 and its aftermath, but there are signs the two sides can hold constructive talks, the Canadian ambassador to Beijing said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

European officials should take a softer line toward Chinese telecommunications companies than the policy that the United Kingdom unveiled last week, according to a British telecommunications executive. – Washington Examiner 

Michael Rubin writes: The United States is engaged in a great-power struggle with China, one that hinges on military and economic strength as well as ideologies. […]In the case of China’s mass incarceration of the Uighurs, not only leveraging WHO and international opinion against China’s own racism against Muslims and its ethnic minorities be the right thing to do morally and diplomatically, but it might also save thousands of Uighur lives and advance the fight against the new pandemic as well. – The National Interest 


A US citizen working as a contractor was kidnapped in the Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan in recent days, a US official confirmed to CNN. – CNN 

An Afghan media watchdog urged the government on Wednesday to heed a demand for more media freedoms after 30 local media outlets said in a joint statement that authorities were increasingly curtailing their access to information. […]The joint media statement, unveiled at a protest rally in Kabul on Tuesday, comes against the backdrop of relentless violence across the country. Afghan forces, backed by U.S. allies, continue to fight the Taliban, who today control or hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan. – Associated Press 

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban organization) has issued the following two statements opposing the peace plan announced by U.S. President Donald Trump for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establishing an independent Palestinian state. – Middle East Media Research Institute


They are the three most prominent politicians in Kashmir, members of dynasties that have led the troubled region for decades. But for the past six months, they have been prisoners, detained under murky circumstances. […]The United States has expressed its concern. A senior State Department official told reporters in January that Washington had urged India “to move swiftly to release those political leaders detained without charge.” – Washington Post 

South Korea’s central bank said on Thursday it has agreed to renew an existing currency swap agreement with Australia, while expanding the size by 20% in a move aimed at strengthening trade and financial stability. – Reuters 

An Indonesian court sentenced an Islamic State group sympathizer to life imprisonment on Wednesday after finding him guilty of plotting bomb attacks against police and Christians. – Associated Press

The U.S. Navy conducted more freedom of navigation operations in 2019 than in any year since the U.S. began more aggressively challenging China’s claims in the South China Sea in 2015. – Defense News 

The United States says new leadership in Central Asia and better interstate cooperation are opening up more opportunities for Washington to deepen ties with the resource-rich region. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

David Axe writes: Christmas came and went without any major missile launch. But the Pentagon remains on alert for a possible test. […]But it did happen. Pyongyang conducted no fewer than three ICBM tests before voluntarily pausing trials. If North Korea does resume testing, it’s unclear exactly what this will mean for the country’s deterrent and the prospects of lasting peace. – The National Interest 


A senior Russian diplomat raised concern Wednesday about the United States deploying a new submarine-launched nuclear weapon, saying the move signaled Washington’s belief that it could wage a limited nuclear conflict. – Associated Press 

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday that foreign disinformation efforts against the U.S. “never stopped” after Russian actors used them on social media platforms during the 2016 elections. – The Hill 

Tom Rogan writes: Note the duplicitous language here: Macron says the West should “not yield things to Russia,” but also that it’s a “major error to distance ourselves from” Russia. […]The problem with Macron’s statement, as he well knows, is that the current political distance between Russia and the West is not a consequence of chance. Instead, it is a consequence of Putin’s decisions. A consequence of Putin’s sustained attacks on the democratic international order, his spreading of high-toxicity nerve agents against innocent people, and his assisting in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. – Washington Examiner


Down one country with the departure of Britain, the European Union’s executive proposed a new system for adding members in a move made all the more urgent by French objections to open enlargement talks with two Western Balkan nations. – Associated Press

A retired Norwegian border inspector, who was convicted in Russia for spying and who was returned home last year in a spy swap, lashed out Wednesday at the Scandinavian country’s intelligence services for using local people, saying they are “amateurish.” – Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo barred a Bulgarian judge from entering the United States because of the foreign jurist’s alleged involvement in “significant corruption.” – Associated Press

European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan will be in Washington on Thursday for the second time in less than a month as the bloc seeks to revive a transatlantic commercial truce. – Bloomberg

The British Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that monitors anti-Semitism and provides security for the Jewish community in Britain, said it recorded 1,805 anti-Semitic hate incidents nationwide in 2019, the highest total it has ever recorded in a calendar year. – Times of Israel 

Josep Borrell, the new EU foreign policy chief, will hold talks in Washington on Thursday and Friday with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, the European Union said in a statement on Wednesday. – Reuters

Mike Lynch, the British tech billionaire who sold his data company Autonomy to Hewlett Packard, submitted himself for arrest on Wednesday as part of a bid by the United States to extradite him to face criminal charges. – Reuters 

Bucking the European Union’s opposition to the US administration’s peace plan, Hungary on Wednesday came out in support of the proposal, saying it was “suitable for creating peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. – Times of Israel

The US backs energy-based partnerships in the eastern Mediterranean that bolster political cooperation and prosperity and is urging against “provocative actions” that undermine stability, a government official said Wednesday. – Times of Israel


Sudan’s military said Wednesday the motive for agreeing to an initiative to normalize relations with Israel after decades of enmity was to help end the country’s status as an international pariah state. – Associated Press

Kenya, set to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the U.S., sees itself as a pace-setter for bilateral deals with the world’s biggest economy in sub-Saharan Africa while remaining committed to integration on the continent, President Uhuru Kenyatta said. – Bloomberg

The Swedish Armed Forces has begun planning for a possible deployment including helicopters to the new France-led special operations Task Force Takuba in Mali, following a request from the government. – Defense Post

Latin America

President Trump met with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó at the White House on Wednesday and reiterated the U.S.’s desire to remove the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, from power. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration is ramping up pressure against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government, and energy companies with ties to it, from Russia’s Rosneft (ROSN.MM) to U.S.-based Chevron Corp (CVX.N), should “tread cautiously,” a senior administration official said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Francisco Toro writes: In Venezuela, people appear increasingly resigned to their fate. The refugee exodus to neighboring countries has slowed down — though in no way stopped — and most of those left behind seem focused on surviving. […]And so, while it’s certainly gratifying to see Democrats and Republicans alike stand up to applaud the personification of Venezuela’s rejection of barbarism, one can imagine how little this will mean to the mutilated miners brutalized to sustain the Maduro regime. Guaidó remains a powerful symbol of hope for Venezuelans. But symbols alone are powerless against brutality on the scale that Venezuelans are suffering. – Washington Post 

Daniel Di Martino writes: Trump showed that Venezuela continues to be a priority. Instead of seeing the State of the Union as an obstacle to meeting with Venezuela’s interim president, Trump used it as an opportunity to inject the element of surprise that characterizes him. By bringing Guaido and recognizing him as “Mr. President,” Trump gave him unprecedented recognition that very few foreign leaders have gotten. – Washington Examiner 


The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is not immune to the struggle that all corners of the federal government face on securing its supply chain. – Fifth Domain 

Following the drone strike the killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in early January, one top military leader said a retaliatory cyberthreat has become more dynamic. – Fifth Domain 

Defense innovation experts told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that if they truly want the Department of Defense to embrace the leap-ahead technologies needed to compete, Congress must use its funding power to make major players out of small, disruptive tech firms. – Defense News 

Thomas J. Duesterberg writes: Government has a role to play in 5G, but private capital is essential to build virtual networks at scale to compete with Chinese players. The U.S. has led the technological revolution of the last half century. As another extension of that long victory, virtual networks could carry the day for America in its battle with China over advanced telecom networks. – Wall Street Journal


In a move that aims to overhaul the Department of the Navy’s dated information technology infrastructure, the Navy awarded defense company Leidos a contract worth up to $7.7 billion to overhaul several data networks, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday. – USNI News 

Manning and maintenance considerations are driving conversations about Navy and Marine Corps operations, as the two sea services rebuild readiness in the aftermath of fatal ship collisions and aircraft crashes in recent years. – USNI News 

Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, who leads both organizations, said JFC Norfolk and 2nd Fleet are “natural partners” in bringing together allies on both sides of the Atlantic. – USNI News 

U.S. Army officials worry a lack of planning and poor funding for a pending consolidation of how the Pentagon manages military public health and medical research activities will result in dire battlefield consequences. – USNI News 

The following is the Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) 2019 annual report. It was released in late January 2020. – USNI News 

A new version of Raytheon’s Excalibur precision-guided munition demonstrated in a U.S. Navy test at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, that it can change course to hit moving targets. – Defense News 

The Defense Department on Monday submitted a plan to Congress on the initial structure of the Space Force, but many of the details of the service’s structure still need to be hammered out. – Defense News 

The Department of Defense wants physical access to its satellites in geostationary orbit, and it’s not hard to understand why. – C4ISRNET

The Department of Defense has identified $5.7 billion in funding that will be reallocated from current offices towards new priorities such as hypersonic weapons and artificial intelligence, department officials revealed Wednesday. – Defense News

The Defense Department on Monday submitted a plan to Congress on the initial structure of the Space Force, but many of the details of the service’s structure still need to be hammered out. – Defense News 

The Army’s new command post tool received lukewarm results from the Pentagon’s weapon testers, though the Army asserts that deficiencies have been fixed. – C4ISRNET 

America’s defense-industrial base remains a global leader, but there are warning signs on the horizon, claims a new study from a leading industry association. – Defense News 

Missile Defense

The U.S. military test-launched an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) early Wednesday, Air Force Global Strike Command said in a news release. – The Hill

The Missile Defense Agency is tapping industry to design and build an interceptor capable of defending against regional hypersonic weapons threats, releasing a draft request for proposals to build prototypes. – Defense News 

The Army is offering big bucks to lure more warrant officers into the air defense artillery branch, where specialists are in high demand to meet an expanding set of global missions. […]There are three ADA warrant officer specialties: command and control systems integrator, air and missile defense tactician, and air and missile defense systems technician. – Stars and Stripes 

Long War

The latest report to Congress from the Pentagon’s lead inspector general warns against declaring premature victory over the remnants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. – Washington Examiner

Three people including an Australian man have been stabbed in the Maldives in an attack claimed by Islamic State sympathisers. – The Guardian

A Dutch blogger who reported the Streatham terror attacker to UK authorities has told Sky News he was one of “the most violent” terrorists he had come across online. – Sky News (UK) 

Trump Administration

President Trump was acquitted Wednesday by the Republican-controlled Senate of charges that he abused the powers of his office and obstructed Congress as it probed his attempts to pressure Ukraine into political investigations — capping a tumultuous, three-week impeachment trial that leaves his fate in the hands of voters in November. – Washington Post

The Trump administration will no longer allow New York state residents to enroll in Global Entry or other Trusted Traveler programs, citing new sanctuary policies that limit federal access to state driver’s license data, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wold said on Fox News late Wednesday. – Washington Post 

Days before the July 2019 call between President Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart, US officials were still working to expedite the delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to the country, according to emails and other internal documents reviewed by CNN. – CNN