Fdd's overnight brief

January 10, 2019

In The News


Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Wednesday that it has detained a U.S. Navy veteran who was arrested last summer when he went to the country to visit his girlfriend. – Washington Post

When a technical error forced a Norwegian Air jet to land at Shiraz Airport in Iran last month, the Boeing 737 touched down in uncharted territory. […]The jet appeared to be caught up in United States sanctions on Tehran’s nuclear program that prohibit civilian aircraft sales, including services and parts. Those came into force again last year after President Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal that had eased punitive measures in return for verifiable pledges of peaceful nuclear work. – New York Times

A former Israeli minister pleaded guilty to spying for the country’s bitter enemy Iran and faces an 11-year prison sentence, in a case that has gripped the public as Israel tries to thwart Tehran’s attempts to entrench on its border. – Wall Street Journal

Iran will continue with its aerospace program despite U.S. warnings, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday, adding there was no international law prohibiting such a program. – Reuters

Iran’s president said Thursday the Islamic Republic soon will send two new satellites into orbit using Iran-made rockets, despite U.S. concern the launch could help further develop its ballistic missiles. – Associated Press

U.S. sanctions are putting unprecedented pressure on Iranians while “first class idiots” are running Washington’s policy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Iran said on Wednesday that it would reciprocate after the European Union added two Iranian individuals and an Iranian intelligence unit to the bloc’s terrorist list. – Reuters

Footage of a Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being arrested in Iran has been released as part of “cruel psychological game”, her husband has told Sky News. The footage, which was broadcast on Iranian state TV, shows the British-Iranian pushing a baggage cart along at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran before handing her passport over to an unidentified man in April 2016. – Sky News (UK)

Editorial: The European Union on Tuesday imposed new sanctions against Iran for the first time since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action came into effect. This is a welcome, if belated, acknowledgment that the 2015 nuclear deal has failed to change Tehran’s behavior. […]As Iranian kill teams roam Europe, the Continent’s leaders should rethink why they’re trying so hard to save the agreement. The better option is to form a united front with the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: Instead, these sanctions are Europe’s version of the Obama administration response to Iran’s failed 2011 attempt to blow up a Washington, D.C., restaurant. It represents the avoidance of resolute action in fear of aggravating those same elements that have just tried to murder European citizens. Namely, the Iranian hard-liners centered around the MOIS and the Revolutionary Guard Corps. It’s appeasement, pure and simple. – Washington Examiner

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj writes: The plan to ban Instagram despite its use by the Islamic Republic’s highest officials shows that Iran’s leadership has not yet decided how it feels about social media, and is struggling to find a middle path between the unfettered access enjoyed by much of the world and China’s walled-garden approach. – Bloomberg


Both Turkey and the Syrian Kurds are now pinning their hopes on Russia to resolve the problems created by President Trump’s abrupt decision last month to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, which has threatened to ignite a new war between the United States’ Kurdish and Turkish allies. – Washington Post

A 16-year-old American boy fighting on behalf of the Islamic State was captured on the battlefield in Syria, an American-backed force fighting the militants said Wednesday. – New York Times

Ilan Goldenberg and Nicholas Heras writes: The bottom line is that the U.S. withdrawal from Syria is a bad idea. Keeping a small U.S. presence to hold eastern Syria has protected U.S. interests—ensuring the defeat of ISIS and limiting Iran’s influence in Syria—at a reasonable cost. But if Trump is intent on leaving, the best his advisers can do is to limit the damage by using the meager tools at their disposal to encourage Russia to keep ISIS down and contain Iran. – Foreign Affairs


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Wednesday that there would be no meddling in Israel’s April election after state censors suppressed a speech by his domestic intelligence chief accusing a foreign power of planning to hack the vote. – Reuters

In an article in the Saudi government daily ‘Okaz, journalist and legal expert Osama Yamani recounted a conversation he had with a friend, who criticized the Arabs and Palestinians for repeating the same “loathsome and impractical” discourse about Israel for decades while trying to destroy it and refusing to recognize the fact that it exists and is a powerful state. This approach, the friend said, has led to nothing but destruction for the Arabs, the loss of land and the failure of the Palestinian cause. He proposed to establish a confederation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan as a solution – Middle East Media Research Institute

[Linda Sarsour] criticized President Trump for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, saying: “I declare to all of you here today in Sacramento that Jerusalem is and always will be the capital of Palestine.” Calling the Trump administration fascist, she encouraged Muslims to become involved in politics even if their mosques usually avoid politics, because, she said, simply being Muslim is a political act. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Ron Ben Yishai writes: One of the countries Argaman may have been talking about is indeed Russia, which has been accused of attempting to interfere in the elections of many other countries, particularly the United States. […]But Russia is not the only country Shin Bet Director Argaman was referring to: China and Iran were also accused by American officials over the past year of trying to interfere in the midterm elections. President Trump himself accused China of trying to interfere in the elections—something Beijing denied. – Ynet


Iraqi leaders implored Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to maintain a U.S. troop presence in the country, seeking U.S. reassurances after the Trump administration announced plans to withdraw troops from elsewhere in the region. – Wall Street Journal

Iraq’s large and well-armed Shiite militias are now running many of the Sunni areas they helped liberate from the Islamic State, fostering local resentments that could fuel a resurgence of support for the extremist group. – Washington Post

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Wednesday, meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, Kurdish officials and other government leaders in a bid to demonstrate the United States’ support for a key ally. – Washington Post

Raed Ahmed writes: On Dec. 9, 2017, Iraq’s then prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, declared victory over ISIS in what was considered a national holiday for the country. In the year since then, however, Iraq has continued to face critical challenges. Although the victory brought an “initial” end to the extremist group’s territorial control in Iraq, it also gave rise to the biggest internally displaced persons (IDP) crisis in the country’s modern history and legitimized militias that have adopted the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon. – Middle East Institute

Arabian Peninsula

Houthi drones on Thursday attacked a Yemeni government military parade in Lahaj province, killing several people, Saudi and Houthi media reported. – Reuters

Both sides in the conflict in Yemen have largely stuck to a ceasefire agreed last month, but substantial progress is still needed before more talks can be held on ending the war, the U.N. special representative to the country said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The guns have mostly fallen silent around the Yemeni port of Hodeidah and the skies are clear of warplanes, but a U.N.-sponsored deal for the warring armies to quit the city has stalled, risking efforts to end a conflict that has pushed the country to the brink of famine. – Reuters

A United Nations human rights watchdog has called on Bahrain to release three relatives of a prominent exiled activist, describing their detention as an unlawful act of reprisal over their family connection. – Reuters

Barbara A. Leaf and Elana DeLozier write: Eventual peace negotiations that lay the foundation for a durable political settlement of Yemen’s catastrophic four-year civil war — are unlikely to meet the paramount objective that fueled the intervention by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the first place: ending Iranian influence in Yemen. Resolving that issue requires a peace settlement that reorients the Houthis toward an altogether different arrangement with their Saudi neighbor. […]the time is ripe for Saudi Arabia to deepen back-channel talks with the Houthis in parallel and in support of, but separate from, the U.N.-led talks. – War on the Rocks

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a summit this week to telegraph to the U.S. that the Communist neighbors want to advance the stalled negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. – Wall Street Journal

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday that President Trump and his North Korea counterpart, Kim Jong Un, needed to move from “abstract” talk to “concrete” action the next time they meet, to speed up their peace process and bridge mistrust. – Washington Post

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday Japan’s political leaders should not undermine bilateral ties by “politicizing” the issue of South Koreans forced to work by Japanese companies during World War Two. – Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to pursue a second summit with President Donald Trump “to achieve results that will be welcomed by the international community,” Chinese state media reported on Thursday. – USA Today

Adam Taylor writes: As for North Korea, Kim could play China against the United States, turning to one for relief whenever the pressure from the other got to be too much. Trump continues to talk about his summit with Kim as a key foreign-policy victory, and the promise of further wins will be a potent bargaining chip for Pyongyang. […]But for now, the two leaders may hope that their democratically elected peer, facing domestic political scandals, economic uncertainty and the start of the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, may be eager to reach a deal that pleases all parties. – Washington Post

Tom Rogan writes: The answer is simple: because Xi is comfortable taking risks in return for rewards. His ideal outcome to the North Korean nuclear crisis is one in which Pyongyang deploys its nuclear forces but also offers some kind of security guarantee that Trump accepts. That outcome would enable Xi to continue dangling his control over North Korea as a means of exerting concessions from the U.S., but with reduced risk of U.S. military action of the kind Trump threatened in 2017 – Washington Examiner


The U.S. and China wrapped up their first face-to-face trade negotiations since a temporary tariff truce was declared last month, making progress toward an agreement but leaving the thorniest issues to be resolved in higher-level talks, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. – Wall Street Journal

Government officials plan to propose a law that would make disrespecting China’s national anthem a crime, raising concern within opposition ranks that it would further narrow freedoms in the semiautonomous Chinese city. – Wall Street Journal

China’s ambassador to Ottawa has accused Canada of “double standards” and disregarding his country’s judicial sovereignty, in a diplomatic row sparked by the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton raised U.S. concerns about the use of Chinese telecommunications equipment in sensitive sectors during a weekend meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a U.S. official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

China’s vice president said cooperation is the best choice for Beijing and Washington while reiterating his nation would stay committed to its own path, a day after mid-level trade talks ended on a positive note. “ – Bloomberg

Robert J. Samuelson writes: U.S. officials traveled to China this week in an effort to end the bitter trade war between the two countries. The main obstacle to a settlement is natural rivalry: The United States is trying to protect its position as the most important superpower, and China is serving notice that it covets that status for itself. What further complicates matters is a clash of economic systems. China practices state capitalism. […]The main motive for protecting state firms may be political, more than economic. And that’s why it may be so hard to change. – Washington Post

Andy Puzder writes: Mr. Xi’s speech was intended to reinforce the myth of an invincible Chinese dragon capable of bullying America into submission with its economic clout. The bluster is a sign of economic weakness. President Trump’s trade strategy has exposed China’s vulnerability, demonstrating the risks of going toe-to-toe with a determined opponent that happens to be your largest customer. – Wall Street Journal


Eleven years after the United States began building an air force for Afghanistan at a cost now nearing $8 billion, it remains a frustrating work in progress, with no end in sight. Some aviation experts say the Afghans will rely on American maintenance and other support for years. Such dependence could complicate President Trump’s moves to extricate the United States from the 17-year-old war against Taliban insurgents — a war in which they lately appear to be gaining ground. – New York Times

The body of an Afghan government employee who also worked as a part-time journalist in western Afghanistan’s Farah region has been found, three days after he was kidnapped by Taliban militants, local officials said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Officials say a wave of Taliban attacks in western and northern Afghanistan the previous day has killed 21 members of the country’s security forces. – Associated Press


A young Saudi woman who barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to avoid deportation was granted refugee status Wednesday by the United Nations refugee agency, Australian officials said, clearing the way for an asylum request. – New York Times

A 48-year-old man was charged on Thursday with mailing suspicious packages to foreign consulates in Australian cities this week, which the authorities said may have contained an unspecified hazardous material. – New York Times

A Philippine court on Thursday held a former bank manager guilty on eight counts of money laundering, the first conviction in one of the world’s largest cyber heists, in which $81 million was stolen from Bangladesh’s central bank nearly three years ago. – Reuters

Police in southern Thailand say four paramilitary rangers have been killed while guarding a school in Pattani province, the latest of several recent attacks in a region hit by a Muslim separatist insurgency since 2004. – Associated Press

Thomas J. Duesterberg writes: Although President Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership, citing its negative impact on the manufacturing sector, other parts of that agreement could be revived to the benefit of the United States in a formalized trade accord with Japan. […]The United States should seize the opportunity this year to complete an agreement with the third largest economy in the world and strengthen the consensus on challenging the threat of China to the open trade system. – Hudson Institute


Speaking exclusively to Micky, Vladislav Ginko of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration believes new U.S. sanctions will push the Kremlin into diversifying its cash reserves into Bitcoin. Ginko who has ties with the government going back more than 20 years says the move will happen in a matter of weeks. – Bitcoinist

Russia slapped down Japanese assertions that a deal was in the offing to resolve a decades-old dispute over a chain of islands, accusing Tokyo of distorting agreements struck with Moscow to break the deadlock. – Reuters

Janusz Bugajski writes: Russia’s ongoing attacks on Ukraine and its persistent subversion of Western states demonstrates that Washington and Brussels have failed to restrain Moscow’s imperial ambitions. Engagement, criticism and limited sanctions have simply reinforced Kremlin perceptions that the West is weak and predictable. To curtail Moscow’s neo-imperialism a new strategy is needed, one that nourishes Russia’s decline and manages the international consequences of its dissolution. – The Hill


A terrorism trial starting here on Thursday highlights the difficulties Europe’s courts and prisons face containing the spread of jihadist ideology behind bars. […]European prisons are fertile recruiting ground for new terrorists despite efforts in France, Belgium and other European countries to isolate dangerous and radicalized suspects in dedicated wards to prevent them from proselytizing. – Wall Street Journal

Though she admits disliking the social side of politics, Prime Minister Theresa May hosted lawmakers at a party in Downing Street this week, hoping to salvage her much-maligned plans for Britain’s departure from the European Union, or Brexit. – New York Times

A far-left militant group in Greece known for staging attacks on political and foreign diplomatic sites has claimed responsibility for a bombing near Athens last month outside the offices of a major broadcaster and newspaper publisher. – New York Times

Belgian authorities have arrested a man already convicted for terrorism and charged him with theft of material from prosecutors, including information on autopsies of the victims of the 2016 Brussels bombings. – Reuters

The largest education union in the United Kingdom backtracked on a pledge to boycott advertisements from Israeli companies, with its co-head confirming on Wednesday that the statement was “made in error.” – Algemeiner

During a December 8, 2018 conference held by the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), French-Algerian political activist Houria Bouteldja delivered a talk titled “Fighting Philo-Semitism to Fight Islamophobia and Zionism.” Defining philo-Semitism as the love of Jews, she criticized France and Britain for being philo-Semitic, and called philo-Semitism a kind of state racism that is combined with Islamophobia to maintain the whiteness of nation-states. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Janusz Bugajski writes: In the security arena, anxieties persist that after Brexit, CEE will lose a key ally with significant military and intelligence capabilities. Such fears may be exaggerated because UK influence on Europe’s security agenda will remain through its prominent role in NATO. […]Some CEE capitals are also worried that Britain’s departure will weaken transatlantic links and soften the EU’s stance toward an expansionist Russia. And here the United States can play a crucial role, not only by maintaining the “special relationship” with the UK but also by reinforcing its security ties with EU members along NATO’s eastern flank. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Rachel Rizzo writes: If Trump did intervene, it would be on May’s side. Unfortunately, that risks angering the EU, further stoking anti-American sentiment floating around Europe, and ultimately making things more difficult for the UK. Trump would like to see Brexit happen, and happen smoothly. If that’s what he wants, then the best move would be to stay silent. Not his strong suit. – Politico


France on Thursday challenged the outcome of DR Congo’s presidential election, saying the declared victory of opposition chief Felix Tshisekedi was “not consistent” with the results and that his rival Martin Fayulu appeared to have won. – Agence France-Presse

The United Nations voiced alarm on Wednesday at the uprooting of more than 30,000 Nigerians forced to flee the protracted war against Islamist insurgents in the country’s northeast. – Reuters

Maged Atef writes: The dominating chant of “The people want to overthrow the regime”—echoing earlier chants of the Arab Spring—is of concern to both Khartoum and other governments across the region. It is certain that were the al-Bashir regime to fall, its collapse would have major consequences for several countries in the region, the interests of which al-Bashir is the principal guarantor. – Washington Institute

United States

President Trump addressed the nation Tuesday night about what he calls, “a growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border. As the government shutdown persists, here’s what we know about migration into the United States and what’s happening at the U.S.- Mexico border. – Washington Post

Maryland’s ban on contracting with businesses that boycott Israel tramples on the First Amendment rights of a software engineer who advocates for Palestinians, a Muslim civil rights group claims in a lawsuit filed Wednesday. – Associated Press

Democrats in the Senate blocked a bill on Tuesday regarding Middle East policy proposed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio that ignited heated debate in Washington about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. – Haaretz

Latin America

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil said Wednesday that his government would no longer be a party to a United Nations migration accord signed last month, arguing that “not just anyone can come into our home.” – New York Times

President Nicolás Maduro is set to be sworn in for a second term Thursday at a moment when there is little for him to celebrate. […]Brazil’s new pro-Trump leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, has followed the United States in taking a tough stance against Maduro. Given the already hard line adopted by Colombia, Venezuela is now sandwiched between hostile powers and is facing the threat of new sanctions or worse. – Washington Post

Guatemala’s constitutional court has suspended a decision by the government to kick out a UN body that was investigating the country’s president. – BBC News

Editorial: The epic political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is due to pass a new juncture Thursday when President Nicolás Maduro is sworn in for a second six-year term. […]Mr. Maduro, having orchestrated a fraudulent reelection, presses on with what the regime describes as a socialist revolution, with tutoring from Cuba and predatory loans from Russia and China. If there is any light in this bleak picture, it is that Venezuela’s neighbors are edging toward more assertive action to stem a crisis that, with the massive flow of refugees, threatens to destabilize several other countries. – Washington Post

Cyber Security

The National Security Agency discovered what has been called the largest breach of classified data in its history in 2016 after getting a tip from a Russian cybersecurity firm that the U.S. government has banned from its networks as a spy threat, according to people familiar with the matter. – Washington Post

Just days after Vietnam launched its latest campaign against social media with a new cybersecurity law, the communist regime accused Facebook of not taking down antigovernment comments. – Wall Street Journal

State-sponsored hackers were likely behind a cyberattack that netted the personal details of 1.5 million people in Singapore, including the medical records of their primary target Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, an inquiry found. – Wall Street Journal

German officials are racing to bolster cyber security after a far-reaching data breach by a 20-year-old student laid bare the vulnerability of Europe’s largest economy ahead of a critical European Parliament election in May. – Reuters

As the federal government’s partial shutdown threatens to spill over into its fourth week, House leaders and industry representatives are worried the work-stoppage will have long-running implications and could cripple the government’s ability to hire qualified IT workers in the future. “How can we ever hope to recruit or maintain IT talent when hardworking government workers are told: ‘Sorry, you aren’t getting paid, but you still need to come to work’ or ‘Sorry, but no paycheck this week because of politics?’”  – Fifth Domain

Editorial: The regulations that govern digital platforms cannot be the same as those that govern telecommunications companies or broadband providers (from whom Congress repealed privacy regulations nearly two years ago). The technologies themselves are so different that the expectations must be, too. But Congress must ensure that the same underlying principles of trust apply to all companies — and hold the relevant agencies accountable for enforcing them. Otherwise, carriers and social media sites alike will have little incentive to keep your data away from those bounty hunters. – Washington Post


The Navy secretary wants to empower the workforce to fix problems and stretch their dollars further, even if it means taking on some risk, he said Tuesday. – USNI News

As the U.S. Army’s Multi-Domain Operations concept continues to evolve and be tested, the service is finding three key areas to focus on ahead of any major conflict. – Defense News

Soldiers recently tested software that would allow commanders to plug into the battlefield picture being seen by their soldiers in remote locations from across the globe, providing mission command from home station. – Army Times

Secretary Heather Wilson and Gen. David Goldfein write: Fast forward 75 years, and the Arctic has become even more important to the nation. Both a northern approach to the United States, as well as a critical location for projecting American power, its geo-strategic significance is difficult to overstate. Key defense assets dot the landscape. The Air Force operates most of our Arctic locations — from fighter and tanker bases to space-tracking systems and radar sites that detect aircraft and missiles coming over the poles. – Defense News

Trump Administration

Now Mr. Rosenstein plans to step down as the United States’ No. 2 law enforcement official after Mr. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William P. Barr, is confirmed, three administration officials said on Wednesday. Senators could vote to confirm him as early as next month. – New York Times

The Justice Department official who has played a central role in overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller is planning to leave his post soon — but Rod Rosenstein’s exact departure date remains murky and has injected a new round of uncertainty into the high-profile Russia investigation. – Politico

A bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller is likely to get another vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee if the Russia probe is still going later this winter, new Chairman Lindsey Graham said in an interview on Wednesday. – Politico