Fdd's overnight brief

January 22, 2019

In The News


Germany’s government banned an Iranian airline from operating in the country following U.S. allegations that its aircraft transported weapons and fighters to war-torn Syria. U.S. officials say the move against Mahan Air result of longstanding pressure from the Trump administration. – Wall Street Journal

Israel said Monday it struck several Iranian targets in Syria in response to a missile attack, sending what appeared to be an increasingly forceful public message to Tehran to stay away from its borders as U.S. troops prepare to leave Syria. – Wall Street Journal

Amid rising tensions between Israel and Iran-backed forces in Syria on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a warning to leaders in Tehran, saying, “Anyone who tries to hurt us, we will hurt them.” – Times of Israel

Sunday’s Iranian rocket attack on the Golan Heights and the resulting massive Israeli retaliatory strike in Syria against targets connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force marked the opening of a new battle in the ongoing secret war between the Jewish state and the Tehran regime, experts said on Monday. – Algemeiner

Amid fears of escalation, hours after Israeli airstrikes destroyed Iranian installations and reportedly killed military personnel in Syria, Iran’s air force chief said Monday the country’s youths were “impatient” to fight a war for “Israel’s disappearance.” – Times of Israel

Amid the controversy over the fate of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, an influential ayatollah says, “Ultimately, the deal should be burned.” – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Russell Gold writes: The number of electric vehicles is growing. Consumer discomfort with plastic bottles is rising. Diplomats are pushing global action to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. The price of renewable energy continues to fall. This year, the factors that will most likely drive the price of oil are the Trump administration’s showdown with Iran and the strength of the global economy. In other words, prices will depend on geopolitics and the balance of supply and demand. Welcome to the new oil market, same as the old market. – Wall Street Journal

Avi Issacharoff writes: Some Israeli pundits have argued that the Iranian attack was a response to the apparent end of Israel’s longstanding policy of ambiguity, under which Israeli officials refrained from taking explicit responsibility for airstrikes or other military operations in Syria over the years. […] The rocket fire at Israel from Syria is probably better understood as an Iranian attempt to create a new balance of power on the Israeli-Syrian front — to generate the expectation that an Israeli attack in Syrian territory will result in fire on Israeli territory. In other words, it marked a new effort to create deterrence against Israel. – Times of Israel


A Green Beret, a Navy linguist, a former Navy SEAL and a Syrian emigre were the Americans killed in this week’s suicide bombing in Syria, the Defense Department and a defense contractor said on Friday. – Washington Post

Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Syria have in recent days forced their rivals’ surrender in the country’s final rebel-held pocket, cementing control while increasing the likelihood of a ruinous showdown with Syrian government forces. – Washington Post

A leading Syrian businessman, Samer Foz, was among 11 individuals and five companies the European Union sanctioned Monday for providing financial and other support to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump met on Saturday with the families of four Americans killed in a suicide bombing in Syria that was claimed by the Islamic State. The attack has cast new doubts on Trump’s claim that the terrorist group has been vanquished. – Washington Post

Like some other Westerners with relatives who have been detained or held hostage over the course of Syria’s long and bloody civil war, Mr. Kamalmaz’s family chose at first not to speak publicly about his disappearance as they tried to push for his release. But the F.B.I. and the State Department, which had advised them to keep the case quiet, have made little progress in finding him, and Mr. Kamalmaz’s family now wants to promote the case […]. – New York Times

An airstrike hit people trying to flee the last area controlled by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria Friday, killing at least 20 including children, opposition activists and the country’s state media reported. – Associated Press


After lengthy meetings with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Senator Lindsey Graham called on Saturday for a slower, smarter withdrawal of American troops from Syria to avoid setting off a broader war and a nightmare for Turkey. – New York Times

Turkey is planning to launch an international investigation into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and will take further steps in coming days, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by state-owned media. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: For most countries, it would be unthinkable to support, let alone supply, al-Shabaab. Except for Turkey. […] That Turkey was actively supporting an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria and, at a minimum, passively supporting the Islamic State was the major reason why the United States cast its lot in with Syria’s Kurds. Turkey’s ongoing partnership with radical groups in Syria will also pose a lasting security challenge to the broader region and Turkey itself. – Washington Examiner


Israel and Chad have re-established diplomatic ties as part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push to project his country’s clout in the Middle East and Africa. – Wall Street Journal

Tens of thousands of Palestinians are no longer getting food aid or basic health services from America, U.S.-funded infrastructure projects have been halted, and an innovative peace-building program in Jerusalem is scaling back its activities. – Associated Press

Israel and the United States carried out a successful test of their advanced Arrow 3 missile defense system early Tuesday morning, the Defense Ministry said. – Times of Israel

A Palestinian man attempted to carry out a stabbing attack on Monday evening against Israeli troops near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, the Israel Defense Forces said. The soldiers subsequently shot and killed the assailant at a junction outside Nablus, near a military base, the army said. – Times of Israel

Israel is preparing for an historic visit by Mali’s Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, officials said on Monday, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cemented the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Chad during the first visit of an Israeli premier to the Muslim-majority country. – Times of Israel

Jordan on Monday hit out at Israel’s move to open a new international airport close the two countries’ shared border near the Red Sea, saying it would threaten the kingdom’s airspace. – Agence France-Presse

Palestinian operatives in the Gaza Strip have disassembled spyware equipment planted by a “collaborator” with Israel in a home adjacent to that of Marwan Issa, the deputy head of the group’s military wing, the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Monday, citing sources in terror groups in the coastal enclave. – Times of Israel

Jason Greenblatt, the US envoy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and prominent Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi clashed over the Trump administration’s peace efforts on Twitter on Sunday. – Times of Israel

In an unprecedented move, Sudan on Sunday allowed an Israeli plane to cross through the air space it controls. The flight, carrying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back to Israel from a lightning visit to Chad, jetted over South Sudan, whose skies are under the control of the civil aviation authorities in Khartoum. – Times of Israel

Israel’s relations with Norway, which improved significantly in 2013 with the election of a center-right government, are likely to improve even more following a reshuffling on Thursday, said Conrad Myrland, head of a pro-Israel group in the country. – Jerusalem Post

Raphael Ahren writes: Netanyahu has long designated Africa as a prime target for Israeli diplomacy. He has traveled to the continent four times over the last two-and-a-half years, and met with numerous African leaders — including secretly with some whose nations do not have formal relations with Israel. None of the African countries Netanyahu has courted are model democracies. In short, Chad would appear to be entirely out of step with Israeli ideals. Nevertheless, Netanyahu decided this week to make the effort to fly thousands of miles to N’Djamena to celebrate the resumption of diplomatic relations and heap praise on Déby — who has ruled the country for nearly 30 years. – Times of Israel

Islamic State

But to suggest that ISIS was defeated, as President Trump did when he announced plans to pull out American troops from Syria, is to ignore the lessons of recent history. The group has been declared vanquished before, only to prove politicians wrong and to rise stronger than before. – New York Times

Top British officials confronted a dilemma last spring. Should they offer to help the United States prosecute two British nationals accused of abusing hostages as part of an Islamic State cell in Syria? Or would the conditions of their proposal scare off the Trump administration and worsen relations? – New York Times

In the weeks after his city fell to the Islamic State, Iraqi scientist Suleiman al-Afari sat in his deserted government office and waited for the day when the terrorists would show up. When his turn came, Afari, then a 49-year-old geologist with Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Minerals, hoped his new bosses would simply let him keep his job. To his surprise, they offered him a new one: Help us make chemical weapons, the Islamic State’s emissaries said. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

Qatar pledged Monday to shore up Lebanon’s ailing economy by buying $500 million’s worth of governments bonds, a move that muscles in on rival Saudi Arabia’s role as Beirut’s financial patron. – Wall Street Journal

Lebanon used an Arab economic summit on Sunday to call for the return of Syrian refugees to safe areas of their war-torn country, where the nearly eight-year civil war is still underway despite a recent series of government victories. – Associated Press

Three survivors of a rubber dinghy that sank in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya say up to 117 other migrants were aboard at the time of the capsizing, a U.N. migration official said Saturday. – Associated Press

Joseph Haboush writes: Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah remain at loggerheads over the formation of a new government. The dispute has now entered its eighth month and the country is slowly tiptoeing towards a financial crisis. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

U.S. intelligence officials have met with North Korean counterparts secretly for a decade, a covert channel that allowed communications during tense times, aided in the release of detainees and helped pave the way for President Trump’s historic summit last year with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump’s demands that South Korea take on far more costs for hosting U.S. troops is straining the alliance and potentially playing into North Korea’s hands ahead of a second summit with Kim Jong Un, South Korean lawmakers and experts say. – Washington Post

Researchers have discovered another secret ballistic missile base in North Korea, one of an estimated 20 that the communist state has not declared. – USA Today

Jonathan Cheng writes: But while U.S. government officials involved in the diplomatic efforts haven’t yet ruled out Pyongyang’s willingness to denuclearize, some North Korea experts in Washington say it is time to face an unpleasant reality: that North Korea, having invested heavily in its nuclear program for decades, isn’t going to give up its arsenal now that it is at the finish line. – Wall Street Journal

Joseph Bermudez, Victor Cha and Lisa Collins writes: Located 212 kilometers north of the DMZ, Sino-ri is an operational missile base that houses a regiment-sized unit equipped with Nodong-1 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM). It is one of the oldest of approximately 20 undeclared missile operating bases and is reported to serve as the headquarters of the Strategic Rocket Forces Nodong missile brigade. It may have also played a role in the development of the newest Pukkuksong-2 (KN-15) ballistic missile first tested or unveiled on February 12, 2017, shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Charlie Campbell writes: But Kim may have bigger dreams than simply slackening the economic noose. After all, sanctions enforcement by China—across whose 880-mile shared border virtually all North Korean trade passes—has already crumbled amid Kim’s warming relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Trump’s trade war. Moreover, sanctions relief was always a double-edged sword for Kim. […]He will be acutely aware of the East German example, where liberalizing reforms gave rise to mass protests and eventual absorption by democratic West Germany. Kim would much rather be Vietnam. – Time


More than 100 Western academics and former diplomats urged Beijing to release two Canadians detained last month, warning that the detentions during a diplomatic row with Canada will heighten distrust of China. – Wall Street Journal

For months, a group of outspoken young communists has put China’s leaders on edge, organizing a fiery campaign for workers’ rights that has evaded the government’s tight political control. Now the authorities appear to be deploying a new weapon in their efforts to crush the movement: forcing students to watch videotaped confessions in which detained activists say they spread false information and violated the law. – New York Times

Chinese authorities investigating a scientist who claimed to have engineered the world’s first gene-edited babies accused him of violating national laws and forging documents needed to proceed with the experiment, state media reported Monday. – Wall Street Journal

Nearly four months after an Interpol chief was detained in China on corruption charges, his wife has applied for asylum in France, she said on Saturday. – New York Times

U.S. lawmakers revived a bill Thursday that could pave the way for sanctions against China over its mass internment of Muslim ethnic minorities in the western region of Xinjiang. – Washington Post

Gary J. Schmitt writes: Although changes in American and Chinese leadership have brought current tensions between the two nations to the fore, the underlying reasons for the tensions are not tied to either President Donald Trump or President Xi Jinping coming into office. […] The administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy is a relatively coherent response to the challenge China poses. But questions remain about the administration’s ability to resource it sufficiently and carry it out steadily given President Trump’s own idiosyncratic America First policy views. – American Enterprise Institute

South Asia

On a day when Taliban and U.S. officials met in the Gulf state of Qatar for another round of talks to end the Afghan war, insurgents detonated a captured Humvee loaded with explosives at the gate of a base operated by the country’s intelligence agency and stormed the compound, spraying gunfire. – Wall Street Journal

A confident and relaxed President Ashraf Ghani launched his reelection campaign on Sunday, registering as a candidate at the national election commission and then delivering a lengthy speech on peace, poverty and the need for a strong government to unite Afghans and end 17 years of war in a “just and honorable” way. – Washington Post

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday President Donald Trump should meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as soon as possible to reset long-difficult U.S. relations with Pakistan and push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. – Reuters


A Muslim-majority region in the Philippines voted on a proposal for greater self-determination, a pivotal attempt at peace that tests the fragile relationship between Muslims and a Roman Catholic minority concerned about creeping Islamic authority. – Wall Street Journal

Plans to free a radical cleric linked to the deadly Bali bombings are under review, Indonesia has said, after the surprise decision drew sharp criticism. Abu Bakar Bashir was once synonymous with militant Islam in Indonesia and was tied to the terror network behind the 2002 attacks that killed more than 200 people, mostly foreign tourists. – Agence France-Presse

China has pledged 4 billion yuan ($588 million) in aid to Cambodia from 2019 to 2021, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Tuesday, highlighting strong ties between Beijing and Phnom Penh amid a European Union threat of trade sanctions. – Reuters

Gregory B. Poling and Eric Sayers write: A storm is brewing in America’s oldest security alliance in the Indo-Pacific and the administration needs to act quickly to head it off. On December 20, Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana called for a review of the provisions of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between Washington and Manila.[…] The primary reason for this review is what Lorenzana called America’s “ambivalence” about whether the treaty applies in the South China Sea, where Philippine troops and facilities are under threat from an increasingly assertive China. – War on the Rocks


Russia launched administrative action against Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. on Monday for failing to comply with its data laws, a move that comes just days after Facebook removed the accounts of what it said were two misinformation campaigns based in the country. – Wall Street Journal

Russia is strengthening ties with the U.S.’s traditional Arab allies, scrambling the Middle East’s political landscape and demonstrating how Moscow could cement its role as a regional power broker. – Wall Street Journal

When the Trump administration announced last month that it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted. But a binding confidential document signed by both sides suggests that the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised. – New York Times

Russia and Japan’s leaders meet for talks in Moscow Tuesday over the disputed island chain that has long prevented a peace treaty to end World War II. But recent rhetoric has dampened hopes of a breakthrough. – Agence France-Presse

Luke Coffey writes: So hybrid wars have to be won before they’re even fought. To do this, countries with Russian minorities (or any minority group that is at risk of being marginalized in society) in central and eastern Europe need to create the conditions that deny Russia the effective use its hybrid tactics. There are three main ways to do this. – Defense One

Richard Fontaine writes: The longest government shutdown in American history is making headlines around the world. It will also have global effects, none of them good. U.S. political leaders, so unable to compromise, should understand how their decisions chip away at national security. […]These effects will end when the government reopens. Not so the increased political polarization that this process engenders, and that provides the kindling on which Russia and others are so keen to throw sparks. – Defense One


President Trump is staying in Washington to deal with the partial government shutdown. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is tied up with Brexit talks in London. French President Emmanuel Macron is responding to yellow-vest protests at home. This week’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in this Swiss mountain resort will bring together more than 60 heads of state or government. But a number of major world leaders are skipping the gathering to attend to pressing domestic business. – Wall Street Journal

After a humbling rebellion by her own party against her Brexit deal and several days of consulting lawmakers across the British Parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday laid out her new plan for leaving the European Union. It strongly resembles the old one. – Wall Street Journal

An explosion and a fire involving two tanker ships near the contested Kerch Strait, the waterway separating Crimea from mainland Russia, left at least 11 sailors dead on Monday and several missing, according to Russian news reports. – New York Times

European Union foreign ministers imposed sanctions Monday against four Russian military intelligence officials, including the two men the British government have accused of poisoning a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury last year. – Wall Street Journal

The police in Northern Ireland arrested four men on Sunday in connection with a car bombing outside a courthouse in central Londonderry the night before that drew condemnation from across the political spectrum. – New York Times

A peaceful demonstration by tens of thousands of people in Athens turned violent on Sunday, as protesters seeking to enter the Parliament building used clubs, firebombs and other objects to attack officers guarding the building, according to the police. – New York Times

France and Germany will sign a new friendship treaty on Tuesday, seeking to boost an alliance at the heart of the European Union as Britain bows out and with nationalism rising around the continent. – Agence France-Presse

Thousands of yellow vest protesters rallied in several French cities for a tenth consecutive weekend on Saturday, despite a national debate launched this week by President Emmanuel Macron aimed at assuaging their anger. – Time


A branch of Al Qaeda in northwestern Africa claimed responsibility for an attack on a United Nations base in Mali that killed 10 Chadian peacekeepers on Sunday, saying it was in response to Chad’s resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel. – New York Times

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa vowed Tuesday to investigate security forces over their brutal crackdown on protesters, as he scrambled to fend off international criticism and restore order on his return to the country. – Agence France-Presse

The American military on Saturday said it had carried out its deadliest airstrike in Somalia in months, killing 52 Shabab extremists after a “large group” mounted an attack on Somali forces. – Associated Press

South African prosecutors have claimed “close links” existed between the suspects in the murder of a Rwandan dissident and the regime of President Paul Kagame, according to a letter released by a Johannesburg court Monday. – Agence France-Presse

The authorities in protest-hit Sudan have removed accreditation from two foreign reporters. It means they will not be allowed to report on events in the country where anti-government demonstrations have entered their sixth week. – BBC News

Latin America

Venezuela’s armed forces quelled a brief uprising at a military stockade, authorities said Monday, prompting protests in a poor Caracas enclave and heightening tensions ahead of anti-government demonstrations planned for later this week. – Wall Street Journal

The National Liberation Army, a Colombian rebel group, took responsibility for the car bomb that killed 20 cadets last week at a police academy, the worst terrorist attack to hit this South American country in 15 years. – Wall Street Journal

The death toll from a massive explosion at an illegal tap of a gasoline pipeline in central Mexico rose Sunday to 85, and 58 people remained hospitalized, some of them in serious condition, authorities said. – Wall Street Journal

One of Nicaragua’s most influential political watchdog reporters said Sunday that he has gone into exile in Costa Rica after receiving threats from the government, which has led a heavy-handed crackdown on protests against President Daniel Ortega. – Washington Post

US President Donald Trump on Saturday offered to temporarily shield a million immigrants from deportation if Congress authorizes funding for his Mexican border wall — an idea Democrats rejected, making the US government shutdown likely to grind on. – Agence France-Presse


The start of a competition to provide light-attack aircraft for the U.S. Air Force has been postponed for the foreseeable future, as the service decides the way forward for additional experiments, the Air Force’s No. 2 civilian said Friday. – Defense News

The Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter appears to have secured another export success, with Singapore announcing that it has identified the type “as the most suitable replacement” for the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s fleet of F-16s. – Defense News

Eric Gomez writes: The Trump administration’s long-awaited Missile Defense Review sets the stage for a broad expansion of U.S. missile defense capabilities that would make the country less safe. Perhaps this seems paradoxical; shouldn’t better defenses increase our security? Yet the proposed new systems would not exist in a vacuum, but would interact with existing and emerging technologies and nuclear strategies to produce a more dangerous world. – Defense One