Fdd's overnight brief

January 23, 2019

In The News


The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday issued an emergency directive to all non-national-security agencies requiring them to take steps to protect their networks against a cyber-hijacking campaign that private-sector researchers suggest may be linked to Iran. – Washington Post

The U.S. said Tuesday that a controversial conference on Middle East stability next month in Poland, jointly hosted by the State Department, won’t be focused on Iran and will have a broader agenda. – Wall Street Journal

Iran said Tuesday it had formally protested the F.B.I.’s arrest of an American newscaster who works for the Iranian government’s Press TV, and her family said rallies in Washington and elsewhere were planned if she was not freed. – New York Times

Switzerland, 60% of whose exports to Iran are medicine, has been hard at work to allow the creation of a humanitarian payment mechanism that helps the uninterrupted flow of humanitarian goods to Iran in the face of renewed US sanctions. – Iran Chamber Newsroom

However, head of the Monetary and Banking Research Institute has dismissed such reports in their entirety, arguing that Iran’s commercial and financial transactions are too heavy to be handled by newfound technologies like blockchain. – Eghtesad Online

Iran summoned on Tuesday Swiss ambassador in Tehran, a proxy for Washington, to protest the arrest of a journalist in the United States who was working for Iran’s English-language state TV. – Reuters

Twelve soldiers belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in Sunday’s IAF airstrikes on Syria, the UK-based NGO Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Iran has spent $7 billion annually on terror in the Middle East, including in the West Bank, where it wants to open a fourth front against Israel, Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon told the Security Council on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Hanin Ghaddar and Dana Stroul write: Yet Iran’s leaders also recognize that securing long-term influence in Syria requires more than military means. Accordingly, they are applying best practices from their experience with Hezbollah in Lebanon, where the powerful Iranian proxy has entrenched itself not only militarily, but also politically, religiously, and culturally. […]If curbing Iran’s presence in Syria remains a priority for the United States, policymakers should quickly adopt new methods to counter these soft-power activities. – Washington Institute

Gen. (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal writes: Suleimani is no longer simply a soldier; he is a calculating and practical strategist. Most ruthlessly and at the cost of all else, he has forged lasting relationships to bolster Iran’s position in the region. No other individual has had comparable success in aligning and empowering Shiite allies in the Levant. His staunch defense of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has effectively halted any progress by the Islamic State and other rebel groups, all but ensuring that Assad remains in power and stays solidly allied to Iran. – Foreign Policy


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

A car bomb detonated in the government-held Syrian city of Latakia on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding 14, Syrian state media reported. – Reuters

A soldier wounded in a deadly bombing in the Syrian town of Manbij last week is fighting for his life in a military hospital in Germany, according to family and friends. – Military.com

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has revoked special visas for European Union diplomats and officials traveling regularly between Beirut and Damascus, complicating efforts to distribute aid to civil war victims, three senior EU diplomats said. – Reuters

Syria’s envoy to the United Nations warned Tuesday that if the world body did not halt Israeli strikes on his country, Syria would retaliate with an attack on Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv. – Times of Israel


An Israeli tank fired into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, killing a Hamas militant in what the army described as retaliation for the wounding of a soldier and a brief incursion during a violent Palestinian border protest. – Reuters

A decade after discovering natural gas fields off its Mediterranean coast, Israel is starting to feel the geopolitical boost. – Associated Press

Israel said Tuesday that it has successfully tested the country’s advanced missile defense system capable of defending against long-range ballistic missile threats. – Associated Press

Former Shin Bet head Yaakov Peri said that Israel needs to continue transferring Qatari funds to the Gaza Strip, in an interview on Army Radio on Wednesday morning. – Jerusalem Post

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the US will begin unspecified “work” on a renewed peace process between Israelis and Palestinians “immediately following” Israeli elections on April 9. – Times of Israel

An Israeli news outlet reported Wednesday that a specialist doctor provided by Israel helped save the life of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last year. – Times of Israel

The European Union continues to fund organizations that boycott Israel, according to a report published Wednesday by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. – Jerusalem Post

With legal battles over the constitutionality of laws combating the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign in several US states in high gear, the question is what the state of play will look like in 2019. Around half of the US’s 50 states have anti-BDS laws, which in various ways prohibit granting state contracts to companies which boycott Israel. – Jerusalem Post

David Makovsky writes: As in past campaigns, Netanyahu’s current lead in the polls is premised on security threats. Yet the pending indictments could radically shift the paradigm well beyond election day, pushing Netanyahu and his allies to consider coalition formulas that best ensure his political survival at a time of unprecedented legal challenges. – Washington Institute

Eli Lake writes: Now comes the Irish parliament looking to change all this. Legislation scheduled for debate this week in Ireland’s lower house would criminalize any transactions with businesses or individuals living in Israel’s West Bank. […]If it passes, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland wrote recently, Ireland would become the most anti-Israel nation on the planet outside of Iran and the Middle East. […] But unlike much of the performative BDS politics until now, the Irish proposal comes with a cost. – Bloomberg

S. Schneidmann writes: As tensions have risen, verbal abuse has become common, with Hamas calling ‘Abbas an “enemy of the Palestinian people,” a “traitor,” and a “dictator” and declaring him unfit to lead. At the same time, Fatah is accusing Hamas of not being part of the Palestinian national program. […]This report reviews the escalation of tensions between Fatah and Hamas following the disbanding of the PLC and attitudes towards it in Fatah and Hamas and among writers in the Palestinian press. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Ziv Bar’el writes: Israel has recently benefited from a relatively free hand toward the Iranian forces operating in Syria, Trump gives his backing to Israel’s military activity as part of his joint strategy with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to minimize the Iranian presence in Syria and even Russia responded rather meekly to the latest strikes. But the amount of leeway that Israel can expect will depend not only on the upturn in Jerusalem’s relationship with Moscow, but also on Russia’s success in advancing its diplomatic program. – Haaretz

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have launched a joint cryptocurrency during the first meeting of the Saudi-Emirati Coordination council Saturday in Abu Dhabi, UAE’s national press agency WAM said. – Arab News

A Turkish court on Tuesday sentenced a prominent journalist serving a life sentence to almost six additional years in prison for leaking information deemed secret by the government, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said. – Reuters

Egyptian security forces have killed 59 militants in the Sinai peninsula recently and have lost seven of their own men, the military said in a statement on Tuesday. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: Here are the problems: Barzani has not even pretended to be the Kurdish regional president for more than a year. To meet with Barzani is akin to foreign officials coming to the United States and then seeking out President Barack Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. Barzani may be head of a political party, but then so too are many other Iraqi political leaders otherwise ignored on Perry and Pompeo’s trips. – American Enterprise Institute

Zev Chafets writes: No project as ambitious and potentially profitable as the East Med pipeline comes without challenges. But its benefits clearly outweigh the difficulties. A Med East pipeline will bring energy to Europe, enrich its own members and foster better relations between Israel and its neighbors. It’s still a long way off, but in the Middle East, that’s what good news looks like. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

South Korea failed to notify a U.N. sanctions committee when it sent about 300 tonnes of petroleum products to North Korea in 2018, the website NK News reported on Wednesday, suggesting South Korea was slipping on sanctions. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday there remained “an awful lot of work to do” to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea but he anticipates further progress by the end of next month, when the U.S. and North Korean leaders are expected to meet for a second summit. – Reuters

Talks between American, South Korean and North Korean diplomats in Sweden — considered a preparation for an upcoming U.S.-Korea summit, have ended, an official with the independent think tank that co-hosted the meeting said Tuesday. – Associated Press


The United States will continue to seek the extradition of technology executive Meng Wanzhou, the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed Tuesday, news that will intensify a high-stakes dispute between China and the United States. – Washington Post

A well-known writer and former Chinese official with Australian citizenship flew from New York to China on Friday despite warnings from friends who told him it was too dangerous. Now, he is missing and appears to have been detained by the Chinese authorities. – New York Times

When new employees join Huawei, they are given books about the Chinese telecommunications company’s achievements. One featured accomplishment is how the company has thrived in Europe. A chapter in one of the books describes the hard work of Huawei employees to win over European telecom providers and sell them equipment that forms the backbone of mobile wireless networks. – New York Times

But since the publication of her 2017 paper Magic Weapons, which details the extent of Chinese influence in New Zealand, Brady’s life has been turned upside down, becoming the target of a campaign of intimidation and “psy-ops” she believes is directed by Beijing towards her and her family. The Chinese government has not responded to requests for comment. – The Guardian

Giorgio Cafiero writes: At a time when the U.S. administration’s foreign policy is confusing and incoherent, the Gulf monarchies are looking to China to hedge their bets on Washington amid the unpredictable Trump presidency. Given how much the Gulf regimes value their relations with Beijing, the Chinese leadership understands that it has little reason to worry about a potential crisis in Beijing-GCC relations stemming from developments in Xinjiang, even as the situation there has fueled an outcry from Western governments and human rights organizations worldwide. – Middle East Institute

Ashley Feng writes: The United States cannot convince Russia or China to continue buying or trading in U.S. dollars. However, to ensure U.S. products have markets to be exported to, the U.S. administration should stop needlessly renegotiating old free trade agreements. Rather, it should explore the possibility of a free trade agreement with fast growing regions, such as Southeast Asia. This can be a powerful hedge to manage Russia and China’s increasingly economic ties and the ill effects for U.S. security. – Center for New American Security

South Asia

Prime Minister Imran Khan has opened a new chapter in Pakistan’s long history of using its strategic position to win foreign support—this time turning to Arab Gulf nations to help keep the economy afloat. – Wall Street Journal

An American service member was killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan on Tuesday in the second United States combat death there so far this year. – New York Times

With one of the deadliest attacks of Afghanistan’s 17-year insurgency just hours before a new round of peace talks, the Taliban rammed home its message that it intends to agree any settlement from a position of strength on the battlefield. – Reuters


President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Tuesday dashed Japanese hopes of a settlement any time soon to a territorial dispute that has festered since 1945, declaring after a meeting with the visiting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan that there was still much “painstaking work” ahead. – New York Times

Russia’s diplomatic outreach to Japan over a 70-year territorial dispute is aimed partly at securing a more valuable prize for the Kremlin: new political inroads with one of the U.S.’s biggest regional allies. – Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong on Wednesday presented a controversial bill to lawmakers that prescribes jail terms of up to three years for disrespecting the Chinese national anthem, a move critics say raises fresh fears over freedom of expression in the city. – Reuters

Joseph Bosco writes: It is time for Congress and the Trump administration to take the U.S.-Taiwan relationship to the next level by carrying out the TTA’s mandate to end Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation and the TRA’s larger purpose of ensuring its democratic security. Congress should set the example by inviting President Tsai to address a joint session, thereby according her the honor and dignity she and the people of Taiwan deserve. – The Hill


Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine detained in Moscow on spy charges, was given a flash drive containing a “state secret,” his lawyer said Tuesday, delivering the first official details in a mysterious case that has been wrapped in silence for weeks.  – Washington Post

An American man detained in Russia in December on spying charges had what authorities said were state secrets in his possession when he was arrested but didn’t know he had them or what they were, his lawyer said. – Wall Street Journal

An escort from Belarus who posted video online showing her on the yacht of one of Russia’s richest oligarchs along with a senior Russian official was released from detention in Moscow on Tuesday, her lawyer told the government news agency Tass. – New York Times

The head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency Sergei Naryshkin on Monday met Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as the head of the kingdom’s intelligence services, the Interfax news agency said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Edward Lucas writes: Military scare stories are coming thick and fast from Russia. One involves Poseidon, a huge nuclear torpedo or drone. Russia is eagerly leaking details of its range and yield. Some of them may even be true. Another supposedly unbeatable weapon is the Avangard hypersonic missile, due to enter service this year. […]We should also consider the next generation of weapons in this form of non-kinetic, non-military warfare. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Andrea Kendall-Taylor writes: Managing the threat that Russia poses will require a comprehensive strategy that includes both strong responses to Russian aggression and efforts to cooperate where interests overlap. U.S. policies must avoid an over-reliance on economic punishment and more fully incorporate policies designed to position Washington to effectively engage with a post-Putin Russia. – Center For New American Security

John Hughes writes: In the past two years, the United States and European Union have diverged from their unified approach to Russia sanctions, exemplified by the close coordination on Ukraine beginning in 2014. However, in the year ahead there’s a chance that Washington and Brussels could advance common, if not coordinated, goals. […]It may be temporary, but is likely to offer modest political benefits to the United States and Europe by presenting a common rebuke to Russia’s incursions in Ukraine and brazen attacks on foreign soil. – Center for New American Security


Political paralysis in major developed economies, frayed trading links and concerns about concentration of corporate power created a jittery mood among business executives at the annual World Economic Forum. – Wall Street Journal

On Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France met in a German city symbolic to both — Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle in French — to renew that commitment for the 21st century, in a ceremony that nevertheless served as a reminder of the daunting array of challenges threatening Europe today. – New York Times

The European Parliament expects to start next week its procedure to endorse the Brexit deal negotiated between the bloc and London, lawmakers said on Tuesday, despite the fact that Britain is still struggling to finalize the divorce agreement. – Reuters

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, stoking a war of words between Rome and Paris, said on Tuesday that France did not want to bring calm to Libya because its energy interests there clashed with those of Italy. – Reuters

Ferdinando Giugliano writes: The rising tide of extremist parties across Europe has presented mainstream political forces with a dilemma: Should they reject any alliance in the name of decency? Or should they succumb to pragmatism, in the hope of taming their opponents? […]Reaching out to the hard right in an effort to draw some of its sting may look like an answer, but it’s an incredibly risky strategy for a continent that has tried to keep extremists out of power since the traumas of the 1920s and 1930s. After nearly a century, the ghosts of the past are back to haunt Europe. – Bloomberg

Nikos Tsafos writes: All this is a long shot—and the geopolitical dividends dreamt up by the current project sponsors are unlikely to materialize even if the pipeline is built, especially if TurkStream brings more competition to Southeast Europe anyway. But it is still possible to envision a change in circumstances, however unlikely, that make the East Med pipeline a good option. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Latin America

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday declared the United States’ “unwavering support” for planned mass protests in Venezuela against President Nicolás Maduro, the most explicit backing yet by the Trump administration as opposition leaders try to unseat Mr. Maduro. – New York Times

Conditions in Venezuela have deteriorated to a point where the opposition — gutted by the jailing and exiling of many of its leaders and discredited after several failed efforts to oust President Nicolás Maduro — is seeing an opportunity. Leading them is a virtually unheard-of 35-year-old, Juan Guaidó. – New York Times

Ishaan Tharoor writes: The opening day of the World Economic Forum looked like it had the potential for excitement. Jair Bolsonaro, making his debut trip abroad as Brazil’s president, was slated to unveil his vision for a “new Brazil” before the assembled elites. Given the absence of President Trump and other prominent Western leaders, the far-right Bolsonaro, a former military officer known for his fiery and often-offensive rhetoric, seemed like one of the star attractions. But his speech underwhelmed. – Washington Post

Cyber Security

A new law in Australia gives law enforcement authorities the power to compel tech-industry giants like Apple to create tools that would circumvent the encryption built into their products. The law, the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018, applies only to tech products used or sold in Australia. But its impact could be global. – New York Times

If the U.S. Army has its way, soldiers deployed on the battlefield will be shielded from cyberattacks without human involvement. – Fifth Domain

The Department of Defense, in conjunction with the National Guard, has drafted a plan to allow for better coordination and information sharing to states in the event of a cyber emergency. Aside from the typical assistance the National Guard offers states, such as natural disaster cleanup, the Guard also helps states respond to major cyber threats or incidents. This can include securing critical infrastructure such as power plants, water treatment plants or major ports. – Fifth Domain

Suzanne Spaulding writes: As we conclude the fourth week of the government shutdown, there is much we don’t know about how operating at less than full strength over such a long period of time affects the security and safety of Americans and our critical infrastructure when it comes to cyber threats. […]In the absence of definitive information from the government, we attempted to examine some critical questions that Americans should know about when it comes to the impact of the shutdown on cybersecurity. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The United States will be challenged in coming years by nations that exploit “the weakening of the post-WWII international order and dominance of Western democratic ideals” and “increasingly isolationist tendencies in the West,” according to a new intelligence document published Tuesday. The document, known as the National Intelligence Strategy, cited Russia as seeking to flex its geopolitical muscle in order to challenge the United States “in multiple regions.” – Washington Post

A nuclear-capable Tupolev-22M3 supersonic bomber crashed while trying to land in a snowstorm on Tuesday in Russia’s far north, the Defence Ministry said, saying the aircraft did not have any weapons on board. – Reuters

The Navy says it may have squeezed out about $150 million per hull in savings as the service closes in on final requirements for a planned class of next-generation frigates (FFG(X)), program officials said last week. – USNI News

In an attempt to address a “capacity problem” in the amphibious ship fleet, the head of expeditionary warfare wants to accelerate the construction of new amphibious assault ships and stop a lengthy upgrade program for the aging LSDs to return them to fleet operations. – USNI News

Trump Administration

A. Wess Mitchell, the top diplomat in charge of European affairs, will resign from the State Department next month, creating a key vacancy at a time when European leaders are questioning President Trump’s commitment to historic alliances. Mitchell, 41, cited personal and professional reasons in a Jan. 4 letter of resignation he submitted to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. His last day as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs will be Feb. 15. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump is forging ahead with plans to deliver a State of the Union-style speech at the U.S. Capitol at the end of January in spite of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s request that he postpone it, a senior administration official told NBC News Tuesday. – CNBC

Marc A. Thiessen writes: While Democrats are genuflecting to their base, Trump is showing leadership. If Trump continues on this path, the American people will eventually come to realize it. Polls show that the vast majority of voters want both sides to compromise. On Saturday, Trump openly embraced compromise. The Democrats rejected it. Their position is irresponsible and unsustainable. Time is on the president’s side. – Washington Post