Fdd's overnight brief

January 23, 2020

In The News


President Trump said the head injuries suffered by American service members in an Iranian missile strike weren’t “very serious,” prompting angry replies from some veterans advocates. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran has long sought the withdrawal of American forces from neighboring Iraq, but the U.S. killing of an Iranian general and an Iraqi militia commander in Baghdad has added new impetus to the effort, stoking anti-American feelings that Tehran hopes to exploit to help realize the goal. – Associated Press 

The U.S. special representative for Iran said the successor to Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike, would suffer the same fate if he followed a similar path of killing Americans, Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported. – Reuters

Iranian nationals will no longer be eligible for E-1 and E-2 trade and investment visas, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency announced on Wednesday. – Newsweek 

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and the speaker of parliament have warned European states not to leave the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and has vowed never to seek nuclear weapons. – Radio Farda 

Exiled Crown Prince of Iran Reza Pahlavi said that the world is seeing the “beginning of the end” for the Iranian regime. – Washington Examiner 

Iran said on Wednesday that Tehran and its regional rival Saudi Arabia should work together to overcome problems, the state news agency IRNA quoted Iranian president’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi as saying. – Reuters 

An Iranian chess referee says she is frightened to return home after she was criticized online for not wearing the appropriate headscarf during an international tournament. […]The news comes days after Iran’s sole female Olympic medalist, Kimia Alizadeh, announced that she had permanently left her country for Europe. – CNN 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says it is “alarmed about threats” to Iranian journalists based outside of the country who are working for Iranian-exile media outlets or the Persian-language services of international broadcasters. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Iran welcomes dialogue with its Gulf neighbors, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday, amid heightened tension in the Middle East. – Reuters 

France should sanction Iran in light of its enriching uranium and aggression throughout the Middle East, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Farzin Nadimi writes: In any case, Washington should increase its individual efforts to discourage China and other countries from cooperating with Iran on sensitive military technology and know-how. It should also prepare for even greater proliferation of attributable and nonattributable Iranian weapons throughout the region’s flashpoints, in part by scrutinizing the regime’s transfer and logistical routes even more closely. – Washington Institute

Ali Alfoneh writes: On January 20, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), appointed Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hossein-Zadeh Hejazi as deputy chief of the Qods Force following Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani’s elevation to the top post. Who is Hejazi, and what was his background prior to his relatively recent involvement with the Qods Force? – Washington Institute 


Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro’s partnership with Hezbollah has increased the risk that Iran will sponsor terrorism in Latin America, according to an envoy for the socialist leader’s chief rival. Washington Post

Influential members of the European Parliament said Wednesday that they would support a U.S. effort to persuade the EU to ban Hezbollah as a terrorist group, a day after the organization solidified a major role in Lebanon’s newly formed government. – Politico

Richard A. Grenell writes: The U.S. is resolute in its efforts to stop the spread of Hezbollah’s terror, but we cannot contain the threat on our own. As with similar challenges, the U.S. requires the support of its European allies. If the EU wants to take a stand against the Assad regime’s violence in Syria and the export of that violence and instability to Europe, it should follow the German parliament’s lead, and designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. – Politico


Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar asked Greece to demilitarize 16 Aegean islands near Turkey he claims were illegally armed, in a move that may exacerbate strains in the countries’ relations. – Bloomberg 

Turkey does not plan to send more military advisers to Libya while a ceasefire is being observed, Russia’s RIA news agency cited Turkey’s foreign minister as saying on Thursday. – Reuters 

The U.S. government said on Tuesday that Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank (HALKB.IS) should be subjected to escalating fines totaling millions of dollars until it responds in court to criminal charges it helped Iran evade U.S. economic sanctions. – Reuters 


Dozens of presidents, premiers and potentates descended upon the Holy City on Wednesday in an extraordinary show of collective resolve to fight anti-Semitism, and a 95-year-old Holocaust scholar warned them that such hatred threatened their countries with a “deadly cancer.” – Washington Post 

The Yisrael Beytenu party has welcomed comments made by Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi that Iran’s nuclear program is an international problem and not just a concern for the State of Israel. – Jerusalem Post 

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh met Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday and spoke highly to him of Malaysia’s positions on Israel and the Palestinians, according to the terror group. – Times of Israel 

Egypt is involved in “intense efforts” to get the Hamas terror group to end a recent uptick in arson balloon attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip amid fears of a return to violence, Israeli TV reported Wednesday. – Times of Israel


Iraqi President Barham Salih ignored threats from an Iran-backed Iraqi militia against meeting US President Donald Trump on Wednesday as the pair discussed support and American troop deployments. – The National 

Sunni Iraqi leaders who spearheaded a bloody insurgency against the 2003 US-led invasion are now the most nervous about a possible withdrawal of American troops, considered a counterweight to Iran. – Agence France-Presse 

Following the rise in U.S.-Iran tensions in the aftermath of the Soleimani assassination, the Iraqi parliament passed a decision calling on the government to expel U.S. forces from Iraq. […]Since the passing of this decision, Iraqi media has become increasingly focused on the possibility of U.S. sanctions against Iraq. In the meantime, pan-Arab media outlets have released reports claiming that Tehran is exploiting the U.S. exemptions for Iraq in order to get around U.S. sanctions. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Algeria will on Thursday host foreign affairs ministers from countries bordering Libya to discuss the conflict there, its Foreign Ministry said. – Reuters 

U.S. and Russian forces have blocked or attempted to block one another’s movements along the strategic M4 highway that connects major towns and cities running parallel to the border with Turkey, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, a United Kingdom-based monitor with ties to Syria’s exiled opposition, has reported. – Newsweek 

Max Boot writes: If two presidents as different as Obama and Trump, who were both intent on exiting endless wars, have so far been unable to do so, it tells you something about the difficulty of accomplishing that chimerical goal. Why is it so hard? Because there are always significant risks to removing U.S. troops from a region where the United States still maintains a significant stake. […]But any future president will find it difficult to responsibly cut that figure any further without risking calamities such as a Taliban takeover, an Islamic State resurgence, or a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. – Washington Post 

Alexa Santry writes: Today looks remarkably similar to that pivotal Obama moment. ISIS’s territorial caliphate is gone and al Qaeda is quiet. So we’re back to the “not worth it” arguments. But a US abandonment of the region would be catastrophic for American allies, credibility, and power. […]Looking back on US involvement in the Middle East over the past several decades, has American policy been flawed? Yes. Have US presidents been “incapable of mustering a consensus or pursuing a consistent policy” in the region? Also yes. But to argue that “few vital interests of the US continue to be at stake” is a misconception that Americans must not accept. –  American Enterprise Institute 

Korean Peninsula

Efforts to denuclearize North Korea will continue despite a new foreign minister in Pyongyang who is seen as a hard-liner and could take a tougher stance in stalled negotiations, a senior State Department official said Wednesday. – Washington Post 

China has failed to send home North Korean workers by a December deadline in violation of United Nations sanctions, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, adding that this was why Washington blacklisted two entities involved in Pyongyang’s labor export. – Reuters 

The U.S. is warning it will send furlough notices within weeks to almost 9,000 South Korean workers at U.S. bases if the two countries don’t reach agreement on President Donald Trump’s demand for Seoul to increase dramatically what it pays for American troops. – Bloomberg 


Chinese health authorities are trying to lock down Wuhan, the metropolis of 11 million people that is at the heart of a spreading coronavirus outbreak, in an extraordinary effort to stop new infections during the busiest travel period of the year. – Washington Post

The case of a Chinese student jailed for tweets he sent while studying in America underscores that being overseas is no protection from Beijing’s censors. – Bloomberg 

Claire Reade writes: We do not know the full cost of this experiment on the U.S. economy and the global system. […]Maybe the lesson of Phase One is that since we have started down this path, it makes sense to press for another quick bonanza of the other incremental changes that will make the trading relationship less imbalanced and more tolerable, then ratchet down the tariffs while looking elsewhere for how the United States can thrive long term in twenty-first century competition with China. – Center for Strategic and International Studies  

South Asia

The United Nations’ highest court is set to rule Thursday on whether to order Myanmar to halt what has been described as a genocidal campaign against the country’s Rohingya Muslims. – Associated Press 

The headquarters unit of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division will head to Afghanistan in the spring as part of a regular troop rotation, even as the U.S. prepares for a possible major withdrawal of forces, the Army announced this month. – Military.com 

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: After all, almost all current U.S. and other international peace efforts lack a clear strategy that goes beyond military victory or conflict termination. […]There is no clear effort or plan to produce a stable peace and create both a workable and lasting structure in any country’s governance, security, or economy. Looking for a hidden motive in the lack of a meaningful peace strategy for Afghanistan can easily end in discovering that a motive does not even exist. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


Taiwan’s first reported case of a patient infected by a deadly coronavirus spreading across Asia turns a spotlight on Beijing’s attempts to exclude the self-governing island from the World Health Organization, which Taiwanese officials say hinders an effective global response to public-health crises. – Wall Street Journal 

A leading organizer of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong appeared in court Tuesday, accused of defying police orders to disband a rally, in what activists say is an effort by city authorities to weaken the opposition movement by deterring others from staging demonstrations. […]The turmoil is unlikely to end quickly, with the government not showing any signs of meeting the remaining demands of protesters. – Wall Street Journal 

Chinese air force planes passed through the narrow Bashi Channel to the south of Taiwan on a long-range exercise on Thursday, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said, the first such drills near the island publicized since Taiwan held elections this month. – Reuters 

The first-phase trade deal between the U.S. and China doesn’t signal an end to tensions between the world’s top two economies, according to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who warned that Asia is now at a turning point as the nations jostle for influence across the region. – Bloomberg 


Russia is in the process of developing a new hypersonic cruise missile — the 3M22 Zircon (Tsirkon), but the weapon is currently suffering from “childhood diseases,” the Russian navy’s top admiral revealed to Russian media, The Drive first reported. – Business Insider 

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with Yaffa Issachar, mother of the American-Israeli serving time in a Moscow prison on drug charges, a Kremlin aide said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Jeffrey Mankoff writes: Indeed, the result of all this has been an escalating confrontation between the United States and Russia, the breakdown of communication channels set up to mitigate crises, and an ever closer partnership between Russia and China directed at rolling back American influence. But while Russia sorts out its own future over the coming years, the United States has a great opportunity to develop a new approach, one that is not fixated on the caricature of a malevolent Putin as the source of all our problems. – The Hill 


European politicians said they are prepared to defend themselves and would retaliate against any American tariffs, after President Trump set his sights on the continent as the next front in his global fight over trade. – Wall Street Journal 

The Brexit divorce deal completed its passage through Parliament on Wednesday evening, ensuring that the U.K. will leave the European Union at the end of the month. – Wall Street Journal 

Germany’s top security official has announced a ban on the neo-Nazi group Combat 18 Deutschland. – Associated Press 

Swiss police on Wednesday used water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas to subdue demonstrators in Zurich who ignited fireworks and threw bottles as part of a protest targeting the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) conference in Davos. – Reuters

The European Commission’s upcoming report on enlargement, which seeks to update the process of accepting new members and mollify objections from France, is vital for the future of the Western Balkans, Croatia’s prime minister said. – Bloomberg 

The United States cautioned Britain ahead of a decision by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on what role Huawei will have in 5G telecommunications networks that Washington still had significant concerns about the Chinese telecoms behemoth. – Reuters 


Armed with rifles and explosives, about a dozen Shabab fighters destroyed an American surveillance plane as it was taking off and ignited an hourslong gunfight earlier this month on a sprawling military base in Kenya that houses United States troops. By the time the Shabab were done, portions of the airfield were burning and three Americans were dead. – New York Times 

Islamic militants in Nigeria have killed a Christian pastor who had pleaded for his life in a video just days earlier, and a human rights activist said Tuesday that other extremists attacked his hometown on the same day. – Associated Press 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Jamaica on Wednesday, cautioned nations against taking “easy money” from China, warning it could be counterproductive, in a second attack in as many days against China’s economic role in the region. – Reuters 

Rwanda and neighboring countries in Africa’s Great Lakes region are at risk of worsening violence if the different countries back rival rebel forces to destabilize each other, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. – Bloomberg 

The Sahel is facing an unprecedented wave of violence, with more than 4,000 deaths reported last year, and a bloody start to 2020. – The Guardian 

Robert Burns, Abdi Guled and Cara Anna write: Islamic extremists are already exploiting possible U.S. military cuts in Africa that have caused a rare bipartisan outcry in Washington, with lawmakers stressing the need to counter China and Russia and contain a growing threat from Islamic State group affiliates. […]The Pentagon’s possible reduction of U.S. troops in Africa is part of a worldwide review by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who is looking for ways to tighten the focus on China and Russia. It is not known when a decision will be announced, but officials say Esper has made clear the U.S. will not withdraw from Africa entirely. – Associated Press 

The Americas

Two members of an alleged white supremacist group accused of plotting an attack at Monday’s gun rights rally in Richmond were exercising free speech or consumed by harmless “fantasies,” but they are not terrorists, their attorneys said. – Washington Post 

The Trump administration is coming out with new visa restrictions aimed at restricting “birth tourism,” in which women travel to the U.S. to give birth so their children can have a coveted U.S. passport. – Associated Press  

Guatemala’s new government will continue receiving Central American migrants under an asylum agreement with the United States, Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo said on Wednesday, in a boost to the Trump administration’s efforts to curb migration. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States is not seeking to divide Caribbean bloc Caricom after some governments voiced discontent that only certain countries had been invited to meetings with him in Jamaica. – Reuters 

Venezuela’s opposition leader said Wednesday that he wants the European Union to broaden sanctions against members of the Venezuelan government as a way to push toward free presidential elections in the country. – Associated Press

Canadian prosecutors called for the extradition of Huawei Technologies Co. Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on Wednesday, describing the U.S. case against her as a straightforward fraud. – Bloomberg 


The U.S. is preparing for a longer and broader campaign to banish Huawei Technologies Co. from next-generation 5G cellular networks around the world, as Washington faces resistance on the front line of its lobbying campaign, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal 

The European Union will advise member states to consider banning some suppliers from parts of their 5G networks, in a policy document that may give them more scope to restrict the activities of China’s Huawei Technologies Co. – Bloomberg 

Morgan Dwyer writes: Going forward though, policymakers should simply avoid creating new organizations that separate technology and missions. […]To truly prioritize technology, the national security community must facilitate its development and fielding—and avoid creating new organizations that generate bureaucratic barriers to both. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Navy’s arsenal of Tomahawk cruise missiles will all become a Block V configuration, with older models to be retired and demilitarized, according to the program manager. – USNI News

The first field test of the U.S. Air Force’s experimental Advanced Battle Management System in December was a success, with about 26 out of 28 capabilities showing some semblance of functionality during a recent exercise, the service’s acquisition chief said Tuesday. – C4ISRNET

The Air Force awarded Raytheon a $442 million contract Jan. 16 to develop new technology that will allow the B-52 and RC-130 aircraft to utilize the nation’s advanced anti-jamming communications satellites. – C4ISRNET

Long War

A military lawyer defending the suspected mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks compared his representation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to John Adams defending British troops after the Boston Massacre. – Washington Examiner 

Germany’s defense minister warned that Islamic State fighters could return in force in the Middle East if an international coalition is unable to continue its work against the militant organization. – Bloomberg 

Caroline Alexander writes: If there is one cause common to the governments of the U.S., Turkey, Iraq and Iran, it’s the continued suppression of Islamic State, the most destructive Islamist militant organization the world has seen. Working together and separately, those nations and their allies by early 2019 managed to subdue the group in Iraq and Syria, where it once controlled a chunk of territory as big as Iceland. Now, tensions among the countries that dismantled Islamic State threaten to subvert efforts to combat its resurgence. – Bloomberg