Fdd's overnight brief

January 27, 2020

In The News


Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile has far exceeded the level allowed by its international nuclear deal, an aide to Iran’s nuclear chief said on Saturday. – New York Times

The reporting exposes the government’s behind-the-scenes debate over covering up Iran’s responsibility for the crash while shocked Iranians, grieving relatives and countries with citizens aboard the plane waited for the truth. – New York Times 

The Defense Department said Friday that 34 American service members have traumatic brain injuries from Iranian airstrikes on Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, contradicting President Trump’s dismissal of injuries among American troops this week. – New York Times

Iranians should not allow U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach to harm national unity ahead of parliamentary elections, President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech, lashing out at hardliners over mass disqualification of candidates. – Reuters 

Iran has the capacity to enrich uranium at any percentage if Iranian authorities decide to do so, the deputy head of the country’s nuclear agency said in a report posted on its website on Saturday. – Reuters 

The heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, would like to make an official visit to Iran, he said in an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper. – Reuters 

Influential Iranian official and former diplomat Mohammad-Javad Larijani believes Soleimani’s loss is serious for Iran but that the regime’s supporters can move on from it through following “Jihad” in military and scientific fields. – Jerusalem Post


A U.S. Army soldier died in Syria while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, according to the Department of Defense. The department announced the death of Army Spc. Antonio I. Moore, 22, on Saturday. Moore, a resident of North Carolina, died Friday in Deir ez-Zor Province “during a rollover accident while conducting route clearing operations.” – Washington Examiner

Slain Iranian general Qassim Solemaini’s militias are secretly fighting in Syria’s final rebel stronghold, radio communications leaked to the Telegraph show. The rare recordings reveal how Iranian soldiers and Afghan mercenaries are directing military operations in Idlib, northwest Syria, in a battle they had promised not to take part in during peace talks. – Telegraph

Jeremy Hodge writes: Syrian activists report that the Assad regime has launched its most intense assault since the beginning of the war almost nine years ago. The target is Idlib, the last opposition holdout in northwestern Syria. All indicators suggest that the campaign will produce a new humanitarian disaster and be the beginning of a final confrontation between the Syrian National Army (SNA)—an alliance of Turkish-backed armed opposition forces—and Russian-Iranian-backed pro-Assad units. – Daily Beast


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, greeted to a fanfare arrival Sunday in Algiers, said the North African nation is “important for the stability of the region,” an apparent bow to Algerian efforts to play a key role in unwinding chaos in neighboring Libya. – Associated Press

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday urged international pressure to force the head of Libya’s eastern-based forces to abide by a tentative truce and said Turkey was determined to continue supporting Libya’s U.N.-backed government. – Associated Press

Laura Pitel writes: Fresh from a summit marking the 70th anniversary of Nato, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a clear message about Ankara’s resolve to be seen as an autonomous global power. […]Turkey’s desire to gain greater influence in its neighbourhood is not new. But the increasingly bold pursuit of its goals has riled European and Arab leaders alike. […]But even if that stance resonates widely in Turkey, Mr Erdogan is constrained by his country’s continued reliance on the west as a trade partner and source of foreign investment. – Financial Times


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz were expected to meet separately with President Trump this week to discuss the administration’s plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. – Wall Street Journal 

Israel’s third election campaign in a year has started with all the usual elements: the speeches, the rallies, the posters. On Thursday came another occurrence Israelis have come to expect: a move by President Trump that roils the campaign, seemingly for the advantage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. – Washington Post

Benny Gantz, the former Israeli military chief making a third attempt to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Saturday that he would visit President Trump on his own in Washington on Monday to discuss a White House proposal for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – New York Times

Palestinian leaders threatened Sunday to withdraw from key provisions of the Oslo Accords, which define arrangements with Israel, if US President Donald Trump announces his Middle East peace plan next week. – Agence France Presse

US President Donald Trump will reportedly tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz that they have until the Knesset elections to work on the administration’s long-awaited peace plan, potentially throwing the high stakes diplomatic gambit into Israel’s domestic political stew. – Times of Israel 

As Israel hosted dozens of world leaders last week for the World Holocaust Forum, the country’s cyber defense system fended off hundreds of cyberattacks targeting the country’s international airport and the planes of the world leaders. – Times of Israel

Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib faced a firestorm of criticism on Sunday after retweeting a false assertion on the micro-blogging website accusing Jews of murdering a Palestinian child in Jerusalem, with critics describing the claim as a “blood libel.” – Algemeiner

David Makovsky writes: Whether they reveal a detailed plan or merely preview an aspirational document, U.S. officials still need to clarify their goals at a time when elections are looming and Palestinian participation seems highly unlikely. In a dramatic move, President Trump has announced that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his leading rival, Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, will visit the White House on January 28 to be briefed on the administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan. – Washington Institute 

Tovah Lazaroff writes: A White House-approved unilateral sovereignty plan for some or all of the West Bank settlements, would have seemed like a settler pipe dream, just three years ago. Settlers and right-wing politicians who battled to retain any of the settlements under Israeli sovereignty are now expecting to see a plan that would give them most, if not all of them. […]But if it comes in at less, it would separate Netanyahu from his right-wing base. […]Now, in the latest unusual twist in this election campaign, it might be Trump and his peace plan that finally breaks that electoral deadlock. – Jerusalem Post

Andrew Lovy writes: A bill that would apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley is currently being pushed in the Knesset. Members of Knesset should support the initiative, as annexing the Jordan Valley will help bolster Israel’s security for the foreseeable future. – Jerusalem Post

Rachel Avraham writes: One might ponder, how will all of this affect the State of Israel?  Over the short run, it won’t affect Israel too much. Hezbollah is too busy consolidating power in Lebanon and trying to gain influence in Iraq in order to be bothered with Israel. Nevertheless, even though Hezbollah will be busy with other matters over the short run, that does not mean that Hezbollah does not pose a long-term strategic threat to Israel. […]For this reason, Israel should act now against Hezbollah when they are weak instead of waiting for them to attack once they get their house in order. – Arutz Sheva


Iraqis flocked to join antigovernment protests after an influential cleric withdrew his support and security forces moved to quash the four-month-old uprising. – Wall Street Journal 

Iraqi security forces on Saturday regained control over some areas in central Baghdad and southern cities after an influential cleric withdrew his support for widespread protests, clearing the way for the government to end a nearly four-month-old uprising. – Wall Street Journal 

Iraqi security forces shot at anti-government protesters in Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least one person, and unidentified men set fire to sit-in tents in a southern Iraqi city, police and medics said, as months-long civil unrest escalated. – Reuters 

Three rockets slammed into the US embassy in Iraq’s capital on Sunday in the first direct hit reported after months of close calls, as thousands of protesters kept up anti-government sit-ins across the country. – Agence France Presse

Four aid workers from a French Christian charity have gone missing in Iraq and an investigation is underway to locate them, the organization said. – CNN


Lebanese security forces on Saturday fired water cannons and tear gas at anti-government protesters trying to breach a security barricade outside government headquarters in central Beirut. – Reuters 

Hanin Ghaddar and Matthew Levitt write: Against the backdrop of three months of political and economic protests, Lebanese politicians appear to have reached a deal establishing a nominally technocratic government in Beirut. […]The formation of a new Lebanese government has been a central demand of the international community and a necessary precondition for any international aid. But that is not enough. The government must quickly take action to fight corruption and enhance transparency. For a country that has run on corruption and political patronage, this will be a very heavy lift. – The Hill

Nathali Goulet writes: Lebanon’s stability concerns us all because it is an essential part of the stability of the Middle East — which is why the international community must place itself at the disposal of the new Prime Minister and ensure at the first request the implementation of its policy for recovery of stolen and misappropriated assets. – The Hill

Saudi Arabia

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said on Friday he will move to compel America’s intelligence chief to release information about the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi if the administration does not produce a report on the killing before the end of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. – Reuters 

Israel said on Sunday it will allow its citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia for Islamic pilgrimages or business purposes. There was no immediate reaction from Saudi Arabia to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s decree, and Israeli visitors would still have to arrange for entry into the kingdom. – Bloomberg

Diehard Barcelona fan Abdulrahman had to find a creative way to keep watching football matches — paying his subscription via Kuwait to dodge a diplomatic rift between Riyadh and Doha that separates Saudis from their favourite sports. – Agence France Presse

The Chinese mission in Saudi Arabia stopped renewing passports for the ethnic Muslim minority more than two years ago, in what campaigners call a pressure tactic exercised in many countries to force the Uighur diaspora to return home. – Agence France Presse


Eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar sought on Sunday to open a new front by moving forces towards the city of Misrata, which is allied to the country’s internationally recognised government, officials and residents said. – Reuters 

Several countries backing rival factions in Libya have violated an arms embargo which they had agreed to uphold a week ago at a summit in Berlin, the United Nations said on Saturday. – Reuters 

Libya’s internationally recognized government said Sunday that repeated attacks by rival commander Khalifa Haftar have rendered a fragile truce all but meaningless, as the United Nations warned that foreign powers were setting the stage for even more fighting in the OPEC nation. – Bloomberg

After the Berlin summit on Libya concluded on January 19, 2020, the host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to put a brave face on the outcome and praised the “new spirit” created during the negotiations as “all participants worked really constructively together. […]As the conference highlighted Russia’s growing influence in the Mediterranean region, it attracted a good deal of comment, and most commentators did not share Merkel’s opinion, although they absolved Russia of the lackluster results, and considered the conference important for its symbolism: Russia had defeated attempts to isolate it and was assuming greater importance in a post-American world order. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: Finally, Putin’s position in Libya and Syria may give him additional leverage over Turkey. If Ankara gets too aggressive in Libya, he can pressure it in Syria, raising the prospect of further linkage between Russian activities on both fronts in the coming months. In short, Moscow benefits from simply staying put in Libya and securing access via PMCs. The United States and its allies should therefore seek ways to curb Russia’s PMC activities. In the end, only Washington has enough clout to bring a genuine resolution to the latest Libyan conflict. – Washington Institute

Bulent Aliriza and Zeynep Yekeler write: This was implicitly confirmed by Erdogan’s own positive comments on January 24 about the Berlin communique and Germany’s efforts to help solve the Libyan crisis after meeting with Merkel in Istanbul. However, Erdogan also strongly condemned the recent attacks on Tripoli by Haftar, a man he has designated as “a terrorist,” who retains the military capability and apparent willingness to force him into a potentially dangerous mission creep in Libya. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Middle East & North Africa

Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Sunday said Amman is against any parts of a yet-to-be-released US peace plan that negatively affects his country. Asked about aspects of the proposal that may come at Jordan’s expense, Abdullah said that the kingdom would oppose it. – Times of Israel

Natia Chankvetadze and Ketevan Murusidze write: However, there is less clarity on the EU’s position in terms of coordinating its policies in the South Caucasus and the Middle East, as well as toward the Middle East region more generally. This needs to change going forward. It is critical that connections between the South Caucasus and the Middle East are considered when forming policies to deal with intra- and inter-regional affairs, not only for the countries of both regions, but also for outside actors that are interested and engaged in the Middle East and the South Caucasus. – Middle East Institute 

Rabah Arezki writes: While geopolitical issues might temporarily derail the renewal of Middle Eastern societies, governments in the region are in protestors’ line of sight. The staying power of that new generation, coupled with the empty government coffers, suggest it will get harder and harder to contain the pressure from millions of educated and determined youth demanding a better future. […]The ball is now in the governments’ court to ensure they gain new credence of accountability. Geopolitical developments will not derail the economic and political emancipation sought by protesters toward economic and political emancipation. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

While a North Korean deadline for the United States to soften its stand on denuclearisation talks passed uneventfully over the New Year, state media and propaganda efforts have been focussing on the prospect of a long confrontation with the United States. – Reuters 

The influential aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made her first public appearance in six years, state media reported on Sunday, years after her husband was executed in a purge. – Reuters 

Recent satellite imagery shows vehicle activity at a critical North Korean missile site that could potentially signal early preparations for a missile or missile engine test, according to one administration official and three defense officials familiar with the latest US assessment. – CNN

Joseph Bosco writes: All three troublesome issues have been resolved or are nearing resolution, though others remain, such as on trade. But for now, the critical U.S.-ROK relationship — strongly supported by the peoples of the two countries and sealed with the blood of their fathers and grandfathers — has returned to an even keel. It can remain healthy if President Moon will take Ambassador Harris’s respectful suggestion and coordinate future peace initiatives toward North Korea with his U.S. security partners. – The Hill


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is inching toward a decision that could profoundly harm the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States under President Trump. Johnson is expected to decide, as soon as this week, whether to defy Trump’s request that he ban Chinese technology giant Huawei from the U.K.’s 5G wireless network. – Axios 

A scientist who once worked at a U.S. laboratory in New Mexico has pleaded guilty to lying about his involvement with a Chinese government technology program. Turab Lookman, 67, entered his plea Friday during a hearing in Albuquerque after reaching an agreement with prosecutors. He is awaiting sentencing, which could include up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia is closely monitoring developments in global oil markets resulting from “gloomy expectations” regarding the possible impact of the coronavirus on the Chinese and global economy, as well as on the oil market’s fundamentals, its energy minister said on Monday. – Reuters

South Asia

The surprisingly strong ruling against Myanmar by the United Nations’ top court this week is sure to increase international pressure on the country to protect its Muslim Rohingya minority, who critics say have been the victims of a government-sanctioned genocide. – New York Times

The Pakistani authorities on Monday arrested the leader of a civil rights movement who for nearly two years has challenged the country’s powerful security forces by demanding they be held accountable for extrajudicial killings and kidnappings, his colleagues said. – New York Times

Two women, one pregnant, were killed and seven other people injured after Myanmar troops shelled a Rohingya village on Saturday, according to a lawmaker and a villager, two days after the U.N.’s highest court ordered the country to protect the minority. – Reuters 

Myanmar signaled that closer ties with China offer an economic buffer if human-rights concerns cause Western nations to curb trade privileges or investment. The persecution of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority has sparked global condemnation, and led to an International Court of Justice order last week for emergency steps to protect Rohingya from genocide. The controversy imperils Myanmar’s European trade privileges and is spurring calls for sanctions. – Bloomberg


An American journalist who was jailed in Indonesia this past week over an alleged visa violation was released on bail late Friday, as he awaits a decision on whether he will be deported or face trial on charges that could send him to prison for up to five years, his lawyer said. – Wall Street Journal 

Top officials and business chiefs from Hong Kong took a message to world leaders and captains of industry gathered in Davos here this week: We’re still open for business. – Wall Street Journal 

A suspected small-scale homemade bomb exploded at a general hospital in Hong Kong on Monday, causing the temporary evacuation of some patients but no injuries, police said. – Reuters 


Mikhail Mishustin, Russia’s new prime minister, made his reputation collecting money for Vladimir Putin. His next challenge will be working out ways to spend it. – Financial Times

President Donald Trump inquired how long Ukraine would be able to resist Russian aggression without U.S. assistance during a 2018 meeting with donors that included the indicted associates of his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. – Associated Press

Editorial: Just months into his premiership, Britain’s Boris Johnson has been thrown a diplomatic curveball. Should he accept Vladimir Putin’s invitation to a Moscow parade marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the second world war? The optics risk being terrible. […]Relations are still fraught, with Moscow refusing to hand over those accused of carrying out the attack. Yet concerns not to be co-opted into a Kremlin photo opportunity must be weighed against the need for a UK, which departs the EU this week, to show it is still a global player. – Financial Times

Isabelle Khurshudyan writes: On a stretch of Norway’s Arctic border known for its views of the Northern Lights is the small town of Kirkenes. Its population is under 4,000, and the local online newspaper has a staff of just two. And it’s here that Russia is signaling what the future may hold: a wider reach in efforts to censor the Internet at home. […]Russia so far has tread relatively carefully in its censorship efforts. Still, Internet-freedom monitors in Russia fear its new “sovereign Internet” law could one day rival Chinese and Iranian online oversight. – Washington Post


The United States has formally turned down Britain’s extradition request for an American woman who was involved in a car accident that killed a teenager last year, a decision that the British government called “a denial of justice.” – New York Times

But as Britain prepares to leave the E.U. this week and enter an 11-month transition period, free movement here is nearing an end. […]E.U. citizens will be able to continue to move here freely through the Brexit transition period, until at least December. But afterward, they will need to apply — and will no longer get preference over applicants from other continents. – Washington Post

The trial this month was exceptional for a country that has resisted repatriating or extraditing terrorism suspects from battlegrounds in Iraq and Syria. A Paris judge heard cases against 24 men and women charged with links to the Islamic State. – New York Times

A British author who specializes in espionage raised serious doubts about former MI6 officer Christopher Steele’s salacious dossier, which was included in the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into President Trump’s 2016 campaign. – Washington Examiner

If U.K. officials harbor any hopes of reaching a post-Brexit deal with the European Union quickly or easily, they need only speak to others who have faced the bloc across the table to be disabused.[…]The success of these tactics depends on how much Prime Minister Boris Johnson actually wants a comprehensive deal following Britain’s exit from the EU on Jan. 31. – Bloomberg

Poland accused the European Union on Saturday of double standards for questioning the country’s Constitutional Tribunal, intensifying a spat between Warsaw and Brussels ahead of a visit by the bloc’s top rule of law official. – Reuters 

The EU’s plans for a carbon tax have emerged as a potential new flashpoint in transatlantic trade ties, after the Trump administration warned that it would “react” with possible punitive measures against Brussels. – Financial Times

Mike Pompeo was already expecting to navigate a political minefield when he landed in Kyiv next week. But after the secretary of State’s explosion at a respected NPR journalist, his trip just got a little more complicated. – Politico

The leaders of two of the European Union’s main institutions on Friday signed the divorce agreement governing Britain’s departure from the bloc next week, sealing the penultimate step in Brexit at a ceremony held without media access. – Associated Press


Sanctioned by the West and spurned by China, Zimbabwe has turned to the United Arab Emirates in its latest bid to find a savior that can arrest the collapse of its economy. Zimbabwe’s government has approached the U.A.E. in hopes of selling a stake in its national oil company, according to three company and government officials familiar with the plan. It also wants companies in the U.A.E. to buy more of its gold, they said. – Bloomberg

A multi-million dollar World Bank education loan to Tanzania is back on the table for possible approval next week after it was pulled over a year ago amid concerns about the country’s policy of banning pregnant girls and young mothers from attending state school. – CNN

The French-led “Barkhane” anti-terrorist operation in central Africa will be at the heart of discussions defense minister Florence Parly will hold with her counterpart Mark Esper during a visit to the United States next week, according to defense sources here. – Defense News

Latin America

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido joined thousands of supporters at a demonstration in Madrid on Saturday after arriving in Spain on the last leg of a European tour. – Reuters 

Ariel Dorfman writes: The essential question that confronts Chile is one that many other nations are grappling with today: Can the demands of a radicalized and disaffected movement of citizens, most of whom are young, impatient and social media-savvy, be channeled and resolved by a political elite that has shown itself, until now, blind to the needs of the great majority of its populace? – New York Times

Jean François Fogel writes: Cuba under Fidel and Raúl Castro saw its share of No. 3 men. Occupying the country’s most visible position of power after the Castros meant that getting the boot was always a possibility, and perhaps even an inevitability. – New York Times


Defense Department leadership is staying mum about whether they think the Pentagon will get enough money to build and sustain a 355-ship Navy while top Navy and Army leaders argue over their share of the budget. – USNI News 

Lockheed Martin has added Joe Dunford, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to its board of directors, the company announced Friday. – Defense News

The Army has picked six companies to work on concepts and designs for an autoloader for the service’s future Extended-Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) program currently under development, according to a Jan. 24 Army Futures Command statement. – Defense News 

Capella released the design for its new Sequoia satellite design Jan. 21, giving observers a first look at the new satellite the company plans to use to provide synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data to the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office. – C4ISRNET

Defense Secretary Mark Esper began prepping Congress for what will likely be a series of heated battles over military modernization and scrapping legacy systems on Friday, warning that budgets “aren’t going to get any better. They are where they are.” – Breaking Defense

Trump Administration

U.S. President Donald Trump told a then-top aide in August he wanted to freeze security aid to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, the New York Times reported on Sunday. – Reuters 

U.S. presidential contender Michael Bloomberg pledged on Sunday to “always have Israel’s back,” while separately joking he was the only Jewish candidate who does not want to turn the United States into a “kibbutz.” – Reuters 

Even with Congress busy with President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Washington is taking action next week in the face of a possible war with Iran. House Democrats are planning two votes to challenge Trump’s war powers, State Department officials are set to hold a previously canceled top-secret brief for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Trump may unveil a Middle East peace plan ahead of a meeting Tuesday with Israeli leaders. – Defense News

President Trump on Monday denied that he told former national security adviser John Bolton that releasing security aid for Ukraine was dependent on the country investigating his political rivals following a report that Bolton describes such an exchange in his forthcoming book. – The Hill