Fdd's overnight brief

January 28, 2020

In The News


After another flare-up of public protests, the Iranian establishment is working to mend internal rifts that have broken into the open as it faces greater pressure than at any point since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. – Wall Street Journal

The deportation of an Iranian student who held a valid visa to study in Boston last week has cast further scrutiny on the practices of immigration authorities, including vetting of travelers of Iranian heritage, at a time of heightened tension between the two countries. – Wall Street Journal

Iranian officials and satellite images suggest the Islamic Republic is preparing to a launch a satellite into space after three major failures last year, the latest for a program which the U.S. claims helps Tehran advance its ballistic missile program. – Associated Press

The current U.S. government is the worst in the history of America, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state TV on Tuesday. – Reuters

An incoming Ph.D. student at Michigan State University was detained by authorities and deported to Iran on Monday despite having a valid visa to enter the U.S., his attorneys say. – The Hill

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for unity ahead of Iran’s parliamentary elections Monday, accusing the U.S. of attempting to sow discord within the country. – The Hill

Iran’s president warned Monday of threats to the Islamic republic’s “democracy and national sovereignty”, after a body dominated by his ultra-conservative rivals disqualified thousands of candidates, weeks before elections. – Agence France-Presse

Franklin T. Burroughs writes: President Trump’s behavior has undoubtedly frightened the ayatollahs, who wonder if the United States will again interfere in Iran’s internal affairs and seek regime change as it did in the past.[…] A clear strategy and a goal are needed if workable and mutually-acceptable U.S.-Iran relations are to be reestablished. Sophisticated diplomacy and trust are definitely required. – The Hill

Gabriel Glickman writes: Contemporary relations between Iran and the US exist within a web of historical myths. But that doesn’t mean war between the two countries is inevitable. Rather, it is the decisions of the leaders of both countries that will determine the outcome of the current crisis. Nevertheless, so long as Iran continues to see the US as the Great Satan, similar crises, if not necessarily all-out war, will continue to occur. – Algemeiner

Hillel Frisch writes: Even if the increasing costs do not fundamentally change Iranian resolve in pursuing both projects, by forcing Tehran to spend the exorbitant sums necessary to take their Syrian build-up underground, Israel incurs a benefit at no extra cost to the major aim of stopping the build-up in the first place. – Algemeiner


Syrian government forces have launched a two-pronged attack against the final rebel-held pocket in northwestern Syria, a significant escalation in hostilities that follows a short-lived cease-fire. – Washington Post

A renewed drive by President Bashar al-Assad to recapture rebel-held territory in Syria’s northwest sparked a fresh exodus of many thousands of civilians toward Turkey’s border on Monday amid heavy air strikes, aid workers and witnesses said. – Reuters

A bipartisan pair of Senators are pressing the Pentagon to publicly share more information on the U.S.’ mission in Syria amid confusion over the continued presence of American troops in the country. – Washington Times

Militants attacked Syria’s Banias refinery near the Mediterranean coast, sending divers to plant explosives on underwater pipelines, Syria’s oil ministry said on Monday. – Reuters


Sweeping cyberattacks targeting governments and other organisations in Europe and the Middle East are believed to be the work of hackers acting in the interests of the Turkish government, three senior Western security officials said. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump discussed developments in Syria and Libya in a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, a White House spokesman said on Twitter. – Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lobbed a rare direct attack at the emirate of Abu Dhabi over its backing of Khalifa Haftar and the Russian mercenaries fighting on his behalf in Libya. – Bloomberg

Turkey is pushing a new “road map” for Libya, focusing on a conflict 1,000 km from Ankara, while a few kilometers from Turkey’s border refugees are being driven from their homes in Idlib by a Moscow-backed Syrian offensive. – Jerusalem Post


President Trump’s Middle East peace plan, to be formally unveiled Tuesday, is a detailed blueprint of more than 50 pages that outlines his administration’s ideas about how to resolve core issues on borders, security and Jerusalem that have bedeviled negotiators for decades. – Wall Street Journal

For Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White Party in Israel, traveling to Washington on Monday to meet with President Trump at the same time as the man he is trying to defeat wasn’t exactly a state visit. – New York Times

President Trump said he will release details of his Middle East peace plan Tuesday, and the long-awaited package is expected to propose a dramatic remapping of the West Bank while offering Palestinians a pathway to statehood if they meet a set of tests. – Washington Post

The Islamic State militant group urged its fighters and other Muslims to attack Jews in a purported audio recording released on Monday in an attempt to thwart U.S. President Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. – Reuters

President Donald Trump said alongside visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday that his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan has a “chance” — despite being flatly rejected by the Palestinians. – Agence France-Presse

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday that President Trump’s not-yet-released Middle East peace plan is meant to “finish off the Palestinian cause.” – The Hill

Leaders of the Hamas terrorist organization and Fatah will join forces Tuesday in a rare meeting in Ramallah against US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited peace plan, officials said. – Arutz Sheva

Palestinians on Monday expressed concern that some Arab states may accept US President Donald Trump’s upcoming plan for Mideast peace, notwithstanding strong Palestinian opposition to the deal. – Jerusalem Post

Governor of Moscow Andrey Yuryevich Vorobyov signed Naama Issachar’s pardon request on Tuesday morning. The document was forwarded to Russian President Vladimir Putin. – Jerusalem Post

Acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana ordered the state’s collection agency on Monday night to seize NIS 4.2 million in assets from the Palestinian Authority as compensation for terror victims. – Jerusalem Post

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has arrested two Israeli civilians on suspicion of spying for Hamas to gather intelligence for terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. – Jerusalem Post

Israel could apply sovereignty over the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement first, rather than over the Jordan Valley, Army Radio reported on Monday morning. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is in Poland to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking 75 years since the liberation of Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinians have already rejected the peace plan and called for a “day of rage,” in which clashes with IDF soldiers and Israeli policemen will be initiated in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas commented on Monday to US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” that “Trump is a dog and the son of a dog,” Fatah officials confirmed. – Jerusalem Post

On the eve of the Trump administration peace plan’s rollout, Democrats in Congress urged the president to maintain the two-state solution. – Jerusalem Post

Ghaith al-Omari writes: If, however, Israel proceeds with annexing any territory after the White House announces its plan, the PA or the Palestinian public will almost certainly take more drastic steps. Most significantly, PA officials would look to sever security cooperation with Israel, which is already deeply unpopular with the Palestinian public and has been threatened with cancelation many times during periods of high tension. Given the crucial role this cooperation plays in maintaining stability, such a breakdown could lead to a highly volatile situation. – Washington Institute

Lahav Harkov writes: US President Donald Trump’s peace plan may not actually bring peace, but it could herald major change in the region by giving Israel a green light not only to apply sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank, but to do it now. – Jerusalem Post

Anna Ahronheim writes: With an unpredictable street, any destabilizing event can lead to an outbreak of violence. While the West Bank is not Gaza, and despite a growing number of Palestinians who are apathetic to the talking heads in Washington, Jerusalem or Ramallah, the fragile calm could be shattered in an instant. – Jerusalem Post

Herb Keinon writes: While the plan will certainly be dead on arrival in Ramallah, so far there is no indication that the same will be the case in Amman, Cairo, Riyadh or Abu Dhabi. The leaders in those capitals, unlike in Ramallah, don’t have the luxury – because of their wider geopolitical concerns – to completely turn their backs on the Americans.  – Jerusalem Post

Jeremy Sharon writes: It remains to be seen if the Trump administration will in fact put a six-week deadline on Israel to adopt the deal. But should it do so, it would surely put Gantz between a rock and hard place politically. Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century could end up being an electoral calamity for Gantz and Blue and White. – Jerusalem Post


NATO’s members are aiming to boost the number of training and military advisory personnel at the alliance’s mission in Iraq, in response to President Trump’s call for them to do more in the Middle East, officials said. – Wall Street Journal

A suspected militia attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad wounded one person late Sunday, officials said, underscoring the growing risks to personnel there amid calls for an end to the American military presence. – Washington Post

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi stressed, in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, the importance of de-escalation in the region, according to a statement from his office. – Reuters

Michael Knights writes: In terms of domestic politics, the United States should also watch Moqtada very closely and resist being lulled into underestimating the danger he could pose to Iraq’s democracy. Moqtada’s abrupt removal of protection from protest camps on January 25, opening the protesters up to deadly attacks and the burning of their camps, is a reminder that there are no permanent alliances in Iraqi politics. After months of uneasy coexistence, some protest leaders criticized Moqtada, and his response was to punish them without hesitation or mercy. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

A cease-fire in the Libyan civil war has collapsed and foreign shipments to the combatants have resumed, shredding the work of a conference of world leaders who convened in Berlin just eight days ago. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Israelis were not welcome to visit the kingdom after Israel decreed that Israeli citizens could visit Saudi Arabia under certain circumstances, CNN reported on Monday. – Reuters

A drastic escalation in fighting between the Saudi-led military coalition and Houthi rebels in Yemen has killed and wounded hundreds of people over the past week, officials and tribal leaders said Monday. – Associated Press

Gulf Arab states have long channelled funds into Lebanon’s fragile economy but its rich neighbours, alarmed by the rising influence of their arch-rival Iran’s ally Hezbollah, now appear loath to help ease Beirut’s worst financial crisis in decades. – Reuters

Benny Avni writes: Now a new cry against tribalism is increasingly heard in Lebanon, Iraq and beyond. It’s happening because the old sectarian-based order no longer delivers the goods, if it ever did. A new Arab generation is fast losing interest in its leaders’ religion, familial ties and ability to navigate tribal politics. A growing protest movement demands more-competent national governance. – Wall Street Journal

Ezzedine C. Fishere writes: The choice the United States is facing is not between engagement and withdrawal, but between being dragged into Middle Eastern conflicts reluctantly and unprepared, or developing a coherent framework for its inevitable involvement. And it must decide whether this framework would be focused on protecting narrow interests and reliant on military force, or whether it will be part of a broad political vision for the U.S. role in the world. – Washington Post

Korean Peninsula

With the clock ticking on South Korea’s withdrawal from a security pact with Japan in November, President Moon Jae-in sent a blunt-speaking aide on a secret mission to Washington. – Bloomberg

A German court is expected to rule Tuesday on whether a hostel on the grounds of the North Korean embassy in Berlin violates international sanctions against the East Asian nation. – Associated Press

North Korea will impose a one-month quarantine on all foreigners arriving from China in a bid to prevent the spread of a new coronavirus, the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang said on Tuesday. – Reuters


President Xi Jinping has spent seven years concentrating power in his own hands to a degree unseen in China in decades. So the decision to hand over responsibility for a deadly coronavirus outbreak to the Communist Party’s No. 2 leader, Premier Li Keqiang, represents a role reversal with risks and opportunities for both men. – Wall Street Journal

Economies in Asia will have to brace for a tough year ahead as China deals with an outbreak, analysts and officials warned as travel restrictions hit. – CNBC

China’s recent activities in the South China Sea, which include bullying Vietnam and Malaysia over ocean drilling and ramming Philippine fishing vessels near Scarborough Shoals, top the list of Asian security concerns, a panel of experts said last week. – USNI News


A U.S. military aircraft crashed in Taliban-controlled territory in central Afghanistan on Monday, an American official confirmed, after hours of contradictory reports from local officials triggered fears of a passenger plane crash. – Washington Post

Afghan forces and Taliban fighters clashed in a central region where a U.S. military aircraft crashed, officials said on Tuesday, as the government tried to reach the wreckage site in a Taliban stronghold. – Reuters

The Taliban said it had shot down a U.S. military plane in the central Afghan province of Ghazni on Monday, killing all personnel on board. – Reuters

The United Nations is seeking $730 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan this year, an increase on 2019 as poverty surges in a country worn down by war and drought, the U.N.’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan said on Monday. – Reuters


Mr. Trump, apparently eager to get out of the Washington caldron and as far away from the impeachment debate as possible, plans to spend about two days in India, a country where the United States is eager for more business and looking to find a counterweight to the rise of China. – New York Times

William Pesek writes: If Trump is reelected, expect Asian nations to pivot to Europe while building closer regional ties among themselves. Yet any Democrat who takes the reins has an epic repair job to do in a region where U.S. influence is diminishing by the day. – Washington Post

Julie Norman writes: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled unanimously on January 23 that the Rohingya minority in Myanmar remains at serious risk of genocide, and that Myanmar must take “all measures within its power” to prevent it.[…] Enforcing and implementing the ruling will be an ongoing uphill challenge. But calling out genocide for what it is, and, crucially, attempting to prevent it from continuing are important steps for international law and atrocity prevention. – The Hill


Nearly 200 Russian mercenaries have deployed in recent months to Mozambique to combat a growing Islamic State offshoot there, even as Moscow is taking initial steps toward building a military port in the Horn of Africa that could become Russia’s first permanent base on the continent. – New York Times

An event that unites world leaders in shared horror at the Holocaust turned into diplomatic posturing this week as a feud between Russia and Poland flared on the anniversary of when prisoners were freed from the Auschwitz concentration camp. – Washington Examiner

A Japanese man was expelled from Russia after being accused of looking for military secrets, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday. – Associated Press

Emil Avdaliani writes: Whether that proves true or not, the proposed constitutional changes will have a lasting effect on Russia’s internal political development. Though the role of the PM and the State Duma will grow, the country is heading toward more centralized rule that will largely crowd out opposition parties. As to Putin’s future, his suggested constitutional changes point to his remaining a major power broker for Russia’s internal and foreign policies well beyond 2024. – Algemeiner


Chancellor Angela Merkel has said anti-Semitism among new immigrants will not be tolerated. But it remains a delicate issue for Germany, as the country integrates new residents, and the far-right Alternative for Germany party expands its influence. – Washington Post

With just days to go before Brexit, European diplomats are already hard at work for the next phase: negotiations to hammer out a future with Britain after its EU divorce. – Agence France-Presse

The presidents of Israel and Poland called on Monday for greater efforts to combat anti-Semitism as the world marked 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp amid concerns over a resurgence of anti-Jewish prejudice. – Reuters

The European Union will monitor the Northern Ireland elements of Britain’s Brexit agreement very closely and will not allow London to re-open the deal “under the guise of implementation,” the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said on Monday. – Reuters

Volodymyr Yelchenko spoke to reporters at the Ukrainian Embassy on Monday ahead of his planned meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this week. Yelchenko said he intends to discuss the worsening human rights situation and Russia’s increasing militarization of the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula. – Defense One

Walter Russell Mead writes: Even assuming AKK can win the political argument in Germany, her proposed new direction for German foreign policy will face skepticism and sometimes opposition across the EU. Not all of Germany’s neighbors would welcome a significant increase in Berlin’s military power, and a more assertive German foreign policy threatens France’s endless quest to burnish its great-power credentials. – Wall Street Journal

The Americas

The Trump administration’s bid to replace Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro hit a roadblock after a meeting with Russian officials in Rome last year—and has never recovered. – Wall Street Journal

Canada’s Liberal government on Monday began the task of ratifying the revised North American trade deal, a process that could take months and force Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into some deal making with rivals to ensure quick passage. – Wall Street Journal

Justin Trudeau’s top diplomat said Canada will keep pressing Cuba to help resolve Venezuela’s political crisis. – Bloomberg

An ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has hired a Washington lobbyist whose business has boomed under the Trump administration as part of a $12.5 million effort to ease sanctions and reset bilateral relations as the U.S.-backed campaign to oust the socialist leader stalls. – Associated Press


Lawyers for a Portuguese computer hacker said on Monday he was responsible for revealing the dealings of Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos, a corruption scandal with fallout across Europe and Africa. – Agence France-Presse

Key House Republicans have introduced a bill that would bar U.S. intelligence sharing with countries that allow telecom giant Huawei in their next-generation wireless networks. – C4ISRNET

David Hickton writes: We cannot rely just on good intentions, or even impressive processes and evaluations within agencies. Instead, we should want public oversight to ensure accountability and fairness. No jurisdiction in the United States has successfully grappled with the complexities of how to adapt to this new administrative state by algorithm, though some are trying, including New York City and Washington State. – The Hill


The Navy’s surface warfare community wants to increase the proficiency of its officers and its ship crews by reassessing how it teaches fundamental warfighting skills and adding more complexity to pre-deployment training. – USNI News

About a year later than initially expected, the first two MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft arrived in Guam over the weekend, marking a significant step toward increasing the Navy’s Western Pacific reconnaissance and surveillance capability, the service announced this weekend. – USNI News

An experimental Lockheed Martin payload launched in December will test new cloud networking capabilities that could be of interest to the Pentagon, which wants to develop its own mesh network in low earth orbit by 2022. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has ruled in favor of the U.S. Army’s decision to go with only one source for its Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles for more than 10 years, denying Navistar’s lawsuit brought against the service and FMTV-maker Oshkosh Defense for not competitively procuring the vehicle. – Defense News

The Defense Department is weeks before the unveiling of its fiscal year 2021 budget, tentatively set for Feb. 10. But while other military officials are making the case for increased spending on their service, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein seemed resigned to the fact that the Air Force will have to make sacrifices in order to have the money for investments the service sees as critical for maintaining its technological edge against China and Russia. – Defense News

Bruce Jette and John Murray write: We must be aggressive and agile in pursuing our modernization priorities, while at the same time protecting the resources of our nation. That requires accepting risks and embracing the ambiguity that comes with developing new knowledge and systems. Most important, we must be willing to admit if there is a more effective and efficient way forward. – The Hill

Ariel Cohen writes: As we wait for NGI to become operational — and assuming the system is not cancelled — the United States faces at least one decade of heightened and unacceptable vulnerability. In the interim, the only responsible option for U.S. policy makers is to bolster the tried and true midcourse BMD systems like Aegis and the SM-3. Nuclear weapons are one of the few true existential threats to the United States — we as a country cannot afford to balk at the cost of this vital defense. – The Hill

Long War

An Egyptian court sentenced 37 people on Monday to jail terms including life imprisonment for joining or supporting Islamic State’s Sinai Province affiliate, judicial sources said. – Reuters

With desperate times, as the saying goes, come desperate measures. Last week, Burkina Faso’s national assembly voted unanimously to allow for the basic military training and arming of citizen vigilante groups. According to the central government, the measure will help defeat the terrorist hydra threatening the very existence of the Burkinabe state. – The National

The Islamic State group’s self-styled “caliphate” across parts of Iraq and Syria seemed largely defeated last year[…]. But tensions between the United States and Iran and the resulting clash over the U.S. military presence in the region provide a comeback opportunity for the extremist group, whose remnants have been gradually building up a guerrilla campaign over the past year, experts say. – Associated Press

Aaron Y. Zelin writes: For all the reasons laid out here, Washington should continue to engage Tunis in addressing the range of jihadist challenges it faces. […]To thwart the reemergence of ISL, meanwhile, the United States should continue to coordinate airstrikes and share intelligence with its partners in Libya. This will help break up ISL camps and prevent an Iraq- or Syria-style resurgence, which could cut into Tunisia’s existing progress. Setting aside these challenges, the United States should publicly recognize and applaud Tunisia’s successes, thereby encouraging regional stability and stronger relations in areas of mutual interest. – Washington Institute

Trump Administration

President Trump’s lawyers will complete their third and final day of oral arguments on Tuesday, wrapping up a defense that has sought to give Republican senators reasonable doubt and present them with alternative explanations for the president’s actions toward Ukraine. – New York Times

Former national security adviser John Bolton expressed concern to Attorney General William Barr that President Trump “was effectively granting personal favors” to the leaders of China and Turkey, according to a draft of his forthcoming book. – Washington Examiner

Within just 24 hours, White House officials went from feeling self-assured about the speediness of the Senate impeachment trial to scrambling to squash John Bolton’s bombshell allegation. – Politico