Fdd's overnight brief

January 29, 2020

In The News


The Pentagon on Tuesday said that 50 American service members sustained brain injuries from Iranian airstrikes on Al Asad Air Base in Iraq this month, 16 more than it had acknowledged last week. – New York Times

The Trump administration will extend sanctions waivers allowing limited work on Iran’s civil nuclear program for another 60 days, two people familiar with the matter said. – Bloomberg

An Israeli cybersecurity firm said it believes a new strain of ransomware was created by Iran and has the ability to lock up or even delete industrial control systems. – Bloomberg

Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khomeini and his media-savvy allies duped Western journalists and intellectuals into supporting his rise to theocratic tyranny, according to a new history. – Washington Examiner

A group of Iranian lawmakers on Tuesday asked parliament to debate a motion for Iran to quit a treaty governing global nuclear arms control, a move apparently aimed at pressuring European powers to salvage Tehran’s own 2015 nuclear deal. – Reuters

Iranian media outlets claim “many CIA” officers were killed in a plane crash on Monday. The Taliban initially asserted large numbers of Americans were killed, while Russian media and Iranian media then said a senior CIA officer responsible for killing IRGC general Qasem Soleimani was on board. The claim has been greeted with skepticism. – Jerusalem Post

Raman Ghavami writes: Clearly, Khamenei is preparing his supporters for his death to keep the ranks united. Unlike some claims, his death would not bring any significant changes to Iran. The regime is convinced and has prepared itself that as long as it can suppress people at home, especially the ethnic minorities, maximum pressure will not lead to regime change. Even more significantly, Iranian opposition groups are even more divided than they were in 2017 and incapable of leading people inside and outside of Iran. – Washington Examiner


Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group on Tuesday rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan as a means to destroy Palestinians’ rights, and accused Arab states of being complicit in a “deal of shame” that bodes ill for the region. – Reuters

The daughter of the slain Iranian Commander, General Qassem Soleimani on Monday met with Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whom she had called “uncle Nasrallah” during her father’s funeral in Tehran earlier in January. – Radio Farda

Michael Peck writes: If Israel has to go to war tomorrow against Iran or its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, there’s a problem.[…] Sometimes – as with Russia in 1941 – a nation has sufficient time and strategic depth to remedy logistical shortfalls. But as this writer learned while observing an Israeli armored brigade on maneuvers along the Golan Heights in February 2019, the IDF may have only hours to prepare for battle along Israel’s northern border. – The National Interest


President Trump proposed a sweeping Middle East peace plan Tuesday that would establish a disjointed Palestinian state largely surrounded by Israel, while granting Israel most of what it has sought over decades of conflict. The proposal appears to have little chance of success. – Washington Post

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan shortly after it was unveiled on Tuesday, saying a Palestinian state without Jerusalem was impossible. – Wall Street Journal

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is committed to helping Israel and the Palestinians broker peace on the basis of U.N. resolutions, international law, bilateral agreements and the vision of two states based on pre-1967 borders, his spokesman said in a statement after the United States unveiled its plan. – Reuters

Emboldened by a supportive White House, Israel appears to be barreling toward a showdown with the international community over its half-century-old settlement enterprise in the West Bank. – Associated Press

President Trump tweeted in both Hebrew and Arabic in an appeal to Israelis and Palestinians to accept a proposed peace plan. – Washington Examiner

The peace plan “contemplates the possibility” of redrawing Israeli borders to exclude “the Triangle,” a cluster of Arab communities, according to a document published by the White House after Trump’s speech. Leaders of the Israeli Arab community feared that the plan could strip them of their rights. – The National Interest

As tensions rose ahead of the publication of US President Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan on Tuesday, the IDF beefed up its forces in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley region. – Algemeiner

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not bring a vote to the cabinet on Sunday to apply Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, senior Likud officials said Wednesday, just a day after the prime minister said he would do exactly that. – Jerusalem Post

A Dutch district court on Wednesday ruled that it does not have jurisdiction to hear a case against former Israeli Armed Forces chief Benny Gantz brought by a Dutch Palestinian who lost six relatives during a 2014 bombing of Gaza. – Reuters

Two balloon clusters with suspicious devices attached were spotted in two kibbutzim in the Gaza border area, the Police Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement. – Jerusalem Post

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday announced that he had established a special team to lead the effort to annex West Bank Jewish settlements, the Jordan Valley and the area around the Dead Sea, following the release of US President Donald Trump’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Times of Israel

Addressing the upcoming elections in Israel, Pompeo said that the US plan will be implemented regardless of who is elected as Prime Minister. – Arutz Sheva

Khalil al-Hayya, a member of Hamas’ political bureau and one of the group’s senior officials in Gaza, on Tuesday called on Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas to reach an agreement with the organization on a unified strategy for dealing with US administration’s “Deal of the Century”. – Arutz Sheva

The unveiling of the US president’s much-delayed Middle East “peace plan” has generated neither enthusiasm nor anger – only apathy – in a region that no longer views the fate of the Palestinians as a lynchpin, or – in some cases – even a cause worth championing loudly. – The Guardian

Editorial: The diplomatic approach is unconventional. The U.S. norm has been to arm-twist the Israelis and bribe the Palestinians with cash. Instead the Trump Administration has supported Israel unapologetically—including by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem—and wants the rest of the world to persuade the Palestinians to confront reality. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Should Palestinians come to the negotiating table over the next four years, they could push for more concessions and come away with a better deal. By rejecting it out of hand without any further discussions, however, they are only making it less likely that they’ll ever achieve statehood or prosper. – Washington Examiner

David Ignatius writes: The bottom line for the Trump peace plan, like so many other issues these days, is that it all depends on the November presidential election. The Palestinians won’t sit at Trump’s negotiating table for now. But what would they do if he were reelected, and an Israeli cultural mission was sitting in Riyadh? The peace plan is a squeeze play, and like everything about Trump, it’s ultimately about raw political power. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: It’s important to note, though, that Israel’s occupation is not the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East. […]In this sense, the double standard about Israel’s occupation isn’t just unfair, it’s counterproductive. The sooner the international community lets go of the illusion that it can force the Jewish state to create a Palestinian one, the sooner the hard work of compromise and negotiation can begin. – Bloomberg

Abdulrahman al-Rashed writes: Does accepting Trump’s invitation to negotiations mean the Palestinian Authority is required to accept whatever is offered? The answer is, of course, no. What it does mean is sitting down, starting a constructive dialogue and no-one imposing a solution that the Palestinians do not want. […]So it is vital that Palestinians grasp this opportunity to begin talks and explore the opportunity that lies therein before the goal posts of history move once again, and not necessarily in their favor. – Al Arabiya

Mitchell Bard writes: Trump is re-calibrating expectations again. By recognizing Jerusalem, he has taken one of the most difficult final status issues off the table. […]A new president, however, is not going to change the Palestinians’ unwillingness to accept a Jewish state coexisting with a Palestinian entity, nor will they alter Israelis’ insistence on peace for security. – Algemeiner

Ely Karmon writes: The ISIS’s threat in the “declaration of war” on Israel should be taken seriously, not only by Israel and its security establishment but also by Jewish institutions and potential targets (synagogues, schools, representative personalities, etc.) around the world. – Jerusalem Post

Moran Azulay and Elisha Ben Kimon write: Mandelblit is expected to outline for Netanyahu the difficulties with an interim government declaring Israeli sovereignty over all West Bank settlements. The main legal problem facing such a drastic move stems from the fact that interim governments such as the one currently installed in Israel don’t normally have the right to make impactful decisions that will affect future administrations. – Ynet


Across Iraq voices from all the communities of the diverse country have posted about Holocaust Memorial Day. Kurdistan region President Nechirvan Barzani tweeted that Holocaust Memorial Day is a “reminder that our humanity has come a long way to stop and think about victims of that genocide.” – Jerusalem Post

Anti-government protesters in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya say they will not back down despite the destruction of their camp by gunmen in an attack that left at least two people dead. […]Mass protests against corruption, economic decline and foreign political interference have rocked Iraq since October. – Reuters

Iraq is considering a larger role for NATO at the expense of the US-led coalition, Iraqi and Western officials told AFP, after an American drone strike on Baghdad that sparked outrage. – Agence France-Presse

The United Nations raised “serious concerns” on Tuesday about the trials of hundreds of alleged Islamic State members in Iraq, some of whom merely prepared meals, offered medical services or even acted as human shields for the jihadist group. – Reuters


When Lebanon’s protests erupted in October, thousands found a renewed commitment to their homeland and vowed to fix a country that has long fed its best and brightest to the diaspora. Then the economy unravelled. – Agence France-Presse

IDF forces were called to the western Galilee Bedouin village of Arab al-Aramshe on Tuesday when a man who allegedly crossed the border from Lebanon illegally was seen near that location, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit reported. – Jerusalem Post

Mohamad Bazzi writes: To enact lasting change, Lebanon’s protesters must uproot the sectarian system entirely. That requires change across multiple levels of society — to be won through municipal elections, new labor unions and professional associations, an independent judiciary, and a strong central government that can provide the most basic services to its people. Without this deep change, Lebanon faces chaos — and devastating economic and social collapse. – New York Times

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and the UAE on Tuesday issued statements welcoming the Trump administration’s peace plan. – Jerusalem Post

Turkey’s Defence Ministry said on Tuesday that it would retaliate “in the strongest way, without hesitation” against any attack on its observation posts in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. – Reuters

Forces aligned with Libya’s Tripoli-based government said on Tuesday they had shot down a drone operated by their rivals, suggesting a strengthening of air defenses as they receive accelerated military support from Turkey. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman reassured the Kingdom’s commitment to the Palestinian issue and Palestinian rights, in a phone call with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, the Saudi state news agency reported early on Wednesday. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

A top Pentagon official said Tuesday it’s unclear why North Korea did not take provocation action such as a missile test after warning the United States about a “Christmas gift” last year. – The Hill

The U.S. military said it has begun notifying nearly 9,000 South Korean workers that they will be put on leave starting April if Seoul and Washington fail to reach a deal on sharing costs for the upkeep of 28,500 U.S. soldiers in South Korea. – Reuters

The U.S. military has reimposed monthly commissary purchase limits in South Korea, less than a month after a retiree was banned from bases over black marketing allegations. – Military.com


The chairman of Harvard University’s chemistry department was arrested on charges of lying about receiving millions of dollars in Chinese funding, in an escalation of U.S. efforts to counter what officials said is a plot by Beijing to mine U.S. universities to catapult China to the forefront of scientific development. – Wall Street Journal

A top U.S. health official said Tuesday that he offered to send a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to China to help with the coronavirus outbreak. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar did not describe the Chinese health minister’s response but said he hopes that Beijing will accept the offer. – Washington Post

The U.S. expanded screenings of passengers to 20 airports and other governments took steps to reduce exposure to travelers from China, as the head of the World Health Organization praised Beijing’s handling of the outbreak of a new and dangerous coronavirus. – Wall Street Journal

The White House is considering a ban on flights between the United States and China as the new coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, Trump administration officials said late Tuesday. – USA Today

The United States and Japan flew citizens out of the Chinese city at the epicentre of a new virus outbreak on Wednesday, as the death toll rose sharply to 132 and the first case appeared in the Middle East. – Reuters

The European Commission said on Tuesday it would start helping repatriate Europeans from the Chinese region hit hardest by the coronavirus after a request from France. – Reuters

China’s armed forces accused the U.S. of “ill intentions” in the South China Sea after an American warship entered waters near the contested Spratly Islands last week. – Bloomberg

Ely Ratner et al. write: Efforts to gain partisan advantage on China policy should be avoided and rejected. We believe this is possible: The day-to-day lived experience at the Center for a New American Security is that Republicans and Democrats can still come together to find common ground in areas of vital U.S. interest in the world. – Center for A New American Security


U.S. forces recovered the bodies of two U.S. service members on Tuesday from the site of an American surveillance plane crash in Taliban-controlled territory in Afghanistan, the U.S. military command in Kabul said in a statement. – Washington Post

The US dropped more bombs on Afghanistan in 2019 than any other year since the Pentagon began keeping a tally in 2006, reflecting an apparent effort to force concessions from the Taliban at the negotiating table. – The Guardian

The U.S. military is reducing the number of UH-60 Black Hawks it plans to provide Afghan forces from 159 to just 53 — a two-thirds cut in the quantity of rotary wing assets American forces had intended to provide, according to a Defense Department report. – Military Times


Russia and China are working jointly to develop a coronavirus vaccine and Beijing has handed over the genome of the virus to Moscow, the Russian consulate in China’s Guangzhou said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Alexander Vinnik, a Russian citizen accused by the U.S. of having supervised a digital-currency exchange that helped criminals launder billions of dollars, will probably remain in France to face cryptocurrency-related charges there, his lawyers said in Paris. – Bloomberg

Russia’s state-owned Gazprom says it will complete the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project under the Baltic Sea on its own without the help of foreign companies. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The European Union added seven Russian-backed officials in Crimea to its sanctions blacklist on Tuesday for organizing local elections in the peninsula last year. – Reuters


The British government Tuesday handed the U.S. government a major defeat in its months-long campaign against the Chinese tech giant Huawei by agreeing to use Huawei equipment in part of its telecommunications network. – Washington Post

Poland is willing to consider a compromise with the European Union on its selection of judges under certain conditions, its justice minister said on Tuesday after talks with a senior EU official on rule of law concerns. – Reuters

A Hungarian security officer fired three warning shots early on Tuesday after about 60 migrants tried to force their way through a checkpoint on the border with Serbia, and Serbian police said later they had arrested 37 people for trying to cross the frontier illegally. – Reuters

The automatic right of EU vessels to fish in British waters, in accordance with the EU’s common fisheries policy, is to be ended under the fisheries bill introduced to parliament today. – The Guardian

Denmark would support an European Union-wide agreement to the digital tax controversy should a global deal fail, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told an EU conference in Copenhagen. – Bloomberg

The U.K.’s cyber security watchdog has made clear the threat of being hacked by China remains, but probably not via Huawei Technologies Co. – Bloomberg

Ryan Heath, Nancy Scola, Annabelle Dickson and Eric Geller write: For the United States, Boris Johnson’s embrace of Huawei is a potential tipping point in Washington’s faltering struggle with Beijing for global technological and economic dominance. For the United Kingdom, Tuesday’s decision is a pragmatic choice born of economic necessity. – Politico

Gordon N. Bardos writes: If Washington is serious about promoting democracy in the Balkans, then it will demand an end to the political repression and criminal behavior, which is part and parcel of Djukanovic’s regime, and clear the way for the first democratic transition in Montenegro’s history. Apart from striking a serious blow against organized crime and corruption in southeastern Europe, moving against Djukanovic would also send a strong message to the Balkans’ other would-be petty authoritarians that their predations will no longer be tolerated. – The National Interest

James Andrew Lewis writes: The United Kingdom acknowledges that using Huawei technology creates a national security risk but argues that this partial ban, combined with better efforts to improve cybersecurity, is sufficient to mitigate that risk (but not eliminate it). The best answer on whether a partial ban and core/edge separation reduces risk is “it depends.” What it depends upon is how well the United Kingdom follows up on its plans for secure telecommunications. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


In an ambitious new initiative, the Kenyan government is planning to assign each citizen a unique identification number that will be required to go to school, get health care and housing, register to vote, get married and obtain a driver’s license, bank account and even a mobile phone number.[…] The added hurdles have affected at least five million of Kenya’s 47.5 million people, leading to delays in processing their ID cards and outright denials, said Laura Goodwin, the citizenship program director for Namati, an international legal justice group. – New York Times

Militia infighting in Central African Republic (CAR) killed around 40 people over the weekend and forced several hundred from their homes, local authorities said on Tuesday. […]The government and rebels expressed optimism when the peace accord was signed last year, but lasting peace is not guaranteed: similar agreements in 2014, 2015 and 2017 all broke down. – Reuters

Thirty-nine people were killed in northern Burkina Faso on Saturday, in what the government called a terrorist attack on a village in Soum province. – Reuters

The Americas

President Donald Trump is eager to show off a big policy win during his impeachment trial by signing into law a major rewrite of the rules of trade with Canada and Mexico. – Associated Press

Justin Trudeau’s government will look closely at Britain’s decision to let Huawei Technologies Co. build parts of the country’s fifth-generation mobile networks as it makes its own assessments of potential security risks. – Bloomberg

White supremacist Dylann Roof on Tuesday appealed his federal convictions and death sentence in the 2015 massacre of nine black church members in South Carolina, arguing that he was mentally ill when he represented himself at his capital trial. – Associated Press

Latin America

Venezuela’s opposition-run congress said on Tuesday it had set aside $20 million held in accounts in the United States to pay for litigation abroad as part of efforts to protect the country’s offshore assets from lawsuits by creditors. – Reuters

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched a program on Tuesday to help tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants settle in Brazil for the long-term. – Reuters

Venezuelan special police detained a fugitive Colombian former senator who had illegally crossed the border, the force’s chief said, four months after she escaped custody by climbing out of her dentist’s office in Bogota. […]It is not clear how Guaido would process an extradition request given that Maduro retains control of most government functions, including the police and judiciary.  – Reuters


U.S. prosecutors sought restraining orders against two sets of telecommunications providers they said have facilitated hundreds of millions of fraudulent robocalls coming into the U.S. from overseas. – Wall Street Journal

The EU is expected to announce on Wednesday guidelines for member states to use in deciding 5G issues, including rules that would permit, but not require, governments to restrict or ban the use of Huawei equipment. – Bloomberg

The first version of the new cybersecurity requirements the Pentagon wants military contractors to follow could be finalized as soon as Jan. 31. – Fifth Domain

In the past 180 days, it has reported 685 of my “interactions” with its app to Facebook, according to Facebook’s new Off-Facebook Activity tool, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a company blog post this morning. The tool lets any Facebook user go into her settings and see a list of apps and websites that have shared her information with Facebook, organized by the most recent time they shared data, and paired with a number indicating how many “interactions” have been shared. – The Atlantic

The decision by United Kingdom officials to allow Chinese telecom company Huawei to build parts of the country’s 5G network was met with ire from members of Congress Jan. 28, as several members argued the decision will hurt the relationship between the two allies.- Fifth Domain

Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg is slated to visit Brussels in mid-February, meeting with European Union officials as the social media giant fends off antitrust and privacy scrutiny over how it handles user data. – Bloomberg

Eli Lake writes: Allowing Huawei into the British network would have a significant impact on a partnership known as the Five Eyes, under which the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand share signal intelligence against common threats. […]The issue is not just technological vulnerability, says Kitchen, who worked on cyber issues during a 15-year intelligence career. “The British government has just demonstrated that it completely misunderstands the Chinese threat.” – Bloomberg


Orders for defense aircraft propelled an unexpected jump for American-made manufactured goods in December, according to government data released Tuesday, but analysts warn of underlying weakness. – Agence France-Presse

Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL pardoned by President Trump after being convicted of a war crime, may have endangered members of his platoon who testified against him by outing them. – Washington Examiner

Delays in developing and fielding the U.S. Air Force’s new KC-46 tanker are aggravating the existing aerial-refueling shortfall, and the situation could get even worse if the service sticks to its plan to retire legacy tankers, the head of U.S. Transportation Command said Tuesday. – Defense News

The U.S. Defense Department is one step closer to having swarming drones that it can launch from military planes and recover in midair, having successfully conducted the first flight of the Gremlins aircraft in November. – Defense News

Two new U.S. Navy drones arrived in Guam over the weekend for their first mission in the Pacific region, expanding the reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities in the area, the service said in a Jan. 27 news release. – Defense News

Raytheon has been selected to build FORGE, a new system to collect and fuse data from the military’s space-based missile warning sensors. – C4ISRNET

The Air Force is working to create a virtual reality platform for teaching airmen how to maintain C-130 aircraft. The effort aims not only to facilitate the training process but also to minimize the diversion of Hercules and Super Hercules aircraft from their missions. – Air Force Times

Concrete erodes. Time and stress and the mere passive forces of being outside pull apart and chip away at stone. In remote or vulnerable environments, where supplies are hard to come by but rocket or mortar attacks are possible, stone structures that protect people may be under more strain. All of this led DARPA to ask the question: What if concrete could heal itself? – C4ISRNET

U.S. President Donald Trump has settled an internal battle over whether to seek $20 billion for the federal agency that maintains America’s weapons, or less money, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., confirmed Tuesday. – Defense News

Inaccurate surge sealift fleet readiness reporting misled geographic combatant commanders about their ability to quickly receive equipment resupplies, according to a Department of Defense Inspector General’s report. – USNI News

The Navy is mulling how it will accelerate adding the capability for the next Ford-class aircraft carrier to launch, recover and maintain F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters, officials said earlier this month. – USNI News

Over the weekend, Littoral Combat Ship USS Montgomery (LCS-8) conducted a freedom of navigation operation through waters near the Spratly Islands claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, the Navy said. – USNI News

The following is the Department of Defense Inspector General January 2020 report, Audit of Surge Sealift Readiness Reporting. – USNI News

A new internal review by US Special Operations Command says an “unhealthy sense of entitlement” was fostered among its newest candidates during their training process. – Business Insider

Trump Administration

Senators emerged from an Iran briefing Tuesday frustrated by what they described as the Trump administration’s persistent unwillingness to engage Congress on military decisions, blasting State Department officials for holding a closed-door session when none of the information they shared was classified. – Washington Post

A Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives committee said on Tuesday it had reached an agreement with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to testify at a public hearing on Iran and Iraq policy, after threatening a subpoena over previous refusals to appear. – Reuters

The Trump administration on Tuesday expressed disappointment after the U.K. announced it would allow Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei limited access to some British 5G mobile networks. – CNBC