Fdd's overnight brief

February 5, 2019

In The News


The EU warned Tehran over its ballistic missile programme and interference in the Syria conflict Monday, while welcoming a new mechanism to trade with Iran while bypassing US sanctions. – Agence France-Presse

Iran dismissed European Union criticism of its missile program, regional policies and rights record on Tuesday, highlighting their increasingly testy relationship as both sides seek to salvage a troubled nuclear deal. – Reuters

Iran’s top judge said on Monday that Tehran would never accept the “humiliating conditions” set by the European Union for non-dollar trade intended to evade U.S. sanctions, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. – Reuters

An Iranian dissident in Berlin told German police that he was attacked by three men who called him by name and threatened him in Persian before beating him and stamping on him. – Reuters

The most high-profile US ambassador in Europe, Richard Grenell, compared on Saturday the Islamic State’s brutality with the execution sprees in the Islamic Republic of Iran. – Jerusalem Post

A member of Iran’s parliament says Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has decided to take $1.5 billion from the National Development Fund to “reinforce” the defenses of the country. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini betrayed the principles of the Iranian revolution after sweeping to power in 1979, his first president told Reuters, leaving a “very bitter” taste among some of those who had returned with him to Tehran in triumph. – Reuters

Oded Granot writes: The decision to raise the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the top of the Iranian Revolution’s agenda and support the Palestinians with money and arms was no accident. Khomeini believed that the only way to turn Shiite Iran into the leader of the Islamic world was to look for the common denominator that could unite the Sunnis and the Shiites under one flag, and that was hostility towards Israel. – Algemeiner

Tom Ridge writes: Soon after completing an investigation that left no doubt about Tehran’s culpability for the Paris plot targeting the National Council of Resistance (NCRI) gathering, the French government imposed sanctions on the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and some of its known operatives. But it was only last month that these sanctions were adopted by the rest of the European Union . And serious critics of the Iranian regime do not believe they go nearly far enough. – The National Interest

Jason Brodsky writes: With Iran’s status as the Shiite hegemon in the region, the Trump administration should address this terroristic asymmetry in the new year as it implements its maximum pressure campaign. Its next target should be the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) foreign expeditionary Quds Force. – The Cipher Brief


Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of inciting Western powers against Lebanon, a day after the premier blasted the country for including the Iran-backed terrorist group in its newly formed government. – Times of Israel

The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Monday it would never use state funds for its own benefit after it named the health minister in a new coalition government, adding that its choice for the post was close to the movement but not a member. – Algemeiner

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, told i24NEWS on Monday that a group of some 40 other ambassadors who visited Israel were “shocked” when they saw Hezbollah’s attack tunnels on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. – Arutz Sheva

Yoni Ben Menachem writes: The Hezbollah leader’s media appearance was part of the organization’s psychological warfare in response to the huge defeat it sustained when the IDF discovered tunnels infiltrating into Israel during Operation Northern Shield at the end of 2018. – Algemeiner


As Donald Trump prepares to defend his Syria troop pullout in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, fellow Republicans are pushing back hard. Islamic extremism in that war-torn country, runs their argument, is nowhere near as extinct as the president claims. – Bloomberg

Despite President Donald Trump’s assertions, ISIS is not defeated and could re-emerge without continued military engagement in Syria, according to candid assessments from the Pentagon and the State Department released this week. – Time

The United States on Monday called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens who traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State group and who are now being held by Washington’s local partners. – Associated Press

United States President Donald Trump partially walked back his avowed intent to immediately withdraw all American forces from Syria, telling CBS News that “we’re going to be there and we’re going to be staying—we have to protect Israel, we have to protect other things.” – Jerusalem Post

The U.S. State Department on Monday called on countries to take in foreign fighters captured by America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, two days ahead of a meeting in Washington of dozens of coalition partners fighting Islamic State to discuss the way forward in Syria. – Reuters

Lars Hauch writes: The use of child soldiers is a grave human rights violation. Accusing a faction of exploiting this particularly vulnerable group is an effective way of demonizing both political and military opponents. There is no doubt that minors are fighting in the ranks of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia that controls most of the country’s northeast, but just how widespread is this phenomenon? – Middle East Institute


Amnesty International has launched a new campaign against Israel, taking to the media to call for a travel industry boycott of Jewish homes and businesses in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. – Algemeiner

Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian and wounded another in the occupied West Bank on Monday, medical officials said. The army said the two had been carrying out a bomb attack. – Reuters

Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau, arrived in Cairo on Sunday to hold talks with Egyptian officials on the developments of the Palestinian issue and the bilateral relations between the two sides. – Asharq Al-Awsat

Jewish organization The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) on Monday slammed the Palestinian Authority (PA) following its announcement that it will no longer accept security aid from the United States, and praised the U.S. for terminating the more than $60 million that the PA received annually in security assistance. – Arutz Sheva

The Arab League on Monday called on countries in Europe to recognize the state of “Palestine” within the pre-1967 borders and with its capital in eastern Jerusalem. – Arutz Sheva

Deborah Singer Soffen and Joan Lurie Goldberg write: UN Secretary-General António Guterres elegantly made the case for curbing hate, racism, and rising antisemitism. […] Yet hate-filled education continues to be provided to Palestinian children by UNRWA — an agency of the UN — making the UN complicit in this travesty. – Algemeiner

Yaakov Lappin writes: The “War Between Wars” is an ongoing Israeli military and intelligence effort to disrupt the force build-up of the Iranian-Shiite axis throughout the Middle East. – Algemeiner

Gulf States

The prince is facing what one Saudi executive calls “passive resistance” from within his own government. In addition to delaying the IPO, government officials have scaled back his plans to build the world’s largest solar-generation hub, delayed plans to sell off national assets and prevented the state from increasing its investments in technology companies. – Wall Street Journal

Pope Francis is opening his historic visit to the United Arab Emirates by meeting Monday with the federation’s leader and a group of Muslim elders before addressing faith leaders in a show of religious tolerance in a Muslim region known for its restrictions on religious freedom. – Time

The “overriding consensus” among ranking ministers in the United Arab Emirates is that relations with Israel are “around the corner,” US Rabbi Marc Schneier said on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Sohrab Ahmari writes: On Sunday, Pope Francis became the first Catholic pontiff to visit Abu Dhabi, the glittering capital of the United Arab Emirates. In our social-media age, with its endless parade of fleeting images, it’s easy to overlook the significance of this: The vicar of Christ has arrived in Islam’s birthplace — sandy terrain from which Muslims once violently extirpated rival religions. – New York Post


The United Nations Security Council urged the warring parties in Yemen on Monday to withdraw forces from the country’s main port of Hodeidah and two other ports “without further delays.” – Reuters

The Pentagon has launched an investigation into alleged Saudi transfers of US military hardware, from rifles to armored vehicles and tanks, to the hands of Islamist radical groups in Yemen. – Times of Israel

The release of prisoners by Yemen’s warring parties is “hanging in the balance” because of differences over the lists submitted by the government and its Saudi-led coalition partners and rival Houthi rebels, a senior Red Cross official said Monday. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

Iraqi President Barham Salih on Monday rejected a plan floated by President Trump that calls for keeping U.S. forces in Iraq to “watch” neighboring Iran, saying the United States should not burden Iraq with its own “policy priorities.” – Washington Post

The US Senate approved by a large majority Monday an amendment critical of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, in a sign of the deep discontent caused by the policies within his own Republican ranks. – Agence France-Presse

An Egyptian criminal court on Monday issued preliminary death sentences to eight individuals for allegedly planning to assassinate President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. – Bloomberg

The Islamic State group is regrouping in Iraq faster than in Syria, according to a new Pentagon report, underscoring the fluid nature of the security threat in the Middle East. – MSNBC

Eight years since Tunisians toppled longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a revolution that effectively launched the Arab Spring, protests against the current government’s economic policies are being staged across the country. – Jerusalem Post

Ross Harrison writes: Power dynamics between the major global and regional powers have indirectly influenced the civil wars currently plaguing the Middle East. By analyzing the impact of the Cold War, its end, and the regional and domestic dynamics it produced, this paper argues that the shift in the distribution of power caused by end of the Cold War, as well as the resulting American unipolarity, facilitated the creation of two opposing camps, one comprising the U.S. and its allies and the other an “axis of resistance.” – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. and South Korea reached a cost-sharing deal for American forces on the Korean Peninsula, relieving pressure on the seven-decade alliance after the Trump administration demanded that Seoul pay as much as 50 percent more. – Bloomberg

The U.S. special envoy for North Korea will be traveling to Pyongyang on Wednesday to prepare for President Donald Trump’s second summit with leader Kim Jong Un. – Associated Press

North Korea is working to ensure its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities cannot be destroyed by military strikes, U.N. monitors said ahead of a meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials to prepare a second denuclearization summit. – Reuters


The US plans to increase tariffs on Chinese goods if the two sides fail to make progress on a trade deal by 1 March. – BBC News (UK)

Tim Wu writes: As China and the United States engage in high-level negotiations over a possible trade deal, it’s puzzling to see what’s been left off the table: the Chinese internet market. China blocks or hinders nearly every important foreign competitor online, including Google, Facebook, Wikipedia in Chinese, Pinterest, Line (the major Japanese messaging company), Reddit and The New York Times. – New York Times

Adam Ereli writes: The Trump administration has made it clear that it views China as one of the greatest threats to America’s economic and security interests. Unfortunately, the administration treats China’s activities in Africa with less urgency. – Defense One


The United States risks providing Afghanistan with state-of-the-art Black Hawk helicopters that the country’s embattled air force does not have the pilots to fly nor the engineers to maintain, a U.S. watchdog said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Mihir Sharma writes: Afghanistan’s future has never looked more uncertain — and, as so tediously often in the past, it is largely the fault of the U.S. […]It’s a chilling thought that some politicians in Kabul might, for the sake of power, be willing to cut a deal with the Taliban that they know is flawed. – Bloomberg


British businesses trading with the European Union can apply for a special status allowing them to circumvent some of the hurdles that a disruptive departure from the bloc could create, the U.K.’s tax authority said Monday. – Wall Street Journal

As President Trump prepares to deliver his second State of the Union address, the leaders of the United States’ closest allies in Europe are filled with anxiety. They are unsure of whom to talk to in Washington. They can’t tell whether Trump considers them friends or foes. They dig through his Twitter feed for indications of whether the president intends to wreck the European Union and NATO or merely hobble the continent’s core institutions. – Washington Post

The European Union is getting serious about no-deal planning. As the bloc digs in, refusing to reopen the divorce deal to make it more acceptable to the British Parliament, there’s a steady stream of contingency plans coming into effect that have received little attention. – Bloomberg

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said they want to head off a no-deal Brexit that could rattle their economies, as both braced against the U.K.’s increasingly chaotic course toward an exit from the EU. – Bloomberg

When plans for a summit between the European Union and the Arab League were first hatched last year, it was envisioned as the start of a new friendship across the Mediterranean. What a difference a few months makes. – Reuters

Anxious worshipers attending Shabbat services at the Great Synagogue in the French city of Strasbourg were regaled with antisemitic insults and slogans this weekend, during a angry demonstration mounted by the “yellow vest” social protest movement. – Algemeiner

Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Rachel Rizzo write: There is a growing debate in the United States about the utility of America’s allies and the United States’ role in the world. Should the United States retrench and play a less active role internationally? Or should Washington remain engaged and continue to invest in our core set of alliances? Perhaps no issue better encapsulates this debate than America’s membership in and commitment to NATO. – Center for New American Security


An al Qaeda affiliate’s killing of a manager working for a major Dubai-based port operator in Somalia highlights the risks of doing business in the war-ravaged nation. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Embassy in Kenya warned its citizens of a possible attack in Kenya targeting westerners, three weeks after a raid by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group in the capital, Nairobi, left at least 21 people dead. – Bloomberg

Nigeria’s air force bombarded suspected insurgent targets in northern Borno state, killing militants belonging to the Islamic State of West Africa Province, the army said. – Bloomberg


Global support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó expanded Monday as a growing chorus of Western nations increased pressure on the authoritarian regime of cash-strapped Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. – Wall Street Journal

International clamor for snap elections in Venezuela intensified Monday as European powers recognized opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim leader, after President Nicolas Maduro rejected an ultimatum to call early voting. – Agence France-Presse

Justin Trudeau brought together Venezuela’s neighbors to voice support for a peaceful handover of power, making a modest pledge of humanitarian aid for the country and those who’ve fled economic crisis under the regime of Nicolas Maduro. – Bloomberg

A U.S. government decision to mobilize humanitarian aid to crisis-wracked Venezuela could risk escalating the political crisis there as President Nicolas Maduro views such shipments as a pretext for a U.S.-led military intervention, BBC reports. – Time

What would Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro say to President Donald Trump if he had him in front of him? “You are making mistakes that will leave your hands covered in blood and you will leave the presidency stained with blood,” Maduro told journalist Jordi Évole in a combative television interview Sunday on the show “Salvados” from Spain’s laSexta network. – MSNBC

Daniel Yergin writes: Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela has been waging economic warfare against the country it rules. The result has been an almost unfathomable million-percent inflation rate coupled with near-total social collapse […]. – Wall Street Journal

Cyber Security

A lack of tough cyber operators to play the role of adversary is leaving U.S. cyber defenders unprepared for today’s real-world threats, according to the Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test & Evaluation. – Defense One

The Pentagon’s top weapons tester said the Army needs to more clearly establish how it will use electronic warfare systems as it conducts a significant., years-long initiative to rebuild its jamming capabilities for the first time since the Cold War. – Defense News

A recent Department of Defense memorandum indicates that the agency wants to pursue multiple commercial cloud vendors as it attempts to modernize its IT and data infrastructure, though a single provider will still have singular influence over the agency’s “general purpose cloud.” – Defense News

Amy Zegart writes: In September, the Trump administration published a National Cyber Strategy—proudly declaring that it was the first fully articulated cyber strategy in 15 years. This week, the annual intelligence threat hearing laid bare the fantasy world of that four-month-old document and the cold hard reality of, well, reality. – Defense One


The Pentagon has launched a major examination of civilian deaths in military operations, responding to criticism that it has failed to protect innocent bystanders in counterterrorism wars worldwide. – Washington Post

Helicopters carrying U.S. and Greek troops landed in a field at the foot of Mount Olympus on a sunny morning late last month during a live-fire exercise in which the joint forces practiced recovering a downed pilot. – Wall Street Journal

Fortunately, the A&D industry and the U.S. government well recognize the supply chain’s critical importance and are taking the challenge head on, transitioning it into a strategic weapon to strengthen our companies, industry and nation. – Defense News

Gabriel Coll and Andrew Philip Hunter write: The U.S. military’s vertical lift fleet of helicopters and tiltrotors is aging. With the exception of V-22 Osprey, no completely new aircraft designs have been introduced since the 1980s. Even the V-22 made its first test flight back in the 1980s. And the U.S. Army, which has the largest helicopter fleet and traditionally takes the lead on vertical lift innovation, has not made substantial investments in Research & Development since the cancellation of RAH-66 Comanche. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Trump Administration

President Trump will deliver the State of the Union address Tuesday at one of the most vulnerable moments of his presidency — and supporters and detractors alike are skeptical he can turn things around. – The Hill

Senate Republicans are warning President Trump ahead of his State of the Union speech against using a national emergency declaration to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall. – The Hill

Joseph Bosco writes: By contrast, President Donald Trump’s handling of the partial government shutdown and its denouement have been widely perceived as a “humiliating defeat” and an admission that he may have been bluffing all along. Accurate or not, unfriendly leaders in Beijing, Pyongyang, Moscow, Damascus and Tehran may think this is a good time to take advantage of a weakened U.S. president with a hostile Congress and divided population. – The Hill