Fdd's overnight brief

January 9, 2019

In The News


The European Union imposed its first sanctions against Iran since the nuclear accord was implemented three years ago, as European diplomats warned their Iranian counterparts that the bloc wouldn’t tolerate further alleged Iranian attacks and assassinations in Europe. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. case against the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies, who was arrested in Canada last month, centers on the company’s suspected ties to two obscure companies. One is a telecom equipment seller that operated in Tehran; the other is that firm’s owner, a holding company registered in Mauritius. – Reuters

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Middle East allies Tuesday to confront “significant threats” posed by Iran and jihadists as he visited a region shaken by Washington’s surprise decision to withdraw from Syria. – Agence France-Presse

Iran hopes India will strive to get another waiver from U.S. sanctions as New Delhi plans to continue buying oil from Tehran, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for economic diplomacy Gholamreza Ansari said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A former minister-turned-spy for Iran will serve 11 years in jail as part of a plea bargain negotiated with prosecutors, the Jerusalem District Court was told Wednesday. Gonen Segev was said to have met with Iranian intelligence officials repeatedly over the past six years, supplying the Iranians with information. – Times of Israel


A jihadist assault gained ground on Tuesday against Turkish-backed rebels in northwest Syria, edging closer to frontlines with government forces, a rebel official and a war monitor said. – Reuters

What to do with hundreds of foreign Islamic State fighters captured in Syria has become a critical and growing problem for the Trump administration as it prepares to pull troops out of the country. – Associated Press

Alexey Khlebnikov writes: If the U.S. does withdraw from Syria, Russia will remain the only global player with significant capabilities in the country. At a time when the risk of escalation is growing, Moscow could play an increasingly important role as a moderator between the Turks, Kurds, Iranians, and Syrians. For now, it remains to be seen what the U.S. will actually do, and that will need to be compared with the reality on the ground. For now, Moscow doesn’t have overly optimistic expectations about the U.S. decision to pull out from Syria. – Middle East Institute

Michael Hirsh writes: Syria is a horrific humanitarian disaster, but Washington really isn’t in the business of intervening in those anymore, not since the catastrophe of Iraq and the blowback from Libya. […] The problem Trump has now is that with his administration’s dithering—Bolton said U.S. troops will remain as long as the Islamic State and the Iranian threat do—he’s in danger of adopting a similar policy of pretense as Obama once did. – Foreign Policy


President Trump’s plans for a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria were thrown into disarray when Turkey’s president rejected a request to protect U.S. allies fighting in the region and instead threatened military strikes against them. – Wall Street Journal

National security adviser John Bolton left here in frustration Tuesday, with the U.S. and Turkey locked in a political standoff that threatens President Donald Trump’s plans for a troop withdrawal from Syria. – Politico

Michael Rubin writes: Trump may make concessions, and Erdoğan may pocket them, but none of that changes the fact that, in the worldview of Erdoğan and his team, the United States is “the primary threat for Turkey.” […] Trump may feel leadership means defying conventional wisdom in Washington. Certainly, he is right to challenge much of that. But, with his embrace of Erdoğan, he not only wields power to a man complicit in the Islamic State’s rise and survival, but also a man whose closest circle ridicules Trump if not to his face than behind-his-back to his own people. – The National Interest

Birol Baskan writes: A new crisis is brewing between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and this one is going to be much more severe and damaging than the dispute over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The crisis concerns the People’s Protection Units (YPG), considered by Turkey to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and thus a terrorist group and security threat. […] 2018 was a difficult year for Turkey-Saudi ties but things may get worse in 2019. If steps are not taken to address it, the current situation looks set to become a full-blown bilateral crisis. – Middle East Institute


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the end of the March, about two weeks before Israeli elections, Israel Hayom newspaper reported Wednesday. – Bloomberg

The Senate is scheduled to vote today on a motion to proceed to open debate on the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 — legislation that would authorize U.S. military assistance to Israel and empower local governments to take up anti-BDS measures. However, a growing number of Democrats have announced their opposition to the legislation until the Republicans call a vote on the House-passed bills to reopen the government. – Jewish Insider

Rashida Tlaib, a freshman Democratic congressman from Michigan, pushed back against widespread rebuke on Monday for her tweet accusing Israel advocates in Congress of dual loyalties. She was attacking legislation introduced by Republicans in the Senate days earlier that would bolster state efforts to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion announced that security around educational institutions and neighborhoods in Jerusalem will be reinforced immediately, following the alleged stabbing attack in Amon Hanatziv Wednesday morning. – Jerusalem Post

The Knesset approved a request Wednesday by MK Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al (Arab Movement for Change) party to withdraw from the Joint Arab list. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back against his right-wing voter base when he defended the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) arrest of five Jewish teens in connection to an investigation into the death of a Palestinian mother Aysha Ravi in October. – Jerusalem Post

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot — who is retiring this month — revealed on Tuesday that the Israeli military has thwarted the shipment of thousands of rockets to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

On a farewell visit to the Gaza border area, Gantz said, “We’ve foiled the smuggling of 15-20,000 rockets,” the Hebrew news site Mako reported. – Algemeiner

Gaza’s Hamas rulers said on Tuesday that its security services had arrested dozens of Palestinians since an Israeli raid inside the Strip that went awry, accusing them of aiding the Jewish state. – Agence France-Presse

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been awarded Israel’s 2019 Genesis Prize in recognition of his philanthropy and commitment to combating anti-Semitism, organizers of the prize announced on Wednesday. – Associated Press

Michael Herzog writes: Israel will necessarily adjust to the new situation and continue to take action against Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, as it has already done in the three weeks since Trump’s announcement. […] While the administration appears attentive to some of these requests and is exerting significant effort to mitigate the negative regional impression of President Trump’s decision, the situation’s broader, long-term implications are still looming in Jerusalem and cannot be ignored. – Washington Institute


Yemeni officials say a U.N. team has met with representatives of the country’s internationally recognized government over a cease-fire in a key port city. They say the Shiite Houthi rebels did not attend Tuesday’s meeting with the U.N. team, led by Dutch Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, which took place in a government-held area, east of Hodeida city. The officials say Cammaert will meet with the rebels separately on Wednesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media. – Associated Press

The Pentagon has denied in a report to Congress that U.S. personnel in Yemen who interrogated Yemeni detainees for information about potential terrorist threats had witnessed or were complicit in torture or other mistreatment of any detainee. – Associated Press

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has asked the Security Council to approve the deployment of up to 75 observers to Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah for six months to monitor a ceasefire and redeployment of forces by the warring parties. – Reuters

Michael Knights writes: The United States needs to work as an honest broker to help the Hodeida-based UN Redeployment Coordination Committee quickly assess the evidence of Houthi misconduct, especially regarding rural attacks in areas inaccessible to the UN mission. If egregious ceasefire violations are proven, Washington should use its backchannel communications with the Houthis to relay that it will publicly back the right of Yemeni and coalition forces to defend themselves in the future, and will hold the Houthis responsible for breaking the ceasefire. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Anthony Zinni has become the latest senior military officer to leave the Trump administration, resigning his position as special envoy to help resolve disputes in the Persian Gulf and build a strategic U.S. military alliance with Arab governments in the region. – Washington Post

An Egyptian security delegation is expected to arrive in Gaza in the coming days in an attempt to prevent a deterioration in the security situation along the border with Israel this weekend. – Times of Israel

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Iraqi Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi in Baghdad on Wednesday, according to a statement from the Speaker’s office. – Reuters

The Senate is scheduled to vote today on a motion to proceed to open debate on the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 — legislation that would authorize U.S. military assistance to Israel and empower local governments to take up anti-BDS measures. However, a growing number of Democrats have announced their opposition to the legislation until the Republicans call a vote on the House-passed bills to reopen the government. – Jewish Insider

U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise December 26, 2018 visit to the ‘Ayn Al-Assad Airbase in Al-Anbar Governorate in western Iraq, near the Syrian border, sparked furious reactions in Iraq and even threats from Iran-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militias to use force against U.S. troops in the country. The rage against the U.S. was particularly fueled by Trump’s announcement during his visit that the U.S. had no intention to withdraw its forces from Iraq and that it has the capability to operate in Syria from its bases there, as well as by reports prior to the visit that the U.S. military had established two new bases in Al-Anbar. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Korean Peninsula

Mr. Kim’s arrival in Beijing on Tuesday at Chinese President Xi Jinping’s invitation offered a reminder of the close ties between North Korea and China, whose actions have been essential to the U.S.-led effort to enforce sanctions on Pyongyang. That has given President Xi leverage in China’s dealings with Washington, with whom relations have deteriorated as their trade dispute has unfolded. – Wall Street Journal

Japan on Wednesday demanded talks with South Korea over a Korean court compensation award against a Japanese company for using forced laborers during World War Two, saying all such claims were settled decades ago. – Reuters

Erin Dunne writes: Although China has yet to more publicly involve itself in U.S. efforts to push for denuclearization, if the relationship between Washington and Beijing continues to deteriorate, that could easily throw a wrench in any plans — or even an agreement, should China decide to flex its muscles against U.S. interests. As the Trump administration decides on another meeting with Kim, it cannot forget that China is part of the equation. – Washington Examiner


The U.S. and China made progress on narrowing their differences on trade issues, especially on purchases of U.S. goods and services and widening access to China’s markets, though the two sides are far from striking a deal. – Wall Street Journal

China is buying American soybeans again and has cut tariffs on American cars. It is offering to keep its hands off valuable corporate secrets, while also allowing foreign investors into more industries than ever before. Beijing hopes all of that will be enough to let President Trump declare victory and end the trade war between the two largest economies. But the offer combines some real concessions, like lower tariffs, with nebulous promises, and it will be hard to ensure that China sticks to its commitments. – New York Times

China is allowing more than 2,000 ethnic Kazakhs to abandon their Chinese citizenship and leave the country, the Kazakh foreign ministry has said, in a sign that Beijing may be starting to feel a mounting backlash against its crackdown on Muslims in the far west region of Xinjiang. – Associated Press

Zack Cooper and Gregory Poling write: This failure to successfully contest China’s creeping dominance over the South China Sea doesn’t just damage the interests of America’s friends; it threatens three of the United States’ most abiding strategic interests in the region: rules, relationships, and resources. The rules of the sea are critical to U.S. policy worldwide. The United States has an interest in upholding the rights of all countries to exercise freedom of the seas. – Foreign Policy


The U.S. military is drafting plans to withdraw a few thousand troops from Afghanistan while continuing all major missions in the longest war in American history, U.S. officials said, three weeks after President Trump sought options for a more drastic pullout. – Washington Post

The Afghan Taliban said on Tuesday they had called off peace talks with U.S. officials in Qatar this week due to an “agenda disagreement”, especially over the involvement of Afghan officials as well as a possible ceasefire and prisoner exchange. – Reuters

Police in Australia are investigating suspicious packages sent to a wide range of embassies and consulates on Wednesday, which officials said included the U.S. and British missions in Melbourne, but there were no reports of harm to staff. – Reuters

The head of the United Nations in Myanmar on Wednesday expressed concern about the situation in the western state of Rakhine, where fighting between the military and the rebel Arakan Army has displaced about 4,500 people since early December. – Reuters


Paul Manafort shared 2016 presidential campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate the FBI has said has ties to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing. The information is in a filing that appears to inadvertently include details not intended to be made public and indicates a pathway by which the Russians could have had access to Trump campaign data. – Washington Post

Russia is ready to hold consultations with the United States about the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty at diplomatic and military levels, Tass news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Wednesday. – Reuters

A Russian lawyer who became a focal point of the investigation into whether there was collusion between Russians and President Donald Trump’s election campaign has been charged with obstruction of justice in an unrelated case. – Associated Press

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that it expected Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to visit Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin soon, but that no date had yet been agreed. – Reuters

The Kremlin on Wednesday rejected a British suggestion it might use a former U.S. Marine detained in Russia on espionage charges as a pawn in a diplomatic game and said it reserved the right to conduct counter-intelligence activities. – Reuters


The Trump administration downgraded the diplomatic status of the European Union’s delegation to the United States last year without making a formal announcement or informing the bloc about the change, a European official said on Tuesday. – New York Times

As Parliament prepares for a momentous debate over Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular plan to leave the European Union, it is often hard to tell if her government wants to convince people of the utter calamity of a no-deal exit — the better to secure passage of the proposal — or to reassure them that everything is under control. It seems to be failing at both. – New York Times

The British police and military forces were working on Wednesday to upgrade the security of airspace around London Heathrow Airport, the busiest in Europe, after drone sightings briefly interrupted service there Tuesday evening. – New York Times

Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and the leader of Poland’s ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, will discuss on Wednesday the possibility of forming a eurosceptic alliance to contest the European Parliament elections in May. – Reuters

Japan has a lot riding on Brexit. That’s something Shinzo Abe is sure to drill home to Theresa May when he flies over to see her in person mere days before Parliament is poised to vote on her divorce plan. – Bloomberg

Theresa May faces a concerted campaign of parliamentary warfare from a powerful cross-party alliance of MPs determined to use every lever at their disposal to prevent Britain leaving the EU without a deal in March. – The Guardian


It is among Africa’s most opaque security challenges: A campaign of attacks by mysterious militants in an impoverished corner of Mozambique that prompted a military crackdown, leaving civilians vulnerable in a cyclical conflict that has killed at least 100 people. More than a year after insurgents announced their presence with a brazen assault on police in Cabo Delgado province, they have yet to clearly and publicly articulate what they want. – Associated Press

The United States military says it has carried out two airstrikes in Somalia that killed four al-Shabab extremists. – Associated Press

A former Mozambican finance minister is trying to avoid being extradited from South Africa to the United States over a $2 billion loan scandal that plunged Mozambique into financial crisis. – Associated Press

Editorial: The drama in Gabon is a throwback to more turbulent times. Coups have become rarer across Africa—a sign that basic democratic norms are more widespread than they were. But checks and balances on presidential power are still weak, so many African leaders have been able to cling to office far longer than is possible in more competitive polities. – The Economist

The Americas

The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday sanctioned a Venezuelan network that allowed the owner of media giant Globovision Tele C.A. and several state-connected businesspeople to illicitly make billions of dollars in profits from the country’s broken currency market. – Wall Street Journal

Brazil’s National Security Adviser Augusto Heleno said on Tuesday that right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro had not offered to host a U.S. military base or American soldiers on Brazilian soil. Bolsonaro said during a TV interview last week that he was open to the possibility of hosting a U.S. base to counter Russian influence in Venezuela, while his Foreign Minister, […] said last week that Bolsonaro was planning to discuss a U.S. military presence with U.S. President Donald Trump during an expected visit in March. – Reuters

President Donald Trump used a prime-time address to the nation Tuesday to insist on $5.7 billion for a steel wall along the Mexican border that he said would stop the shedding of “American blood” by illegal immigrants. – Agence France-Presse

Cyber Security

Israel’s Shin Bet security service assured the public Wednesday it was well prepared to thwart any foreign intervention in the country’s upcoming elections, after its director warned a world power was making such efforts. The statement followed reports that Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman recently told a closed audience that a foreign country was trying to intervene in the April elections and that operatives were trying to meddle via hackers and cyber technology. – Associated Press

Facebook has violated Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law by allowing users to post anti-government comments on the platform, state media said on Wednesday, days after the controversial legislation took effect in the communist-ruled country. – Reuters

They have been hacked, tricked and stolen from. Now the message is clear — no more. The Navy is looking to support research in 36 areas that can help protect weapons systems from cyberattacks, Naval Air Systems Command said in a Jan. 7 update to a broad agency announcement. – Fifth Domain

Kevin Carroll writes: Escalation to cyberattack by the U.S., in response to cyber-enabled covert influence, espionage, or fraud, would invite retaliation in kind against American infrastructure, which may be more vulnerable than that of a particular adversary. It would also expose U.S. capabilities to other rivals in this developing field, helping them to develop countermeasures. – Washington Examiner


Another woman has completed a major milestone in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Maj. Rachael Winiecki, of the 461st Flight Test Squadron, recently became the first female test pilot to lead an F-35 mission at Edwards Air Force Base, California, according to the service. – Military.com

The U.S. Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment is offering bonuses worth up to $10,000 to new recruits to attract infantrymen, cooks and even supply MOSs such petroleum supply specialists. – Military.com

The head of Army Training and Doctrine Command said Jan. 7 that the U.S. military’s advise-and-assist missions in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan have eroded young leaders’ confidence and willingness to make necessary decisions. – Military.com

According to a new announcement from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking for proposals to develop a semi-automated system that can identify and draw correlations between seemingly unrelated events to help create broad narratives about the world. – C4ISRNET

Jim Mattis could be headed to Capitol Hill soon to talk about his concerns with President Donald Trump’s defense strategy. In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he would like to have the former defense secretary testify before his panel on national security concerns. Mattis was forced out of his military leadership role on Jan. 1. – Military Times

As the U.S. government shutdown continues into its 18th day, defense firms and industry advocates are beginning to worry that the pause in business could eat into companies’ cash flow. The Defense Department is funded for fiscal 2019, with Congress having passed a spending bill for the new fiscal year in September. – Defense News