Fdd's overnight brief

July 10, 2019

In The News


The Trump administration levied sanctions against two Hezbollah members of Lebanon’s parliament and a senior security official in the organization, which the U.S. designated a terrorist group in 1997. […]Tuesday’s action, the first time the U.S. has targeted Hezbollah’s parliamentarians, escalates the administration’s broader pressure against Iran and its regional allies by hitting politicians that Washington’s European allies have chosen to treat as a legitimate arm of the group, separate from the military division they have designated as terrorists. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s military warned it would retaliate in response to the seizure of one of its tankers by British forces in Gibraltar last week, while several European foreign ministers urged Tehran to return immediately to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. – Wall Street Journal

In a twist, Washington’s efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic have undermined President Hassan Rouhani’s own push to curb the Guard’s power inside Iran. Since taking office in 2013, Mr. Rouhani’s administration encouraged foreign and domestic investors to expand in the transport and oil industry, where the Guard has stakes. But when the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions, foreign investors left and Iran’s private sector suffered, leaving an opening for the Guard to expand its economic footprint. – Wall Street Journal

Signaling increased alarm over Iran’s breaches of the 2015 nuclear agreement, the deal’s European members took a step on Tuesday that could lead to its possible collapse. – New York Times

Iran welcomes France’s efforts to save the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday, as French President Emmanuel Macron’s top diplomatic adviser visits Tehran for talks to help ease the crisis. – Reuters

Iran’s release last month of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman with U.S. permanent residency, after four years in prison was meant as an opening for U.S.-Iranian talks, according to three Western sources familiar with the issue. – Reuters

A commander in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Tuesday that U.S. regional bases and its aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within the range of Iranian missiles, the Tasnim news agency reported, amid heightened tension between Tehran and Washington. – Reuters

Three members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards were shot dead in the western city of Piranshahr on Tuesday, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, citing a Guards statement. – Reuters

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday Donald Trump’s allies had tricked the U.S. president into killing off a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers. – Reuters

Iran’s first government minister born after its 1979 Islamic Revolution is a carefully manicured, charming internet engineer who posts Instagram pictures of his weekends with his family and spends 30 minutes a day reading letters from his constituents. […]Meet Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, whose quick rise through the Islamic Republic’s carefully managed political system already is generating speculation he could be a candidate for Iran’s 2021 presidential campaign. – Associated Press

The United States is seeking a Congress-approved agreement with Iran to replace the 2015 nuclear deal that President Donald Trump abandoned last year, the U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told Al-Jazeera satellite television network. – Reuters

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the U.S. needs to stop its “economic terrorism” against his nation as it won’t agree to hold talks under duress. – Bloomberg

A commander in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards warned on Tuesday that US regional bases and its aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within the range of Iranian missiles, Reuters reported, citing the Tasnim news agency. – Arutz Sheva

Iranian Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council, said in a July 5, 2019 Tehran sermon that aired on Channel 1 TV (Iran) that, starting on July 7, Iran will enrich uranium in any form, level, or amount that is “necessary.” He said that Iran’s uranium enrichment is solely for purposes of energy and scientific research, and not for the building of an atomic weapon, because “Iran does not see atomic bombs as legitimate and it does not need them.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

Frank Verrastro writes: The announcements of both retaliatory threats and the confirmation of the enrichment breach further complicate Iran’s efforts to draw the Europeans into playing a greater and presumably more supportive role in securing sanctions relief or reframing the context for new negotiations. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are increasingly being pressured by the United States to take greater actions to isolate the Iranian regime, though they, along with Russia and China, largely blame the United States for escalating tensions. Iran has threatened further actions if the European Union is unable to provide satisfactory sanctions relief within the next 60 days and the EU foreign ministers are set to convene next week to discuss next steps. – Center for Strategic and International studies

Micah Loudermilk writes: The growing tensions in the Persian Gulf have recently taken on a cyber dimension, with the United States attacking Iranian military computer systems in response to a drone shootdown and Iranian government hackers reportedly escalating cyber espionage operations targeting U.S. organizations. Tehran has previously retaliated against America in the cyber domain, where low barriers to entry offer a more level playing field—one where the United States is disadvantaged due to its significantly larger attack surface. With Iran showing signs of following this past script, the U.S. government and the private sector need to take appropriate steps to bolster cyber defenses. – Washington Institute


In a major victory for U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security team, the United Kingdom and France have agreed to send additional forces to Syria to pick up the slack as U.S. troops withdraw, sources familiar with the discussions told Foreign Policy. – Foreign Policy

On July 2, 2019, a Syrian opposition website published a report detailing the locations of the Iran-backed Iraqi and Lebanese Shi’ite militias in the Syrian city of Al-Bukamal and nearby rural areas, near the Syria-Iraq border. […]According to the report, the following groups are active in Al-Bukamal: Hizbullah-Lebanon, the Iraqi Al-Nujaba movement, and Hizbullah Brigades, as well as the Al-Fatemiyoun militia comprising Shi’ites of Afghan origin, and the Zainebiyoun militia, comprising Shi’ites from Pakistan. All these organizations, which are designated terrorist by the U.S., are directed by “Gen. Salman Al-Irani” of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). – Middle East Media Research Institute

Jonathan Spyer writes: Iran is likely to continue its project of hollowing out Syria, and Israel appears likely to continue its pinpoint strikes against the outlying hardware of that project, without touching its core. Israel has in its air force and intelligence services perhaps the swiftest, most powerful and accurate hammer in the Middle East. But not everything Iran is doing in Syria resembles a nail. – Wall Street Journal

John Calabrese writes: Traditionally, Syria has not been a strategic priority for China. Nor is it today. However, this does not mean that Beijing has been indifferent to the wide-ranging adverse effects of Syria’s disastrous civil war or to the opportunities that its postwar rebuilding might present. […]Conflict and recovery are likely to unfold in tandem in Syria for many years to come. Under such circumstances, China is unlikely to rush to pour resources into the country. Instead, China can be expected to participate in Syria’s reconstruction on a scale, at a tempo, and in a manner that limits its exposure to risk while enabling it to remain in good standing with the regime and thus advance the prospects of the BRI. – Middle East Institute


The U.S. State Department on Tuesday urged Turkish authorities to halt energy drilling operations off the Cypriot coast in the Mediterranean, a day after Cyprus protested a Turkish ship dropping anchor there. – Reuters

Their store and other Syrian properties were targeted in the Kucukcekmece district of western Istanbul on the night of Saturday June 29, one of the occasional bouts of violence which Syrians say erupt against them in Turkey’s largest city. – Reuters

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants launched an attack on a Turkish military vehicle in southeast Turkey on Tuesday, killing two soldiers and wounding another, the country’s defense ministry said. – Reuters


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Iran on Tuesday that it is within range of Israeli air strikes, citing what he described as Iranian threats to destroy Israel. – Reuters

The Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan won’t succeed unless it involves a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, a senior Saudi prince said. – Bloomberg

The Mossad and IDF Military Intelligence have foiled some 50 terror attacks around the world over the course of three years, Israeli media outlets reported on Tuesday. – Algemeiner

Hamas launched a drill Tuesday “to test the readiness” of its forces “for a scenario of an extensive attempt to harm public order and stability in the Gaza Strip,” Interior Ministry sources said. – Haaretz

Seth Frantzman writes: The two incidents highlight the shared threats faced by the U.S. and Israel, not only from Iran but also from hybrid groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and Islamic State, which operate as both parastate entities and terrorist organizations. The result of these shared threats and the close political ties between Washington and Jerusalem is a uniquely close relationship between the two country’s militaries. Often the Israel-U.S. defense relationship is seen through the lens of U.S. foreign military financing for Israel, which comes to more than $3 billion a year. Far less attention is paid to the fact that since the 1980s Jerusalem has become a key supplier of advanced military technology to Washington. – Tablet Magazine

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia, in a rare attempt to engage critics of its human rights record, privately received a delegation this spring from Reporters without Borders, the global press-freedom group’s secretary general disclosed Tuesday. – Washington Post

A court run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels Tuesday sentenced 30 academics, trade unionists and preachers to death for allegedly spying for the Arab coalition, a judicial source said. – Agence FrancePresse

The United Arab Emirates told the Yemeni government last month that it plans to unwind its military role in the war-ravaged country by the end of this year, a senior Yemeni official said, as the Gulf Arab state moves to avert a slide toward a broader conflict. – Bloomberg

In an article titled “Who are the Infidels?”, posted May 2, 2019 on the Aden-based news website yemen-24.com, which bills itself as “independent,” ‘Ali Al-Bukhaiti, a Yemeni journalist and politician and a former official of the Houthi movement, attacked the Islamists who claim to fight on behalf of Islam and call the West “infidel.” […]The following are excerpts from his article. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Agnes Callamard writes: Khashoggi’s murder is emblematic of a global trend of violence against journalists, human rights defenders and political activists. There are clear signs of increasingly aggressive tactics by states and nonstate actors to permanently silence their critics. The international community must take stock of this hostile environment. Silence, inaction or, worse, tacit or explicit complicity will only cause further injustice and global instability. The time to act is now. – Washington Post

Gulf States

President Trump hailed the emir of Qatar as a friend and applauded a “large transaction” between the two countries as the emirate moved to finalize a number of energy and aircraft agreements with the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

As President Trump and Iran trade threats, ships such as the USS Whirlwind are at the front lines of the rising frictions, patrolling the strategic waterways of the Persian Gulf. […]A 178-foot patrol boat, the Whirlwind is one of 21 forward-deployed ships with the U.S. 5th Fleet in Manama, Bahrain, which carry out surveillance and operations such as boarding and searching suspicious vessels. The stated aim of the mission is to ensure freedom of navigation and commerce in one of the world’s most vital waterways. – Washington Post

Yigal Carmon writes: A popular Arab saying goes, “The Americans are good people – they can easily be deceived.” There is no better proof of this observation than the Emirate of Qatar, which for over a quarter of a century has successfully fooled American administrations, both Republican and Democrat, pretending that it is America’s ally while actually being the polar opposite. – Middle East Media Research Institute


A cache of powerful American missiles was sold to France before ending up in the hands of rebel fighters loyal to Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who is seeking to overthrow the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli. – New York Times

The French military said on Wednesday several Javelin missiles found in a rebel base in Libya were purchased by the French government from the United States but were never intended for sale or transfer to any party to the Libya conflict. – Reuters

The battle between rival militias for the Libyan capital has killed more than 1,000 people since it began in April, the U.N. said Tuesday, a grim milestone in a stalemated conflict partly fueled by regional powers. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

At least three people were killed and four wounded when three mortar bombs hit the northern Iraqi town of Shirqat on Tuesday, police officials and hospital sources said. – Reuters

The United States hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, where Washington blames Iran and Iran-aligned fighters for attacks, the top U.S. general said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Amal A. Kandeel  writes: The countries of the MENA region are extensively interconnected through labor, commodities, financial flows, and porous borders. On the GCC national level, food insecurity is unlikely under peaceful conditions. Yet recent events are a reminder that the region is not immune to the risk of food insecurity if the normal flow of trade is disturbed. The stakes are significant for other countries in MENA as well, given the potential wider regional implications for human security and stability. It would be wise to avoid military conflagrations in the GCC, which could spiral into greater economic distress and chaos across the MENA region. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s leader warned Wednesday of an “unprecedented emergency” in relations with Japan, as a spat between the U.S. allies over historic grievances threatens to boil over into a full-blown economic confrontation and damage the global electronics industry. – Washington Post

The United States would hope to see a freeze in the North Korean nuclear program as the start of a process of denuclearization, the State Department said on Tuesday, ahead of fresh talks with Pyongyang supposed to take place this month. – Reuters

The Australian student released last week after being detained in North Korea said on Tuesday Pyongyang’s accusation that he was a spy was “pretty obviously” false, but that his work in the country was probably over. – Reuters

A U.S. man accused of taking part in a raid on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid was ordered freed on $1.3 million bail on Tuesday but must serve home confinement ahead of his possible extradition to Spain. – Reuters

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday criticized comments by Japanese officials who questioned the credibility of Seoul’s sanctions against North Korea while justifying Tokyo’s stricter controls on high-tech exports to South Korea. – Associated Press

Robert E. Kelly writes: It is an intriguing idea and one seemingly self-apparent. The two Koreas have not fought a major armed conflict since the war ended in 1953. Conventional deterrence on the peninsula has stable for decades. And nuclear deterrence, a new state between the United States and the North, is likely to be stable as well. Adapting to a nuclear North Korea is not a bad option among all the poor options for responding to Northern nuclearization and certainly superior to strikes, which could lead to a major war. Unfortunately, there are two significant hurdles that have made it difficult for the Koreas to agree on a peace treaty. – The National Interest


Never mind that Twitter is blocked back home — and that government critics caught posting can find themselves engaged in frequent dialogue with law enforcement authorities. The Chinese diplomats are joining a raft of state media outlets that have opened Twitter accounts in recent years as part of a push by Beijing to spread its influence beyond its tightly censored domestic media bubble. – Washington Post

The U.S. government will issue licenses to companies seeking to sell goods to China’s Huawei where there is no threat to national security, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Tuesday, leaving industry observers unsure about which products will pass muster. – Reuters

The Chinese military commander responsible for Hong Kong has assured a Pentagon official that Chinese troops will not interfere in the city’s affairs – an apparent signal that they will stay in their barracks amid renewed political upheaval. – Reuters

China demanded Tuesday that the United States “immediately cancel” a potential sale of $2.2 billion in arms to self-ruled Taiwan, including battle tanks and anti-aircraft missiles, adding fuel to tensions between the two powers. – Agence FrancePresse

John Pomfret writes: It’s not clear that Trump is going to be able to carry out his strategy to introduce reciprocity into U.S. relations with China. To accomplish this, the United States is going to need help and, given Trump’s mercurial nature, cooperation with our allies has been scattershot. But the Trump administration is the first one in decades to tell China that the status quo is broken. What China watchers should be doing is building on that insight, and not returning to promises of a kinder, gentler policy that wouldn’t have worked in the 1940s and won’t work today. – Washington Post


On Sunday morning, as Taliban officials in Qatar began discussing with an Afghan delegation the need to reduce civilian casualties, more than a hundred schoolchildren were wounded during a Taliban attack in eastern Afghanistan. – New York Times

But this week, in what some saw as a hopeful step toward solidifying a peace process, Taliban officials and a group of representatives from Afghanistan agreed on a “road map for peace,” outlining eight points in a joint resolution during an informal meeting in Doha, Qatar. As my colleague Pamela Constable reported from Kabul, the resolution was publicized after two days of intra-Afghan talks, and one of the agreed-upon points was reducing “civilian casualties to zero.” – Washington Post

Afghan officials said on Tuesday seven civilians, including an infant, were killed in an air strike in the country’s northern province of Baghlan. – Reuters


Opponents of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam vowed further protests, dealing a setback to her attempt to quash unrest sparked by a bill that would legalize extradition to China. – Wall Street Journal

The United States has tentatively approved the sale of $2 billion in military hardware to Taiwan, demonstrating support for its unofficial ally in a move likely to exacerbate deteriorating ties between Washington and Beijing. – New York Times

In the capital, Nuku’alofa, government officials work in a shiny new office block — an $11 million gift from China that is rivaled in grandeur only by China’s imposing new embassy complex. […]Graeme Smith, a specialist in Chinese investment in the Pacific, is not convinced China tried to trap Tonga in debt, saying its own financial mismanagement is as much to blame. – Associated Press

Sri Lanka’s police chief and former defense secretary were released on bail on Tuesday, a week after they were arrested over allegations that they failed to prevent the Easter Day bomb attacks that killed more than 250 people. – Reuters

Editorial: Before Hong Kongers took to the streets, the extradition law looked inevitable. It would have given China the power to pursue critics in Hong Kong by having them arrested and then brought to the Mainland for trial and imprisonment. The millions who protested understood that this law would have meant the end of Hong Kong’s legal protection against China’s politicized courts. – Wall Street Journal

Bob Jones writes: Former Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan’s recent speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue was expected to herald a new approach to the Indo-Pacific region by the United States. […]Although America has promoted FOIP and ramped up its Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) program in the South and East China Seas during the past year, it needs to do more to demonstrate its long term commitment to the Indo-Pacific region to its allies and partners. One way it could do this is by establishing a multi-national Standing Indo-Pacific Maritime Group (SIPMG). –  The National Interest


That question has hovered over the Russia inquiry for two years as President Trump and his allies repeatedly assailed the investigators who scrutinized him and his advisers. Attorney General William P. Barr, who has accused the F.B.I. of “spying” on the Trump campaign, has begun his own review that will include intelligence agencies as well. – New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in televised comments on Tuesday that he did not support a parliamentary call to impose tough economic sanctions on Georgia. – Reuters

Irina Sherbakova writes: History will not be completely rewritten. Putin may be a focus of much concern across the world, but in Russia, it is obvious to many of us that our country’s return to democracy will be impossible as long as we fail to condemn Stalin and the system he created. – The Guardian


Poland released a local ex-counterintelligence official who had been detained on charges of spying for China, as Polish and Chinese ministers met in an effort to ease tensions between Beijing and one of the U.S.’s closest allies in Europe. – Wall Street Journal

The special relationship between the United States and Britain descended into name-calling on Tuesday, with President Trump tweeting that the British ambassador is “wacky,” “a very stupid guy” and “a pompous fool.” – Washington Post

Short-sighted anti-immigrant populism in some European Union member states has blocked the integration of Western Balkan countries into the EU, weakening the region’s stability, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Most businesses and economists think a no-deal Brexit would plunge Britain into recession as customs checks take effect at U.K. ports and tariffs are imposed on trade between the U.K. and the EU. But many Conservatives think embracing a no-deal Brexit may be the only way to win back voters from the upstart Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage. – Associated Press

The Americas

As representatives of Venezuela’s socialist government seek to defuse a political crisis in a new round of negotiations with the opposition, one question remains central to any prospect of a breakthrough: the fate of President Nicolás Maduro. – Washington Post

A US diplomat was sentenced to 40 months in prison Tuesday for lying to investigators about money she received from Chinese intelligence agents in exchange for US documents. – Agence FrancePresse

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that US President Donald Trump cannot legally block users on Twitter based on their political differences with him, affirming a lower court decision. – Agence FrancePresse


France’s National Assembly on Tuesday adopted a bill designed to curtail online hate speech, giving social media platforms 24 hours to remove hateful content or risk fines of up to 4 percent of their global revenue. – Washington Post

Firefox browser maker Mozilla is blocking the United Arab Emirates’ government from serving as one of its internet security gatekeepers, citing Reuters reports on a UAE cyber espionage program. – Reuters

Europe’s top court will give an opinion on Dec. 12 on Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems’ landmark case against Facebook, which will affect how hundreds of thousands of companies transfer personal data worldwide. – Reuters

Marriott International Inc (MAR.O) said on Tuesday the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had proposed to fine the hotel chain 99.2 million pounds ($124 million) due to a massive data breach in its Starwood hotels reservation system. – Reuters

An estimated two million cyber attacks in 2018 resulted in more than $45 billion in losses worldwide as local governments struggled to cope with ransomware and other malicious incidents, a study showed Tuesday. – Agence FrancePresse

Executives for Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple will testify before Congress next week as part of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust investigation into Silicon Valley. – The Hill

Army Reserve cyberwarriors joined multinational partners during an exercise to game defend critical infrastructure assets from cyberthreats. – Fifth Domain

A bipartisan delegation of US House members headed by Florida Representative Ted Deutch visited an Israeli cybersecurity company Cobwebs Technologies during their visit to Israel last week. […]After the presentation, several delegates said that they were impressed with the technological developments by the company and discussed how it could be implemented in various law enforcement agencies in the US to help prevent terrorist attacks. – Jerusalem Post


The Pentagon is set to be led in coming weeks by its third acting defense secretary this year, according to a new succession plan made public Tuesday, underscoring the leadership upheaval at the top of the U.S. military. – Washington Post

Lingering animosity among House progressives over a controversial border bill’s passage is threatening to trip up a sweeping defense policy bill that typically passes with large bipartisan majorities. – The Hill

The U.S. Air Force has started work on a data architecture for its Advanced Battle Management System, the family of platforms that will eventually replace the E-8C JSTARS surveillance planes. – Defense News

Without an additional $157 million, U.S. Army aviation readiness could suffer, according to an omnibus reprogramming request sent to Capitol Hill on June 25. – Defense News

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer is weighing bypassing all the current four-star candidates and recommending elevating a three-star admiral to the Navy’s top uniformed position, according to three sources familiar with the internal discussions. – Defense News

The Navy declared its MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter mission capable and ready to deploy aboard Littoral Combat Ships. – USNI News

The U.S. Army recently approved Full Material Release (FMR) of its new Modular Handgun System that will replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol. – Military.com

The Pentagon is looking to transfer $50 million within its fiscal 2019 budget to cover the cost of the design and development of a prototype mobile launcher for its Long Range Hypersonic Weapon, or LRHW. – Defense News

Hal Brands writes: The theory of horizontal escalation thus holds that the U.S. can wage a war on its terms rather than the enemy’s — and that it can achieve victory without paying the price of a more direct approach. Unfortunately, this theory is too good to be true: Horizontal escalation ultimately stumbles on several key problems. […]All these changes are only beginning, as some former Pentagon officials have acknowledged, and completing them will present a strenuous test of whether the U.S. can meet the challenges of deterrence and defense in the 21st century. But given the shortcomings of horizontal escalation, tackling those broader challenges squarely is still the best approach. – Bloomberg

Long War

The Mossad and the Military Intelligence Directorate have thwarted over the past three years dozens of attacks planned by the Islamic State (ISIS) and Iran in a long list of countries, Channel 12 News reported on Tuesday. – Arutz Sheva

A 65-year-old Moroccan citizen was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Tuesday after being convicted by a Portuguese court of recruiting young people to fight in Syria. – Reuters

Malaysia has detained four foreigners, including two ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, on suspicion of being involved in militant groups, police said on Tuesday. – Reuters