Fdd's overnight brief

July 11, 2019

In The News


Iranian ships attempted to impede the passage of a U.K.-flagged commercial vessel through the Persian Gulf, the British Defense Ministry said Thursday, a move that threatens to escalate already high tensions in the region. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump made fresh threats to ramp up U.S. sanctions against Iran for stepping up its enrichment of uranium, tweeting that America’s response “will soon be increased, substantially.” – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has denied British allegations of a confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz, saying if it had received orders to seize any ships it would have executed them immediately. – Associated Press

Britain’s claim that Iran tried to stop one of their oil tankers in the Gulf on Wednesday is worthless, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. – Reuters

The British navy intervened to stop Iran from blocking a commercial oil tanker leaving the Persian Gulf, heightening friction just as European nations scramble to salvage a landmark nuclear accord. Oil rose. – Bloomberg

The State Department said Wednesday it has terminated support for an online project aimed at fighting Iranian disinformation after it tweeted harsh criticism of individual human rights workers, academics and journalists, some of whom are U.S. citizens. – Associated Press

The United States admonished world powers seeking to preserve a deal with Iran on its atomic program on Wednesday not to give in to “nuclear extortion” from Tehran, which has breached the pact’s limitations in recent days in an attempt to get them to provide economic incentives to offset American sanctions. – Associated Press

Iran intends to preserve the nuclear deal with major powers if all parties fulfill their obligations under it, its ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear body told a German newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday. – Reuters

All Iran’s nuclear activities are monitored by the U.N. atomic watchdog policing its nuclear deal with major powers, its ambassador to the watchdog said on Wednesday, after U.S. President Donald Trump said it was secretly enriching uranium. – Reuters

An emergency meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Wednesday, held at Washington’s request to weigh Tehran’s breach of a nuclear deal, did not produce any results for America, Iran’s ambassador to the body said on Thursday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). – Reuters

Dennis Ross writes: The Trump administration has no real answer to Iranian maximum pressure and clearly does not want conflict. That might be enough to persuade Trump to accept such an understanding. In Japan, Trump conveyed his basic instinct on Iran, saying he was not interested in regime change, just “no nukes.” Trump’s only real criterion is doing better than Barack Obama, and that probably means extending the sunset provision on the limits on Iranian enrichment for another 10 to 15 years, out to 2040 or 2045. But the Iranians won’t make such a concession for nothing; they would likely demand the end not just of the sanctions imposed to constrict Iran’s nuclear activity, but of the broader array of sanctions. – The Atlantic

David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Frank Pabian, and Jack Toole write: The Trump administration should no longer grant a waiver for stable isotope separation work at the Fordow facility given Iran’s recent threats to increase enrichment. This waiver legitimizes a facility that should not operate, given its connections to Iran’s former nuclear weapons program. Instead, a priority should be investigating its origins. The United States can reinstate the waiver if the stable isotope production work is moved to the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, where it should have been in the first place. – Institute for Science and International Security

Zak Doffman writes: In his F35 video, Netanyahu was responding publicly to the threat made a week earlier by Mojtaba Zolnour, head of Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, that “if the U.S. attacks Iran, Israel will have only half an hour left to live.” […]Iran’s breach remains well below weapons-grade enrichment, but the direction of travel is sending a message. And that message has been received. And so the cyber conflict is now well underway. – Forbes


The U.N.’s special envoy for Syria said “solid progress” was made following discussions with officials in the Syrian capital Wednesday, adding that talks are “very close to an agreement” on establishing a constitutional committee. – Associated Press

President Bashar al-Assad’s assault in the northwest has been met with a painful rebel counterpunch that underlines Turkish resolve to keep the area out of his hands and shows why he will struggle to take back more of Syria by force. – Reuters

A new team established by the global chemical weapons watchdog to attribute blame for the use of banned munitions in Syria will investigate nine alleged attacks during the country’s civil war, including in the town of Douma, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters. – Reuters


Turkey said on Wednesday it rejected Greek and European Union assertions that Turkish drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus was illegitimate, and said they showed the EU could not be an impartial mediator on the Cyprus problem. – Reuters

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan risks pushing Turkey’s economy into an economic collapse similar to those seen in Latin America under populist regimes, according to Ashmore Group Plc. – Bloomberg

Kerim Has writes: With delivery of the Russian S-400 air defense system to Turkey looming, a new crisis in U.S.-Turkey relations is slowly emerging. While it is obvious that Turkey needs a new air and missile defense system given the security risks in its region, it remains unclear why Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks to acquire the capability from a historical rival and potential adversary instead of through NATO. This decision will likely have major consequences for Turkey and its future geopolitical orientation. – Middle East Institute


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Wednesday that he would keep an open mind to the soon-to-be released Trump peace plan, telling guests at an Egyptian embassy event that he wanted to see a wider peace in the region. – Times of Israel

Israeli troops shot a Hamas field commander in the leg near the northern Gaza border on Thursday morning, according to Palestinian media. […]Thursday’s border incidents came amid a relatively calm period along the normally restive frontier, following a reported ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group. – Times of Israel

Amnesty International on Wednesday stepped up its campaign for a boycott on tourism in Israel’s West Bank settlements, urging TripAdvisor staff to press the site’s management to stop “profiting from war crimes.” – Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking in the northern West Bank on Wednesday, vowed there will be no demolitions of communities on his watch — whether Jewish or Arab. […]His comments came as his government has repeatedly delayed the demolition of a Bedouin village in the West Bank, a delay that has been been met with heavy criticism on the right. – Agence FrancePresse

Saudi Arabia

After the killing in October of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, a handful of lobbying firms and think tanks made a move rare in Washington: They publicly severed ties with Saudi Arabia, swearing off the kingdom’s money. But nine months later, Saudi Arabia’s efforts to influence U.S. policy continue unabated — bolstered by President Trump’s embrace of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite a recent United Nations report that the prince was complicit in the grisly killing and dismemberment of the Washington Post contributing columnist and political dissident. – Washington Post

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Jim Risch, introduced legislation on Wednesday punishing Saudi Arabia over human rights abuses and criticizing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but not halting weapons sales. – Reuters

Nine months after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Congress remains at a loss for how to hold Saudi Arabia accountable. – Politico

Josh Rogin writes: There is a broad, bipartisan consensus in Congress that action must be taken to reset the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia, but there’s no consensus on how to do it. […]The U.S.-Saudi relationship has been spiraling downward since Saudi agents murdered Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi in their Istanbul Consulate last October. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday that U.S. sanctions targeting Hezbollah MPs moved in a “new direction” from existing measures, but would not affect government work. – Reuters

Lebanon regrets the U.S. imposition of sanctions on two members of the Lebanese parliament and will pursue the matter with the U.S. authorities, President Michel Aoun said on Twitter on Wednesday. The United States announced new sanctions against the two lawmakers from the Hezbollah Shi’ite Muslim movement on Tuesday… – Reuters

The US decision on Tuesday to blacklist three Hezbollah operatives, including two Lebanese MPs, is another indication of Washington’s more “assertive and aggressive” policy against Iran and its proxies, Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt Yitzhak Levanon, an expert on Lebanon, said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Knights writes: The UAE’s drawdown thus has a number of possible consequences for the counter-terrorism fight, the humanitarian situation, the UN peace process, and the military balance inside Yemen. In short, the situation in Yemen may well be worsened by this withdrawal, and ultimately leaves the United States and the UN with more to do to stabilize Yemen. These outcomes might prompt reflection in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere about the net value of driving this U.S. partner out of the Yemen war with a shaming campaign that focused only on the negatives of UAE involvement. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

A contentious accusation underpins a trade dispute between Japan and South Korea: Chemicals and equipment bought by South Korean companies from Japan may be helping North Korea build weapons of mass destruction. – Wall Street Journal

South Korea is seeking U.S. help in a bitter diplomatic row with fellow American ally Japan over its moves to tighten controls on high-tech exports. – Associated Press

South Korea’s acquisition of American F-35 stealth fighter jets will force North Korea to develop and test “special armaments” to destroy the new weapons, North Korea’s state media said on Thursday, citing a government researcher. – Reuters


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in recent days urged U.S. suppliers of Huawei Technologies Co. to seek licenses to resume sales to the blacklisted Chinese firm, according to people familiar with the situation. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration is increasingly concerned about prospects for a trade deal with China, amid an unexpected reshuffling of the Chinese negotiating team and a lack of progress on core issues since the Group of 20 summit in Japan, according to U.S. officials and senior Republicans briefed on the discussions. – Washington Post

In a top-secret operation earlier this year, Kazakh counterintelligence officers swooped in on a Soviet-era apartment block and detained a senior government adviser on charges of spying for China. […]They allowed information about the case to leak in local media, a rare instance of open push back against Beijing’s growing influence in Central Asia’s largest and richest country. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese drone maker SZ DJI Technology Co. is broadening operations in the U.S. to sidestep newly imposed tariffs on exports from its home country and quell accusations that the company poses a national security threat. – Bloomberg

Nearly two dozen countries have called on China to halt its mass detention of ethnic Uighurs in the Xinjiang region, the first such joint move on the issue at the U.N. Human Rights Council, according to diplomats and a letter seen by Reuters. – Reuters

Slovakia’s new president, a former activist lawyer, used a meeting with China’s top diplomat on Wednesday to criticize Beijing’s human rights record, in a rare departure for an east European politician in a region hungry for Chinese investment. – Reuters

As officials in Washington and Beijing charged each other with ratcheting-up the militarization of the South China Sea recently, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson discussed ways to decrease risk in the region during a video teleconference with his counterpart from China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong. – USNI News

China’s soft power moves in the Western Hemisphere – from building ports to sharing information on space and offering wireless 5G technologies – “have hard aims” with military implications that are drawing increased attention in Washington, the admiral in charge of U.S. Southern Command told a Senate panel on Tuesday. – USNI News


The killings were the latest in a series of retaliatory Taliban attacks against the families and homes of Afghan soldiers and police officers. They have continued even as American and Taliban negotiators have reported progress in talks aimed at reaching a lasting peace agreement. – New York Times

The sprawling, multibillion-dollar Malaysian development fraud scandal that has toppled a prime minister and stretched from Hollywood to Wall Street is threatening to implicate another major global financial institution: Deutsche Bank. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether the German lender violated foreign corruption or anti-money-laundering laws in its work for the 1Malaysia Development Bhd. fund[…] – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. peace envoy to Afghanistan is in Beijing for a previously scheduled meeting, an American Embassy spokesman said Thursday, as indications grew of a new momentum in efforts to end Afghanistan’s 18-year war and push by China to boost its influence in the region. – Associated Press

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s apologies and explanations for a doomed extradition bill have failed to quell political tension and her departure is now seen by many in the Chinese-ruled city as merely a matter of time in a drawn-out, long goodbye. – Reuters

Trump administration officials signaled support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong — and defiance toward the Chinese government — by granting a series of high-level meetings this week to a Hong Kong publisher who has drawn Beijing’s ire. – Bloomberg

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen departed Thursday for a four-country state visit to the Caribbean with stops in the United States on the way there and back. – Associated Press

Singapore authorities said on Wednesday they had arrested a group of Myanmar nationals accused of rallying support for armed violence against the Myanmar government. – Reuters

Philippine security forces confirmed Wednesday the first Filipino “suicide bomber” attack in the Asian country, warning Islamic militants were grooming other local prospects for more such actions in the future. – Agence FrancePresse

As the United States looks to shore up its partnerships with nations within the Indo-Pacific region, its special forces are spending millions of dollars to help build up a Mongolian Armed Forces mobile training team. – Janes 360


Senior U.S. diplomat David Hale met with Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, in Helsinki on Wednesday to discuss U.S.-Russian relations, the State Department said, amid tensions between the two countries over a range of issues. – Reuters

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini on Wednesday denied a media report that his far-right League party had sought millions of euros from Russian investors via a secret oil deal. – Reuters

Russia has supplied about USD9 billion worth of military equipment to its main South American ally Venezuela since 2009, and has also stepped up its training services for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as it attempts to deepen its influence in the region, according to the head of US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). – Janes 360


The once “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain is in tatters, shredded by the fallout from the 2016 Brexit referendum and President Trump’s determination to intervene in the politics of another country. If it improves, it likely will be on terms set by the president. – Washington Post

The lightning-fast resignation of Britain’s ambassador to the United States on Wednesday following a leak of his correspondence criticizing the Trump administration has sent shivers down the spines of foreign diplomats in Washington who are paid to send frank assessments to their home countries. – Washington Post

Bulgaria’s government gave the go-ahead Wednesday for the purchase of eight new F-16 fighters in a bid to replace its aging Soviet-built jets and bring its air force in line with NATO standards. – Associated Press

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office interfered in independent party discipline processes aimed at rooting out anti-Semitism, the BBC said on Wednesday, a claim that the Labour Party sharply rejected. – Reuters

US President Donald Trump has ordered an investigation into France’s planned tax on tech giants – a move that could result in retaliatory tariffs. His trade representative said the US was “very concerned” that the tax “unfairly targets American companies”. – BBC

Ursula von der Leyen, the nominee to be the next EU Commission president, said Wednesday that Brexit could be delayed for a third time, but warned London it must take responsibility for “sorting out” its tortured departure from the bloc. – Agence FrancePresse

The transatlantic uproar over the British ambassador’s private cables criticizing President Trump could set the stage for a warm U.S. partnership with the man poised to replace Prime Minister Theresa May, whose allies might have engineered the memos’ leak. – Washington Examiner


Islamist attacks are spreading so fast in West Africa that the region should consider bolstering its response beyond current military efforts, and donors should back such a move, the head of the United Nations said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Somalia executed three men on Wednesday convicted of participating in the bombing of a Mogadishu hotel that killed 18 people in 2017 as members of the insurgent group al Shabaab, the state-run news agency said. – Reuters

Sudanese activists said Wednesday the ruling generals restored internet service in the country, following a weekslong blackout imposed during a deadly crackdown early last month. – Associated Press

The Khartoum district of Burri was a fulcrum of the uprising against Sudan’s former leader Omar al-Bashir and the generals who replaced him, its residents beaten and killed as they rallied for freedom and justice. – Reuters

The Americas

The Mexican government says a natural gas plant and a wind farm to produce electricity will be the first two projects under a U.S. development program to improve the economy of Mexico’s poor south as a way to discourage migration. – Associated Press

The Trump administration warned of unspecified “active threats” to U.S. elections as top security officials briefed Congress Wednesday on steps the government has taken to improve election security in the wake of Russian interference in 2016. – Associated Press

The head of the Pentagon’s Southern Command warned that Russia, China and Iran were expanding their influence in Latin America, particularly in Venezuela, where they support a government the United States seeks to depose. – Newsweek

The Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote this week on several measures to limit the president’s power to wage war on Iran and aid the Saudi war in Yemen, after clearing a key procedural hurdle late Tuesday night. – Defense News


A three-star surface warfare officer is set to be the Trump Administration’s nominee to lead the Navy, after the previous candidate unexpectedly asked to retire, USNI News has confirmed. – USNI News

The U.S. Navy is leading a decades-old NATO maritime group, serving as a first-responder force in northern European waters and building interoperability among NATO allies while also re-learning lessons for the U.S. Navy about operating in that region. – USNI News

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said Wednesday progressives have a path to vote for the chamber’s annual defense policy bill this week after their amendments were approved for consideration. – Defense News

The White House has raised objections to a cyber provision in the House of Representatives’ version of the annual defense policy bill that requires the Secretary of Defense to notify Congress within 15 days anytime leaders delegate specific authorities for military cyber operations. – Fifth Domain

US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has awarded Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control an undefinitised contract, with a not-to-exceed value of USD174,970,959 million, to upgrade the AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). – Janes 360