Fdd's overnight brief

July 12, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is again calling for “maximum restraint” in the Persian Gulf region and warning all parties that a new confrontation “would be a catastrophe.” – Associated Press 

President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke over the phone Wednesday to discuss skyrocketing tensions with Iran. […]The White House added to reporters that the call centered around “cooperation between the United States and Israel in advancing shared national security interests, including efforts to prevent Iran’s malign actions in the region.” – The Hill   

The Pentagon said Thursday it was discussing military escorts for vessels in the Gulf one day after armed Iranian boats threatened a British oil tanker. – Agence France-Presse

Iran called on Britain on Friday to immediately release an oil tanker that British Royal Marines seized last week on suspicion it was breaking European sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a foreign ministry spokesman told state news agency IRNA. – Reuters 

The United States has decided not to impose sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for now, two sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday, in a sign Washington may be holding a door open for diplomacy. – Reuters

President Trump’s pick to become the military’s next top officer says Iran has raised its “intensity of malign activity” since the U.S. pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley’s comments Thursday come following the Islamic Republic’s harassment of a British oil tanker yesterday in the Strait of Hormuz. – Fox News

Armed Iranian boats unsuccessfully tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf Wednesday, according to two US officials with direct knowledge of the incident. The British Heritage tanker was sailing out of the Persian Gulf and was crossing into the Strait of Hormuz area when it was approached by boats from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. – CNN

Inspectors from the UN’s nuclear agency have found traces of radioactive material at a building in Tehran that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu identified last year as a “secret atomic warehouse,” an Israeli television report said on Thursday. – Times of Israel

Adam Taylor writes: But amid heightened tensions, these U.S. allies in the gulf have found themselves uncertain of how far they want to go. As The Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham reported from Dubai this week, some in the region are concerned that Trump has been publicly asking why the United States should be guaranteeing secure shipping lanes. It isn’t clear whether the gulf allies would risk going it alone. – Washington Post 

Ilan Berman writes: The more Iran strays from the understandings encapsulated in that agreement, the more difficult it becomes for Europe to continue to conduct “business as usual” with Tehran — and the more justified America’s economic pressure on the Islamic Republic appears. Iran’s leaders thus find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. If they remain a party to the 2015 nuclear deal, they do so notwithstanding America’s pressure campaign. But if they abandon that agreement, they risk alienating their current trading partners — and turning the countries of Europe into proponents of the Trump administration’s Iran strategy. That is a development that the Iranian regime, now struggling to stay afloat economically in the face of expanding U.S. sanctions, can certainly ill-afford. – The Hill  

Alireza Nader writes: Khamenei has only one real card to play: the threat of war to scare the American public, Europe and major oil customers such as Japan into pressuring the Trump administration or a possible future Democratic administration to return to the JCPOA. […] But a return to the JCPOA or a new nuclear agreement that does not address sunset clauses that allow the Islamic Republic a full-scale industrial-scale enrichment program once the agreement ends; the missile program; and the regime’s malign behavior is guaranteed to fail. – LA Times


A car bomb killed 11 people and wounded many others on Thursday in the Syrian city of Afrin, which Turkey-backed rebels captured from Kurdish fighters last year, medical sources and a monitor said. – Reuters 

Charles Lister writes: There is no better evidence that Syria’s regime lacks the manpower to regain control and hold the rest of country than recent events in Idlib. The key here has been Iran’s refusal to deploy its militia proxies into the Idlib battle, arguing since a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, in February that the northwest was of little strategic significance to its interests in Syria. Never has Iran’s value to Assad—and Russia—been more clearly revealed. – Foreign Policy  

Zvi Bar’el writes: Such economic niches – exploiting the problems of the displaced and the refugees, seizing assets abandoned by people who fled, and mafias running infrastructure – have turned Syria into the land of opportunity, instead of offering orderly planning needed for the reconstructing the country. – Haaretz


The European Union will put on hold high-level talks with Ankara and negotiations on an air transport agreement, as well as freeze funding for Turkey next year, over “illegal” drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters. – Ekathimerini 

Turkey says it started receiving on Friday the first major cargo of a Russian missile-defense system whose purchase has drawn the threat of U.S. sanctions over its potential to undermine NATO’s military capabilities. The lira weakened. – Bloomberg 

Josh Rogin writes: The Turkey sanctions are not just about Turkey or NATO or even Russia. The Trump administration has massively increased the use of unilateral sanctions as a key instrument of its strategy to force behavior changes in other countries. Right now, officials said, China is blatantly violating U.S. sanctions against Iran by continuing to accept shipments of Iranian oil. – Washington Post 

Bobby Ghosh writes: You can’t keep a good autocrat down. After his humiliation in the Istanbul mayoral election last month, Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed chastened. Speaking to legislators of his AK Party, Turkey’s president said, “We don’t have the luxury of turning a deaf ear and ignoring the messages given by the people.” He since seems to have changed his mind. Notwithstanding an election result that most analysts agree was a vote of no confidence in his management of Turkey’s economy, which is in acute crisis, the president has decided that Turks want more of the same. – Bloomberg


Israeli soldiers mistakenly shot an operative of Islamist group Hamas on Thursday who had been trying to stop Palestinians approaching the Israel-Gaza border, the Israeli military said. – Reuters 

The Israel Defense Forces was preparing for a potentially violent afternoon along the Gaza border Friday, a day after a member of Hamas was shot dead by troops in what the army characterized as “a misunderstanding.” – Times of Israel

Kathy Gilsinan writes: One problem with that, from the U.S. perspective: America and Britain are very close intelligence partners, and the U.S. doesn’t want to effectively be sharing intelligence with the Chinese. The intelligence-sharing issue is also a sensitive one in Israel’s case. The allies coordinate closely on a range of regional-security issues, including the ongoing counter-ISIS fight in Syria and trying to contain Iran’s activities in the region. China, however, also maintains close ties to Iran. – The Atlantic


For four years, the United Arab Emirates have been the military linchpin of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, providing weapons, money and thousands of ground troops to a campaign to drive out Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Emirati forces led almost every major advance the coalition made. – New York Times 

The House voted on Thursday to cut off American support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and to prevent the Trump administration from using its emergency authority to transfer munitions to the kingdom, delivering twin rebukes as Democrats sought to leave their stamp on military policy. – New York Times 

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla writes: The UAE, in close consultation with Saudi Arabia and with its full understanding, has taken a strategic decision to scale back its presence in Yemen. This decision can be a game changer in the conflict. From now on no one should blame the UAE for prolonging the Yemen war. This is a timely gesture by the UAE that should be taken seriously and hopefully reciprocated if the intention is to end the war in Yemen and de-escalate tensions in the region. – Middle East Institute 

Middle East & North Africa

The 53 migrants and refugees killed in a July 2 airstrike on a detention center in Libya were being held less than 100 yards from a militia’s arms depot at the time of the attack, a Times investigation has found. The depot had also been struck just two months earlier, and both the detainees and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had warned of the dangers faced by those held there. – New York Times 

Anas El Gomati writes: The transformation of the conflict from a localized battle in Tripoli’s suburbs and low intensity civil war into a large-scale, foreign-led air campaign seems more likely now than it ever has been before. This would render local ceasefires on the ground meaningless. Intriguingly, as military facts on the ground change, and new developments in the sky emerge, Haftar has become increasingly irrelevant to the decision to continue the war or broker peace. – War on the Rocks 

Alia Awadallah writes: Saudi and Emirati behavior and rhetoric over the past three years seemed blind to the fact that Democrats are likely to regain control of the White House—if not in this election cycle, then perhaps the next. Instead of seeking to build strong relationships and respect across party lines, they behaved as if the Trump-era blank check for their behavior would never end. This resulted in a rapid loss of goodwill among many Democrats. The question now is whether the Gulf countries will be able to undo the damage to their reputations among Democrats. – Foreign Policy

Hussein Ibish writes: So while Qatar works hard to provide its American and Turkish partners and Iranian friends with what they need, and has been able to balance these delicate relationships, there isn’t much of a net under the tightrope. If any two of Doha’s three senior partners ever come to blows, Qatar may experience a long, hard fall. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

North Korea called the planned mid-July delivery of two U.S. stealth jet fighters to South Korea an affront to last year’s pledge by the two countries to tone down military tensions on the peninsula, saying it had no choice but to develop arms to counter them. – Wall Street Journal   

South Korea said Friday it wants an investigation by the United Nations or another international body as it continues to reject Japanese claims that Seoul could not be trusted to faithfully implement sanctions against North Korea. – Associated Press 

One of the first things North Korean defector Ri Kwang-myong did after reaching the South was to go back to school — 12 years after finishing his education. North Korea claims a 100 percent literacy rate and boasts that its free compulsory education demonstrates the superiority of its socialist system. – Agence France-Presse

Kim Jong Un has been formally named head of state of North Korea and commander-in-chief of the military in a new constitution observers said was possibly aimed at preparing for a peace treaty with the United States. – Reuters 

James Stavridis writes: Trump’s erratic approach toward North Korea has been a real problem, but his shifting of America’s negotiating stance to reflect the reality of what is actually achievable through diplomacy is a good move. Increasing U.S. intelligence capabilities, countermeasures and deterrence to mitigate the long-term threat is an even better one. – Bloomberg


Nations that flank the Strait of Malacca are puzzling over why China issued an emergency-level alert for its ships that pass through the vital Asian waterway, and whether strategic calculations are at play. – Wall Street Journal    

Business executives, Washington officials and other frequent visitors to China who were interviewed by The New York Times expressed increasing alarm about the Chinese authorities’ harassment of Americans by holding them for questioning and preventing them from leaving the country. – New York Times 

The leader of Taiwan, the self-governing island of 24 million claimed by China, visited the United States on Thursday and said her people would “never be intimidated,” risking China’s wrath and a further fraying of ties between Beijing and the Trump administration. – New York Times 

Four British nationals have been arrested in eastern China, the British Embassy in Beijing said Friday, amid escalating diplomatic tension between the two countries. – Reuters

China is not purchasing U.S. crops as the world’s two largest economies scramble to end their trade war, President Donald Trump said Thursday. The president tweeted that Beijing “is letting us down” by not buying American agricultural products “that they said they would.” The development could bode poorly for efforts to reach a trade agreement, as U.S. officials have said they expect China to purchase crops as part of ongoing talks. – CNBC 

Senior administration officials now agree that China defied U.S. sanctions when it imported more than a million barrels of crude oil from Iran last month. But they are grappling with whether — and how — to hit back, according to three U.S. officials. – Politico  

Rick Novak writes: But the letter issued against China this week is not attributed to any one nation and did not have a clear initiator or coordinator — a role that would previously have fallen to the United States in many instances. This time, the document was equally backed by every signatory, which makes it far more difficult for Beijing to retaliate, given that it would need to target more than 20 individual nations. – Washington Post 

Didi Kirsten Tatlow writes: These moves by China come amid growing concern in democratic nations around the world over Beijing’s political and economic espionage, whether that be alleged theft of intellectual property—a central issue in the American trade dispute with China—or the monitoring and pressuring of Chinese abroad. Politicians and officials in the U.S. and Australia in particular have expressed alarm over Beijing’s ability and willingness to project power in their territory, though reactions in Europe have so far been less forthright. – The Atlantic


His police chief in Nangarhar Province needed more heavy weapons. His police chief in Paktia Province needed more radios. And Brig. Gen. Khoshal Sadat needed the two men to stop reading directly from their PowerPoint slides as they rattled off the security situation in their districts during their video conference. – New York Times 

Withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan too soon would be a “strategic mistake,” President Trump’s nominee for Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said Thursday, clearly outlining the Pentagon’s position as the White House wrestles with whether to pull military forces and end the 18-year war. – New York Times 

A suicide bomber on foot targeted a wedding party in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar on Friday, killing at least five people and injuring 40, local officials said. Atahullah Khogyani, a spokesman for Nangarhar province’s governor, said a boy set off his explosives inside the house of a pro-government militia commander in Pacheragam district. – Reuters


The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to launch an investigation into the alleged killings of tens of thousands of Filipinos by police in a yearslong drug war—a rare international rebuke of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who started the campaign against narcotics. – Wall Street Journal 

When a Chinese trawler rammed a Filipino fishing boat in the South China Sea last month — forcing 22 fishermen to abandon their stricken vessel — officials in Manila were quick with condemnations. “Cowardly,” the Philippines’ defense secretary said. Military commanders followed suit, telling reporters it was time for President Rodrigo Duterte to get tough with China after years of increasingly cozy ties. Instead, the Philippine leader sided with Beijing. – Washington Post

India has handed over 250 prefabricated houses it built in Myanmar’s Rakhine state as part of a broader effort to help tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to return, an Indian official said on Thursday. – Reuters

Japan’s Bitpoint has become the latest cryptocurrency exchange to suffer a suspected hacking attack after it reported the unauthorised withdrawal of $32m in company and customer funds. – Financial Times 

Hari Prasad writes: Today, both ISIS and AQIS are competing throughout South Asia to win recruits, conduct terror attacks, and foment religious turmoil—and both have increasingly fixed their gaze on India. […]But while the now more powerful than ever Hindu nationalist movement grapples with all this, communal tensions in India will continue to be exploited by Salafi-Jihadist groups. As ISIS and AQIS strive to eliminate the grayzone and incite greater conflict, a wise response from Indian statesmen and India’s citizens will be essential to defend democratic co-existence and secure the nation. – Hudson Institute 


Ms. Volodina turned her sights out of the country, and this week, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled emphatically in her favor. Rejecting arguments from Russia that she had suffered no real harm, and that she had failed to file her complaints properly, the court awarded her 20,000 euros, about $22,500. The ruling was the European court’s first on a domestic violence case from Russia — but it may be far from its last. Ten more Russian women have similar cases pending before the court. – New York Times 

During his rapid ascent as one of Western Europe’s most powerful politicians, Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini made clear that he was a good friend of Russia. […] But this week, his party’s ties to Russia have come under renewed scrutiny because of a leaked recording from a Moscow hotel lobby in which one of Salvini’s close allies is alleged to be discussing how to funnel Russian funds into the coffers of Italy’s far-right League. – Washington Post 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy held their first telephone conversation on Thursday and discussed settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the return of prisoners, the Kremlin said. – Reuters 

A senior Russian general accused the U.S. military of deceiving Moscow about the intentions of missile positions across tense borders in Eastern Europe and of possibly planning to deploy new longer-range weapons in the region. – Newsweek 

Vladimir Kara-Murza writes: This week brought a potential breakthrough in the investigation of Russia’s most high-profile political murder in recent memory, the 2015 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov — or, rather, it would have, if Russian law enforcement had any intention of investigating it seriously. The announcement, in fact, was made not in Moscow but to the west, in Luxembourg, where the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) met for its annual session and had its first hearing on the Nemtsov case. – Washington Post


France moved on Thursday to become the first country to impose a so-called digital tax of 3 percent on the revenue companies earn from providing digital services to French users. It would apply to large companies, numbering more than two dozen, with robust annual sales in France, including United States-based Facebook, Google and Amazon. – New York Times  

President Trump plans to host the Dutch prime minister at the White House next week to recognize the two nations’ historic ties and discuss their economic relationship. – The Hill 

Ireland’s parliament voted on Thursday to press the government to lead opposition inside the European Union to a draft trade deal that Brussels has struck with the Mercosur bloc of South American countries. – Reuters 

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has given his backing to the police in their trials of facial recognition cameras. The surveillance software, which is designed to help spot suspects in public spaces, has been trialled by several forces, including the Met. Civil liberties campaigners have criticised the technology, which is the subject of a legal challenge. But Mr Javid said it was important that police made use of the latest tools to help them solve crimes. – BBC 

The European Union is preparing an overhaul of its listing of countries that pose money-laundering risks, an EU confidential document shows, a review that could allow Saudi Arabia to be moved to a new gray list after having been briefly blacklisted. – Reuters 


A political transition agreement between Sudan’s military and a pro-democracy coalition is expected to be signed Saturday, a top African Union diplomat said early Friday. – Associated Press 

Sudan’s military rulers said on Thursday that several officers had attempted a coup in an effort to undermine an agreement between the military and the opposition to share power for three years ahead of elections. – Reuters

Leaders from 54 African nations met on Sunday to make a critical expansion to their continental free trade zone. If the massive deal works as hoped, it will connect 1.3 billion people, create a $3.4 trillion economic bloc, and heat up commerce within the continent itself. – CNBC

The Americas

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales plans to travel to Washington, D.C., on Monday to discuss a deal that would require migrants from neighboring El Salvador and Honduras to seek asylum in Guatemala rather than the U.S., as the Trump administration seeks to slow migrant flows. – Wall Street Journal  

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted the importance of democratic institutions in the Dominican Republic with President Danilo Medina, according to a statement released Thursday, ahead of the Caribbean nation’s 2020 election. – Reuters

Talks between Venezuela’s government and the opposition will continue, the Norwegian and Venezuelan governments said on Thursday, after a Socialist Party leader announced the end of a round of Oslo-backed talks to end a political crisis. – Reuters

U.S. administration officials have warned of “active threats” to the 2020 presidential elections as they briefed Congress on measures that the government has taken to improve security following what the U.S. intelligence community said was Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

Progressive Democrats are charging that a congressional resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a violation of First Amendment rights. – Jewish Insider


President Trump on Thursday sharply criticized Facebook’s plans to enter the cryptocurrency market, tweeting that the United States has “one real currency” and suggesting the social media giant may need to submit to heightened banking regulation. – Washington Post 

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Thursday approved a request from a private company to provide discounted cybersecurity services to political campaigns, saying it did not violate campaign finance rules. – The Hill   

As privacy concerns loom large over smart speakers, a new investigation has found that Google’s smart speakers might infringe on individual privacy more than buyers realize. – USA Today 

Mark Latonero writes: Alarmed by reports that food is being diverted to support the rebels, the aid program is demanding that Houthi officials allow them to deploy biometric technologies like iris scans and digital fingerprints to monitor suspected fraud during food distribution. […]Despite the best intentions, the decision to deploy technology like biometrics is built on a number of unproven assumptions, such as, technology solutions can fix deeply embedded political problems. And that auditing for fraud requires entire populations to be tracked using their personal data. And that experimental technologies will work as planned in a chaotic conflict setting. And last, that the ethics of consent don’t apply for people who are starving. – New York Times


Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Thursday that they want to hear from the Army colonel who has accused President Trump’s pick to become the military’s No. 2 officer of sexual misconduct before they let his nomination proceed, putting them firmly at odds with the panel’s Republican chairman. – Washington Post 

President Trump’s nominee to become the next top U.S. military officer promised lawmakers on Thursday that, if confirmed, he would not be cowed by the White House as he provides advice on national security matters. Gen. Mark Milley, who serves as Army chief of staff, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee at a moment when Trump’s moves to pull the Pentagon into his border wall plans, Independence Day festivities and other initiatives have generated concerns about the erosion of the military’s nonpartisan tradition. – Washington Post 

Failure to pass a defense budget would have catastrophic effects on the military’s efforts to modernize and shift focus from counterterrorism to great power adversaries such as Russia and China, Army Gen. Mark Milley warned amid a partisan battle over the bill. – Washington Examiner 

U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice for the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has thrown his full support behind nuclear modernization plans, the creation of a Space Force and developing new capabilities to offset China. – Defense News