Fdd's overnight brief

July 15, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday night that he granted a visa to Iran’s foreign minister to visit New York primarily to meet U.S. obligations to the United Nations but that his movements will be sharply curtailed. – Washington Post

The U.K. and Iran sought to defuse tensions over a detained Iranian oil tanker in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, but failed to resolve an issue that has raised new fears about military conflict over commercial-shipping lanes. – Wall Street Journal

Police in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar released the four-member crew of a detained Iranian oil tanker, authorities said Saturday, potentially easing tensions between the U.K. and Iran after a week of steady escalation. – Wall Street Journal

Naval vessels are increasingly protecting oil tankers as they carry crude through one of the world’s most critical waterways after Iran threatened retaliation for the British Navy’s capture of one of its ships. – Wall Street Journal

Britain will work for the release of an Iranian supertanker seized near Gibraltar if Iran guarantees the ship will not travel to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions, the British foreign secretary said, in a move that could ease soaring tensions between Iran and the West. – Washington Post

Iran is ready to hold talks with the United States if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the 2015 nuclear deal it quit last year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Sunday. – Reuters

European foreign ministers will seek to flesh out how to convince Iran and the United States to reduce tensions and initiate a dialogue when they meet in Brussels on Monday amid fears that the 2015 nuclear deal is close to collapse. – Reuters

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to New York on Saturday to a United Nations conference, Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported, amid rising tension between Washington and Tehran. – Reuters

Iran will continue its oil exports under any conditions, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told his British counterpart Jeremy Hunt in a telephone call on Saturday, according to a statement on the Iranian foreign ministry website. – Reuters

Editorial: For now, Iran’s increases in its nuclear activity appear incremental and are reversible. Tehran should not push the limits further, and should refrain from aggressive posturing. It must respect the international principle of freedom of navigation. A rerun of the “Tanker war” of the 1980s will benefit no one. – Financial Times

Lindsey Graham and Jack Keane write: We applaud Mr. Trump and his tough stance against the Iranian regime. We also applaud his thoughtful and measured response to numerous Iranian provocations. But it’s time to put a choice to the Iranians. We urge our European partners to work with the U.S. administration to fashion a realistic proposal that lays the groundwork for a future of stability and peace between Iran and the world. Let’s if the Iranians want what they claim to want: a peaceful solution. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: Britain is deploying another Royal Navy warship to the Persian Gulf, and it’s a grave signal. But the warship now on its way, HMS Duncan, is a Type-45 destroyer. That reflects Britain’s increasing expectation of a firefight with Iranian forces. We can say this with confidence for two reasons. […]Yet London will know full well how this deployment is perceived in Tehran — both as a message of deterrent strength, but also as an indication of escalation. Regardless, this is the right decision. […]Britain has a responsibility to deter and, if necessary, defeat any aggression. – Washington Examiner


Iran-backed Hezbollah has reduced its forces in Syria as fighting died down though it still has fighters all over the country, its leader said on Friday. – Reuters

The leader of Hezbollah said on Friday that Washington was seeking to open channels of communication despite ramping up sanctions against the Iran-backed movement’s officials. – Reuters

Argentina’s government is planning on designating the Lebanese-based Hezbollah group as a terror organization for its role in the terror attacks against the Israeli embassy and the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentinian newspaper La Nacion has reported. – Jerusalem Post


While much of the world’s focus on the Middle East centers on rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, the Syrian government and its Russian allies have intensified airstrikes on Idlib and the surrounding areas in a monthslong campaign to recapture the territory[…]. On Friday, airstrikes hit several cities in Idlib, killing 10 people, according to the White Helmets, a rescue group operating in opposition-held parts of Syria. – Wall Street Journal

Syrian rescuers and activists say 11 civilians, including two families of four, have been killed in government and Russian airstrikes inside Syria’s last rebel stronghold. First responders known as White Helmets said airstrikes in Kfarya village Saturday killed a mother, her baby and another man, leaving 11 injured, including one of their volunteers. – Associated Press

Militants targeted a gas pipeline in government-controlled central Syria, putting it out of order Sunday, according to state media. […]The area in the central Homs province is close to where remnants of the Islamic State group are still holed up after losing all the territory they once held in the country. – Associated Press

Freed after years in jihadist captivity, Jihan faced an agonising ultimatum: abandon her three small children fathered by an Islamic State fighter or risk being shunned by her community. […]When US-backed forces learned she was Yazidi, they whisked her and her two-year-old boy, year-old girl and four-month-old infant to a northeast Syria shelter hosting other mothers from the brutalised minority. – Agence FrancePresse

Air strikes targeted rebel-held cities in northwest Syria on Friday, a war monitor reported, widening bombardment of the last major insurgent enclave to areas that had mostly escaped it. – Reuters


U.S. President Donald Trump has the authority to waive sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of Russian air defense systems and should find a “middle ground” in the dispute, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday. – Reuters

Russia flew a fresh shipment of advanced air defense equipment to Turkey on Saturday, the Turkish Defence Ministry said, continuing to implement a deal that is likely to trigger U.S. sanctions against a NATO ally. – Reuters

President Donald Trump’s team has settled on a sanctions package to punish Turkey for receiving parts of a Russian missile defense system and plans to announce it in the coming days, said people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg


Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan during this weeks cabinet meeting spoke about the Palestinian Authority and the BDS movement, claiming there is a “sharp rise in cooperation” to boycott the State of Israel. – Jerusalem Post

An Israeli Navy vessel crossed into Lebanese waters early Monday morning, breaching the contested maritime border, according to the Lebanon-based LBC TV news. – Times of Israel

President Reuven Rivlin met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday at the Presidential residence in Seoul. The two presidents signed memorandums of understandings between the two countries in the fields of energy and education. – Jerusalem Post

Israel is still debating whether a new mechanism to vet foreign investments should be “strict” or “lenient,” a debate expected to be discussed at a security cabinet meeting on Wednesday, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Deliberations on creating a way to oversee infrastructure investment – especially from China – have been ongoing for months, and have been held intermittently in the security cabinet for more than a year. – Jerusalem Post

Canadian-American singer, Paul Anka, told those pressuring him to not perform in Israel to “f– off,” in interview with Mako on Thursday.  “I told them very delicately to f– off,” Anka, who is of Syrian and Lebanese descent, said with a laugh, “Can you say that on television?” – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Kuwait’s navy and ports authority will prepare security plans to protect the key OPEC exporter’s ports, state news agency KUNA said on Saturday, amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West. – Reuters

Sarah Yerkes writes: Tomorrow, the United States and Tunisia will hold their third Strategic Dialogue, chaired by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui. […]The dialogue will likely focus on the upcoming national elections and the security challenges. However, given the Tunisian public’s increasing turn away from Washington, it would be wise for the two country’s leaders to also address ways to improve U.S.-Tunisia relations at the grassroots level and to look beyond our shared democratic values as ties that bind our countries together. As the survey results show, the United States can no longer take Tunisian support for the United States for granted. – Washington Post

Mohamed-Ali Adraoui writes: This situation, in turn, has prompted many in Washington to more aggressively call for the U.S. to officially designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. […]Although a decision on this issue appears to be under consideration, the Trump Administration has not yet formulated a clear policy regarding Islamist actors like the Brotherhood. Given the U.S.’s present diplomatic alignments and priorities, not to mention President Trump’s essentialized and problematic views on Islam, it seems that designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization is seriously discussed, though likely not something that can be achieved politically. – Hudson Institute

Korean Peninsula

A row between Japan and South Korea escalated on Saturday, with contested accounts of a frosty meeting the day before that had failed to make progress on a dispute that could threaten global supplies of microchips and smartphone displays. – Reuters

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Monday Japan’s reported accusations that South Korea has violated international sanctions by exporting banned goods to North Korea posed a “grave challenge” to Seoul. – Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping urged U.S. President Donald Trump last month to show flexibility in dealings with North Korea and ease sanctions on the country “in due course,” China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday. – Reuters

Michael Morell writes: Those in the administration who are advocating consideration of a freeze of North Korea’s program as an interim step are, in my view, thinking in the best interests of U.S. security. Such a step could lead much more quickly to an eventual final deal to eliminate or severely limit North Korea’s nuclear program. It would be foolish to reject the idea of a freeze out of hand. It is actually the next logical step in President’s Trump’s diplomacy with Pyongyang. – Washington Post


China’s economic growth decelerated to its slowest pace in decades, weakened by trade tensions with the U.S. and businesses that held back from making big investments despite encouragement from Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

Huawei Technologies Co. is planning extensive layoffs at its U.S. operations, according to people familiar with the matter, as the Chinese technology giant continues to struggle with its American blacklisting. – Wall Street Journal

China said it would sanction U.S. firms that participate in arms sales to Taiwan, a retaliatory move that is expected to have minimal effect on defense companies but is likely to further complicate efforts to resolve the simmering trade dispute between Beijing and Washington. – Wall Street Journal

China has detained another Canadian citizen, the authorities in Canada have said, adding to the high tensions between the two countries’ governments. – New York TImes

China’s military recently carried out air and naval drills along its southeast coast, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday, following the latest arms sales from the United States to self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as a renegade province. – Reuters

Michael Schuman writes: Though China is playing coy for now, it’s likely to buy large quantities of American goods as part of any final trade deal with the U.S. in order to narrow the long-running imbalance between the two countries. The propriety of demanding such purchases is highly questionable. Punishing China with tariffs on its exports until it awards bigger orders to American companies and farmers is effectively extortion. The Chinese, though, have faced this sort of blackmail many times over their history. And the way they’ve chosen to handle it holds lessons for the U.S. today. – Bloomberg

Robert D. Hormats writes: However, contrary to frequently heard narratives, America’s continued global leadership in technology and innovation does not depend primarily on that outcome; it depends far more on significantly strengthening our own domestic efforts to boost our still formidable capacities in these areas. The challenge the U.S. faces is not just about China becoming a great technology power. The pressing question for us is whether, and to what extent, America can remain one. The answer will depend far less on what happens on the other side of the Pacific and far more on what we do, or do not do, here at home. – The Hill


A U.S. service member was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday, a NATO statement said. […]In a tweet, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said two American soldiers were killed and three wounded in a bomb attack in Wardak province, west of Kabul. He offered no additional evidence. – Washington Post

Taliban insurgents stormed a commercial building housing a hotel in western Afghanistan, killing three security officials and injuring 10, officials said on Saturday, the latest in a surge of attacks despite reported progress in peace talks. – Reuters

Afghan police say a radio journalist has been killed in the eastern province of Paktia. The body of Nader Shah Sahibzada, a newsreader for Radio Gardez, was found on July 13, a day after he disappeared. […]The Taliban and the extremist group Islamic State have both attacked reporters in the past. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Protests that began six weeks ago as a challenge to Beijing’s growing reach are broadening into a movement pursuing a range of political and social grievances, with demonstrations—and clashes with police—spreading to more parts of the city. – Wall Street Journal

The alleged sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese vessel has emerged as the biggest test yet of President Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot to China, as his decision not to push Beijing over the incident prompts condemnation from critics who say he is selling out his country’s sovereignty for economic gain. – Wall Street Journal

TVB, Hong Kong’s dominant broadcaster, has been singled out for scorn by protesters, who accuse it of a pro-Beijing bias in its coverage of the political crisis roiling this semiautonomous Chinese region. – New York Times

The populist pro-China mayor of the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung won the opposition party’s nomination to run against President Tsai Ing-wen, who has been sharply critical of Beijing’s attempts to pressure the island into unification. – New York Times

Hong Kong protesters clashed with police on Saturday in a town near the boundary with mainland China where thousands rallied against the presence of Chinese traders, seizing on another grievance following major unrest over an extradition bill. – Reuters

Editorial: Deterring Chinese military dominance in the Indo-Pacific is a top U.S. strategic goal, and the Trump Administration made progress this week with a tentative $2.2 billion arms sale to Taiwan. The next sale should be F-16V fighter jets, which is the island’s most pressing defense need. […]Selling F-16Vs would set off rhetorical fireworks in Beijing, and Mr. Trump might be reluctant given his focus on China trade. […]But Hongkongers and Taiwanese know China takes Western silence or accommodation for weakness. Asia’s U.S. friends are counting on Mr. Trump not to defer to China as his presidential predecessors did. – Wall Street Journal


A U.K. newspaper has published more leaked memos revealing a British ambassador’s blunt assessments of the Trump administration, including one in which the envoy to Washington claimed President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal to spite predecessor Barack Obama. – Associated Press

The European Union supports an Iraqi proposal to hold a regional conference amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran, the group’s foreign policy chief said Saturday. – Associated Press

A group of prominent Jewish writers and artists have expressed their “bewilderment and disgust” with Labour’s handling of the antisemitism crisis engulfing the party. […]The group argues the investigation into Labour by the Equality and Human Rights Commission […] has shamed Labour in a similar way to the British National Party, which faced a similar inquiry in 2010. – Guardian

An umbrella organization of Germany’s Jewish groups is alleging that an article in one of the country’s leading magazines “fuels anti-Semitism.” – Associated Press


The death toll from a car bomb and gun attack on a hotel in Somalia rose to 26 on Saturday, officials said. […]Three Kenyans, three Tanzanians, two Americans and a Briton also died in Friday’s attack, according to Ahmed Mohamed Islam, the president of the Jubbaland region where the attack took place[…]. The Shabab, an Islamic rebel group with links to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.  – New York Times

Paramilitary forces backed by Sudan’s ruling military council fired at protesters in the southeastern state of Sennar on Sunday, witnesses said, and one man died of a shot to the head, according to opposition medics. – Reuters

Richmond Danso writes: The announcement Thursday by Sudan’s transitional military government that it had foiled an attempted coup was the latest setback to a power-sharing deal meant to structure a three-year transition set to culminate in democratic elections. […]The agreement has brought some stability to Sudan, but many potential pitfalls remain before a transition can succeed. The selection of the 11th member of the council, legislative elections in the next three months, the establishment of an independent judiciary and the implementation of transitional justice will be key indicators of whether the agreement will succeed. – Washington Post

Noah Smith writes: But there is one type of Chinese involvement in Africa that does threaten to become something akin to colonialism — Chinese government infrastructure loans.  […]If that’s not old-style colonialism, it’s too close for comfort. African governments should be wary of Chinese state-owned banks offering lavish loans. Instead, they should focus on soliciting private investment in manufacturing industries, while providing infrastructure, education and other public goods on their own. This strategy will ensure that Africa’s road to industrialization is as rapid and smooth as possible without the taint of colonialism. – Bloomberg

The Americas

A meeting in Washington between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Guatemalan counterpart Jimmy Morales purportedly over a potential “safe third country” agreement for asylum seekers has been canceled, Guatemala’s office of the presidency said Sunday. – Associated Press

Now the United Nations Security Council is getting a firsthand look at the challenges of peace nearly three years into Colombia’s historic accord with leftist rebels as they visit Friday with the nation’s president, politicians and former rebels at a time of mounting concern. – Associated Press

Two members of Venezuelan National Assembly chief Juan Guaido’s security detail were detained on Friday, both the opposition leader and government officials said on Saturday, during a pause in negotiations between the two divided political factions. – Reuters

The Trump administration on Friday asked the Supreme Court to lift a freeze on Pentagon money it wants to use to build sections of a border wall with Mexico. – Associated Press

Embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has written a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to reject the content of a report in which Bachelet highlighted “patterns of violations of all human rights” at the hands of the Venezuelan state. – CNN

Ryan Ellis writes: Congress has been sitting on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, for months. […]Conservatives need to push for USMCA passage as soon as possible, not just because we’re for free trade, but because we’re for pro-growth economic policy. The Trump administration has seen a surge in economic growth, wages, and job creation for a reason. […]USMCA is part and parcel of this bullish prosperity portfolio. Passing it, and passing it now, will help keep the economy and the stock market in the record territory we’re all benefiting from. – Washington Examiner


The House gave final approval Friday to a defense bill that would put a liberal stamp on military policy by shackling President Trump’s ability to wage war in Iran and Yemen, restricting the use of military funds at the southwestern border and returning transgender troops to the armed forces. – New York Times

The U.S. needs a campaign plan to address state and state-backed actions that fall between the bounds of “routine statecraft” and direct military conflict, according to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. – Defense News

When he resigned as defense secretary last December, Jim Mattis thought it might take two months to install a successor. That seemed terribly long at the time. Seven months later, the U.S. still has no confirmed defense chief even with the nation facing potential armed conflict with Iran. That’s the longest such stretch in Pentagon history. – Associated Press

For USS Gravely (DDG-107) operating in the Baltic Sea for the better part of 2019, this call for an intel team to rush topside has been a common one over the 1MC. With Russian ships, helicopters and jets monitoring the destroyer’s activities with Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 and in exercises such as BALTOPS 2019, contact with the foreign military has been near-daily. – USNI News

Lawmakers are zeroing in on the potential for foreign cyber attacks to take down the U.S. electric grid, with members in both chambers pushing hearings and a flurry of bills to address the issue.  Congressional interest in the issue is growing following reports that Iran has stepped up its cyber attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure, and as Trump administration officials cite threats from Russia and China against the electric grid. – The Hill