Fdd's overnight brief

July 17, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that Iran appeared willing to negotiate over its missile program “for the first time,” in what he and President Trump presented as evidence that sanctions and military pressure were working, less than a month after the president halted a planned military strike against Iran. – New York Times

Iran’s top leader struck a belligerent tone Tuesday in an escalating confrontation with the West, promising further Iranian violations of the fraying nuclear agreement and retaliation for what he called the piracy of an Iranian tanker by “the vicious British.” – New York Times

Iran said it has detained a French-Iranian scholar on unspecified charges, complicating French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal and defuse tensions in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. is lobbying nations that buy and sell Middle East oil to help protect the region’s waterways as concerns grow that Iran is stepping up efforts to disrupt crude exports, according to U.S. and European officials on Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal

An oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates is missing after it stopped in Iranian waters three days ago and switched off its transponder, raising concerns that it may have been seized by Iran amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf.  – Washington Post

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that the Islamic republic will keep rolling back its commitments under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. – Agence FrancePresse

President Trump’s nominee for defense secretary said a future nuclear agreement with Iran should include a more permanent end to the country’s nuclear activities and address its ballistic missile program. – Washington Examiner

Iran’s foreign minister said that Iran is open to negotiations with the United States, but only if it removes sanctions against the regime. – Washington Examiner

Iran says remarks by the country’s foreign minister about Iran’s missile program possibly being up for negotiations with the U.S. meant to challenge Washington’s arms sales policy to the region – and were not meant to indicate a readiness by Tehran for any such talks. –Associated Press

Iranian navy vessels came to the assistance of a disabled foreign oil tanker in the Gulf that needed repairs, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying on Tuesday by the semi-official news agency ISNA. – Reuters

David Ignatius writes: In the U.S. game plan, Oman would be an important partner in a broad, multinational coalition to protect shipping from Iranian hit-and-run operations. The U.S. strategy would be to work with these partners to de-escalate tensions. Iran has all but begged for a direct confrontation with the United States. So far, the U.S. response correctly has been: No! – Washington Post

John Bird writes: Credible forward deployed military capability – like a carrier strike group – provides real options for American policymakers. Last month’s intelligence suggesting Iran was ready to move against U.S. interests in the Middle East demonstrates how the absence of such forces could embolden Iran. Responding to this intelligence, the prompt movement of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group into the region has dramatically increased the U.S. force posture. Effective deterrence of Iran will require persistent, visible, and credible military capability. – The National Interest


At least 12 people were killed and scores wounded on Tuesday in aerial strikes believed to have been carried out by the Syrian air force on a popular market in a village in opposition-held northwestern Syria, rescuers and residents said. – Reuters

The Hezbollah terror organization relocated part of its forces to the Lebanon-Syria border, which were spread out throughout Syria beforehand, according to a report on Tuesday by the Saudi Arabian Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper which is printed in London. – Jerusalem Post

Syrian President Bashar Assad met in Damascus with Hussein Amir Abdullahian, the special assistant to the speaker of Iran’s Shura Council for Political Affairs, the Italian news agency Ansa reported on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Seth G. Jones, Nicholas Harrington, and Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. write: As tensions escalate between the United States and Iran in the Middle East, Russia is engaged in covert and overt cooperation with Iran in ways that undermine U.S. national security interests. This analysis of commercial satellite imagery at Tiyas Airbase in Syria indicates the scope and proximity of Russian and Iranian military ties. If Washington wants to contain Tehran and prevent further Iranian expansion, U.S. policymakers will need to increase pressure on Moscow to curb Tehran’s activites in countries like Syria. – Center for Strategic & International Studies


President Trump said the U.S. would withhold sales of advanced F-35 stealth jet fighters to Turkey after Ankara received a new air-defense system from Russia, putting new strains on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. – Wall Street Journal

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has marked the anniversary of a failed coup against him every passing year — this week was the third — with a national holiday that has turned the traumatic event into a celebration of Turkish nationalism. […]If there is an underlying message in the deal, it may be about Mr. Erdogan’s deep-seated suspicion that Washington was behind the attempt to overthrow him on the bloody night in 2016, when more than 200 Turks were killed, including one of Mr. Erdogan’s closest friends. – New York Times

President Donald Trump declined Tuesday to criticize Turkey’s acquisition of a Russian missile system assailed by the Pentagon and NATO, making no mention of sanctions Washington had threatened over the purchase. – Agence FrancePresse

U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominee to become the next secretary of defense re-stated that Turkey cannot have the F-35 advanced stealth fighter jet and Russia’s S-400 air defense system, which Moscow started delivering last week. – Reuters

Turkey on Tuesday rejected as “worthless” an initial set of sanctions approved by the European Union against Ankara, and vowed to send a new vessel to the eastern Mediterranean to reinforce its efforts to drill for hydrocarbons off the island of Cyprus. – Associated Press


State-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries said on Wednesday it signed a $50 million follow-up contract to provide complementary missile systems to the Indian navy and India’s MDL Shipyard. – Reuters

The Israeli army’s Home Front Command plans to provide anti-missile protection to 20 key sites throughout the country, amid concern among defense officials that Hezbollah will target them. – Haaretz

The IDF is making significant progress in its efforts to shore up defenses along the Gaza border, including an underground barrier, an above-ground fence and protections against anti-tank missiles. – Algemeiner

Human Rights Watch gave a tribute on Monday to Shawan Jabareen, a senior figure in the U.S.-designated terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and his organization Al-Haq, which turned 40 years in operation. – Jewish News Syndicate


The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen intercepted and downed three drones launched by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement towards the southwestern Saudi cities of Jizan and Abha, state TV reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said it launched a drone attack on Jizan airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the Yemeni border early on Wednesday. – Reuters

Yemen’s peace process advanced incrementally this week after new ceasefire measures were agreed between the warring parties, but mistrust remains high. – The National

Middle East & North Africa

A Libyan detention center where an airstrike killed more than 50 people two weeks ago is filling with migrants again, and work has resumed at a nearby weapons workshop, despite calls from the United Nations to empty the compound and others like it near the front-lines of the country’s civil war. – Associated Press

Jordan appointed a new ambassador to Qatar on Tuesday, a step toward restoring normal relations two years after Amman withdrew its ambassador in solidarity with Gulf Arab allies who severed ties with Doha. – Reuters

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri is finalizing a plan to increase the country’s naval capabilities while he continues to work to re-start negotiations on the country’s maritime borders with Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Britain will send a third warship to the Persian Gulf, though the move is not related to the current Iran crisis, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Edward Gabriel writes: While the international community must encourage the eventual return of refugees to Syria, international donors should also join with U.S. efforts in providing aid to Lebanon to support host communities and the refugees. Such aid should reflect the actual cost incurred by the Lebanese economy, which is strapped with burgeoning budget deficits[…]. Lebanon and the United States need to show each other there are win-win solutions that benefit all parties, and together they can work towards a fair, just, voluntary, safe, and timely resolution to this crisis. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea protested a coming U.S.-South Korean joint military exercise, suggesting it was starting to lose patience with Washington and may reconsider its self-imposed ban on long-range weapons testing. – Wall Street Journal

The Mercedes-Benz limousines seen chauffeuring around North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this year have stumped outsiders over how the sanctions-hit regime obtained the luxury rides. But researchers now believe they have unearthed the Kim regime’s smuggling secret: It takes three cargo jets, about four months and five countries. – Wall Street Journal

The United States said Tuesday it hoped to hold denuclearization talks with North Korea, after Pyongyang warned that US-South Korean military exercises could affect their planned resumption. – Agence FrancePresse


Australia’s government on Wednesday called on China to allow an Australian child and his Uighur mother to leave the country, stepping up pressure on Beijing days after Canberra co-signed a letter denouncing its treatment of the Muslim minority. – Agence FrancePresse

A top Google executive revealed today that the global tech firm had shut down its effort to build a search engine that would comply with the repressive censorship requirements of the Communist Chinese regime. – Washington Examiner

Karan Bhatia, a top executive for Google, repeatedly denied accusations Tuesday that Google has been infiltrated or comprised by the Chinese government while testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. – Washington Examiner

Lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced legislation Tuesday to keep Chinese telecommunications group Huawei out of U.S. fifth generation (5G) networks and prevent U.S. companies from doing business with the company many have deemed a national security threat. – The Hill

Kevin Kearns writes: Despite two years of intense criticism of “Trump’s trade wars,” the president remains steadfast in his attempts to straighten out the lopsided relations between America and our trading partners. Trump has demonstrated a resolve not seen in the White House since Ronald Reagan limited imports of automobiles, motorcycles, computer chips and steel, and depreciated the dollar to give American manufacturers a fair opportunity to sell their goods at home and abroad. – The Hill

William A. Reinsch writes: The past several U.S. administrations have all complained about Chinese theft of American intellectual property, unfair and discriminatory treatment of U.S. companies operating in China, forced technology transfer, channeling of resources to state-owned enterprises and massive subsidies. But they soft-pedaled such criticism to obtain cooperation on other foreign policy goals, such as Iran, North Korea and climate change. In contrast, the Trump administration decided to tackle these practices head on. – American Foreign Service Association

Eli Lake writes: The world no longer has the excuse of ignorance about the cultural annihilation currently taking place in China’s western Xinjiang Province. Now it has to muster the courage to act on its knowledge .- Bloomberg

South Asia

The war in Afghanistan has raged for nearly 18 years, cost billions of dollars, shattered countless families and consumed the administrations of three American presidents. But it has taken a particularly heavy toll on Afghan troops and police officers, 45,000 of whom have been killed in the past five years of fighting alone. – New York Times

A Swedish non-governmental organization in Afghanistan says the Taliban have forced the closure of 42 health facilities run by the non-profit group in eastern Maidan Wardan province. – Associated Press

The Islamic State-Khorasan Province has gained control of territory in Afghanistan over the last six months, according to the latest Pentagon report to Congress. – Washington Examiner

United Airlines Holdings Inc (UAL.O) said on Wednesday it would restart daily nonstop service between New York/Newark, New Delhi and Mumbai from Sept. 6, after Pakistan lifted airspace restrictions. – Reuters

Husain Haqqani writes: By suspending talks until the Taliban show flexibility in negotiations with the Afghan government or agree and adhere to a cease-fire, the U.S. would fight the impression that it is desperate for its troops to return. Then, with a stronger negotiating hand, the U.S. could resume talks that could lead to peace, not a Taliban victory by other means. – Wall Street Journal


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the U.S. has sanctioned four top military officials in Myanmar for gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings of members of the Rohingya minority as part of ethnic cleansing actions. – Wall Street Journal

Vietnamese and Chinese ships have been embroiled in a weeks-long standoff near an offshore oil block in disputed waters of the South China Sea, which fall within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, two Washington-based think-tanks said on Wednesday. – Reuters

As the trade battle between South Korea and Japan drags on, Seoul announced it will cut down its economic dependence on Japanese industries. – CNBC

The United States fully understands the seriousness of South Korea’s festering trade dispute with Japan, a high-ranking Seoul official said Wednesday after a meeting with the top U.S. diplomat for East Asian affairs. – Associated Press


Russia’s Foreign Ministry has recently denied visas for teachers at a school in Moscow run by Western embassies, in what American officials suggested was an effort to exert political pressure on the United States by curtailing schooling for the children of diplomats. – New York Times

Europe’s rights court on Tuesday ruled against Russia over its refusal to register three associations, saying it was “unacceptable” to do so simply because they were defending LGBT rights. – Agence FrancePresse

As Russia builds up its military power in Kaliningrad and its Western Military District and gains influence with its neighbor Belarus, Lithuania continues to invest a great deal in the modernization of its defensive capabilities with plans to increase defense spending in the years to come. – Defense News

Five years after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky, killing all 298 aboard, a State Department official tells Military Times that the ongoing battle between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists serves as a potential harbinger for the U.S. military in any conflict with Moscow. – Military Times


A recently released — and subsequently deleted — document published by a NATO-affiliated body has sparked headlines in Europe with an apparent confirmation of a long-held open secret: U.S. nuclear weapons are being stored in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. – Washington Post

More than 60 opposition Labour members of Britain’s upper house of parliament signed a statement in a newspaper on Wednesday accusing leader Jeremy Corbyn of failing “the test of leadership” over anti-Semitism in the party. – Reuters

With potential attacks against Baltic nations by Russia fresh in the minds of European allies, both NATO and the European Union are focusing on strategies to either prevent or respond to “gray zone” warfare — unconventional tactics designed to remain below the threshold of conventional military conflict. – Fifth Domain

Ursula von der Leyen was confirmed as the European Commission president Tuesday, becoming the first woman to hold one of the most prestigious positions in the European Union and who will be one of the most prominent faces from the bloc on the world stage. – Associated Press

The chairman of the UK’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has called an emergency meeting of his shadow cabinet, amid an ongoing crisis over anti-Semitism within the party. – Arutz Sheva

Portugal has suspended the issuance of entry visas for Iranian nationals for unspecified security reasons, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said on Tuesday, adding the move was not related to bilateral relations between the two countries. – Reuters

For the Baltic states, the desire for steadier and more robust American presence to deter Russia is high. Ever since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, NATO and the U.S. military have drastically bolstered their presence in Eastern Europe to include deploying NATO rapid response forces, embedding units under the command of Baltic states’ forces, building up arsenals of equipment, deploying a heel-to-toe rotational U.S. armored brigade combat team and conducting increasingly complex exercises. – Defense News


Sudan’s ruling military and the pro-democracy movement have signed a political document that’s part of a power-sharing deal meant to end the country’s deadlock after weeks of stalled talks. – Associated Press

Ten Turkish sailors were taken hostage by armed pirates who attacked a Turkish-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria, the vessel’s owner said on Tuesday, adding that another eight sailors were left safely aboard. – Reuters

The United States added two leaders of al Qaeda’s affiliate in Mali to its global terrorism list on Tuesday, accusing them of engaging in destabilizing attacks across the West African country, the U.S. Treasury said. – Reuters

United States

The U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to force Washington consultants to disclose their ties to foreign governments is casting surprisingly sharp focus on a group of people who pride themselves on operating behind the scenes: the lawyers. – Wall Street Journal

Former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill, who has made remarks widely considered antisemitic in the past, told a progressive conference on Friday that Fox, ABC, NBC, “or whoever” were Zionist organizations that produced “Zionist content.” – Algemeiner

US Attorney General William Barr called anti-Semitism a “cancer” at a Department of Justice summit on the topic notable for its focus on anti-Israel activity and for speeches by the top leaders of the departments of Education and the Treasury and the FBI. – Times of Israel

Federal prosecutors in New York have charged three Iranians with illegally exporting “many tons” of carbon fiber, a controlled material with military and nuclear uses, to Iran. – NBC

The United States has tightly restricted the travel of more than a dozen Iranian diplomats and their families living in New York, according to a U.S. diplomatic note to sent to the Iran mission to the United Nations and seen by Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters

Latin America

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is bound for Latin America this week on a trip set to focus on regional counterterrorism cooperation, the crisis in Venezuela and the Trump administration’s effort to stem immigration and border crossings. – Wall Street Journal

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wants to propose a free trade agreement between South America’s Mercosur and the United States once he takes the presidency of the bloc during a meeting in Argentina, presidential spokesman Otavio Rego Barros said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The Trump administration has said it is not yet willing to grant temporary protected status to Venezuelans, meaning it will continue to deport people back to a country it says is being destroyed by a tyrant. – The Guardian

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration plans to divert more than $40 million in humanitarian aid for Central America to support the U.S.-backed opposition in Venezuela, according to an internal document obtained by Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters


Lithuania is rising to the top of those countries taking charge of their cybersecurity, and it’s development in cyberspace may benefit the rest of Europe and the United States. – Defense News

Cyber security remains an issue for Army acquisition, and the solution may mean investing in resources to take some defense contractors completely “off the net,” according to the principal military deputy to the Army acquisition chief. – Army Times

U.S. Cyber Command trained its new operating concept persistent engagement for the first time in a recent Department of Defense exercise. – Fifth Domain

Secretary of Defense nominee Mark Esper, speaking to senators during his July 16 confirmation hearing, shared his feelings that U.S. Cyber Command possesses “exceptional” cyber capabilities, but just as important is a streamlined framework for using them outside U.S. networks. – Fifth Domain

Bulgarian officials said Tuesday that unidentified hackers have stolen the personal details of millions of people from Bulgaria’s national revenue agency and noted a possible Russian link in the case. – Fifth Domain


Budget shortfalls created in part by greater-than-expected demands on maritime patrol aircraft is forcing the Navy to cut flight hours for several squadrons on the East Coast, according to a naval aviation official who spoke on background. – Defense News

The Air Force moved its competition for new intercontinental ballistic missiles to the next stage on July 16, releasing a solicitation for the weapon system’s first five production lots. – Defense News

Maintaining a technological edge, improving the lives of military families and continuing to present potential adversaries with an assured strong U.S. response to hostile acts would be among Secretary of the Army Mark Esper’s priorities if the Senate approves his nomination to lead the Department of Defense. – USNI News

Parts of the Atlantic fleet will reduce their flying hours for the remainder of the fiscal year to address a funding shortfall within the naval aviation flight hour budget, a Navy official told USNI News. – USNI News

Rick Berger writes: The Pentagon’s lack of outreach to Congress isn’t new, but it’s worsened over the past few years, as restrictive policy guidance and signals sent by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis remained in place under acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. This bodes ill for a military ostensibly embarking upon a new strategic direction. If confirmed, Secretary of Defense Esper should draw on his own experience on the Hill and direct the department to reverse course when it comes to working with Congress. – Defense News

Long War

Iraq deported 33 children of former ISIS members to Russia in a single day, bringing the total number of children it has deported to 473 globally. – Washington Examiner

Norway has arrested controversial Iraqi Kurdish fundamentalist preacher Mullah Krekar after he was convicted in Italy of “terrorist” conspiracy, the PST intelligence service said Tuesday. – Agence FrancePresse

Pakistan authorities on Wednesday arrested Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of a four-day militant attack on Mumbai in 2008, on terror finance charges, a spokesman for the chief minister of Punjab said. – Reuters

An Israeli NGO petitioned Gibraltar’s top court Tuesday to sell an impounded Iranian oil tanker to compensate parents of an Israeli child allegedly killed by the Iran-backed Palestinian terror group Hamas. – Agence FrancePresse