Fdd's overnight brief

July 19, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


President Trump said the U.S. Navy downed an Iranian drone that was flying too close to a U.S. warship in the Strait of Hormuz, hours after Iranian forces said they had seized a foreign tanker, the latest in a series of incidents that have ratcheted up tensions in a vital oil shipping route. – Wall Street Journal

Iran on Friday refuted President Trump’s claim that the U.S. military had shot down an Iranian drone near the Persian Gulf, an incident that appeared to herald a new spiral of tensions between Washington and Tehran as the United States seeks to impose tough new sanctions on Iran and the Islamic republic pushes back. – Washington Post

Iran’s foreign minister said on Thursday that he was willing to meet with American senators to discuss possible ways out of the nuclear crisis with the Trump administration and, for the first time, floated an opening bid of modest steps that Tehran would be willing to take in return for simultaneous lifting of sanctions President Trump reimposed last year. – New York Times

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on an international network of companies and their agents it said were involved in the procurement of materials for Iran’s nuclear program. – Reuters

Iran said Thursday its Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country, and hours later released video showing the vessel to be a United Arab Emirates-based ship that had vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend. – Associated Press

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani urged Europe on Thursday (Jul 18) to speed up efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, during a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron. – Agence France-Presse

The United States is not aiming to set up a military coalition against Iran with its new security initiative in the Gulf, but simply “shining a flashlight” in the region to deter attacks on commercial ships, a top Pentagon official told Reuters. – Reuters

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo had a “constructive and positive” meeting with Iranian officials in London about the detained oil tanker Grace 1, Gibraltar said. – Reuters

Iran must immediately release a vessel it seized in the Gulf and its crew, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said on Thursday. – Reuters

Britain said on Thursday that a tanker seized by Iran on suspicion of smuggling fuel in the Gulf was not British-flagged. – Reuters

Germany and the other countries that remain party to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal expect Tehran to uphold its side of the accord, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, describing recent pronouncements by the Iranians as “unacceptable”. – Reuters

Russia has signalled its willingness to join an EU payments channel designed to circumvent US sanctions banning trade with Iran and has called on Brussels to expand the new mechanism to cover oil exports. – Financial Times 

Michael Oren writes: This is the same Iran that has launched cyberattacks against the United States, made millions smuggling drugs into America, and threatened international oil shipments in the Gulf. This is the same Iran that sought to assassinate me—when I served as the Israeli ambassador—and my Saudi counterpart in Washington, D.C. And it is the same Iran that killed hundreds of U.S. troops in Lebanon and Iraq, and that—after the signing of the JCPOA—captured and humiliated U.S. Navy sailors. – The Atlantic 

Jim Hanson writes: When a U.S. Navy ship downed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz Thursday it sent an important message to the mullahs who rule the Islamic Republic: aggression has consequences and America will strike back when provoked. – Fox News


Argentina designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization on Thursday and ordered a freeze on the financial assets of the group, which has been blamed for two terrorist attacks in the country. – New York Times

Hezbollah itself must be charged for terrorism in the Bulgarian trial relating to the 2012 terrorist-murders of five Israelis and their driver, families of the victims demanded at a ceremony in Bulgaria marking seven years since the attack. – Jerusalem Post

Avi Weiss writes: Twenty-five years after Argentina’s largest Jewish community center was bombed, murdering 85 people and wounding another 300, the cries of the dead call out to me as I walk this city’s streets, having traveled to be with Argentina’s Jewish community this week to share its grief on this terrible anniversary and to meet government officials to demand that justice finally be done. – New York Times


The U.S. government has taken custody of an American citizen suspected of fighting for Islamic State and is returning him from Syria to stand trial in the United States, officials said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

Michael Rubin writes: The biggest obstacle to Raqqa’s recovery, however, lies in Washington rather than Syria: The U.S. Treasury Department has been sitting on the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) waiver for the Syrian Democratic Council for four years. – The Hill 

Gregory Waters writes: Despite considerable attempts at rebuilding the SAA, the combat capabilities of the regime’s armed forces remain limited. New weapons and new recruits cannot fix a system of ingrained ineptitude and corruption in the officer class – the key segment of any effective modern military. Russia appears to be aware of this and has been significantly reshuffling the SAA high command. – Middle East Institute


The U.S. decision to exclude Turkey from an American-led fighter jet program goes against the “spirit of alliance,” the Turkish government said Thursday, and called on its NATO ally to reverse the decision. – Associated Press

The chief of NATO said Turkey would remain a key member of the alliance despite its decision to purchase the Russian S-400 missile-defense system, while acknowledging that the move created a “difficult situation.” – Bloomberg

President Trump on Thursday said that he has not yet decided on whether to impose congressionally mandated sanctions on Turkey over the NATO ally’s possession of a Russian-produced missile air defense system. – The Hill

Editorial: For the past few years, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has railed ever more belligerently against the U.S., Europe and NATO, Washington’s foreign-policy establishment has argued for patience. Erdogan’s fusillades, mostly intended for domestic consumption, were thought to be a small inconvenience — certainly not enough for the West to abandon Turkey. – Bloomberg

James Stavridis writes: After several years of verbal jousting with the U.S., Turkey last week accepted an initial delivery of a highly advanced Russian air defense system, the S-400. Supporting equipment tobring the system up to full operational capability continues to flow into the NATO ally. We are at an inflection point, which (at worst) could precipitate Turkey’s withdrawal from the 70-year old alliance. – Bloomberg

Soner Cagaptay writes: The attack could also delay the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the recent U.S. legislation targeting Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems. President Trump has already signaled that he is not looking to sanction Turkey under CAATSA at this time. – Washington Institute


Israeli plans to demolish Palestinian homes near a military barrier on the outskirts of Jerusalem have drawn international criticism, amid Palestinian fears that a precedent would be set for other buildings along the barrier route. – Reuters

Foreign Minister Israel Katz met his Bahraini counterpart for talks on Iran in Washington and the two posed for a rare photograph, marking what Jerusalem said was a boost in ties with the Gulf nation. – Times of Israel

Israel is unlikely to bar entry to US Rep. Ilhan Omar, who plans to visit next month, even though an anti-BDS law gives the government the authority to do so, according to a government source. – Jerusalem Post

Moshe Phillips writes: The Trump administration’s proposal to create a corridor linking Hamas-run Gaza to the Palestinian Authority run territories would pose a grave danger to Israel’s security. No wonder senior Israeli officials are alarmed; American friends of Israel should be, too. – Arutz Sheva

Gulf States

From the beginning of Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, it was Prince Mohammed’s war. […]Four years later, the war is lodged in a stalemate and Prince Mohammed’s signature fight has become a quagmire, diplomats and analysts say. – New York Times

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday urged Saudi Arabia to free Raif Badawi, a blogger jailed and publicly whipped for insulting Islam, in a rare criticism of the US ally as he vowed to champion religious freedom worldwide. – Agence France-Presse

United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock called out Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday for only paying a “modest proportion” of the hundreds of millions of dollars they pledged five months ago to a humanitarian appeal for Yemen. – Reuters

Arabian Peninsula

The United States is struggling to win its allies’ support for an initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes because of fears it will increase tension with Iran, six sources familiar with the matter said. – Reuters

U.S. Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie said on Thursday it was talking to other countries about freedom of navigation in the Gulf and would work “aggressively” to find a solution to enable free passage. – Reuters

Indian warships escorting merchant vessels in the Persian Gulf will remain deployed for the longer term, officials with direct knowledge of the matter said, as tensions between Iran and Western powers rise. – Reuters

At a thumbs-up sign from a sailor, a U.S. Harrier fighter jet takes off from the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Arabian Sea as an oil tanker passes, a nautical mile away. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

The Trump administration is imposing economic sanctions on two former provincial governors and two militia leaders in Iraq, it announced on Thursday, citing human rights abuses in the north of the country. – New York Times

Three men accused of the murder of two Scandinavian hikers in the Atlas Mountains last year have been sentenced to death, an antiterrorism court in Morocco decided on Thursday. – New York Times

A suicide bombing killed at least two people in Egypt’s North Sinai region on Thursday, a day after four headless bodies were found there, security and medical sources said. – Reuters

The U.S. navy and other ships are conducting search and rescue operations for a missing U.S. sailor in the Arabian Sea, the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet said. – Reuters

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) demanded on Thursday the immediate release of lawmaker, Siham Sergewa, and her husband who were reportedly abducted at their house in the eastern city of Benghazi overnight. – Reuters

The deal for piping natural gas from Israel to Jordan, signed in September 2016, evoked enraged responses in Jordan even before it was signed and continues to do so today. Opposition to the deal has been voiced by tribal and political forces in Jordan, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as by MPs, on the grounds that it constitutes normalization and cooperation with Israel, which they regard as an enemy. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Jake Novak writes: The move only acted to bring the Saudis and the Israelis closer. It was one thing for the two countries to have a common enemy in Iran that was on the verge of getting billions of dollars and a clear, if supposedly delayed, path to a nuclear weapon. But with the new F-35 and its expanded capacities in the picture, there was something more tangible than political promises and intelligence sharing to hang their hopes on. – CNBC

Steven A. Cook writes: It should be clear by now that President Vladimir Putin wants to weaken and divide Europe. He has already forged an arc of Russian influence around the Mediterranean, stretching from Ankara in the north, through Damascus and Cairo, and then heading west from there into Benghazi. The latter is in Haftar’s territory and the part of Libya where the bulk of the country’s oil reserves are located. Putin doesn’t need to collect allies at the expense of the United States per se—he just needs to give Russia a base from which he can continue to sow discord and confusion in Europe. – Foreign Policy

Korean Peninsula

A man set himself on fire in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday amid escalating tensions between the two countries over Tokyo’s move to impose trade restrictions. – New York Times

At the 365 Fresh Mart store here, a shopping basket is stuffed with bundles of shrink-wrapped Japanese Seven Stars cigarettes barred from sale. South Korean domestic beers occupy refrigerated shelves once dominated by Asahi and Sapporo. Laminated signs strewn across the store explain the new product mix. – Wall Street Journal

Japan’s foreign minister on Friday summoned South Korea’s ambassador and accused Seoul of violating international law by refusing to join in an arbitration panel to settle a dispute over World War II forced labor. – Associated Press

Vice President Mike Pence vowed Thursday to press North Korea to respect freedom of religion, despite the narrow US focus on denuclearization in high-profile summits. – Agence France-Presse

South Korea could reconsider its intelligence-sharing deal with Japan as relations between the two U.S. allies deteriorate, a South Korean national security official told lawmakers on Thursday, Yonhap reported. – Reuters

Uri Friedman writes: One way the United States could partially ease sanctions is by granting exemptions for inter-Korean economic projects to reward North Korea for major concessions on its nuclear program—something the South Korean government has long pushed for and the Trump administration, in an effort to preserve its maximum-pressure campaign against North Korea, has long resisted. – The Atlantic


All around the world, the Trump administration’s assault on the Chinese firm has turned the purchase of telecommunications equipment from a business decision into a geopolitical one — a test of national allegiances to Washington or to Beijing. – New York Times

Republican senators introduced legislation on Thursday aimed at blocking Huawei Technologies Co. from buying or selling U.S. patents in the latest action by Washington targeting the Chinese telecom giant. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday said that China was responsible for the “stain of the century” of human rights abuses, citing mass detentions of Muslims and other minorities. Pompeo denounced China for its large-scale detentions in the western Xinjiang region , where an estimated 1 million Muslim Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities are believed to be held in internment camps. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia on Thursday defended signing a letter along with 36 other countries in support of China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang, where the United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained. – Reuters

China-made surveillance cameras are still watching over US military bases, just weeks before a federal ban on such equipment comes into force, according to a review of defence contracts. – Financial Times

Barring Huawei Technologies Co. from operating in the U.K. could lower security standards and make networks less resilient to malicious attacks, according to Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, which urged the government to speed up its decision on the Chinese company. – Bloomberg

China has grown more sophisticated in its cyber capabilities and is now considered a direct “peer” of the United States after years of lagging behind, a senior law enforcement official told Fox News. – Fox News

Nikki Haley writes: The most important international development of the last two decades has been the rise of China as a great economic and military power. […]The idea, sometimes called “convergence theory,” was that as China grew wealthier, it would become more like the United States. – Foreign Affairs


A powerful bomb exploded outside the gates of Kabul University in the Afghan capital on Friday, killing at least six people and wounding 27, according to police and health officials. – Associated Press

At least 11 people were killed and scores more wounded Thursday when the Taliban attacked a police headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar, officials and the insurgents said. – Agence France-Presse

The tale of the two “Green Zones” provides a snapshot of the dramatically changing nature of the Afghan conflict, long overshadowed by the war in Iraq where multiple insurgiences following the toppling of Saddam Hussain in 2003 turned Baghdad into a warzone. – Agence France-Presse

Ronald E. Neumann writes: The cost of a bad agreement — that is, one that breaks down after a U.S. and NATO withdrawal — may be high. War will return. Some think this means a Taliban victory and that it is acceptable to threaten the Taliban with a U.S. return (as dubiously credible as that is) if al Qaeda is allowed to come back, and treat the rest as none of our business. But a Taliban victory with the probable loss of human rights and efforts at democracy is only one scenario in a post-U.S. withdrawal breakdown of peace. Another is a return to civil war. – The Hill


Along pristine Cambodian beaches, past parades of elephants in its largest national park, sits an area half the size of Singapore that is ringing alarm bells among military strategists in the U.S. and beyond. Dara Sakor, a $3.8 billion China-backed investment zone encompassing 20% of Cambodia’s coastline, is unlike any other in the developing Southeast Asian nation. – Bloomberg

More than 300 people died in the Kashmir region claimed by India and Pakistan in the first half of the year, according to previously unreported data – one of the deadliest periods in the disputed territory’s recent history. – Reuters

Sanctions imposed this week by the United States on Myanmar’s military leaders over human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims do not go far enough, U.N. special rapporteur Yanghee Lee said on Thursday. – Reuters

Taiwan’s president is expected to transit in the U.S. on Friday for the second time this month, when she returns from visiting diplomatic allies in the Caribbean — a move that will make China very angry. – CNBC

The aviation minister of Pakistan says his country suffered losses of more than 8 billion rupees ($50 million) because of airspace restrictions put in place earlier this year amid violent clashes with neighboring India. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Harsh V. Pant and Vinay Kaura write: French President Emmanuel Macron paid his first official visit to Tokyo last month, reflecting his commitment to step up his country’s bilateral relations with Japan. Although French-Japanese ties are advancing on all fronts, the most promising area of cooperation is in maritime security in the Indo-Pacific. – Foreign Policy


The stage was prepared last week for Russian President Vladimir Putin to hammer tiny Georgia with new economic sanctions after parliament called on him to punish anti-Kremlin protests. Instead, Putin refused “because I respect the Georgians.” The uncharacteristic reaction left some wondering if the Kremlin’s beginning to rethink its traditionally tough approach to neighboring states by turning to soft-power tools. – Bloomberg

Russia summoned a representative of the U.S. embassy in Moscow on Thursday to issue a protest after U.S. officials alleged Russia had refused visas to teachers at an international school in Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry said. – Reuters

The Trump administration has not imposed a second round of sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain more than eight months after telling Congress that Moscow had triggered them. – The Hill


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office has proposed a prisoner exchange with Russia involving Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who is jailed in Russia, and Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, who is in detention in Ukraine. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The British Royal Air Force is noting an increase of air activity by Russia as the service conducts NATO’s Baltic air-policing mission this summer. However, pilots on the ground in Estonia report that the intercepts remain safe and professional. – Defense News

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday it had opened an investigation after learning that the head of the country’s mission to the Palestinians had “liked” anti-Israel tweets, including one featured on American white-supremacist David Duke’s page. – Times of Israel

William F. Shughart II writes: That good news means that the United States has a more effective strategy for counteracting Russia. Rather than imposing sanctions, we could expand production of our huge domestic natural-gas deposits and dispatch fleets of tankers carrying LNG across the Atlantic. Such action would loosen Russia’s economic grip on western European consumers. In fact, that’s already happening. Last winter, U.S. companies shipped 48 LNG tanker cargoes to Europe. But we could export much more. – The Hill 

Robin Simcox writes: Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini recently delivered a stark warning: Such was the scale of migration into Italy, he argued, that “Islamic terrorist infiltration is no longer a risk—it has become a certainty.” – Foreign Policy


Thousands of Sudanese demonstrators converged Thursday on a prominent square in Khartoum in a march through the capital to honour comrades killed in the months-long protest movement that has rocked the country. – Agence France-Presse

The US government is honoring an 83-year-old Muslim cleric who hid 262 Christians in his home and mosque during an attack in central Nigeria. – CNN

Ed Yong writes: To control Ebola, health workers need to find infected people, track whomever they had contact with, deploy vaccines, and convince people to forgo deeply held burial practices that put them in touch with the virus-ridden bodily fluids of their dead loved ones. All of that becomes infinitely harder in regions plagued by armed conflict, where people are distrustful of health workers. – The Atlantic

Latin America

Venezuela’s opposition leader is asking a court in Delaware to protect his board appointments to the government-owned company that runs one of the biggest U.S. refiners, Citgo Petroleum Corp. – Bloomberg

Talks between the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition are continuing in Barbados, the foreign ministry from mediator Norway said late on Thursday in a rare statement about the progress of the discussions. – Reuters

As the United States has struggled to build support among its traditional allies in Europe to combat what it calls Iran’s aggression, it has been forced to look elsewhere, such as Latin America, for support. – NPR


Shortly after the playful photo-transforming FaceApp went viral Wednesday as the most downloaded smartphone app in America, a nationwide panic began to set in: Who was this shadowy Russian tech firm everyone had been sending their photos to? And what did they want with millions of people’s faces? – Washington Post

Finance chiefs from the Group of Seven rich democracies issued a stark warning on Thursday that cryptocurrencies like the Libra digital money recently unveiled by Facebook should not be allowed before “serious regulatory and systemic concerns” are addressed. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump said he’s looking “very seriously” at a cloud-computing contract valued at as much as $10 billion that the Pentagon is likely to award to Amazon.com Inc. next month. – Bloomberg


The United States will take over the top NATO intelligence post at the end of the year, alliance officials said, a move that some American officials hope could bolster a critical alliance capacity that President Trump has praised. – New York Times

Amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) returned to Norfolk Thursday morning, after completing a seven-month deployment to Europe and the Middle East and having offloaded members of the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in North Carolina earlier this week. – USNI News

Textron executives expect by the end of 2019 to win a production contract for the Navy’s much-anticipated new Ship-to-Shore Connector. The first SSC is about halfway through builder’s trials, and delivery to the Navy is expected by the end of summer, said Scott Donnelly, Textron’s chief executive. Donnelly was speaking to analysts during a conference call Wednesday morning to discuss the company’s financial results from its recently completed second quarter. – USNI News

New Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger outlined his largely naval priorities for the Marine Corps, and he’s willing to shed some key tenets of the Marines’ amphibious force planning in recent years – including the demand for 38 amphibious warships to support a 2 Marine Expeditionary Brigade-sized forcible entry force. – USNI News

The first flight tests for the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) replacement won’t happen until the end of year, according to the director in charge of Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF) modernization. – Defense News

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved President Donald Trump’s picks to the Pentagon’s top two spots: Army Secretary Mark Esper for defense secretary and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. – Defense News

Britain has joined forces with the United States in a coalition aimed at bolstering space defenses against hostile actions by rivals such as China and Russia, according to Britain’s defense secretary. – Defense News