Fdd's overnight brief

July 2, 2019

In The News


Iran said it exceeded a limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium set under the 2015 nuclear deal, as it sought to goad Europe, Russia and China into providing relief from U.S. sanctions. – Wall Street Journal

The head of Israel’s intelligence service said flatly on Monday that Iran was directly responsible for the repeated attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, along with other targets in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, that have raised tensions in the Middle East. – New York Times

The White House on Monday issued a warning to Iran after the country announced it surpassed limits on enriched uranium under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. – The Hill

U.S. President Donald Trump should realize that Iranians become more united when bullied, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said on Tuesday in remarks broadcast live on state television. – Reuters

Iran rejected on Tuesday a White House accusation that Tehran was long violating the terms of its nuclear deal with world powers, after the Islamic Republic said it had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted under the accord. – Reuters

US President Donald Trump warned Monday that Iran was “playing with fire” after Tehran said it exceeded a limit on enriched uranium reserves under a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by Washington. – Times of Israel

More proof will soon be provided to prove that Iran has been lying “all the time” about its nuclear development program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, just hours after Tehran confirmed that it had gone beyond the 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal. – Jerusalem Post

Iran rejected on Tuesday a White House accusation that Tehran was long violating the terms of its nuclear deal with world powers, after the Islamic Republic said it had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted under the accord. – Reuters

Israel will be destroyed in half an hour if the United States attacks Iran, a senior Iranian parliamentarian said on Monday, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency. – Reuters

Editorial: Many Europeans will blame Washington more than Tehran for this breakout. But it’s been clear all along that the regime has viewed the deal as a pause, not an end, to its nuclear ambitions. In 2016 the country overproduced heavy water, which the Obama Administration then purchased. Earlier this year the country’s top nuclear official acknowledged the regime had long been preparing to break out from the deal and pursue nuclear weapons. – Wall Street Journal

Bobby Ghosh writes: The only logical reason for Iran to have a nuclear program was to signal to its Arab neighbors that the theocracy was capable, at least in theory, of building the ultimate weapon. It is no accident that the nuclear program accelerated after the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. The regime in Tehran, still isolated from much of the world, needed anything—even a theoretical nuclear threat—to avert a repeat of that disastrous conflict. – Bloomberg

Yochanan Visser writes: Military experts think Iran’s strategy for taking over parts of the Middle East could eventually lead to a much wider conflict and even a world war. They could be right. As we will see Iran also continues to meddle in the Palestinian Israeli conflict and has been caught trying to establish spy cells in the so-called West Bank, Judea and Samaria in the center of Israel. – Arutz Sheva


Israeli warplanes struck several military sites in Syria overnight and killed several fighters and civilians, Syrian state media reported on Monday, in what appeared to be a stepping up of Israel’s long-running, partly covert campaign to thwart Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and stop weapon transfers to Lebanon. – New York Times

Foreign Minister Kudret Ozersay said the air defence missile was thought to have been launched during suspected Israeli air strikes on Syria. The projectile struck a mountainside north of Nicosia, 225km (140 miles) from the Syrian coast, sparking a fire. – BBC

A private Israeli intelligence firm on Monday identified one of the sites in Syria targeted in an alleged Israeli airstrike earlier in the day as a hangar likely storing advanced weaponry or other military equipment. – Times of Israel

Airstrikes were reported in the early hours of Monday near Damascus and Homs, according to Syrian media. Syria has blamed Israel for the airstrikes. The airstrikes occurred just hours after satellite images from ImageSat International showed four Russian S-300 missile defense systems near Masyaf, not far from where the airstrikes occurred. – Jerusalem Post

The United States said it carried out a strike on Sunday against al Qaeda in northwest Syria, calling the area a “safe haven” for the group to plot attacks overseas. – Algemeiner


The head of the Mossad intelligence service said on Monday that a potentially one-time-only window of opportunity had opened for the Jewish state to achieve a regional peace agreement in light of shared opposition to Iran and Islamist terror groups, as well as improved ties with the United States and Russia. – Times of Israel

In a June 29, 2019 article in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, the daily’s chief editor, Faisal J. ‘Abbas, wrote that the Palestinians’ boycotting of the U.S.-led Peace to Prosperity economic workshop in Bahrain had been a “strategic mistake.” He stated that, in contrast to the Iranian and Qatari propaganda, which presented the American economic proposals as a “bribe” aimed at liquidating the Palestinian cause, the American team actually did a good job of preparing a detailed and serious plan for reigniting the Palestinian economy. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Glenn Hubbard writes: The Trump administration’s Peace to Prosperity plan for the West Bank and Gaza is sensible and offers the best hope for building sustainable economies in the region. It may not be politically feasible: The Palestinian Authority boycotted the conference in Bahrain last week where Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner unveiled it. But it’s a promising approach to foreign aid in the Middle East and beyond. – Wall Street Journal

Anna Ahronheim writes: According to foreign reports, the Rampage was used in April to completely destroy a possible Iranian surface-to-surface missile factory in a Syrian base in the country’s Masyaf area. So is Israel now ready? Will it change its strategic risk management and place Iranian nuclear facilities in the crosshairs once again? They may be that perfect target for Israel’s F-35 jets fitted with Rampage. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Iraq’s prime minister issued an order on Monday to rein in armed groups known as popular mobilization forces in an effort to curtail their growing influence over some of the economy and their control of checkpoints in some provinces. – New York Times

In the latest of a string of attacks targeting Saudi airports, an armed drone dispatched by Yemeni rebels struck the kingdom’s Abha airport early Tuesday, injuring nine people, according to Saudi military officials. – Washington Post

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Russian S-400 defenses would begin arriving within 10 days, Turkish media reported, setting the clock ticking on possible US sanctions after his warm meeting with President Donald Trump on Saturday. – Reuters

In an article about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the manager of the Turkish state-run news channel TRT World’s Research Centre, Dr. Tarek Cherkaoui, encouraged readers to donate to Omar’s campaign fund. The article, written for the English-language website of the Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Şafak and published April 1, 2019, was titled “Media Flak Directed At Ilhan Omar No Surprise At All.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

Uri Friedman and Yara Bayoumy write: Asked what it would take for MbS and other Saudi leaders to be received more favorably in Washington, Murphy said they would need to act as the “instigator” for a peace agreement in Yemen rather than a “roadblock” and curb repression of political dissidents. “Presidents come and go, but nations that have stable relationships and strong relationships with the United States” need to retain support in Congress, Khanna argues, citing U.S. alliances with Britain, France, India, and Israel as examples: “Why I would be so concerned if I were the Saudis is they’ve lost that foundational support.” – The Atlantic 

Ömer Özkizilcik writes: Since May, the Idlib region in northwestern Syria has seen a spike in armed conflict and a spiral of violence as Russia has tried to pressure Turkey to implement the 2018 Sochi deal, under which both sides agreed to set up a demilitarized zone in the area. Turkey has not backed down, however, and has responded harshly to Russia’s actions, reminding Moscow of the potential costs of a major military operation. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korean state media was ecstatic on Monday. The “meeting of the century” between Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump at the South Korean border had opened the door to peace and reconciliation after a long history of hostility between the two nations, it declared. – Washington Post 

As the TV spectacle of President Trump’s first visit to North Korea fades, his top diplomats are left with the same daunting challenge that bedeviled them before: a hostile dictatorship that views its expanding nuclear arsenal as critical to its survival. – Washington Post

The warmth President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un displayed in their Sunday meeting along the border of the two Koreas had one tangible result: an agreement to begin new working-level talks after nearly half a year of stalemate. – Wall Street Journal

As President Trump reveled in his historic weekend stroll into North Korea, administration officials were sharply at odds on Monday over what demands to make of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, while preparing to restart negotiations on a nuclear deal. – New York Times

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday hailed the third meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in the Demilitarised Zone as the result of an “astounding imagination” and thinking outside the box. – Agence France-Presse

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) criticized President Trump’s weekend meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, describing it as “reality show foreign policy.” – The Hill

Christopher R. Hill writes: The Trump administration’s approach to North Korea has been guided to two conflicting instincts: 1) that there is no hurry in achieving denuclearization, and 2) that everything must be done all together, a so-called “grand bargain.” The problem with this strategy, of course, is that by declaring that there is no hurry, North Korea can continue to engage in further production of fissile material both from its Yongbyon plutonium producing reactor and from enrichment facilities. It also can use the patience granted it by President Trump to engage in more research and development of delivery vehicles, namely its robust and expanding missile program. – The Hill

Uri Friedman writes: If Trump fails to denuclearize North Korea during his time in office, the leader-to-leader channel could provide an avenue for avoiding conflict with a nuclear-armed North Korea. Even Trump, however, seems to recognize that the most concrete result of all his summitry, displayed to such dazzling effect on Sunday, may not be as durable as it seems. “We have a very good relationship,” Trump said of Kim just ahead of their meeting. “I don’t know about beyond the two of us, but I can say the two of us.” – Defense One


China has been conducting a series of anti-ship ballistic missile tests in the hotly contested waters of the South China Sea, according to two U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter. – NBC News

Wall Street analysts and economists are skeptical that the truce the US and China reached over the weekend will lead to lasting relief from the trade war. Markets rallied Monday after President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a trade truce at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan over the weekend. The S&P 500 climbed to a new intraday record, while safe-haven assets slipped. But a number of analysts think the rally will be short lived, and that further tariffs could be coming. – Business Insider 

Thomas J. Duesterberg writes: The markets seem to think President Trump has a chance at reforming U.S. trade relations with China. At the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, this weekend, he brokered a truce with Beijing, avoiding the escalation of a trade war that would have threatened the global economy and perhaps undermined his re-election message of economic revival. Stocks rose on trade optimism. But there is mixed evidence that Mr. Trump has a winning strategy to convince the Chinese to adhere to global trade rules and to move to a more market-oriented economy. – Wall Street Journal


Dozens of Afghans were killed Monday morning and more than 105 injured in a brazen strike by Taliban militants on a security compound in the heart of Kabul, officials said, dimming hopes for a new round of U.S.-Taliban peace talks in Qatar that began Saturday. – Washington Post

Rival Afghans will meet Sunday in Qatar, officials said, in a fresh attempt to make political headway as the United States seeks a peace deal with the Taliban within three months. – Agence France-Presse

President Trump said Monday he would leave an intelligence presence in Afghanistan, though he has long hoped for a full withdrawal of U.S. military presence from the country. – The Hill

South Asia

After a year of fending off an International Monetary Fund bailout, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan wants to win one this week with a plan to jolt his economy into shape—potentially at the expense of the agenda that helped him get elected. – Wall Street Journal

India sought bids for purchase of warships and support vessels for its navy and coast guard as it ramps up security of its maritime border in the Indian Ocean region. – Bloomberg

Nasir Muhammad writes: If Khan’s “Naya Pakistan” really wants to forge closer ties with Russia, it can do so by: utilizing all options to maintain peace in Afghanistan, which will then provide an easy access for Pakistan to Russia’s rich “near abroad” and ultimately to Russia itself; mulling Russian investment in non-defense sectors such as education, tourism, energy, infrastructure development, information technology, agriculture, dairy farming, minerals, research and development, counterterrorism, engineering and textile etc; and by trying to closely align Pakistan’s diplomatic interests with those of Russia. Once this has been accomplished, it will pave the way for stronger military ties as well. – Jerusalem Post


It isn’t a surprise that many people in China oppose the protests against a proposed law that would allow Hong Kong to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China. They see only the news that Beijing’s censors let them see. What is surprising is that many Chinese people who know the full story share that opinion. – New York Times

On Tuesday, the results of demonstrators’ successful bid to storm and briefly occupy the legislature — remnants of windows framed by jagged glass, graffiti, tangled metal barricades, hollowed glass doors — were on full display for anyone passing by the building. – Washington Post 

Protesters smashed wall-size windows and stormed the city’s legislature on Monday, an unprecedented show of force that ratcheted up the worst social turmoil to rock Hong Kong since it returned to Chinese rule 22 years ago. – Wall Street Journal

After more than 150 years as a British colony, Hong Kong became a “special administrative region” of China in July 1997. At the time, many in the bustling city and global financial hub weren’t sure what to make of their new Communist Party overseers in Beijing. On Monday, exactly 22 years later, a crowd of protesters smashed their way into the central chambers of Hong Kong’s parliament. Inside, they spray-painted graffiti critical of Hong Kong’s government, and one protester placed the old colonial flag of Hong Kong over the city’s official emblem. – Washington Post 

President Trump entered his meeting with President Xi Jinping over the weekend promising to take a tough approach on trade negotiations and pressure his Chinese counterpart into a sweeping deal. But the meeting did not produce an agreement — and Trump’s stance seemed to only soften as he announced he was relaxing limits on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and delaying new tariffs on Chinese goods in hopes of restarting trade talks with Beijing. – Washington Post

President Trump’s meetings in Asia with some of the world’s most controversial leaders offered a high-profile reminder of his prioritization of personal relationships, at times at the expense of human-rights and national-security concerns in Congress and his own administration. – Wall Street Journal

A ruling Chinese Communist Party newspaper has taken a hard line against pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, saying demonstrators who broke into the local legislature showed their “arrogance” and had no regard for the rule of law. – Associated Press

Japan has defended its decision to impose export restrictions on South Korea, citing national security concerns and its international duty to keep tabs on sensitive technology transferrable for military uses. – Associated Press

Editorial: As in the case of China, real progress would require a change in U.S. strategy: Instead of insisting Pyongyang quickly give up all of its weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Trump would have to settle for a phased approach that started with partial limits on North Korean nukes. His national security adviser insisted Monday no such change of policy was contemplated. But the president has at least created the possibility of a course correction. – Washington Post

Editorial: The city remains a golden goose for the mainland, so the tanks are unlikely to roll in just yet. But the people of Hong Kong are left holding the line, and praying for some drastic change to derail the mainland’s plan to gradually bleed away their rights until not a drop of liberty remains. – New York Post

Yongshun Cai writes: This public resentment will likely persist over the next three years – if Lam stays to finish her term. For Lam, it may prove essential to maintain both goodwill and political wisdom to obtain the public’s forgiveness. For the Chinese government, the next big worry may turn out to be Hong Kong’s 2020 legislative election. If pro-democracy legislators manage to claim a majority, there could be significant changes in the political landscape in Hong Kong. – Washington Post

Benedict Rogers and Johnny Patterson write: With transitioning geopolitics, China cannot afford for Hong Kong to become a permanent flashpoint. It could be their gateway to the world for generations: democratic reforms are the best way to guarantee this. – Time


The U.S. Embassy in Moscow says the condition of an American man held on spying charges in Russia has worsened. – Associated Press

Russia will produce only a few units of a hypersonic weapon that President Vladimir Putin had bragged was already in serial production, according to people with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report. – CNBC 

Zack Doffman writes: A new report prepared for the Joint Chiefs has found that the U.S. needs an urgent change of strategy to deal with Russia’s growing influence on the world. The Kremlin is deploying an increasingly sophisticated strategy of propaganda, political manipulation, economic exploitation and provocation to disrupt U.S. influence and restore Russia’s global standing—Washington needs to change its approach or risk falling further behind. – Forbes 

Latin America

Mexico’s president, facing intense pressure to bring record-breaking homicide rates under control, has begun to deploy the country’s new National Guard in Mexico City. – New York Times

President Trump praised Mexico’s stepped-up efforts to stop Central American migrants from reaching the U.S., saying his recent threats of tariffs on the country’s exports were bearing fruit. – Wall Street Journal

The death of a Venezuelan naval officer who was in custody after being accused of plotting against President Nicolás Maduro has sparked global condemnation, with the Trump administration saying he died as a result of the leftist regime’s efforts to keep the military in line through fear. – Wall Street Journal

Four days before Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido launched a military uprising in a bid to oust President Nicolas Maduro, he told supporters at a rally outside the capital, Caracas: “In the next few days, we’ll decide our destiny.” – Reuters

A Colombian FARC rebel leader turned lawmaker who is accused by the United States of conspiring to traffic cocaine has vanished in an apparent attempt to evade justice, President Ivan Duque said on Monday. – Reuters


The French Parliament will start debating a bill on online hate speech and harassment on Wednesday, as countries around the world grapple with the question of what content is acceptable online and how to regulate huge technological platforms with a global reach. – New York Times

Philip Bump writes: It will be interesting to see whether other researchers are able to replicate the analysis undertaken here. We certainly can’t definitively say that no votes were changed as a result of Russian disinformation on Twitter or that no one’s political views were influenced by it. We can say, though, that this study is worth a great deal of skepticism — especially among those who are looking for evidence that Russia’s trolling handed the election to Trump. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: If Trump’s concessions end here, then his Huawei policy might actually thread the needle: furthering U.S. economic interests while also protecting national security. The problem, of course, is that the president has suggested there is still room to negotiate. Here it’s worth remembering why Huawei is a problem in the first place. – Bloomberg


The Senate on Thursday approved a $750 billion version of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, handing uniformed personnel a 3.1% pay raise, streamlining software acquisition and bringing greater accountability to the long-backlogged security clearance process. – Defense One 

A new program seeks to apply artificial intelligence to ocean data and thereby help submarine operators understand where their adversaries are, what they’re doing, and what they can see. – Defense One 

Caleb D. Becker writes: U.S. foreign affairs agencies are ill-prepared for the next great-power war, and no one is talking about it. Unfortunately, recent reports seem to take crisis diplomacy or alliance maintenance for granted. Most commentary does not examine the U.S. government’s institutional inability to match military strength with civilian. In part as a result of this failure, last year the National Defense Strategy Commission “came away with a troubling sense that civilian voices were relatively muted on issues at the center of U.S. defense and national security policy, undermining the concept of civilian control.” – War on the Rocks

Patrick M. Cronin writes: The United States is a “seapower” in all senses of the word. Its history, prosperity, and security are inseparable from the oceans. Even U.S. states without coastlines depend on global supply chains and markets that move primarily through the oceans. The United States neglects its Navy at its peril. But military power must be accompanied by other types of power, both hard and soft. – Center for International Maritime Security

Long War

Indonesian police have arrested the leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network linked to al-Qaeda, authorities said on Tuesday, on suspicion of recruiting members and sending them to Syria to train with extremist groups. – Reuters

Australian counter-terror police said they arrested three men in raids across Sydney on Tuesday, foiling a plot inspired by militant group Islamic State for attacks targeting a range of public buildings and embassies. – Reuters

Proposed new laws could give the Australian government greater powers to block websites from access in Australia, as the internet industry deals with hastily passed legislation designed to prevent another livestream of a terrorist massacre being shared widely. – The Guardian 

Trump Administration

President Trump said Monday he’s looking “very strongly” at delaying the 2020 census if the administration is not allowed to add a citizenship question, an unprecedented move that would surely trigger new legal challenges. – The Hill 

Democrats have been dying to hear directly from special counsel Robert Mueller for months, but they’re not alone. President Donald Trump’s GOP allies in Congress are salivating at the chance to bruise Mueller’s reputation and cast doubt on the integrity of his work. – Politico