Fdd's overnight brief

July 24, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


A fleet of drones has allowed Iran to watch every U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf region and develop an archive of their daily movements, Iran’s top naval commander said in an interview published Tuesday. – Washington Post

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, offered his congratulations to Boris Johnson on Tuesday after he won a party vote that cleared the way for him to become Britain’s new prime minister, but he also warned the leader-in-waiting that Tehran would protect itself. – Wall Street Journal

French authorities in a meeting Tuesday with an Iranian envoy stressed the need for Tehran to quickly respect the 2015 nuclear accord it has breached and “make the needed gestures” to deescalate mounting tensions in the Persian Gulf region. – Associated Press

A U.S. warship that President Trump said “ destroyed” an Iranian drone last week might have actually downed a second one, according to the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East. – Washington Examiner

Iran will secure the Strait of Hormuz and not allow any disturbance in shipping in the key oil transport waterway, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Tuesday during a visit to Paris, the state new agency IRNA reported. – Reuters

Iran said it will attend a meeting in Vienna on Sunday of diplomats from countries still party to the 2015 nuclear deal, as they try to salvage the landmark agreement. – Agence FrancePresse

During a visit to Tehran, Hamas expressed a desire to strengthen relations between Iran and the terror group and to reach an agreement on a “joint defense alliance” with all the parties of the “axis of resistance,” according to the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper. – Jerusalem Post

The Iranian Tasnim News Agency published a report Wednesday quoting unnamed official sources suspecting  Israel and the United States had assasinated Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency who died last week. – Ynet

David Ignatius writes: The downing of the drone without firing a normal kinetic weapon is one more sign of the measured response the United States has adopted in the confrontation with Iran. When Tehran downed an American surveillance drone last month, the United States didn’t retaliate by firing missiles on Iranian targets, as many had expected. But it reportedly did launch an invisible cyberattack on some of the Iranian military systems that might have been targeted in a retaliatory strike. – Washington Post


Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday accused Iran of exploiting civilian companies and maritime channels to smuggle weapons manufacturing equipment to its Lebanese proxy group, Hezbollah. – Times of Israel

The Hezbollah operative killed in Syria was part of the group’s clandestine “Golan File” which aims to establish and entrench a covert force in the Syrian Golan Heights that is designed to act against Israel when given the order.  – Jerusalem Post

Lebanon accused Israel on Tuesday of threatening its civilian infrastructure after Israel told the United Nations Security Council that Iran was exploiting the Port of Beirut to smuggle weapons to the Hezbollah movement. – Reuters


Syrian state television said on Wednesday that Israel struck a strategic area in southern Syria overlooking the Golan Heights where Western intelligence sources previously said Iranian-backed militias are known to be based. – Reuters

The UK government condemned “appalling attacks” in which more than 50 civilians died in Syria’s north-west Idlib province on Monday. Britain’s special envoy to Syria, Martin Longden, said the attacks on markets in Maarat Al Numan and Saraqeb were “one of the deadliest days” in the months’ long offensive by the Syrian regime and its allies against Idlib. – The National

This was just one of the devastating scenes al-Kateab recorded in the years that followed the outbreak of violent revolution in Syria in 2011. Since then, more than 5 million Syrians have fled and sought asylum around the world, and more than 6 million have been displaced within Syria.  – NPR


President Trump sparred Tuesday with a top Senate Republican during a closed-door meeting at the White House over how severely to punish Turkey for purchasing a Russian antimissile system, according to officials familiar with the matter, as he pushed back against senators advocating for bringing the full force of sanctions against the NATO ally. – Washington Post

Top Turkish and Jordanian officials sought to deepen relations in talks on Tuesday, days after the kingdom restored full ties with Ankara’s ally Qatar, in what officials say is a realignment by Jordan away from longtime Gulf partners. – Reuters

Gonul Tol writes: Turkey began taking delivery of the first Russian S-400s last week despite repeated warnings from the U.S., and the new missile defense system has received a warm welcome. […]The U.S. response followed several days later, when it officially expelled Turkey from the F-35 stealth fighter jet program in retaliation. Turkey, one of the largest F-35 export customers, had planned to buy 100 jets. It was also involved in the F-35’s production as one of eight partner countries that joined the program in 2002, manufacturing some 900 parts for the plane. The U.S. announcement has not changed the jubilant mood in Ankara, although it has underscored the need for Turkey to find — or develop — an alternative. – Middle East Institute


The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a measure condemning efforts to boycott and economically isolate Israel over its policies toward Palestinians, an explosive global issue that exposed fissures inside the Democratic ranks. – Washington Post

Palestinian leaders shouldn’t assume they have a “right” to establish a state with headquarters in East Jerusalem, one of President Trump’s top advisers told the United Nations Security Council. – Washington Examiner

Hamas’s military wing claimed Tuesday that there is a “real opportunity” to reach an agreement with Israel in which the terror group would return two fallen IDF soldiers and a pair of Israeli civilians who have been held captive in the Gaza Strip for five years. – Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday hosted in his office a delegation of journalists and bloggers from Arab countries, including a Saudi Arabian national, Mohammed Saud, who was harassed and attacked by Palestinians on Monday as he was touring Jerusalem’s Old City. – Times of Israel

Gulf States

France, Italy and Denmark gave initial support for a British plan for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, proposed after Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker, three senior EU diplomats said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are accusing each other of making misleading statements as the Senate prepares bills to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Politico

Plans for a European-led maritime security force in the Gulf unveiled by the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, hit choppy waters as the plan was rejected by Iran and met resistance from supporters of the incoming prime minister, Boris Johnson. – The Guardian

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: It is all too tempting to focus narrowly on the maritime crisis in the Gulf, and the potential threat to the flow of petroleum and the world’s economy. This is where the daily headlines focus, and some form of threat is all too real. In practice, however, the U.S. already faces other threats in the region and from Iran, and at least one is potentially far more serious in grand strategic terms. These “other threats” include Yemen, Syria, and the failures of the Arab Gulf states to unite in creating an effective defense against Iran. Most importantly, they include the U.S. and Arab struggle with Iran for influence in the Gulf. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Middle East & North Africa

Those deaths and others like them are fueling allegations that Egypt’s security forces are killing detainees and later claiming they died in clashes with police, according to the accounts of Western security officials, victims’ relatives and documents seen by The Wall Street Journal. – Wall Street Journal

An executive of state-owned EgyptAir said on Tuesday that British Airways’ decision to suspend flights to Cairo, the Egyptian capital, for several days was “without a logical reason.” – Reuters

The Libyan coastguard has seized an Italian fishing vessel, Italy’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.- Reuters

Korean Peninsula

The first joint patrol by Russian and Chinese bombers aimed at testing the air defenses of U.S. allies in northeast Asia triggered a rare clash as South Korean fighters scrambled to ward off what Seoul said was an intrusion into its airspace. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton met with South Korean officials on Wednesday to discuss major bilateral issues amid South Korea’s trade spat with Japan, stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, and a regional air space dispute on Tuesday. – Reuters

North Korea is holding 15 Russian and two South Korean crew of a fishing vessel for violating entry regulations, the Russian Embassy in North Korea said on Wednesday. – Reuters

North Korea on Monday recalled the days of “fire and fury” by releasing images of leader Kim Jong Un touring a suspected nuclear-capable submarine, and a close reading of the images reveal once again that a US fight with North Korea could mean death for millions in the region, and suicide for Pyongyang, the country’s capital. – Business Insider

South Korea protested on Wednesday against a Japanese plan to remove it from a Japanese list of countries that face minimum trade restrictions, saying it would undermine their decades-old economic and security cooperation and threaten free trade. – Reuters

Japan’s top government spokesman said on Wednesday the country’s relationship with South Korea was in a “very severe” state and that Tokyo would continue to urge Seoul to take appropriate action over a string of issues that have frayed bilateral ties. – Reuters

Russia told South Korea that an equipment malfunction led its military aircraft into an unintended area on Tuesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing the South Korean presidential office. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Firing more than 350 rounds in warning off a Russian radar aircraft that twice entered its airspace on Tuesday, South Korea signaled its resolve to Russia, China, and indirectly, also North Korea. […]The U.S. should welcome this courage. The evolving Chinese-Russian alliance intends to undercut the American-led democratic international order. It requires riposte wherever it figuratively or literally (as in this case) crosses the line. – Washington Examiner

Kyle Mizokami writes: North Korea’s reliance on submarines exposes a harsh reality for the country: U.S. and South Korean naval and air forces are now so overwhelmingly superior that the only viable way for Pyongyang’s navy to survive is to go underwater. While minimally capable versus the submarine fleets of other countries, North Korea does get a great deal of use out of them. Although old and obsolete, North Korea’s submarines have the advantage of numbers and, in peacetime, surprise. Pyongyang’s history of armed provocations means the world hasn’t seen the last of her submarine force. – The National Interest

Claude Barfield writes: Taking a page possibly from the United States’ Huawei playbook, the Japanese government has started a process that could lead to a total cutoff of Korean companies from vital elements necessary for the manufacture of semiconductors and panel displays. The point of this blog is not to take sides on the tortured history of Japanese-Korean relations over the past century. Rather, it is to argue that even with possible provocations, Japan has chosen a dangerous and destructive mode of retaliation, one that is likely to greatly disrupt global electronic supply chains and bolster China’s push for 5G wireless dominance. – American Enterprise Institute


China’s push to gain a bigger foothold in U.S. public transit systems could derail in Congress, which is moving to bar the use of federal funds to buy Chinese buses and railcars. The effort threatens to further fray U.S. trade talks with China, which wants to become a global player in transport and is already fuming over the U.S. decision to blacklist telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. – Wall Street Journal

A Chinese company, its owner and three managers have been indicted on charges they conspired to evade U.S. sanctions intended to stop North Korean companies from helping Pyongyang develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Muslims who escaped China’s crackdown in Xinjiang still live in fear, saying new homes abroad and even Western passports afford them no protection against a state-driven global campaign of intimidation. – Agence FrancePresse

Amid the bluster and bungling of the Trump administration, it can be easy to miss the genuinely important trends. The concerted effort over the past year to block, squeeze and punish China’s technology industry is one such moment. It has marked a fundamental shift in the US relationship with China, a lurch into a much deeper confrontation. Where Washington once hoped to shape China’s rise, it is now working to stymie it. – Financial Times

The Chinese defense industry is making some waves as several Chinese firms have begun displacing traditional Western defense powerhouses in global rankings. – Business Insider

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and senior U.S. officials are set to travel to China next Monday for the first high-level, face-to-face trade negotiations between the world’s two biggest economies since talks broke down in May. – Bloomberg

Michael McFaul writes: On the global stage, Xi sounds more committed to the multilateral world order than President Trump. In words if not always in actions, Xi has affirmed his support for the international rules of the game on trade, climate and security. […]And yet, the United States should not need to play this game with China. As one of the world’s oldest democracies and onetime leader of the free world, we should not have to engage in whataboutism in comparison with any country. To regain the upper hand in the ideological struggle with China, we must renew our democracy at home and reengage in leading the liberal order abroad. – Washington Post

South Asia

Afghanistan demanded a clarification on Tuesday of President Trump’s comments a day earlier that he could have had the country “wiped off the face of the earth” but did not “want to kill 10 million people.” – New York Times

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said Tuesday that the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan between the U.S.-backed government and Taliban forces could have continued for another two decades were it not for President Trump. – The Hill

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi never asked U.S. President Donald Trump to help mediate with Pakistan in their dispute over the Kashmir region, the government said on Tuesday, after Trump’s comments set off a storm of criticism. – Reuters

The operation that led to the killing of arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden continues to strain U.S.-Pakistani relations more than eight years after the fact, but Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan offered a distinctly different narrative Tuesday than what is commonly accepted by U.S. officials. – Washington Examiner

Ali J. Siddiqui writes: By striking a personal bond with a promise to work closely with each other in the months to follow, President Trump and Prime Minister Khan are creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnership between the two countries. This is a momentous opportunity. – The Hill


China on Wednesday warned that it would not tolerate protesters’ efforts to threaten the central government’s authority in Hong Kong and suggested that it could, if necessary, mobilize troops in the People’s Liberation Army garrison there to maintain order. – New York Times

For decades, the “dragon heads” of mafia clans — known as triads — have been widely regarded as muscle-for-hire for those aligned with China’s Communist Party, which has never denied the suspicions and, at times, even offers something of a knowing nod. That suspected connection is again in the spotlight. Dozens of men, clad in white T-shirts and carrying Chinese flags, chased and beat anti-government protesters and bystanders with clubs in Hong Kong on Sunday, leaving at least 45 people hospitalized and bringing a new element of fear into a polarized city. – Washington Post

A deadly cathedral bombing  in the Philippines in January was a suicide attack carried out by an Indonesian couple who once tried to reach Islamic State territory and were deported from Turkey, the Indonesian police said on Tuesday. – New York Times

The U.S. Coast Guard will increase its presence and deployments to Asia – particularly around Oceania and U.S. Pacific territories – and test out a new operational deployment concept in the region, service head Adm. Karl Schultz told reporters on Thursday. – USNI News


Boris Johnson won the race to lead the ruling Conservative Party and become Britain’s next prime minister, repeating in his victory speech a pledge to pull the nation out of the European Union by Oct. 31—but the challenge he faces to meet that deadline became quickly apparent. – Wall Street Journal

France’s parliament approved on Tuesday the EU-Canada trade agreement with a relatively small majority, meaning that a significant part of President Emmanuel Macron’s party voted against it. – Reuters

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev on Tuesday vetoed a deal to buy eight new Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets, describing a lack of consensus over the purchase as “extremely worrying”. […]The Black Sea state, a staunch Washington ally, is looking to replace its ageing Soviet-made MiG-29 aircraft after 2023 and improve its compliance with NATO standards. – Reuters

A leading UK Jewish group expressed “no confidence” in Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to quickly purge antisemites from party ranks. – Algemeiner

Editorial: Calling an election would be risky—not least because the opposition Labour Party is led by Jeremy Corbyn, a 100-proof socialist who is anti-American and has winked at anti-Semitism. The centrist Liberal Democrats this week elected a new leader, and that anti-Brexit party could also scramble the electoral possibilities. The best outcome would be for Mr. Johnson and the Tories to unite around a Brexit deal with the EU or, barring that, leave on Oct. 31. – Wall Street Journal

Dov S. Zakheim writes: The shortfall in both American and British warships is especially worrying with regard to the eastern Baltic Sea, where Russian forces loom large, and whose littoral includes five NATO allies. While the Baltic states are too small to field major navies, Poland and Germany likewise have allowed their naval forces to atrophy. The German Navy is barely operational; most of its ships are tied up in port. The Polish Navy is hardly better; the Polish fleet is desperately in need of modernization.  – The Hill

Dalibor Rohac writes: After all, the UK and the EU are America’s closest friends and allies, and, as of now, the only alternative to Johnson is the power-hungry Jeremy Corbyn, a retrograde 1970s-style socialist, anti-Semite, and enemy of Western alliances who makes “The Squad” on this side of the Atlantic look centrist and reasonable in comparison. For those reasons alone, one might want to wish Johnson the best — while bracing for some very difficult years for the transatlantic relationship. – American Enterprise Institute


A high-ranking police officer, a journalist and protesters are among the dead after a rally to free a minority religious leader from detention turned violent this week in the Nigerian capital[…]. The bloodshed raises questions about the government’s use of force at a time when religious protests in the country are expected to intensify. Demonstrators say they won’t stop taking to the streets — no matter the consequences — until Zakzaky is free. – Washington Post

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it had imposed visa restrictions on Nigerians it said were involved in trying to undermine democracy in presidential and parliamentary elections this year. – Reuters

Xi’s dream was to upgrade huge swathes of Africa to modern, digital satellite TV networks, that could broadcast a constellation of channels over long distances — so long, in fact, that a TV channel from Beijing could be beamed to African homes. […]It was a stroke of soft-power genius that would raise China’s profile among Africans – CNN

Latin America

Now, researchers are reporting results from the first brain-imaging studies of 40 of those diplomats, who were carefully examined by neurologists after returning home from Cuba. The study, appearing on Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA, concludes that the diplomats experienced some kind of brain trauma. But the nature and cause of that trauma were not clear, as it did not resemble the signature of more familiar brain injuries such as repeated concussions or exposure to battlefield blasts.- New York Times

President Trump threatened Guatemala with tariffs and other retaliation Tuesday for backing away from talks on its potential designation as a safe third country for asylum seekers on their way north, a move that would have allowed the United States to push more migrants away from the southern border. – Washington Post

Venezuela’s National Assembly approved a law returning the OPEC nation to a regional defense treaty on Tuesday, but opposition leader Juan Guaido sought to tamp down supporters’ hopes it could lead to President Nicolas Maduro’s imminent downfall. – Reuters

Venezuela’s opposition, including representatives of its leader Juan Guaido, has been in contact with Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on its website on Tuesday. – Reuters

Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel on Tuesday blamed unnamed “national actors” for damaging relations with the United States and said they would be responsible if U.S. President Donald Trump puts tariffs on the poor Central American nation. – Reuters

Nayib Bukele writes: Developing a safe El Salvador is a first step toward ending the exodus of Salvadorans to the United States. The main reason cited by our compatriots who flee our country is the lack of safety and security they face in their own neighborhoods. – Washington Post


The National Security Agency (NSA) announced Tuesday that it will form a cybersecurity arm in October to unify its foreign intelligence and cyber defense missions. – The Hill

Judith Cheung writes: But under Facebook’s new advertising policy, if advertised content is about “social issues, elections or politics,” you’re in a bind. In that case, you need approval from inside the country you want to advertise in. As a result, Facebook’s new advertising policy has turned the platform into an agent of censorship for authoritarian regimes. – Washington Examiner

Max Rose writes: This is the new age of terrorism, defined by the rise of extremist communities online and terrorists who carry out real-life violence inspired by virtual content. And every time a successful terrorist attack is broadcasted online, it risks inspiring copycats attempting to unleash similar terror in their own communities. – The Hill


FBI Director Christopher Wray said that China is the greatest counterintelligence threat facing the U.S. but warned that Russia is a close runner-up as Moscow remains focused on disrupting the upcoming presidential election. – Washington Examiner

Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor building the F-35, expects no problem finding other buyers for the stealth fighters Turkey planned to purchase before the U.S. blocked sales to the country last week. – Washington Examiner

A team of researchers from South Korea and California has figured out how to detect incredibly small disturbances in radar returns that could indicate the presence of small drones, perhaps as far as three kilometers away — enough to give airports, police, and militaries a big hand in stopping them. – Defense One