Fdd's overnight brief

July 25, 2019

In The News


The Trump administration is trying to win over the Iranian public with an information campaign blaming the country’s economic hardship on its leaders and discrediting those who oppose the White House’s policies. – Wall Street Journal

During a flare-up in tensions in the Persian Gulf in recent weeks, at least two tankers have been seized by Iranian forces while traversing the narrow Strait of Hormuz. The dispute threatens to choke a vital trade route for crude oil exports and could cause oil prices to spike, threatening the global economy. Western powers are worried and have proposed escorting ships and monitoring for threats. – Washington Post

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said the United States will escort American-flagged ships facing threats from Iran “to the degree that the risk demands it,” but noted that such protection may not involve U.S. military vessels trailing each ship. – Washington Post

European governments are struggling to build an international coalition to protect oil tankers in Middle East waterways while pursuing diplomatic solutions after last week’s seizure of a U.K. tanker by Iran. – Wall Street Journal

President Hassan Rouhani suggested on Wednesday that Iran might release a U.K.-flagged ship if Britain takes similar steps to release an Iranian oil tanker seized by the British Royal Navy off Gibraltar earlier this month. – Associated Press

The top military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Tehran would not negotiate with the United States under any circumstances, an apparent hardening of its position as the Gulf tanker crisis escalates. – Reuters

Some of the 17 Iranians detained on charges of spying for the CIA were active members of the military and security forces, state-run Fars news agency reported, citing judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili. – Bloomberg

Iran has warned it may cut imports from Brazil if the country does not allow two Iranian ships stranded off its coast to refuel in one of many international disputes involving the U.S.-led campaign to isolate the Islamic Republic’s reach across the world. – Newsweek

No Iranian drone has been brought down, the ISNA news agency quoted Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami on Wednesday as saying, after the US military said it had taken action against two Iranian drones in the past week. – Reuters

Iran’s seizure and continued detention of a UK-flagged tanker deals Boris Johnson an immediate loyalty test: Britain’s new prime minister may have to choose between Gulf escorts led by Europe or the United States. – Agence FrancePresse


Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that new U.S. proposals for a safe zone in northern Syria fall short and Turkey was running out of patience as Washington appears to be stalling in efforts to seal an agreement. – Reuters

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard forced National Defense Forces (NDF) that support Bashar al-Assad’s government to leave a military checkpoint in Al-Mayadin east of Deir Al-Zour in eastern Syria amid tensions between the two parties, according to Al-Arabiya. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Herzog writes: Of all the threats in Israel’s strategic landscape, none have loomed larger in recent years than Iran’s ambitions and developing military capabilities in neighboring Syria and Lebanon. Exploiting regional turmoil as well as the 2015 nuclear agreement, the IRGC’s elite Qods Force has embarked on an ambitious plan to build in Syria a formidable military front facing Israel, joining Hezbollah’s huge arsenal of rockets in Lebanon. In response, Israel launched a military campaign that has succeeded in thwarting large portions of Tehran’s plans. – Washington Institute

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: The escalating tension in the Persian Gulf may be putting pressure on Iran to accelerate its efforts to establish a front on the Golan Heights ready for at a time beneficial to Tehran. […]Iranian-backed militias – including Hezbollah – were to be redeployed at least 80 kilometers away. Yet the attacks attributed to Israel, which has said it will not allow Iran to set up shop on the Syrian side of the border, continue. – Ynet


A Belarusian diplomat was shot and wounded by his neighbor in the Turkish capital Ankara late on Wednesday, Ankara’s governor said, adding that the shooter had later committed suicide. – Reuters

Simon Henderson writes: Washington’s relations with Ankara are already in turmoil following the delivery of Russian S-400 missiles and the decision to suspend Turkey from the F-35 project. Tensions in the East Mediterranean may appear small by comparison, but they cannot be allowed to fester given the potential for dangerous escalation. – Washington Institute

Umut Özkırımlı writes: This is pretty much the story of Turkey’s experiments with democracy. A lot of factors need to converge for even a semblance of democracy to occur: clear nights, the right temperature, sufficient humidity. When it all comes together, we have a relatively free political environment like little oases of water droplets. […]The challenge ahead is huge. It is not too difficult for Erdoğan to shake things up and get rid of the droplets before they merge into a pond. And after all, politics is not thermodynamics. Rules can be bent or altered. If we want the water droplets to stabilise and spread, we must protect them. – The Guardian


The United States on Wednesday blocked an attempt by Kuwait, Indonesia and South Africa to get the United Nations Security Council to condemn Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes on the outskirts of Jerusalem, diplomats said. – Reuters

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

Israel will begin natural gas exports to Egypt within four months, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Reuters on Wednesday. – Reuters

Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Wednesday met with Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, The Associated Press reported. During the meeting, King Abdullah restated his position that the creation of a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital is the only way to end the conflict. – Arutz Sheva

Hillel Frisch writes: Engendering economic well-being does not solve deep-seated political conflicts, but it holds out the prospect that differences can be expressed in less violent ways. Trump’s plan might save both Israeli Jewish and Arab lives alike — provided, of course, that it is not followed by a delusional peace process. – Algemeiner

Middle East & North Africa

President Trump vetoed joint resolutions from Congress that sought to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, calling them an ill-conceived effort to undermine important global partnerships. – Wall Street Journal

The commander of a U.S. Special Operations task force in Iraq has sent home a platoon of Navy SEALs for drinking while deployed, U.S. defense officials said, the latest discipline incident that has emerged for an elite force relied upon heavily by the Pentagon. – Washington Post

The United Arab Emirates, one of the most powerful parties in Yemen’s war, has begun to draw down its forces, pulling out several thousand troops in a move that leaves the Saudi-led coalition there with a weakened ground presence and fewer tactical options. – Associated Press

The United States believes a proposed European initiative to bolster maritime security in the Gulf would complement ongoing U.S. efforts there instead of being a “stand-alone” operation, the top U.S. general said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: These young Iraqis are still underrepresented in government but will soon make their voices known. Still, absent al-Sistani speaking as forcefully and clearly now as he did five years ago, Iraq will continue to face a growing crisis that will require continued U.S. engagement. – Washington Examiner

Andreas Krieg writes: While this war over narratives has turned hot, it would be inaccurate to portray it as a mere proxy war between Doha and Abu Dhabi. The reason is that although Qatar was initially using direct and indirect surrogates to further its narrative, it has withdrawn from the battlefields since 2014, choosing to engage with partners and opponents more constructively in multilateral fora. Abu Dhabi is thus left with a quasi-monopoly to impose its counterrevolutionary narrative onto the region, exploiting the military as well as informational battlespace. – Middle East Institute

Farzin Nadimi writes: The United States strongly opposed this provision at first but has since accepted it in most contexts—except when dealing with straits and other international passages. In practical terms, this means Washington does not recognize the right of coastal states to regulate passage or limit activities in such waterways. Rather than viewing unhindered transit as a new right under UNCLOS or as a contractual right in general, U.S. officials regard it as a longstanding, well-established international practice for all states seeking to sail through or overfly international straits. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea launched two short-range missiles off the country’s east coast early Thursday, South Korean officials said, as Pyongyang ratchets up pressure on Washington amid stalled nuclear talks. – Wall Street Journal

South Korea’s government said on Wednesday that Moscow had expressed “deep regret” over the incident that prompted South Korean jets to fire warning shots near a Russian military plane, but a Russian spokesman countered that his country had not formally apologized. – New York Times

Russia wants an investigation into South Korea’s allegation that a Russian military plane violated South Korean airspace, a senior lawmaker said Wednesday, citing Moscow’s acting ambassador. The U.S. called for close consultation between Washington and Seoul to deal with similar incidents in the future. – Associated Press

Russia on Wednesday accused North Korea of illegally detaining one of its fishing vessels and said it would freeze talks with Pyongyang on fisheries cooperation until the issue was resolved, the RIA news agency reported. – Reuters

Olivia Schieber writes: No surprise then, that North Korea has begun to fan the flames of the trade war, sharply criticizing Japan for its “politically-motivated” provocations and refusing to engage in talks with Japan until it at atones for its “crime woven past.” Japan and the ROK may need little encouragement, but it seems they’re responding just as North Korea would want. South Korea has accused Japan of violating sanctions against North Korea, and Japan has made similar claims. – American Enterprise Institute


China sharpened its hostility toward the United States and Taiwan in a new high-level report on its future military strategy in which it accused Washington and its allies of undermining global stability. – Washington Post

China vowed to step up military cooperation with Russia, a day after the two countries’ first joint air patrol triggered a rare confrontation over the Sea of Japan and stoked U.S. concern about the intensifying partnership between Beijing and Moscow. – Wall Street Journal

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that he will travel to China next week with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to resume talks with Beijing on an eventual trade deal, the first high-level talks since President Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping late last month. – Washington Examiner

After spending most of the past year in the relative shadows of the talks, Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan has joined two conference calls with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in recent weeks and is expected to be at the table when the two sides start meeting in Shanghai on Tuesday next week. – Bloomberg

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has downplayed media reports claiming that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will be allowed to use part of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand as part of a “secret agreement” signed between Beijing and Phnom Penh earlier this year. – Janes 360

Gordon C. Chang writes: At first I had no idea why President Trump talked so much about sovereignty. I’ve changed my mind. To be more precise, Xi Jinping changed it. Mr. Trump is the only thing that stands between us and a world dominated by China. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: As the Wall Street Journal reports, China is preparing to use a deep water port at Ream, Cambodia. That port would enable the Chinese navy to surge warships against the southern flank of U.S. forces in the event of a conflict over the South China Sea. It would also allow China to threaten critical global trade flows through the Singapore entrance to the Malacca Strait. It’s a real threat, but one that can be constrained by the reinforcement of U.S. alliances. Geography explains why. – Washington Examiner

Matthew P. Goodman writes: China has contributed in its own way to weakening the global economic order. While publicly stating its support for the institutions and norms of the existing system, Beijing has often violated the rules in letter and spirit. Its massive subsidies to domestic firms fuel global overcapacity and stifle competitive markets. Beijing has tolerated—or enabled—widespread intellectual property theft. It has not done enough to ensure the transparency and sustainability of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) investments. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Three bombs rocked the Afghan capital of Kabul on Thursday, with one hitting a bus carrying government employees, killing a total of at least 12 people, officials said. – Reuters

Taiwan said Thursday the U.S. Navy is free to sail through its strait after an American warship did so shortly following warnings from Beijing against foreign interference in its relationship with the island. – Associated Press

China’s Export-Import Bank is expected to finance 85% of a 44 billion ringgit ($10.7 billion) rail link project in Malaysia that will bolster economic development in rural eastern states, Transport Minister Loke Siew Fook said Thursday. – Associated Press

On its recent Indo-Pacific patrols, the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Bertholf (WSML-750) thwarted illegal oil and coal shipments that violated of U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea, transited the Strait of Taiwan amid condemnation from China and worked with U.S. allies to bolster their own coast guard forces. – USNI News


Europe’s export engine is losing steam. That worries Mario Draghi. Mr. Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, is expected to announce on Thursday that fresh monetary stimulus is on its way, seeking to offset a downturn in world trade that has quieted the eurozone’s factories. […]Europe is emerging as a big loser from trade tensions between the U.S. and China, which are compounding a wider slowdown in global trade. – Wall Street Journal

For that party’s leader, Matteo Salvini, the corruption allegations are “fantasy.” For a significant portion of voters, the prospect of Russian influence hasn’t made much difference; the League has only gained support in the weeks since a leaked audio recording appeared to show a Salvini ally discussing a secretive funding scheme in a Moscow hotel lobby. – Washington Post

Boris Johnson vowed his government will be very “pro-China” in an interview with a Hong Kong broadcaster a day before he succeeded Theresa May as British prime minister. – Washington Examiner

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suggestion that Britain’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union can be completely renegotiated in the coming months is “not in the real world”, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Some antisemitic content will no longer appear in Spain’s Google results, thanks to legal action taken by The Lawfare Project on behalf of a group of Spanish Jews. – Algemeiner

Manfred Gerstenfeld writes: It has become clear that under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has become institutionally antisemitic. Nevertheless, a substantial percentage of the Labour membership is at least partly in denial about Corbyn’s role in causing this. – Algemeiner

Neville Teller writes: Johnson has said little about Trump’s “Deal of the Century” but does not rule out moving the British Embassy to Jerusalem. He could see the logic of doing so, he said, but added, “The moment for us to play that card is when we make further progress.” Britain under Boris Johnson is likely to be a good friend of Israel. – Jerusalem Post


Fighters from an Islamist insurgency attacked two towns at the center of an ongoing Ebola outbreak zone in eastern Congo on Wednesday, killing 12, according to local officials. – Washington Post

A suicide bomber walked into the mayor’s office in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, during a high-level security meeting on Wednesday and detonated explosives, seriously injuring the mayor and killing at least six people, according to local authorities. […]The Shabab, an Islamist extremist group with links to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility – New York Times

Sudan’s military said on Wednesday that it had thwarted a coup attempt and arrested an unspecified number of senior officers in connection with a plot to restore the party of ousted President Omar al-Bashir to power. – Reuters

Daniel Mahanty writes: In conclusion, Niger is situated as a bulwark—perhaps the last—against the further spread of violence in the region. Its stability is critical to preventing a more operational and detrimental geographic connection between armed groups in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin; its security is fundamental to stemming the flow of human beings and illicit matériel to North Africa. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

United States

Former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III told lawmakers on Wednesday that Russia, and possibly other countries, are looking to interfere in upcoming U.S. elections. – Roll Call

Democratic Congresswoman Rep. Rashida Tlaib on Tuesday pointed to the examples of boycotts against Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa as justification for maintaining the individual right to boycott Israel. – Times of Israel

Robert Mueller, the taciturn lawman at the center of a polarizing American drama, bluntly dismissed President Donald Trump’s claims of “total exoneration” in the federal probe of Russia’s 2016 election interference. In a long day of congressional testimony, Mueller warned that Moscow’s actions represented — and still represent — a great threat to American democracy. – Associated Press

Latin America

Guatemalans are reacting with alarm to the Trump administration’s threats to retaliate if the country does not sign a far-reaching migration agreement, saying the penalties could cripple the economy, deepen a political crisis and send more people fleeing to the United States. – Washington Post

The international community should continue fostering dialogue between the government in Venezuela and the opposition, but not in order to impose its own agenda, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters during a visit to Havana. – Reuters

Roger Noriega writes: Nevertheless, the opposition has accepted open-ended negotiations, despite a public pledge that elections would only be accepted after Maduro is replaced by a transitional government. The regime will likely offer elections in exchange for an end to U.S. sanctions. So, it is possible that these talks could force Trump to do something Obama would not: relax sanctions in exchange for phony elections. – Newsmax


The Persistent Cyber Training Environment (PCTE), managed by the Army, seeks to change all of that. PCTE is an online client in which members of U.S. Cyber Command’s cyber mission force can log on from anywhere in the world for training, either of individuals or of groups, and to rehearse missions. – Fifth Domain

The Pentagon has named an unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate to lead a new cybersecurity office, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg News. – Bloomberg

Lindsay Gorman writes: In many ways, Cyber Command’s origins in U.S. Strategic Command reflect the enduring and increasing strategic value of information. We need future cyber policy that reflects this strategic importance. Without it, we will struggle to maintain “freedom of action” and geopolitical competitiveness in a new era where critical information becomes essential critical infrastructure. – Fifth Domain


The Air Force awarded a $47 million contract July 22 as part of their ongoing efforts to eventually move all their satellites to a single ground services system. – C4ISRNET

The Trump administration’s nominee for deputy defense secretary wants the Pentagon to apply data analytics and artificial intelligence to tackle jobs as diverse as technology development, the Pentagon audit and maintenance of the F-35 fighter jet. – Defense News

Newly installed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says he is happy with the two-year budget deal’s recommendation for the Pentagon, despite it being $12 billion less than what the White House requested for fiscal 2020. – Defense News

US Air National Guard technical experts are evaluating the United Kingdom’s BrightCloud aircraft decoy system, which could open the way for it being procured by the US military. – Janes 360

Lt. Gen. David Deptula and Doug Birkey write: Air superiority — the ability to deny enemy forces access to key portions of the sky — is a bedrock mission within the U.S. Department of Defense. […]Budget cuts enacted by the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee targeting the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance, or NGAD, program are putting the future of the nation’s air superiority at risk. – Defense News

Long War

The House of Representatives approved a bill on Tuesday that calls for sanctioning Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups. – Jerusalem Post

A court in Pakistan on Wednesday remanded to custody Hafiz Saeed, accused of masterminding a four-day attack on India’s financial capital in 2008, after a hearing following his arrest last week on terrorism financing charges, his lawyer said. – Reuters

Prosecutors have charged two workers at a cyber security company with terrorism as part of an investigation into Bulgaria’s biggest-ever data breach, a lawyer for the defendants said on Wednesday. – Reuters