Fdd's overnight brief

July 29, 2019

In The News


Iran rebuffed European efforts to defuse tensions in the Persian Gulf, calling military escorts to secure shipping a provocation and rejecting U.K. terms for resolving a crisis over seized tankers. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran for the first time tied the British seizure of an Iranian oil tanker to the ailing nuclear deal on Sunday, calling it illegal and a violation of the agreement. – New York Times 

Iran’s deputy foreign minister said Sunday that an emergency meeting in Vienna between Tehran and its partners in the Iran nuclear deal had yielded positive developments but had not “resolved everything.” – Washington Post

All parties to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran want to safeguard the accord and strongly oppose Washington’s decision to unilaterally re-impose sanctions on Tehran, the head of the Chinese delegation said after a meeting of the pact members. – Reuters 

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, told lawmakers on Sunday that Iran will restart activities at the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor, the ISNA news agency reported. – Reuters 

Iran said on Saturday missile tests were part of its defensive needs and were not directed against any country, after Washington said Tehran had test-fired a medium-range missile. – Reuters 

China’s crude oil imports from Iran sank almost 60% in June from a year earlier, Chinese customs data showed on Saturday, following the end of a waiver on U.S. sanctions at the start of May. – Reuters 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday he hoped British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “familiarity” with the Islamic Republic will help improve relations between Iran and Britain. – Reuters 

Omani officials are in talks with “all parties” to restore stability to the Strait of Hormuz after recent threats to oil tankers and the freedom of navigation, Foreign Minister Yousef Bin Alawi said after discussions with Iranian officials in Tehran. – Bloomberg 

American officials have issued a warning to European nations that they risk falling foul of sanctions on Iran if they press ahead with a barter system that could allow the export of Iranian oil. – Washington Examiner 

Two Iranian ships stranded off Brazil’s coast are refueled and ready to sail home with a cargo of corn after a court order forced the state-controlled oil company to set aside concern about the risk of U.S. sanctions. – Bloomberg

Iran doesn’t think the U.S. is seeking talks or an agreement with the Islamic republic, Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Tehran, said days after Secretary of State Michael Pompeo expressed willingness to travel to Tehran to address the Iranian people. – Bloomberg

The U.K. has deployed one of its Type 45 warships to help escort commercial ships through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran seized a British vessel amid heightening tensions with the West. – Bloomberg

Iran has released nine of the 12 Indian crew members who were on board a Panamanian-flagged oil tanker it seized after claiming the vessel was carrying 1 million liters of smuggled fuel. – CNN

Britain’s refusal to go along with the Trump administration’s fiery approach to recent Iranian aggression has experts and lawmakers concerned about the state of the “special relationship” between two historically close allies. – The Hill 

Michael Singh writes: Iran’s recent actions in the region challenge the core interests of many American allies, and rallying those partners around shared objectives would give U.S. policy a better chance of success. […]To be sure, such an approach does not guarantee that President Trump will get the grand bargain he seeks with Iran, prospects for which remain remote—ultimately, this problem may have to be managed and contained rather than solved, at least until Tehran is prepared to change direction. But he could achieve a different and still worthwhile goal, namely, weakening the regime and its proxies by denying them resources, thereby opening new possibilities to resolve the current regional conflicts on which Iran thrives and to head off new ones. – Washington Institute


Syrian officials have released a U.S. citizen they had held captive for two months, his family said Friday. – Washington Post

Syrian government airstrikes on a town in the country’s northwest killed five people, two of whom were from the same family, opposition activists said Sunday. – Associated Press 

Airstrikes in Syria over the last 10 days have killed more than 100 civilians, according to the U.N., which has criticized the “apparent international indifference” in response to the escalating violence. The death toll includes at least 26 children. – Time

Syrians living in Istanbul and Beirut have been targeted by immigration authorities in recent weeks, with more than 1,000 detained in Turkey’s biggest city last weekend and given 30 days to leave. –  The Guardian  


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday his country is determined to destroy what he called a “terror corridor” in northern Syria — regardless of whether or not Turkey and the United States agree on the establishment of a so-called “safe zone” there. – Associated Press  

“Whoever is on the side of Israel, let everyone know that we are against them,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday, according to Iran’s Press TV. Erdogan made the comments as he addressed senior provincial officials from the ruling AKP party in Ankara. – Jerusalem Post 

Turkey’s president said his government may have to “rethink” existing orders for Boeing Co. airplanes worth about $10 billion, in comments that reflect the country’s strained ties with the U.S. – Bloomberg

Turkey’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday it had “neutralized” 34 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq in air strikes on July 17-19. – Reuters 

Turkey’s military and intelligence agency has “neutralized” the instigator of an attack that killed a Turkish diplomat in Erbil, northern Iraq, state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday. – Reuters


Israel’s U.S.-backed Arrow-3 ballistic missile shield has passed a series of live interception tests over Alaska, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, casting the achievement as a warning to Iran. – Reuters 

Sen. Bernie Sanders said if the U.S. wants help bring peace to the Middle East, it cannot prioritize the wants and needs of Israel over all else. – Washington Examiner 

The Israeli military has installed the face scanners as part a multimillion dollar upgrade of the Qalandia crossing that now allows Palestinians from the West Bank with work permits to zip through with relative ease. But while the high-tech upgrades may have eased entry for Palestinians going to Israel for work, critics say they are a sign of the ossification of Israel’s 52-year occupation of the West Bank and slam the military’s use of facial recognition technology as problematic. – Associated Press 

Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib defended the BDS movement in a CNN interview Sunday, claiming it was merely aimed at “criticizing the racist policies of Israel.” – Algemeiner 

Thousands of Palestinian rioted along the Gaza-Israel border on Friday, and the Israeli army said some in the crowd hurled explosive devices and grenades toward the border fence in the southern Gaza Strip. – Reuters 

A captured Arab ISIS fighter in Syria who holds Israeli citizenship has said that living through the Second Intifada and in the West Bank has taught him that Israel “has not done 1% of what Bashar al-Assad has done.” – Jerusalem Post

The IDF is facing a new challenge in attempting to thwart attacks on Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip – the post office. In the past 12 months, the Gaza office of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has confiscated more than 1,600 items sent to the coastal enclave that are defined as “dual-use items” – products not originally intended for military use but that may be used for attack or intelligence operations. – Ynet

Arabian Peninsula

President Trump is likely to defeat a bipartisan legislative effort in Congress to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates when the Senate votes next week on whether to override his veto of a trio of restricting measures. – Washington Examiner

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said it launched on Sunday a drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport, Houthis’ Al- Masirah TV reported citing the group’s military spokesman. – Reuters 

Elana DeLozier writes: Clearance efforts can have an outsize impact, especially if supported by improvements in local governance. Even as Yemen’s warring parties recommitted to the UN peace process last week, the conflict continues to devastate the civilian population. The hundreds of thousands of landmines strewn across the country pose a threat that will outlast any viable peace. – Axios

Middle East & North Africa

An airstrike that hit a field hospital south of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, has killed at least four doctors and a paramedic, the country’s health authorities said on Sunday. – Associated Press 

South Korea plans to join a U.S.-led maritime force in the Middle East by sending a naval unit, which includes a destroyer, to help guard oil tankers sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, a South Korean newspaper reported on Monday. – Reuters 

Michael Rubin writes: French sociologist Auguste Comte (1798 -1857) reportedly coined the phrase, “Demographics is destiny.” And, indeed it is. But while Iraqi politicians continue to operate on a template shaped by the 1957 census and fine-tuned by Oil-for-Food ration cards, the assumptions and proportions inherited from these processes may no longer be tenable. Recovery, security, and affluence may be good news stories, but they also herald demographic change which Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish leaders have yet to address, let alone apparently consider. – 1001 Iraqi Thoughts 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: An emerging Russia-Turkey alliance in defense and energy will have long-term effects on the Middle East and Israel. […]Taken together, it is clear that a defense and energy alliance is growing. Israel has its own energy interests in the Mediterranean and its own defense relationships. The long-term effect of the Russia-Turkey alliance is in its infancy, but joint defense work and energy exploration should be taken more seriously by neighbors in the Middle East. – Jerusalem Post 

Korean Peninsula

Days after reporting that Defense Intelligence Agency analysts suspect that North Korea has built a dozen nuclear weapons since President Trump met with Kim Jong Un last year, the Wall Street Journal on Saturday issued a correction that changed the story dramatically. – Washington Examiner 

South Korea said Monday it’s returning three North Koreans who crossed the Koreas’ sea border aboard a wooden fishing boat over the weekend. – Associated Press 

Two South Koreans and 15 Russians returned to South Korea on Sunday, following 10 days of detention in North Korea after their fishing boat drifted into North Korean waters, officials said. – Associated Press 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is unlikely to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the United Nations General Assembly in September, the Sankei newspaper reported, the latest sign of frosty relations between the key U.S. allies. – Reuters  

While Japan and South Korea may not agree on who owns a cluster of tiny, rocky islands off their coastlines, they do agree that Russian bombers shouldn’t be flying above them. – CNN


Negotiators for the U.S. and China will face off in Shanghai this week in another attempt to piece together a trade accord amid much lowered expectations for the kind of sweeping deal that appeared within reach this spring. – Wall Street Journal  

A US threat to pull recognition of China’s “developing nation” status at the World Trade Organisation is a pressure tactic ahead of this week’s trade talks and is bound to fail, a commentary in state media said Monday. – Agence France-Presse 

China’s military is holding exercises this week in waters near Taiwan, China’s maritime safety agency said days after Beijing reiterated it was ready to fight if there was any move towards independence for the self-ruled island. – Reuters 

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday that an additional $40 million would be spent on weapons from China to modernize the Southeast Asian country’s military. – Reuters 

President Trump said on Friday that he would not grant Apple waivers on tariffs for Mac Pro parts the tech giants produced in China. Trump wrote that Apple would not face tariffs if it made its products solely in the U.S. – Washington Examiner 

President Donald Trump’s push to toughen U.S. policy toward China has won over much of the Washington establishment, touching off a seismic shift in how many Americans view Beijing. But one group is resisting — those who have spent decades pursuing diplomacy with China and who fear their approach might go extinct. – Politico 

Tom Rogan writes: Again, Xi regards the supremacy of the state as the first necessity of China’s future success. The protests are unlikely to die down. Thus, we should expect to see the People’s Liberation Army on Hong Kong streets. – Washington Examiner 

Elsa Kania writes: For the United States, a smart and serious approach to competition with China requires improving our understanding of this key rival. American strategy must be informed by careful assessments commensurate with the complexity of this “new era” of relations between the United States and China. There is no shortage of issues for which expertise on China is essential, from trade and technology to defense and counterintelligence. – The Hill


Official campaigning for presidential elections got off to an ominous start on Sunday as suspected Taliban fighters attacked the Kabul political offices of President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate, leaving at least 20 people dead and dozens more wounded, according to the interior ministry. – Wall Street Journal 

As Afghanistan’s presidential election campaign began on Sunday, the country’s leader was facing a series of daunting concerns, from unrelenting violence to fears that his government could be derailed by a peace deal with the Taliban. – New York Times  

The Afghan government on Saturday announced that it was preparing for direct negotiations with the Taliban in the next two weeks, a major step in efforts to end a war so long that it has left record casualties in its wake. But the Taliban quickly rejected it. – New York Times 

Nahid Fattahi writes: The peace that Afghans yearn for can’t come at women’s expense. Women have been demanding a place at the negotiating table after being sidelined, and we want peace alongside our rights and equality. We want the great powers of the world to speak up for us and demand a settlement that explicitly supports the rights of women, and commits all parties to protecting Afghan women against human rights abuses. – The Daily Beast

Earl Anthony Wayne and Richard Olson write: To maintain its negotiating leverage the United States needs to signal that, while committed to a political settlement, it is not in a rush to withdraw forces and that it has an alternative to a bad peace deal: maintaining a modest military presence indefinitely. The Taliban must not think they can wait the United States out rather than negotiate seriously. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


A visit by Myanmar officials to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh failed to persuade members of the largely Muslim ethnic minority that they could safely return home, showing the lack of progress toward resolving one of the world’s largest refugee crises. – Wall Street Journal 

Police and demonstrators clashed in Hong Kong this weekend in some of the fiercest confrontations to rock the semi-autonomous Chinese city, fueling apprehension that a summer of protests against the encroachment of Beijing is veering into dangerous new territory. – Wall Street Journal  

The Chinese government on Monday laid down its firm support of Hong Kong’s embattled leader and police force after two months of rolling protests that have flared into violence and inflamed opposition to Chinese rule. – New York Times 

Escalating violence during mass demonstrations in Hong Kong is fuelling perceptions the territory has become “a riskier place”, the American Chamber of Commerce warned on Monday, a day after police and protesters fought running battles around the city’s central business district. – Financial Times

China’s top Hong Kong policy office will on Monday address the escalating protests in the semi-autonomous city over the past eight weekends. – CNN 

China said it strongly opposes what it calls “erroneous” claims made by Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel, who criticized China’s Communist Party over its position on protests in Hong Kong. – Reuters 

Gordon G. Chang writes: That suggests Xi does have one other option. If he feels the situation in Hong Kong is no-win for him—and given the trend of events how could it not be?—the Chinese leader could cause mischief abroad in hopes of creating internal unity. He did, after all, have Wu, the military spokesman, make unprovoked threats against Taiwan on Wednesday. “If anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military would not hesitate to go to war,” he said. – The Daily Beast


Monitors said 150 protesters who were detained while demonstrating for independent local candidates remained in custody on Sunday, in one of Russia’s largest police crackdowns in the past decade. – Washington Post 

The European Union condemned the arrest of more than 1,000 people at an opposition rally in Moscow, ahead of local elections in September. – Politico 

Tom Rogan writes: As I’ve explained, Russian targeting of hospitals, schools, markets, and other Syrian civilian sites reflects a deliberate strategic gambit, one that seeks maximum civilian suffering in the belief that it will motivate cease-fire agreements on Russian terms. […]Yet it’s not enough simply to identify these war crimes. They deserve a U.S. response. – Washington Examiner


Britain is turbo-charging its no-deal Brexit preparations and will be ready to leave the European Union with or without a deal on Oct. 31, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday. – Reuters 

France wants to reach a deal with the US on taxing tech giants by a G7 meeting in late August, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Saturday. – Agence France-Presse 

While Johnson wants his country to leave the European Union and Turkey would like to join it, villagers in Kalfat, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of the Turkish capital, Ankara, see opportunities for common ground. “If he ever remembers his Ottoman genes, that may help him forge closer ties with Turkey,” said Adem Karagac by phone from Kalfat, where Johnson’s paternal ancestors were known as “Sarioglangiller,” or “the blond ones.” – Bloomberg

The EU is just as poorly prepared for a no-deal Brexit as the UK, a report by the CBI has found, undermining claims by EU leaders that the bloc is ready for the disruption that would be caused by Britain crashing out in October. – Financial Times

A Jewish resident of the German city of Potsdam, near Berlin, who wore a kippah with a Star of David, was attacked and insulted in front of Potsdam Central Station. – Jerusalem Post

Wolfgang Munchau writes: Only a fool would try to predict the course of British politics over the next three months. A no-deal Brexit is a possible outcome but not the only one. I expect Mr Johnson to try to unite the pro-Brexit vote, and to pitch himself against a splintered Remain opposition. This would seem to be an intelligent strategy. There is one prediction I am willing to make: if this ends in a no-deal Brexit, much of the EU will not have seen it coming. – Financial Times


On the sharpest edges of the global war on terror[…], lurks a U.S.-aided program that is low in technology but high in effectiveness: bomb squad training. […]The bomb squads’ work is especially intense in northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin, where the Islamist group Boko Haram is leading the way in the use of child bombers. – Wall Street Journal 

At least 65 people died in an attack by suspected Islamist extremists on a group returning from a funeral in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno region, state television reported on Sunday. – Reuters  

A Nigerian court has granted the government permission to label a local Shi’ite Muslim group a terrorist organisation, the solicitor general told Reuters on Saturday. – Reuters 

A U.S. air strike killed a facilitator for an Islamic State-aligned militia in northern Somalia, a statement from the American military’s Africa Command said on Sunday. – Reuters 

Sudanese generals and protest leaders, who signed a power-sharing agreement, held preliminary talks with rebel groups in neighbouring South Sudan Saturday as part of ongoing peace efforts. – Agence France-Presse

United States

The former CNN editor who resigned Thursday after a bevy of anti-Semitic tweets resurfaced has issued an apology on social media Friday. – Washington Examiner

In what police were investigating as a possible hate crime, a Jewish man was shot in the leg Sunday as he waited outside a Florida synagogue for afternoon prayer services to start. – Times of Israel

Yaakov Hagoel, Vice Chairman of the World Zionist Organization, called on American law enforcement officials to make a concerted effort to end what he dubbed a “wave of anti-Semitic terrorist attacks” in the US, following a shooting near the entrance of a synagogue in Florida. – Arutz Sheva

Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the CIA has “come clean” for his review of the early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation. – Washington Examiner 

Ben-Dror Yemini writes: Ilhan Omar, a member of the US House of Representatives, is a clear supporter of the pro-Israel boycott BDS movement. Recently, she proposed a bill that supports boycotts, all boycotts, as freedom of expression, which sounds wonderful. While most Democrats did not buy her into her sophistry, fear not, for J Street rushed in to support her. – Ynet

Latin America

Venezuelan Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello on Saturday predicted U.S. Marines will “likely” enter the South American country, speaking a week after a confrontation between aircraft belonging to the two countries’ armed forces. – Reuters 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday a dialogue to resolve Venezuela’s political crisis should have “no preconditions,” as he visited the small South American country of Suriname at the end of a multi-nation Latin American tour. – Reuters 

A U.S. hospital ship is about to get very close to Venezuela, little more than a week after tensions between the two countries flared with what the U.S. termed “aggressive” shadowing of a U.S. surveillance aircraft by the Venezuelan military. – Bloomberg

Rabbi Avi Weiss writes: 25 years after the bombing at the AMIA community center that claimed 85 lives, Argentina still has diplomatic relations with Iran, which was behind the slaughter; and as Tehran has denied an extradition request for those implicated in the attack, Buenos Aires should break ties with Tehran until the perpetrators are brought to justice. – Ynet


The British surfer who saved the world from a devastating cyberattack in 2017 was sentenced to time served after pleading guilty to building and selling malware to hackers in the years before his self-taught computer-security skills gained him fame worldwide. – Bloomberg

Reporters investigating Russian military intelligence have been targeted by highly sophisticated cyberattacks through their encrypted email accounts, with evidence suggesting Moscow was responsible, the email service provider ProtonMail and journalists said Saturday. – Agence France-Presse

Disinformation specialists in foreign countries are likely to step up their campaigns targeting U.S. voters ahead of the 2020 elections, cybersecurity experts say. Several cybersecurity experts told The Washington Post that the U.S. is not doing enough to protect social media platforms and other systems from foreign influence. – The Hill


President Trump said Sunday that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who has tangled with the president over how to deal with the threat posed by Russia, is leaving his post. – Wall Street Journal 

Raytheon and United Technologies executives spent this week pitching their proposed combined operations as a deal intended to create a defense industry research and development powerhouse. – USNI News

Boeing’s decision to drop out of the bidding for a next-generation missile contract it believes is weighted in a rival’s favor may force the Pentagon to reconfigure the $85 billion weapons project. – Washington Examiner

Long War

Turkey, like many Western countries, has been slow to take back citizens who ran off to join the Islamic State as it extended its violent rule across Syria and Iraq starting in 2014. […]But under pressure from anxious relatives — some of them grandparents who have never even met their grandchildren — Turkish officials have changed their tune. – New York Times 

Bahrain executed three men on Saturday, including two Shiite activists for what officials called “terrorism crimes,” in what was described as attacks orchestrated by Iran-based ringleaders. – Reuters 

Law enforcement sources say that New York authorities have arrested a man at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens on “terror-related” charges, according to a report by NBC 4 in New York. – Washington Examiner