Fdd's overnight brief

July 31, 2019

In The News


United Arab Emirates officials traveled to Iran to discuss maritime security in the Persian Gulf with their counterparts, amid efforts to address threats to commercial ships passing through the important oil supply route that have heightened regional tensions. – Wall Street Journal

The United States is set to announce this week it will renew sanctions waivers for five Iran nuclear programs that allow Russia, China and European countries to continue civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Iran’s foreign minister called on Tuesday on U.S. President Donald Trump to reject his hawkish allies’ thirst for war, adding that Iranians had outlasted every aggressor for millennia. – Reuters

The United States on Tuesday ramped up pressure on Germany to join the U.S.-led endeavor to secure a strategic shipping waterway in the Persian Gulf in the face of rising tensions between Washington and Iran. – The Hill

The UK has invited military representatives of the US, France and other European countries to a meeting in Bahrain on Wednesday in an attempt to create an international mission to safeguard shipping through the strait of Hormuz. – The Guardian

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reiterated that his country will keep the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf open to maritime traffic, amid high tensions with the Islamic Republic of Iran. – Radio Farda

Jason Greenblatt, an envoy for the Trump administration, accused Tehran of ‘exploiting’ the Arab-Israeli conflict for decades, saying the Islamic republic has been “profiting” from the violence. – Arutz Sheva

Josh Rogin writes: After an internal policy battle, the Trump administration is set to announce later this week that it will once again waive five different nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, preserving a key part of the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal. […]For Trump, the goal of the “maximum pressure” campaign is to compel the Iranian regime to come back to the table and agree to a better deal than the one President Barack Obama was able to negotiate. None of those things are likely to happen soon. But under any of those theories, “maximum pressure” could be undermined by this decision. – Washington Post

Luke Coffey writes: As the U.S. works with allies to plan such a mission, it must ensure that any task force is a coalition of the willing, has strong British involvement, takes advantage of existing command structures, involves regional and Asian countries, and considers burden sharing in a creative way. […]Shipping through the Strait of Hormuz is particularly vulnerable to disruption, given the strait’s extreme narrowness and proximity to Iran. Tehran has repeatedly threatened to close the strategic strait if Iran is attacked. – Heritage Foundation


The U.N. humanitarian chief urged the Security Council on Tuesday to take action to end the “bloody onslaught” in Syria’s last opposition-held stronghold, warning that continued violence could create the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st century. – Associated Press

The explosion that killed an American and a British special operator in Syria last year was caused by coalition forces accidentally and not an enemy, as the Pentagon originally said, U.S. Special Operations Command has determined. – Washington Examiner

In a harsh series of comments reported by Russia’s Tass News Agency on Monday, Russia claimed that the US was involved in “plundering Syrian oil facilities” and “training militants” in Syria. Although Russia has in the past condemned America’s role in Syria, the statement reflects increased attention from Moscow on the issue. – Jerusalem Post


Israel on Tuesday lambasted a Canadian Federal Court ruling that wines produced in Israeli settlements can no longer be labeled as “Made in Israel,” saying the decision will embolden the pro-Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. – Times of Israel

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib once again expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and accused the Israeli government of “racist policies”. – Arutz Sheva

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promoting a new plan to build 700 housing units for Palestinians alongside 6,000 housing units in West Bank settlements, in an apparent response to American pressure. All of the construction is planned for Area C, which is under full Israeli civilian and security control. – Ynet

The Virginia Democratic lawmaker who disrupted President Trump’s speech in Jamestown on Tuesday has a history of making anti-Israel remarks on social media. – Fox News

The Israeli military has not adapted to changes in its enemies’ capabilities to threaten Israel’s home front during wartime in recent years, said Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, the head of the IDF’s Home Front Command. The General Staff has not taken these threats into account almost at all in planning for times of emergency and war, he wrote in a new article in an Israeli military journal. – Haaretz


Iraq’s paramilitary groups need two more months to integrate with the country’s security forces, a senior official said Tuesday, underscoring the challenges of bringing them under government control amid concerns they pose a threat to American interests. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s military entrenchment in Iraq poses a threat to Israel, defense officials say. Iran began bolstering its presence in Iraq after Israel stepped up attacks on Iranian targets in Syria and Syrian President Bashar Assad regained control over most of his country. – Haaretz

Under the headline “The Courageous Israeli Army Bombed the Nest of Iran’s Collaborators in Iraq,” he praised the Israeli attack on “the Iranian forces of evil” and the “terrorist devils” among the collaborators with Iran, adding that Iran aspires to take over and destroy the Arab lands while Israel is revealed as a friend and potential ally of the Arabs. The following are translated excerpts from Taher’s article. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Al-Rashed, formerly the editor-in-chief of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and currently the head of the editorial board of Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya TV and Al-Hadath TV, wrote that the incident was the result of Iranian propaganda, and was in fact part of a broad campaign by Iran to transform Iraq into an arena for fighting its opponents, including the U.S. and the Gulf states. The following is Al-Rashed’s article, as it appeared in the English-language Saudi daily Arab News. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Gulf States

Saudi Arabia, one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, will host a media forum and award ceremony in what the kingdom said was an attempt to improve its reputation — an announcement that comes less than a year after the assassination of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. – Washington Post

Simon Henderson writes: The timing of the executions adds an unpredictable ingredient to the current regional tensions, already enlivened by Iranian actions against shipping and indications that the United States may no longer be willing to act as the ultimate guarantor of Gulf security. Although Bahrain wants a higher international profile, many are concerned about its repeated failure to bring Shia citizens fully into society, with the result that some frustrated youths look instead to Iranian-supported militancy. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The Islamic State had tried to wipe out the Yazidis, whose faith mixes elements of Islam with pre-Islamic beliefs. Four years on, the genocidal campaign against the already isolated religious minority casts a long shadow, challenging the faith’s long-standing tenets and piling pressure on the religious establishment to navigate the needs of survivors. – Washington Post

The IAF used its F-35i stealth fighter jets to hit two Iraqi bases that were used by Iranian forces and proxies and for storing ballistic missiles, the London-based Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

U.S. President Donald Trump plans to outline his “deal of the century” Middle East peace plan to Arab leaders at a summit before Israel’s Sept. 17 election, Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported on Wednesday. – Bloomberg

Greece accused Turkey of undermining security in the eastern Mediterranean by drilling for oil and gas around Cyprus, making some of the strongest comments on the issue from Athens’ newly elected government. – Reuters

The political repercussions of a deadly shooting in Lebanon have paralyzed government at a critical moment and risk complicating efforts to enact reforms needed to steer the heavily indebted state away from financial crisis. […]The minister involved is Saleh al-Gharib, an ally of Druze politician Talal Arslan who is close to Damascus and enjoys the backing of the heavily armed Shi’ite Hezbollah. – Reuters

Steven Emerson writes: Hezbollah established educational and athletic networks, including its “Sports Mobilization” network, to indoctrinate young people into embracing the terrorist organization’s radical ideology, a recent Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center report finds. […]Sports teams and facilities are named after Hezbollah operatives killed during militant operations. Children are encouraged to follow in their footsteps. This phenomenon is similar to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s use of educational facilities and athletic activities to incite violence against Israel and encourage children to become terrorists. Algemeiner

James Phillips and Michael Johns Jr. write: As lamentable as it is that Ankara has drifted steadily away from the West under his leadership, Erdogan will pass—painfully, like a kidney stone—and a post-Erdogan Turkey should have the opportunity to recommit to its Western alliances instead of being forced into Moscow’s embrace. – The Daily Signal

Korean Peninsula

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off the country’s east coast early Wednesday morning, South Korea’s military said, Pyongyang’s second weapons test in under a week as the Kim regime appears to be adding pressure on the U.S. during an impasse in nuclear talks. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would encourage Washington’s two biggest Asian allies Japan and South Korea “to find a path forward” from their diplomatic row when he meets their foreign ministers in Bangkok this week. – Reuters

Japan would continue to seek a summit with North Korea, without conditions, despite the latest missile launch by Pyongyang, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he’s very hopeful for a quick resumption in nuclear talks with North Korea despite the North’s recent weapons tests that have clouded already uncertain prospects for a return to the table. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump has sent mementos from his brief visit to North Korea last month to Kim Jong Un, but substantive nuclear talks between the two countries have not yet resumed. – Associated Press

A North Korean official told a White House National Security Council counterpart last week that working-level talks to revive denuclearization negotiations with North Korea would start very soon, a senior U.S. administration official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

South Korea is seeking an annual $350 million in trade sanctions against the United States in an Obama-era dispute over tariffs on steel pipes, it said in a World Trade Organization (WTO) filing published on Tuesday. – Reuters

The Justice Department has filed corruption charges against the head of a Busan, Korea,-based husbanding services provider in a case with unmistakable echoes of the Fat Leonard scandal that has rocked the Navy since the investigation was revealed in 2013. – Defense News


An official gauge of China’s manufacturing activity picked up in July, though it remained anemic, building the case for fresh policy support from Beijing to counter economic headwinds. – Wall Street Journal

The majority of people sent to re-education camps in China’s restive Xinjiang region have been released and found work, senior officials said, without offering specific numbers or evidence to support their claims that the program of mass internment of Muslims has been a success. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese and U.S. negotiators resumed trade talks, taking tentative steps to overcome mutual mistrust and limited political appetite for a breakthrough agreement after weeks of recriminations. – Wall Street Journal

A crackdown on the chemical sector by the Chinese government is having a bigger impact on businesses than the U.S.-China trade war, an industry association official said Wednesday, with supply chains disrupted by tough inspections and plant closures. – Reuters

A U.S. appeals court said on Tuesday it had upheld a ruling by a U.S. judge who held three large Chinese banks in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoenas in a probe into violations of sanctions on North Korea, opening the way for heavy daily fines. – Reuters

President Trump is warning China not to wait until the 2020 election to reach a trade agreement. […]He added, however, that if he wins reelection, the deal offered to China will be “tougher” than the one currently being negotiated. He also warned of the possibility of “no deal at all.” – The Hill

A new Chinese defense ministry policy paper counters the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy by casting the U.S. as an aggressive and destabilizing force in Asia. – USNI News

South Asia

The State Department wasted $103 million in an urgent effort to build a security compound in Afghanistan before abandoning the project with almost nothing to show for it, the agency’s inspector general said in a report issued Tuesday. – Washington Post

Afghan security forces and their American-led international allies have killed more civilians so far this year than the Taliban have, the United Nations said in a report on Tuesday, once again raising alarm that ordinary Afghans are bearing the brunt of an increasingly deadly 18-year war. – New York Times

A roadside bomb tore through a bus in western Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 32 people, including children, a provincial official said. […]No one immediately claimed responsibility, but Taliban insurgents operate in the region and frequently use roadside bombs to target government officials and security forces. – Associated Press

The Pentagon has announced the names of two U.S. soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan on Monday. […]Pentagon spokesperson Jessica R. Maxwell says the incident is under investigation. – Associated Press

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a veteran of the Afghanistan War, on Tuesday vowed to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan during his first year in office if elected president. – The Hill

Five people including two policemen were killed and 27 injured in a blast near a police station in southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Tuesday evening, a week after a similar blast that killed two people, police said. – Reuters


Authorities on Tuesday charged 44 people with rioting, an offense that can carry a multiyear prison sentence, as the city’s Beijing-backed government takes a tougher stance to try to restore order after weeks of increasingly volatile protests. – Wall Street Journal

China said it would stop granting individual citizens permission to travel to Taiwan from Thursday, citing the current state of cross-strait relations, as Beijing ramps up economic pressure on the self-ruled island and its assertive leader. – Washington Post

A Vietnamese fishermen’s group has called on the government to take stronger measures for the removal of a Chinese oil survey vessel that Vietnam accuses of violating its sovereignty in the South China Sea. – Reuters

Southeast Asian foreign ministers opened their annual meeting Wednesday with a call from host Thailand for deeper integration to expand trade and bolster prosperity in the region amid rising global challenges. – Associated Press

Westerners living in Hong Kong are being targeted online by China’s state-owned media and local pro-Beijing politicians who have accused them of stoking demonstrations that have now run into their eighth week. – The Guardian

President Donald Trump on Wednesday plans to meet with Battulga Khaltmaa, the president of Mongolia, a land-locked country the U.S. views as strategically important as tensions rise with the nations sandwiching it, China and Russia. – Bloomberg

China blamed continuing protests in Hong Kong on the U.S. after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped “the Chinese will do the right thing” in response to the ongoing demonstrations, according to a Bloomberg report. – The Hill

Editorial: The 1997 handover of Hong Kong promised “one country, two systems” in which the territory could preserve its autonomy and freedoms for 50 more years. By chipping away at those freedoms and by using strong-arm tactics to suppress the protests, China’s leaders are revealing their true intent, which is one country, one system — to coerce Hong Kong into the mainland’s grip. […]China is making a large and potentially costly mistake by failing to understand the protests and the reasons behind them. – Washington Post

Claudia Rosett writes: If the U.S., Europe or any of the world’s democracies have a plan to keep China’s jackboot off Hong Kong’s throat, now would be the time to try it out. Abandoning the freedom-loving people of Hong Kong in their hour of need would send Mr. Xi a dangerous message. He would view it as an invitation to send the People’s Liberation Army on its next adventure. – Wall Street Journal


An international team of researchers has traced an unusual 2017 radioactive release that blanketed a large part of Europe to Russia. – Washington Post

A Russian diplomat said Tuesday that the United States may be planning to withdraw from the Comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Reuters reported. – The Hill

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, told opposition activists on Tuesday he would not allow their protest movement to plunge the Russian capital into anarchy and accused them of plotting mass disorder. – Reuters

Edward Lucas writes: This open and exciting contest contrasts sharply with the stagnant and secretive goings-on in the Chinese Communist Party leadership. In both China and Russia, the regimes have the guns, the surveillance, the media, the money – all you need to stay in power. Except for one thing: legitimacy. – European Policy Analysis Institute


Many are also eager to maintain the status quo, because it would help to preserve the relatively unrestricted trade that exists between Northern Ireland and Ireland. But British lawmakers who oppose the backstop have expressed concerns that it will force Britain to continue to abide by E.U. trade rules. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump will visit Warsaw from Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 to take part in observances marking the 80th anniversary of World War II, aides to Poland’s president said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Any future US-UK trade deal would almost certainly be blocked by the US Congress if Brexit affects the Irish border and jeopardises peace in Northern Ireland, congressional leaders and diplomats have warned. – The Guardian

The unified European approach to resolving tensions in the Persian Gulf showed signs of strain, with a senior German official warning that the U.K. may be drifting closer to an American-led operation that had previously been rebuffed by the governments in Paris and London. – Bloomberg

Heather A. Conley, Jonathan E. Hillman, and Matthew Melino write: Through means, motive, and opportunity, China’s expanding economic footprint and political avenues of influence in the Western Balkans have deepened, widened, and continue to emanate from Serbia with profound implications for the region’s economic development and long-term dependency. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Demanding an end to the “blood bath,” thousands of student protesters took to the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and cities across the country on Tuesday, a day after four teenage demonstrators and an adult were killed in one of the deadliest episodes in months of unrest. – New York Times

Nigerian police are seeking help from the general public to arrest members of a banned Shi’ite Muslim group whose protests were declared illegal on Sunday, the country’s most senior policeman said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Talks between Sudan’s ruling military council and the opposition over the path to a new sovereign council to run the country after the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir were postponed on Tuesday after four young protesters were shot dead. Below is a timeline of key developments. – Reuters

The Americas

Senator Mitch McConnell is usually impervious to criticism, even celebrating the nasty nicknames critics bestow on him. But Mr. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is incensed by the name “Moscow Mitch,” and even more miffed that he has been called a “Russian asset” by critics who accuse him of single-handedly blocking stronger election security measures after Russia’s interference in 2016. – New York Times

On Tuesday, July 23, the municipality of Takoma Park, Maryland, spent taxpayer dollars to screen a vicious and dishonest film about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. […]Despite impassioned criticism and requests by elected officials to cancel the screening, given the film’s antisemitic nature, Kate Stewart — the mayor of Takoma Park — proceeded with it anyway. – Algemeiner

The Young Israel synagogue in Bal Harbour, Florida, on Monday received a suspicious package with anti-Semitic rhetoric, COLlive reported. – Arutz Sheva

Chinese technicians are working with Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro to knock out internet access in the country, opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s envoy to Washington charges. – Washington Examiner

Hal Brands writes: The administration’s stance gives China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide equivalent gasses, an opportunity to position itself as a responsible power on climate change, and raises international doubts about how committed Washington really is to upholding a healthy, congenial environment in the Arctic and beyond. Trump once famously argued that climate change was a Chinese hoax meant to make the U.S. less competitive. In reality, ignoring climate change will ultimately put America at a strategic disadvantage. – Bloomberg


Canada said Tuesday it is unlikely to reveal a decision on the use of Huawei Technologies Co.’s equipment for use in the country’s next-generation 5G telecommunications network until after the Oct. 21 national election. – Wall Street Journal

Prosecutors have charged the owner of a cybersecurity company and two of his employees with cyber-terrorism over the hacking of the country’s tax agency and the theft of the personal and financial records of nearly every working adult. – Reuters

The U.S.-led “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance said on Tuesday that tech firms must allow law enforcement agencies access to encrypted material, warning that failing to do so put people at risk. – Reuters

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cybersecurity agency issued a security alert on Tuesday warning of a cyber vulnerability in small aircraft that could enable malicious actors to change key readings on the planes. – The Hill

A former Senate staffer has pleaded guilty to aiding computer hacking and attempted evidence tampering for helping a fired co-worker enter a Senate office at night and wiping down computers so the colleague wouldn’t be caught. – Politico

Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced data analytics firm, conducted work for the Leave.EU campaign and the United Kingdom Independence Party ahead of the 2016 referendum on European Union membership, according to a former Cambridge Analytica official. – Politico


Only two of 11 elevators needed to lift munitions to the deck of the U.S. Navy’s new $13 billion aircraft carrier have been installed, according to a Navy veteran who serves on a key House committee. – Bloomberg

As tensions heat up with Iran and North Korea over nuclear weapons, a majority of registered voters thinks the rogue nations pose a risk to the country’s safety. – Fox News

A new antenna could revolutionize Air Force satellite operations and significantly reduce maintenance costs over time ― if it works. – C4ISRNET

Lawmakers approved a second batch of funding to supplement the Marine Corps’ CH-53K heavy lift helicopter program, which saw its flight test program overhauled after challenges with technologies and executing the test requirements efficiently. – USNI News

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) sparred Tuesday night over her proposed “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons during the Democratic debate. – The Hill

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs and Brandi Jackson write: Under the GBSD program, new missiles are designed to outmatch anticipated adversary capabilities through the 2070s. The GBSD system includes new cutting-edge nuclear command-and-control improvements that simply were not available at the time the Minuteman was developed fifty years ago. The new ICBMs will be modular, will permit rapid re-targeting, and could increase the missiles’ payloads to allow for increasingly improved delivery systems. – Hudson Institute

Long War

A federal judge on Tuesday overturned the 2006 conviction of a California man accused of training in a Pakistani terrorist camp and lying to the F.B.I. about it, undoing a case once heralded by federal prosecutors after the Sept. 11 attacks as a proactive victory against terrorism. – New York Times

The terror group ISIS is calling upon its adherents to carry out terrorist attacks in the major Western cities of San Francisco, New York, and London, according to several social media posts monitored by an ISIS watchdog site. – Washington Examiner

Jessica Trisko Darden writes: It has been more than four months since international forces captured ISIS’s final territorial stronghold in Baghouz. But without a clear plan for closing al-Hol and resettling its inhabitants, the remnants of ISIS will continue to be a destabilizing factor and a focal point for those seeking to resurrect the Islamic State’s “caliphate.” – Real Clear World

Trump Administration

A federal judge in Manhattan on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee that had accused President Trump’s 2016 campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia of illegally conspiring to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential run. – New York Times

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., is getting impatient with the FBI in his effort to root out misconduct in the early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation and went over Director Christopher Wray’s head to try and move things along. – Washington Examiner

House Democrats introduced legislation Tuesday that would require campaigns to report any foreign contacts to federal authorities, the latest push for election security following last week’s warnings from former special counsel Robert Mueller. – The Hill

The Senate on Tuesday night approved President Trump’s pick for the No. 2 Pentagon post. Senators confirmed David Norquist to be the deputy Defense secretary by voice vote, completing a key item on the chamber’s pre-recess to-do list. – The Hill

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his choice for the next U.S. spy chief as someone who could “rein in” intelligence agencies that “have run amok,” fueling concerns Trump seeks assessments that support his own views. – Reuters