Fdd's overnight brief

June 12, 2019

In The News


Iran on Tuesday freed Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident and Lebanese national, from prison after nearly four years behind bars, handing him over to Lebanese officials who had spent months negotiating his release. – Washington Post

Shinzo Abe’s visit to Iran this week, the first to that country by a Japanese prime minister in more than 40 years, is the latest in a series of high-minded but long-shot efforts to lift Japan’s influence on the global stage. – New York Times

With Japan’s prime minister on the way to Tehran for a historic visit, a hard-line Iranian paper published a front page image Wednesday of a mushroom cloud from a nuclear blast — a reference to America’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II that underscores the challenge ahead for Shinzo Abe. – Associated Press

Iran’s foreign minister warned the U.S. on Monday that it “cannot expect to stay safe” after launching what he described as an economic war against Tehran, taking a hard-line stance amid a visit by Germany’s top diplomat seeking to defuse tensions. – Associated Press

The United States said on Tuesday that Iran’s work with advanced centrifuges is a breach of the nuclear deal Washington has already pulled out of, expressing its concern while repeating that it is open to holding talks with Tehran. – Reuters

In response to questions today in Tehran from a reporter for the mass circulation German paper Bild, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated his country’s lethal homophobic law and its opposition to the Jewish state and the US. – Jerusalem Post


Syrian air defenses intercepted a Wednesday pre-dawn Israeli attack on military positions in the south of the country, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported. – Ynet

The United States on Tuesday slapped sanctions on Syrian businessman Samer Foz and his family, who have close ties to President Bashar al-Assad and who Washington said has made millions by developing properties on land seized from those who have fled the Syrian war. – Reuters

Syria’s state-run news agency says Israel has attacked a military position in southern Syria, causing material damage. SANA said that during the Wednesday morning attack on al-Harra hill, Syrian air defenses were able to shoot down some of the Israeli missiles before they reached their target. – Associated Press


Russia said on Tuesday it plans to deliver its S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey in July, setting the clock ticking on a U.S. threat to hit Ankara with sanctions if it goes ahead with a deal that has strained ties between the NATO allies. – Reuters

Turkey killed 10 Kurdish militants in Syria’s Tel Rifaat region on Sunday in retaliation for an attack that killed a Turkish soldier, the Turkish Defence Ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Training for Turkish F-35 pilots has stopped as the Pentagon prepares to expel Turkey from the joint strike fighter program, but Turkish students learning to maintain the F-35 at Eglin Air Force base will be able to complete their training, a base spokeswoman has confirmed. – Defense News


The head of the IDF Northern Command on Tuesday threatened overt and covert action against the Hezbollah terror group and its home country of Lebanon, in response to its efforts to build up terrorist infrastructure along the border, in the latest of increasingly bellicose statements by senior military officers against the Iran-backed Lebanese militia. – Times of Israel

Israeli troops exchanged fire with Palestinian security forces in the northern West Bank city of Nablus early Tuesday morning in what the Israel Defense Forces said was an apparent case of mistaken identity. – Times of Israel

The datebooks of Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan for 2018 reveal that he cooperated with the Mossad in the fight against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. – Haaretz

The time has come for the international community to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Jewish state’s UN envoy said in a letter to the president of the Security Council. […]Danon’s missive came in response to a complaint against Israel filed with the Security Council by Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour, who called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, with a capital in East Jerusalem, “before we have reached a point of no return.” – Algemeiner

Two hundred local security coordinators expressed anger and frustration over the ongoing arson terrorism against Israel’s south and its effect on their communities at an emergency conference held on Tuesday. Thousands of incendiary balloons have been launched at Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip since the “March of Return” riots began last year. They have caused millions of dollars in damage to agricultural lands and nature reserves in southern Israel. – Algemeiner

Moldova will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, the government of the small Eastern European country said Tuesday. The announcement followed fallout from a constitutional crisis and power struggle that ended last week with a constitutional court’s suspension of the country’s elected president, Igor Dodon. – Times of Israel

The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday said it “deeply regrets” the decision by Egypt and Jordan to participate in the upcoming American-sponsored economic workshop in Bahrain and called on them and other “brotherly” nations to withdraw. – Times of Israel

Israel announced Tuesday it will further scale back the Gaza fishing zone from 10 nautical miles to six, in response to a number of arson attacks from the coastal enclave throughout the day. – Times of Israel

Arabian Peninsula

House Democrats on Wednesday will launch their bid to block the Trump administration from completing 22 arms sales largely benefiting Saudi Arabia, but hurdles in the Senate — and expected veto threats — could undermine what’s become a bipartisan effort to prevent the president from completing the deals. – Washington Post

The Trump administration is pressing Saudi Arabia to show “tangible progress” toward holding to account those behind the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and wants them to do so before the one-year anniversary of his murder, a senior administration official said. – Reuters

N. Mozes writes: During Ramadan, the SAM FM radio station, which broadcasts from Sanaa, Yemen and supports the Houthi rebels, launched a fundraising campaign for the Houthi armed forces, titled “Mobilize for the Sake of Yemen’s Finest.” The campaign, which was also held last year, was conducted in three parts, lasting about 10 days each. This year, however, the third part of the campaign was devoted to collecting funds for the Lebanese Hizbullah, under the title “From Yemen, [Land] of Faith, to the Lebanese Resistance”. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Korean Peninsula

A letter from Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, expressing his condolences on the death of a former South Korean first lady will be delivered to South Korean officials at the countries’ border on Wednesday by Mr. Kim’s sister, officials said. – New York Times

The slain half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had been in touch with the security services of several countries in the region, including South Korea, China and Japan, a person familiar with the matter said, in relationships he cultivated alongside his ties to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he would not approve of U.S. intelligence agencies using family members of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as assets, a day after a report that Kim’s half brother had traveled to Malaysia to meet his CIA contact before being assassinated there in 2017. – Associated Press

A year after President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un met for the first time, they appear committed to a personal bond upon which hopes for peace appear to rest, despite a stalemate in efforts to get Kim to abandon nuclear weapons. – Reuters

A third summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is possible but the ball is in Pyongyang’s court, White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The U.S. and its allies accused North Korea of importing more petroleum so far this year than allowed under United Nations sanctions, according to a report sent to a Security Council committee. – Bloomberg


Police fired tear gas and used rubber bullets on protesters in Hong Kong, in an attempt to drive away thousands of demonstrators who had blocked roads and forced the closure of the city’s legislature before lawmakers could debate a controversial extradition bill. – Wall Street Journal

Two weeks before talks between the United States and China broke down, Beijing quietly called one of its most formidable trade negotiators out of a pre-retirement posting. The negotiator, Yu Jianhua, a 28-year veteran of trade talks with American officials and at the World Trade Organization, returned to Beijing in mid-April from his position as China’s ambassador to the United Nations’ offices in Geneva. – New York Times

With under three weeks to go before proposed talks between the Chinese and U.S. leaders, expectations for progress toward ending the trade war are low and sources say there has been little preparation for a meeting even as the health of the world economy is at stake. – Reuters

The pointed message from the acting Pentagon chief comes as the Trump administration is at odds with China over a wide range of issues, including trade, Chinese theft of American technology, the possible sale of U.S. weapons to Taiwan and how to pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons program. – Associated Press

Michael Schuman writes: It has become almost an article of faith that the U.S. and China are stumbling into a tech cold war — a superpower slugfest for mastery of future technologies and, with them, the global economy. […]The best path for China may be to follow in the footsteps of Japan and Korea — to produce a few leading companies able to carve out a global presence and become an integral part of the world’s tech landscape. But that hardly describes a cold war. It sounds more like capitalist competition. – Bloomberg


Relations between the U.S. and Russia are at their most dangerous point in years, said a top Russian diplomat, with the two rivals locked in a stalemate over how to revive an important Cold War-era arms treaty and President Vladimir Putin blaming Washington for failing to undertake talks on new weapons pacts. – Wall Street Journal

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that a U.S. idea for President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet at a meeting of the G20 in Japan later this month was hanging in the air and that there were no discussions on specifics yet. – Reuters

Two expert witnesses called in front of the House Intelligence Committee both plan to testify Wednesday that Russia is a threat. But where Stephanie Douglas, the former executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch invited by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Andrew McCarthy, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York invited by ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., disagree is on Attorney General William Barr’s investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. – Washington Examiner

Eli Lake writes: When it comes to Russia, Finland lets its actions do the talking. In the last five years, it has begun an effort to modernize its military with weapons that are interoperable with those of the NATO alliance. It has also increased its military exercises with the U.S. and NATO member states. […]Niinisto does not seek to provoke Russia. At the same time, he has pursued a foreign policy aligned with the West. – Bloomberg

Mark Gongloff writes: Sharing one giant, resource-rich landmass, China and Russia are in many ways natural enemies. But for now they have more reasons to team up against the U.S. instead, and it’s not clear the U.S. is ready to deal with it. The China-U.S. rivalry is more glaring these days, mainly because President Donald Trump keeps aggravating it. – Bloomberg


President Trump and his Polish counterpart will meet on Wednesday to make what administration officials said would be a major announcement on troop deployments, an outcome of talks over a Polish push for a permanent U.S. military presence at a proposed “Fort Trump.” – Wall Street Journal

French judicial authorities are investigating five people after uncovering an ultra-right plot to attack a religious venue. A judicial official said Tuesday that two people, one a minor, were arrested and placed under investigation in May for criminal terrorist association. – Associated Press

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that he would support German Chancellor Angela Merkel if she were to seek to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission. – Reuters

A Moroccan-born Spaniard and his Mexican wife are denying charges in their retrial that they helped recruit militants for the Islamic State group in Madrid. […]The couple, both Muslims, testified again Tuesday after the National Court ruled that evidence given in the original trial should have included testimony from three others accused in the case, who admitted terror-related crimes and therefore did not take the stand. – Associated Press

Nigel Farage, Britain’s populist champion of Brexit, says he will campaign alongside President Trump during next year’s election if he is invited to help the 2020 effort. Farage’s role in an against-the-odds Brexit referendum win in 2016 led to him speaking at a Trump campaign event in Mississippi last time around. – Washington Examiner

Twenty years after Nato ground troops first entered Kosovo at the end of a 78-day aerial bombardment, 3,500 troops from the military alliance remain on the ground in the fledgling nation where the conflict is still yet to be definitively settled. – The Guardian

The Central Council of Jews in Germany launched stinging criticism on Tuesday against the Jewish Museum in Berlin for its alleged endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. – Jerusalem Post

A man armed with three knives who pretended to be Jewish attempted to enter an Antwerp synagogue over the holiday of Shavuot before being apprehended. – Arutz Sheva


Sudanese security forces have continued to commit “war crimes and other serious human rights violations” in the Darfur region, Amnesty International said Tuesday, as the African country has been rocked by political turmoil following the military’s ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April. – Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates is continuing its communications with the Sudanese opposition and the ruling military council, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday in a tweet. – Reuters

Ghana forces have rescued two Canadian women who were kidnapped last week outside their hostel in Ghana’s second city of Kumasi, the Ghanaian government said in a statement on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Americas

The January ban on U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil and on U.S. diluent exports to Venezuela broke off flows to and from the South American country’s major traditional customer and supplier, respectively. Countries that are still purchasers and suppliers, notably Russia, will likely ignore further sanctions. – Wall Street Journal

Donald Trump Jr. will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week. Trump Jr. is poised to testify privately before the panel for approximately two to four hours concerning the committee’s Russia investigation Wednesday, according to multiple media reports. He was subpoenaed by the committee in April after special counsel Robert Mueller’s federal Russia investigation concluded. – Washington Examiner

Donald Trump brandished a document on Tuesday confirming details of a regional asylum project agreed with Mexico to stave off threatened tariffs, saying the plan was “secret” even though Mexican officials had revealed much of it. – Reuters

At about 2 a.m. on March 21, eight Venezuelan intelligence agents drove to the home of the top advisor to opposition leader Juan Guaido and broke down the door. They searched the bedroom of their suspect – Guaido’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero – finding two military-style rifles and a grenade, the agents said in sealed court records reviewed by Reuters and being made public for the first time. – New York Post


Adm. Robert Burke became the vice chief of naval operations, taking over the post from Adm. Bill Moran on Monday. Until the end of May, Burke had been the chief of naval personnel, also a role he took over from Moran, who is scheduled to become chief of naval operations later this summer. – USNI News

House Armed Services Committee members on both sides of the aisle have different defense spending priorities but there’s not much daylight between Republicans and Democrats on the final topline spending number. – USNI News

The Navy is a year away from receiving its first deployable CMV-22 Osprey, the carrier onboard delivery aircraft of the future, but pilots, aircrewmen and maintainers are already getting familiar with operating tiltrotor aircraft on aircraft carriers. – USNI News

The Navy wants to develop and procure three new types of unmanned vehicles (UVs) in FY2020 and beyond—Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs), Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MUSVs), and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs). The Navy is requesting $628.8 million in FY2020 research and development funding for these three UV programs and their enabling technologies. – USNI News

A planned 3.1% military pay raise is safe, but wrangling will continue over the shape of the defense budget on issues ranging from nuclear weapons and the Space Force to the border wall and Guantanamo Bay, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Monday. – Military.com

A US lawmaker has submitted a House bill to purchase two Israeli-developed Iron Dome batteries and deploy them to protect American soldiers. The proposal lodged by Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill (New Jersey) on Monday came four months after the Israeli Defense Ministry and US Department of Defense confirmed the upcoming purchase. – Times of Israel

Rebeccah Heinrichs writes: Democrats should join Republicans in supporting efforts by the Trump administration to adapt the nuclear deterrent, especially at a time when there is a new focus on the importance of deterring Russia and China. Although committed to further reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the United States arsenal, President Obama chose during his second term to eschew unilateral nuclear reductions and limitations. […]The Trump administration seeks to build on the commitments made by previous Democratic and Republican administrations to maintain and adapt the nuclear triad. – The Hill