Fdd's overnight brief

June 13, 2019

In The News


The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday imposed sanctions on an Iraqi company it said had trafficked hundreds of millions of dollars in arms for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s president pressed Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, to break with U.S. economic sanctions on Tehran, highlighting the challenge Mr. Abe faces in trying to help ease a military standoff between the U.S. and Iran. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s judicial system is often opaque, and the details of individual cases can be difficult to ascertain. But international human rights groups say the country has a pattern of “unfair” trials and a history of executing Iranians for gay sex. Official punishments for some same-sex relationships range from the death penalty to floggings for less severe violations such as kissing. Women found guilty of violating the country’s sharia laws prohibiting homosexuality risk being flogged, too. It is unclear how many Iranians have been sentenced under those laws since the Islamic revolution in 1979. – Washington Post

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned of unintended clashes in the crisis-hit Middle East after meeting the Iranian president in Tehran on Wednesday, amid a brewing confrontation between Iran and the United States. – Reuters

The Iranian military unveiled on 9 June a new surface-to-air missile (SAM) system named 15 Khordad: the Persian calendar date of an uprising in 1963. – Jane’s 360  

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran on Wednesday that Japan wants to keep buying Iranian oil, as tension between Tehran and Washington stokes fears of fresh conflict in the Middle East. – Reuters  

Iran has been racing to step up exports of petrochemicals and tap new markets to compensate for sliding oil sales, Iranian and international industry sources said, but now risks losing that crucial revenue as Washington tightens the screw on sanctions. – Reuters


Turkey has already purchased S-400 defense systems from Russia and hopes they will be delivered in July, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, an announcement likely to ratchet up tensions with NATO ally Washington. – Reuters

Turkey on Wednesday criticized a letter from Washington on Ankara’s eventual removal from the F-35 fighter jet program, saying the language used did not suit the spirit of alliance between the two NATO allies. – Reuters  


The Israeli government said late Wednesday that the fishing zone off the coast of Gaza had been closed, in retaliation for the launch of incendiary balloons from the Palestinian enclave. – Agence France-Presse

Israeli aircraft attacked a Hamas target in Gaza on Thursday after a Palestinian rocket strike, the Israeli military said, in the first serious cross-border flare-up since a surge in fighting last month. – Reuters

Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) executive committee, says that the Trump administration’s upcoming economic conference in Bahrain will be an “embarrassment” for its organizer, President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. – Newsweek

A day after the latest report of an IDF strike in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday commented on the “unending” security challenges facing Israel. – Algemeiner

Close to half of Israelis are in favor of removing the 12-year-long blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, a new study by the Academic Institute for Structural Reforms has found. – Jerusalem Post

Hanin Ghaddar writes: After seven years of international efforts to resolve their maritime border dispute, Lebanon and Israel seem close to agreeing on a framework to negotiate the issue in order to accelerate offshore oil and gas exploration. […]At the same time, there may be opportunities to at least discuss important matters beyond the technical details of border demarcation. […]Yet negotiators could still use them as a lever to kick off a national defense dialogue—which could in turn bring more domestic pressure to bear on Hezbollah’s efforts to expand its arsenal of missiles and other advanced weapons. – Washington Institute

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: Kremlin-controlled press outlets such as RIA Novosti have made wild claims that Washington and Israel intend to recognize dictator Bashar al-Assad’s legitimacy and lift sanctions in exchange for Moscow deterring Iranian influence in Syria. Although U.S. envoy James Jeffrey has reportedly denied that such concessions are on the table, Putin is likely looking for a deal along those lines. Even if that questionable goal falls through, he no doubt believes that his legitimacy—and therefore his regional leverage—will be enhanced simply by attending the meeting. – Washington Institute

Amos Harel writes: The crisis that erupted between the United States and Turkey over Ankara s intention to buy the S-400 anti-aircraft defense system from Russia could have far-reaching implications for Israel. – Haaretz

Avi Issacharoff writes: Facing such pressure, Hamas now sees an opportunity. Israel’s coming elections, it knows from very recent experience, make Netanyahu vulnerable to pressure. This could be an advantageous time to obtain new concessions, mainly through its tried and tested method of carefully controlled increases in violence on the ground. – Times of Israel

Raphael Ahren writes: There is a real likelihood that even these Arab leaders who are going to Bahrain will, when the real core issues are being discussed, respond to the administration by saying, “We were open-minded enough to participate in your economic workshop, which did not make us popular among supporters of the Palestinian cause, but you cannot expect us to also support the second, core part of your proposal.” If so, the success of Bahrain will be rendered irrelevant by the failure portended by the Palestinians’ boycott. – Times of Israel

Gulf States

A missile fired by Iran-allied militias in Yemen injured 26 civilians in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, according to a U.S.-backed military coalition fighting the insurgents, an attack that comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Republican members of Congress pushed back on Wednesday against President Donald Trump’s plan to sell $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, saying it was “unfortunate” the administration used an emergency declaration to avoid Congressional review. – Reuters

Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. – Associated Press

A U.N. mission monitoring a peace deal between warring parties in Yemen’s Hodeidah region said on Wednesday it had not detected any Houthi military forces in three key ports since the group withdrew a month ago. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia

A Yemeni rebel missile attack on an airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia wounded 26 civilians on Wednesday, drawing promises of “stern action” from the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels. – Agence France-Presse

Austria’s government said on Wednesday it plans to shut a Saudi-funded center for religious dialogue in Vienna after parliament urged it to try to prevent the possible execution of a teenager in Saudi Arabia over acts committed when he was a minor. – Reuters

Saudi Vice Minister of Defense Khalid bin Salman said the targeting of Abha Airport by Iranian-backed Houthi militia is “a continuation of their immoral and criminal behavior that is in line with the malign behavior of their patrons.” – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Two Russian news agencies reported late Wednesday that the Russian military had announced a cease-fire agreement to halt the fighting between Syrian government and rebel forces in northwest Syria. – New York Times

Iraq will not be partaking in the Bahrain summit in which the United States is set to release the economic part of its peace plan, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman told Al-Miyadin. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinian officials on Wednesday expressed disappointment over the decision by some Arab states – including Jordan, Egypt and Morocco – to attend the US-led economic conference in Bahrain later this month. – Jerusalem Post

Aaron Magid writes: This non-committal response has allowed Amman to avoid a crisis with the U.S., its largest financial backer, while at the same time preserving Jordan’s strong support for the Palestinian cause. Jordan wasn’t able to maintain this stance forever though. On June 11, U.S. officials told AP and Reuters that Jordan would attend the Trump administration’s conference in Bahrain, scheduled for June 25-26, under the pretext of boosting the Palestinian economy. Forced to choose, the Jordanian government seems to have opted to follow Washington’s wishes over those of its overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian domestic audience. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent his sister to the border with South Korea on Wednesday to offer condolences for the death of a former first lady, in the first significant interaction between the two countries in months. – Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was “in no rush” to make a deal with North Korea to get it to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, and touted what he called his positive relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. – Reuters

The United States is accusing North Korea of breaching a UN-imposed ceiling on fuel imports by carrying out dozens of ship-to-ship transfers this year, according to a report obtained by AFP on Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at least one other university have research partnerships with a Chinese artificial intelligence company that has business ties with police in China’s Xinjiang region, where a sweeping crackdown on Uighurs has drawn international condemnation. – Reuters

President Donald Trump said he had no deadline for China to return to trade talks, other than the one in his head. – Bloomberg

The prosecutors in the case against a Chinese woman accused of trespassing at President Trump’s Florida resort indicated they are building a national security case against her. – Washington Examiner

Joseph Bosco writes: At least four times in recent decades, a U.S. president has been presented with opportunities and risks from a popular uprising against an oppressive foreign adversary that threatens American interests. Now President Trump, still addressing the consequences of the earlier unconsummated events, faces a new situation as the people of Hong Kong defy Beijing’s further erosion of their guaranteed rights of limited self-government. – The Hill

South Asia

Militants killed five Indian paramilitary police on Wednesday in an attack on security forces deployed in a Kashmiri town, a senior police officer said. – Reuters

The top U.S. diplomat for South Asia said India’s newly re-elected Hindu nationalist administration should quickly condemn religious violence and hold extremists accountable. – Bloomberg

In a move to bolster India’s space warfare capabilities, the ruling National Democratic Alliance government has approved the creation of the Defence Space Research Organisation. – Defense News

The Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has unveiled a plan to increase overseas diplomatic engagement to support a major boost in defence exports over the coming few years. – Jane’s 360  


As tens of thousands of protesters returned to Hong Kong’s streets on Wednesday to speak out against a proposed law that would allow extraditions to mainland China, one prominent voice has been largely silent: big business. But quietly, a wave of concern has spread through the community of foreign consultants, investors and executives who depend on Hong Kong as a safe base from which to do business in China. – New York Times

Last year, Australia expanded data surveillance powers and passed a new set of secrecy offenses that sparked concern about the future of public-interest and investigative journalism in Australia. – Washington Post

Taiwan’s pro-independence ruling party took a major step Thursday toward nominating incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen — a thorn in the side of China — as its candidate for a second presidential term. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump said Wednesday he understands Hong Kong protesters who have risen up against plans to allow extraditions to China, but hopes they can “work it out” with Beijing. – Agence France-Presse

Australia will soon offer millions of dollars in funding for infrastructure projects in the Pacific, two sources familiar with the plan told Reuters, as part of its efforts to undercut Chinese influence. – Reuters

Protests in Hong Kong over planned new extradition laws with China are “hammering” the city’s reputation, with outbreaks of “lawlessness” undermining rule of law, Chinese state media said in editorials published on Thursday. – Reuters

A pending sale of F-16 fighters, Abrams tanks, anti-armor and anti-aircraft missiles, to Taiwan drew rebukes from Beijing but also set off alarms on the island about its ability retain talent and develop home-made defenses, one of its leading security experts said Wednesday. – USNI News

Charles Edel and John Lee write: Regardless of any trade deal that the Donald Trump administration might strike with Beijing, and irrespective of who the next US president is, the American response to a more externally aggressive and internally repressive China is likely to endure and become sharper, broader and deeper. The future of the US-Australia alliance must evolve with this reality in mind. […]Following nearly 70 years of a formal treaty relationship, the two countries are well-suited to working together on security and defence matters in support of that vision. But as a more comprehensive and assertive US strategy emerges, cooperating in other areas might become more challenging if Australian and US interests are, or are perceived to be, less well aligned. – United States Study Centre


Justice Department officials intend to interview senior C.I.A. officers as they review the Russia investigation, according to people briefed on the matter, indicating they are focused partly on the intelligence agencies’ most explosive conclusion about the 2016 election: that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia intervened to benefit Donald J. Trump. – New York Times

President Vladimir Putin said in an interview published on Thursday that relations between Moscow and Washington were getting worse and worse, noting that the current U.S. administration had imposed dozens of sanctions on Russia. – Reuters

Over the past 18 months, the Russian military has reportedly been expanding and building up its forces and infrastructure in Crimea. A U.S. intelligence official told Defense One that Russia was conducting “a deliberate and systematic buildup of their forces on the peninsula.” – Washington Examiner

Top Russian officials have said they hold the United States responsible for the current crisis regarding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump unilaterally left last year, spurring mounting international tensions. – Newsweek


President Trump signed an agreement to send 1,000 additional U.S. troops to Poland while treating his visiting Polish counterpart to a military flyover at the White House as thanks for a commitment to buy F-35 jet fighters. – Wall Street Journal

Boris Johnson, the leading candidate to become the U.K.’s next prime minister, laid out his plan to take the country out of the European Union by Oct. 31, if necessary without a divorce deal to smooth Britain’s exit. – Wall Street Journal

Donald Trump upped his criticism of Germany on Wednesday as he threatened sanctions over Angela Merkel’s continued support for a gas pipeline from Russia and warned that he could shift troops away from the NATO ally over its defense spending. – Bloomberg

The Spanish navy and air force are still interested in the American F-35 fighter jet, even though the government is about to join a Franco-German program to develop a new European plane. – Defense News

Editorial: Moldova now has a fragile chance to cleanse its political system. But it will need more support than it has gotten so far from Western governments, including the Trump administration. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid is an optimist. […]In this respect, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are not the only states on the front lines of Russian aggression. All of NATO’s allies are threatened by Moscow’s spies, corrupt bankers and computer hackers. From Kaljulaid’s perspective, Trump’s actual policies reflect an understanding of these dangers — even if Trump himself often sounds like he seeks a separate peace with NATO’s gravest adversary. – Bloomberg


The US State Department nominated experienced Africa hand Donald Booth as a special envoy to Sudan Wednesday, hoping he can help craft a “peaceful political solution” between the military rulers and groups seeking civilian rule. – Agence France-Presse

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa on Wednesday joined an international effort to press Sudan’s military rulers and the opposition toward a deal on a transition to democracy two months after the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir. – Reuters

Sudan’s foreign ministry summoned on Wednesday the British ambassador in Khartoum to protest his remarks on political developments in the country, Sudan’s state news agency (SUNA) reported. –  Reuters

Around 300 suspected Boko Haram militants swarmed onto an island on Lake Chad in Cameroon’s far north on Sunday and killed 24 people, including 16 Cameroonian soldiers stationed at military outposts, officials said on Wednesday. – Reuters


China’s ambassador to London warned the British government that if Huawei is blocked from developing 5G networks then it will hurt Chinese trade and investment relationship with the United Kingdom. – Reuters

Telegram founder Pavel Durov said a massive cyber-attack on his messaging service originated in China, raising questions about whether Beijing tried to disrupt a protest involving hundreds of thousands that erupted on the streets of Hong Kong. – Bloomberg

Huawei Technologies Co., already under siege by the Trump administration, on Wednesday urged the U.S. Federal Communications Commission not to join the fight. – Bloomberg


Over the past several years, U.S. Defense Department leaders have gone from citing technical problems as their biggest concern for the F-35 program to bemoaning the expense of buying and sustaining the aircraft. – Defense News

The House Armed Services Committee early Thursday signed off on creating a new military branch dedicated to space. – The Hill

Partisan sparring over the size of the defense budget marked the House Armed Services Committee’s debate of its annual policy bill Wednesday, highlighting the headwinds faced by the legislation. – Defense News

The Defense Department and Lockheed Martin have reached a tentative agreement on the next lot of F-35s, with options for a multi-year buy worth about $34 billion for 478 aircraft total, including foreign partners and customers. – The National Interest

The U.S. Navy wants more from the F-35 jet’s radar, which in sea-search mode is limited to what is directly in front of the aircraft, according to documents exclusively obtained by Defense News. – Defense News

More capable warships will be deployed to Europe by the US Navy (USN) to replace four Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers that have been based in Spain since 2014. – Jane’s 360  

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday rejected a series of Republican amendments aimed at preserving funds for the nuclear arsenal, including one to protect deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons on submarines. – Defense News

Trump Administration

President Trump on Wednesday said he would consider accepting information on his political opponents from a foreign government, despite the concerns raised by the intelligence community and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. – Washington Post

One of President Trump’s closest congressional allies is ready to strip him of certain emergency powers in response to the administration sidestepping lawmakers to secure 22 arms sales benefiting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. – Washington Post

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) called President Trump “a national security threat” Wednesday night after Trump said he might not inform the FBI if a foreign country offered him information on a political opponent. – The Hill