Fdd's overnight brief

June 18, 2019

In The News


Iran said it would exceed limits on its enriched-uranium stockpiles before the end of this month, as the U.S. said it would send an additional 1,000 troops to the Mideast in response to “hostile behavior” by Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. military on Monday released new images it says showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) removing an unexploded limpet mine from a Japanese-owned tanker that was attacked on June 13 in the Gulf of Oman, as Washington blames Tehran for the attack. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world powers on Monday to step up sanctions against Iran swiftly should it go through with a plan to exceed an enriched uranium limit set by a 2015 nuclear deal. – Reuters

Iran will quit a treaty against the spread of nuclear weapons unless European powers save a separate 2015 atomic deal that Washington abandoned last year, a senior Iranian lawmaker told the semi-official Fars news agency on Monday. – Reuters

Iran’s plan to exceed internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium amount to “nuclear blackmail” and must be met with increased international pressure, a White House National Security Council spokesman said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran said on Monday it had exposed a large cyber espionage network it alleged was run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and that several U.S. spies had been arrested in different countries as the result of this action. – Reuters

A senior Iranian security official said on Monday that Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and called on U.S. forces to leave the region, as tensions rose following last week’s attacks on oil tankers. – Reuters

President Donald Trump’s campaign vow to get the U.S. out of costly foreign entanglements is colliding with the messy reality of America’s commitments in the Middle East, where tensions are rising between Washington and Tehran after attacks on two tankers last week. – Bloomberg

The top Senate Republican accused Iran of acting out and defended President Donald Trump’s posture toward the Islamic Republic after Tehran announced it will exceed a cap on its inventories of low-grade uranium in 10 days. – Bloomberg

The confluence of events will test Trump’s weak appetite for military action, his ability to rally allies he has frequently snubbed and his seriousness about actually striking the better deal with the Iranians that he once promised. Along the way, Trump must win over officials well-aware of his history of misstatements and uneasy about relying on U.S. intelligence when a potential new Middle East war could result. – Politico

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting tomorrow with a pair of senior military commanders as tensions with Iran show no sign of abating. Pompeo is heading to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters Monday. “There, he will meet with Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of Central Command, and Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of Special Operations Command, to discuss regional security concerns and ongoing operations,” she said. – Washington Examiner

Is the US going to attack Iran soon? Diplomatic sources at the UN headquarters in New York revealed to Maariv that they are assessing the United States’ plans to carry out a tactical assault on Iran in response to the tanker attack in the Persian Gulf on Thursday. – Maariv Online

Editorial: Iran said Monday that by the end of June it will exceed the limits it had agreed to on its stockpile of enriched uranium, and the question now is whether Europe will take this lying down. Exceeding the cap would violate the 2015 nuclear deal and force European leaders to decide if they want to acquiesce to Iran or join the U.S. in an effort to pressure Tehran to renegotiate the failed nuclear deal. – Wall Street Journal

Eli Lake writes: As President Donald Trump mulls a comprehensive response to what he says was an Iranian attack on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf last week, his smarter critics are not questioning Iran’s likely culpability. Instead, they are asking, “What did you expect?” – Bloomberg

Bobby Ghosh writes: Iran announced Monday it is 10 days away from breaching the nuclear-stockpile cap imposed by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. For good measure, the Islamic Republic is threatening to enrich uranium beyond a 3.67% limit, meant to prevent it from making weapons-grade material, if the European signatories don’t move quickly to save the deal. – Bloomberg

Simon Henderson writes: Who is winning in the Gulf crisis? The eventual winner of this round is yet to be decided but, so far, Tehran is winning on points. […]The security of oil exports from the region, for decades a U.S. national security imperative, is imperiled. But the U.S. counter-action so far has been zero, at least in terms of military force. – The Hill

Kathy Gilsinan writes: And Iran has more room to escalate. On the diplomatic front, Iran has threatened only reversible moves so far—first, in May, putting the Europeans on 60 days’ notice that it would quadruple its rate of uranium enrichment unless the deal’s other signatories could provide it with economic relief. – Defense One

Mike Saidi writes: Iranian regime officials continue to profit and live comfortably despite the Trump administration’s intensified “maximum pressure” campaign against the Iranian regime. Their economic security and well-being oftentimes comes at the expense of the regular Iranian people. Regime elites’ use of charitable and parastatal organizations enable this polarity. – American Enterprise Institute

James Jay Carafano writes: The Iranian regime is nothing if not consistent. It always manages to do the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, for the wrong reasons. Thursday brought more evidence that this woeful streak continues. – Heritage Foundation


Syria does not want to see fighting with Turkey, its foreign minister said on Tuesday, after Turkey said one of its posts in Syria’s Idlib region was attacked from an area controlled by Syrian government forces. – Reuters

In the old khan, a stone courtyard off Aleppo’s medieval souk, most of the 41 cloth shops are deserted. Many of the owners moved elsewhere or went abroad to escape fighting in the historic Syrian city, a major economic centre before the war. – Reuters

Gerasimos Tsourapas writes: My research on the international politics of the Syrian refugee crisis identifies how states make rational calculations based on their relative position and strength vis-a-vis their target states. When they host a large number of refugees and domestic elites perceive of their country as being geopolitically important, they are more likely to engage in blackmailing — as in the case of Turkey or Libya. Otherwise, they are more likely to engage in back-scratching behavior — as in the case of Jordan or Lebanon. – Washington Post


Turkey has ordered the arrest of 128 military personnel over suspected links to the network accused by Ankara of orchestrating an attempted coup in 2016, state-run Anadolu news agency said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Washington is looking at imposing financial sanctions on Turkish firms beyond those that build parts for the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet, over Ankara’s plans to buy a Russian air defense system, a top Pentagon official said on Monday. – Reuters

Turkish Aerospace Industries unveiled a full-scale model of its indigenous fifth-generation fighter Monday at the Paris Air Show, a display meant to signal the rise of Turkey’s domestic defense-industrial capabilities. – Defense News


The firm has helped clients by covertly eliciting damaging information about competitors or legal opponents, among other things. But a number of its cases in recent years have been marred when flimsy cover stories were exposed by bumbling agents and risky tactics, according to a review of past cases and Black Cube internal documents, along with former employees, rivals, targets and clients. – Wall Street Journal

The White House said Monday it won’t invite the Israeli government to the unveiling of the economic part of its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan at a Bahrain conference next week, dealing a set back to a signature initiative of President Trump. – Wall Street Journal

The head of the Arab League warned on Monday that attempts to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict will be in vain without the establishment of a Palestinian state on all territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. – Reuters

Some $10 million of Qatari money entered Gaza late Sunday, but by the end of Monday, needy Palestinian families had yet to receive any money, leading to frustration for some. Doha’s envoy, Mohammed al-Emadi, was in the coastal enclave to disburse the money, which is meant to help poor Palestinian families and keep tensions in the beleaguered Strip from boiling over. Emadi, who frequently liaises with Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Israel about Gaza, crossed on Sunday into the coastal enclave through the Erez crossing, the sole pedestrian passageway between the Jewish state and the territory. – Times of Israel

Gulf States

Days after attacks crippled two fuel tankers in the Gulf of Oman, fewer vessels were leaving ports and daily freight rates for oil supertankers were as much as 50% higher, shipping brokers and tanker owners said, reflecting the new heightened risks of transporting crude through Middle Eastern waters. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia is set to push for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to cut oil output in the second half of the year, according to officials in the group, as signs of slowing global demand for crude outweigh threats of war and worries about supply disruptions in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s military denied on Monday being behind attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week, and said if it decided to block Strait of Hormuz, a vital gateway in the Gulf for the oil industry, it will do it publicly. – Reuters

Iran accused its main regional rival Saudi Arabia on Monday of adopting a “militaristic, crisis-based approach” for accusing Tehran of carrying out last week’s attack on two oil tankers at the entrance to the Gulf. – Reuters

Rockets were fired at Camp Taji, where US soldiers are based in Iraq, according to numerous reports on Monday evening. The rocket fire comes amid tensions between the US and Iran and as Islamic State continues to threaten Iraq months after its defeat in Syria. Camp Taji, northwest of Baghdad is one of four locations used by Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve during the war against ISIS. – Jerusalem Post

Following the recent spate of attacks on oil tankers and oil facilities in the Gulf of Oman, and U.S. accusations that Iran is behind them, Iranian spokesmen have in effect denied all connection to them, claiming that their timing is suspect and that they could have been carried out by a third party, or by the U.S. itself in order to justify its aggression against Iran. – Middle East Media Research Institute

A Saudi military spokesman says the kingdom has intercepted two bomb-laden drones launched by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. – Associated Press

Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged political blocs on Monday to pressure the prime minister to form a complete cabinet within 10 days, warning that his supporters would take a “new stance” if they failed to do so. – Reuters

Jon B. Alterman writes: If there is a current U.S. strategy toward Saudi Arabia, it seems an awkward blend of blandishments, critiques, and neglect. While the bilateral relationship has always been complicated, it is especially fraught now. Dangerously, the U.S. government appears to have been personalizing the relationship, stressing the White House’s ties to the Saudi crown prince. U.S. interests require a broader approach, but the relationship appears to be narrowing. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt’s former President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist leader freely elected in the aftermath of the country’s 2011 uprising, died on Monday after spending the past six years as a prisoner following the military coup that deposed him. – Wall Street Journal

The Muslim Brotherhood said on Monday that the death of former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursion Monday was a “full-fledged murder” and called on Egyptians to gather for a mass funeral. – Reuters

The Chinese government’s top diplomat warned on Tuesday that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced U.S. pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of a landmark nuclear deal. – Reuters

United Nations food chief David Beasley warned on Monday that a phased-suspension of food assistance in Yemen was likely to begin later this week over a diversion of aid and lack of independence in Houthi-controlled areas.  – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Pyongyang on Thursday, marking a diplomatic victory for isolated North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after denuclearization talks with President Trump collapsed dramatically in February.  – Washington Post

The decision to temporarily lift a long-reviled curfew for American troops in South Korea on Monday came just in time for Lt. Col. Junel Jeffrey to cross midnight market shopping in Seoul off her bucket list. – Military.com

Soo Kim writes: It’s instinctive to ask whether substantial progress has been made toward denuclearization. After all, the nuclear issue had been the crux of Washington’s, Seoul’s and Pyongyang’s involvement in summit- and working-level deliberations. And given the destructive potential to threaten the U.S. homeland, the nuclear issue taking a seat as the top-priority matter when it comes to dealing with North Korea appears justified. – The Hill



The U.S. campaign against Huawei Technologies Co. is taking a toll, with the company’s founder forecasting a hit to revenue of about $30 billion this year and next. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. businesses are imploring President Donald Trump not to expand his tariffs to $300 billion in goods from China that have so far been spared in his trade war with Beijing. – Associated Press

Tyler Cowen writes: In what appears to be a major triumph for participatory democracy in Hong Kong, a proposed extradition law been put on hold. Yet this vigorous display of citizen activism in the territory does not mean that the Chinese government is ready to deliver on democratic aspirations on the mainland, as some Western commentators have suggested. Democracy’s potential in China, at least for the foreseeable future, is limited. – Bloomberg

Ehud Yaari writes: The Middle East is low on the list of China’s global priorities, and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Yet “low priority” is a relative term when it comes to a global player with pockets as deep as Beijing’s. […] Even so, Chinese corporations—with full backing from Beijing—are investing tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, acquisitions, and other initiatives in most countries of the Middle East. – Washington Institute

John Calabrese writes: China’s inroads into the Gulf and wider Middle East are occurring against the backdrop of intensifying global strategic competition with the United States. It is now widely acknowledged within the American academic and policy communities that the convergence of interests and the scope for cooperation between the United States and China are limited. – Middle East Institute


As the U.S. pursues the sale of more than $2 billion of tanks and other weapons to Taiwan, the Trump administration is split over the potential repercussions the deal may have on efforts to reignite trade talks with China. – Wall Street Journal

After more than a decade of growing ties, the U.S. and India have suddenly hit a rough patch, a challenge for Washington’s efforts to cultivate the world’s largest democracy as a critical counterweight to China. – Wall Street Journal

The city’s embattled leader asked the public for another chance Tuesday after a record number of demonstrators took to the streets, but she stopped short of fully withdrawing controversial extradition legislation as protesters had demanded. – Wall Street Journal

As the U.S. seeks an exit from the Afghan war, Central Asia is on the cusp of a new era, with Russia and China vying for influence in a region that will no longer be dominated by America’s post-9/11 undertaking to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal

India lobbed a small but strategic strike in President Trump’s trade war, imposing retaliatory tariffs on 28 products and layering in another economic stressor just days before leaders from both nations meet at the Group of 20 summit. – Washington Post

Days after he pushed through a measure that would grant him lifetime rule, Chinese President Xi Jinping closed the Communist Party’s 19th Congress in 2017 with a sweeping address that touched on the thorniest issues of all: Hong Kong and Taiwan. – Washington Post

Pressure mounted on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam as protesters called for her to step down and members of her cabinet urged her to personally respond, a day after a mass rally triggered by her handling of a contentious extradition bill. – Wall Street Journal

While the world has focused on Hong Kong over the past week, most of the 1.4 billion people right across the border in China have not. As hundreds of thousands of protesters march in Hong Kong’s streets against unpopular China-backed extradition legislation, another battle is unfolding across Beijing’s Great Firewall. – Bloomberg

There was a “systemic failure” of the United Nations in dealing with the situation in Myanmar ahead of a deadly 2017 military crackdown because it did not have a unified strategy and lacked Security Council support, according to an internal report. – Reuters

Ken Moritsugu writes: Faced with huge and disruptive protests in Hong Kong, China blinked. The decision to shelve the legislation that sparked the demonstrations shows that limits still exist to how hard China can, or is willing, to push. It also exposed a fundamental contradiction in the “one country, two systems” framework that governs the semi-autonomous city. – Associated Press

Aparna Pande writes: India has imposed higher tariffs on some US products to retaliate for President Donald Trump’s punitive tariffs on Indian goods, even though the United States and India both have strategic reasons to avoid a trade war. Especially when economic foreign policy appears to be a key priority of the Narendra Modi government in its second term. – The Print


Russia has uncovered and thwarted attempts by the United States to carry out cyber attacks on the control systems of Russian infrastructure, Russian news agencies cited an unnamed security source as saying on Monday. – Reuters

The Kremlin on Monday reportedly said it is possible the U.S. put implants into Russian power grids. The New York Times first reported the U.S. allegedly gearing up for a cyberattack last week, citing unnamed officials describing the types of actions that had been taken toward Russian power grids. – The Hill

Leonid Bershidsky writes: A report in the New York Times that the U.S. Cyber Command has intensified secret efforts to hack the Russian power grid is less interesting for its content than because of U.S. officials’ apparent cooperation in publicizing the activity. Like any power grid undergoing a digital transformation, the Russian one is quite hackable – but why would the U.S. want public discussion of the matter? – Bloomberg

Noah Rothman writes: For all the Democratic complaints about Trump’s pro-Putin toadying, this administration has been measurably tougher on Russia than its predecessor. All this raises a question: Given his propensity for bravado, Trump’s conspicuous silence about his administration’s tough stance toward Russia makes you wonder whether the president is aware of that record in the first place. The latest Times report solves part of this mystery for us: The answer, in this case, is maybe not. – Commentary Magazine


A U.S. agreement with Poland to send 1,000 extra troops to the country is a defensive measure needed for its security, the U.S. ambassador to Warsaw said on Monday, replying to accusations from neighboring Russia that the move is aggressive. – Reuters

Italy is the United States’ most reliable ally in Europe, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Monday, keen to present himself as a strong, trustworthy statesman during a flying visit to Washington. – Reuters

As European leaders prepare to formalise Monday the launch of a next-generation combat jet, analysts warn the continent’s air forces are increasingly outpaced by American and soon Chinese aerospace industries that are swimming in cash. – Agence France-Presse

European Union states were at loggerheads on Monday over starting talks with Albania and North Macedonia to enter the bloc, while Cyprus threatened to veto any agreement on future enlargement unless the EU toughens its line on Turkish drilling. – Reuters


Suicide bombers killed at least 30 people and injured dozens more in northeastern Nigeria late Sunday, unleashing the deadliest blasts this year in a region plagued by extremist violence.  Two girls and a boy, all teenagers, detonated explosives in a tea hall where people had gathered to watch soccer in the small town of Konduga, authorities said. – Washington Post

The U.S. government’s top official in charge of foreign aid traveled to Somalia’s capital on Monday to announce a large humanitarian assistance package, calling it a “necessary evil” for the drought- and conflict-plagued country where the American military has engaged in counterterrorism ­offensives for almost 30 years. – Washington Post

Sudan’s protest leaders on Monday called for nighttime demonstrations and marches in the capital, Khartoum, and elsewhere in the country, amid a tense standoff with the ruling military over who should lead the transition after the ouster of the autocrat Omar al-Bashir. – Associated Press

Two members of Mozambique’s border police have been shot dead in an incident involving South African soldiers and the two countries have launched a joint investigation into what happened, a Mozambique police officer said on Monday. – Reuters

At least 161 people have been killed in a northeastern province of Democratic Republic of Congo in the past week, local officials said on Monday, in an apparent resurgence of ethnic clashes between farming and herding communities. – Reuters

Latin America

In his toughest moments, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has turned to Russia for support. When the United States sanctioned the Venezuelan energy industry in January, Russia’s oil firm Rosneft helped to divert its oil exports to Asia. And when rumors of an armed American intervention reached fever pitch in March, two airplanes with Russian military technicians landed in Caracas — a reminder Russia was on Venezuela’s side. – New York Times

Venezuela on Monday freed opposition lawmaker Gilber Caro, who was detained in April in what allies said was a violation of his parliamentary immunity, the opposition-controlled National Assembly said on Twitter. – Reuters

Mexico could win a trade war with the United States but it is a war Mexico doesn’t want because it would take too heavy a toll, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday. – Reuters


The Pentagon would have to meet a series of new requirements before U.S. Cyber Command could split from the National Security Agency, according to a proposal from a Senate defense committee. In what is known as the dual-hat arrangement, the two organizations are co-located at Fort Meade in Maryland and share a leader in Gen. Paul Nakasone. The arrangement came about 10 years ago with the creation of Cyber Command to help get the organization off the ground and leverage the expertise and infrastructure of NSA. – Fifth Domain

The House’s version of the defense policy bill for fiscal 2020 includes $175 million for investment in developing military applications of the 5G network and calls for the Secretary of Defense to put in place a 5G strategy to that end. The Senate’s version of the bill also makes significant investments in the Pentagon developing national security applications for 5G. – C4ISRNET

Congress is grappling with a new enemy that has infiltrated the American public in one of its most vulnerable spots: social media. Deepfakes, which are created to manipulate audio and video in a way that is indistinguishable to most people, have become a topic of national discussion after a manipulated video of Nancy Pelosi appearing to slur her speech went viral. – C4ISRNET


Recruiting young men and women from military families has succeeded in attracting applicants, however doing so questions the services’ long-term ability to attract people from other backgrounds with new talents needed for the future, a panel of personnel experts said Friday. – USNI News

Things are looking up for Kratos Defense’s XQ-58A Valkyrie drone. Fresh off its second flight, the U.S. Air Force is considering buying 20 to 30 aircraft for further experimentation, the service’s acquisition executive said Monday. – Defense News

When the Russian military attacked Ukraine, it prevented units from communicating with each other by turning to powerful electronic jamming tools. The U.S. Army, however, is not interested in the same raw demonstration of force. Instead, U.S. officials are following a philosophy that relies on “surgical” attacks. This could include creating an image on enemy’s radar, projecting an aircraft at one location when enemies think it is at another, or impairing the command and control links of adversaries’ unmanned aerial systems. – C4ISRNET

Long War

German federal prosecutors are investigating a possible ideological motive in the killing of a politician who defended the government’s welcoming of refugees, adding to concerns about a resurgence of political violence in the country. – Wall Street Journal

A Christchurch businessman who shared a video of worshippers being slaughtered at a New Zealand mosque was sentenced on Tuesday to 21 months in prison. – Associated Press

A French prosecutor ordered on Monday a man who had attacked soldiers with a knife in Lyon to be held in a psychiatric hospital. – Reuters