Fdd's overnight brief

June 25, 2019

In The News


The Trump administration ordered new sanctions that aim to freeze the assets of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office and several Iranian military commanders and include plans to target Foreign Minister Javad Zarif later this week. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. and Israel are working to convince Russia to join them in reining in Iran during an unusual gathering of the three countries’ national security advisers this week, part of a flurry of diplomatic activity amid tensions with Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Iran said Tuesday new U.S. sanctions on its supreme leader closed the door on diplomacy and threatened global stability, as American officials renewed efforts to build a global alliance against Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday began recruiting allies to help outfit tankers and other ships in the Persian Gulf region with cameras that can monitor and corroborate threats from Iran. – Washington Post

Iran’s U.N. ambassador warned Monday that the situation in the Persian Gulf is “very dangerous” and called talks with the U.S. impossible in the face of escalating sanctions and intimidation, while the U.S. envoy said the Trump administration’s aim is to get Tehran back to negotiations. – Associated Press

European officials on Monday appeared cool toward U.S. talk of building a global coalition against Iran, with the German foreign minister warning that “maximum pressure” without diplomacy increases the risks of a war and several others stressing that their priority is to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East. – Associated Press

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a tweet after U.S. imposed new sanctions on Tehran, said on Monday hawkish politicians close to U.S. President Donald Trump were thirsty for war rather than diplomacy. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump “has held the door open to real negotiations” with Iran on its nuclear program, National Security Adviser John Bolton said Tuesday in his opening remarks at a first-ever trilateral meeting with Russian and Israeli national security advisers in Jerusalem. – Haaretz

Half a ton of explosives was brought to Paris in a diplomatic suitcases in order to carry out a terror attack, before being foiled by French authorities, it was reported in the British media. The British newspaper “Independent in Arabic” quoted an intelligence source as saying that in 2018 Iran had delivered half a ton of TATP explosives in diplomatic packages to a civilian plane that was supposed to be transferred to Paris to carry out an attack in the city. – Jerusalem Post

Iran on Monday described its shooting down of a U.S. drone in the Gulf last week as a “firm response” to the United States and warned it could be repeated. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Approaching the Iranian tensions with a more Iranian view of the region and the world would be better for understanding the conflict. Peace is not peace and war is not war, in this discussion. When Iran threatens war it doesn’t want war. When it talks about the need for peace, it means a peace on its terms where it continues to play an aggressive role. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Doran writes: [Khamenei’s] goal is to place Trump’s renunciation of the Iran nuclear deal on the unofficial agenda of the summit, in the hope that it will win a place on the short list of Trump’s major sins against “a rules-based international order,” right up there with the American president’s economic protectionism and his disavowal of the Paris climate accord. Khamenei’s strategy is as every bit as clever as Xi’s presentation of himself, of all autocrats, as a defender of high internationalism. If it succeeds, it has a good chance of accelerating Iran’s relentless push to obtain nuclear weapons. – Mosaic


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a big test after an opposition candidate’s victory in Istanbul’s mayoral election reflected growing displeasure with the nation’s longtime leader and the economy he oversees. – Wall Street Journal

Henry Olsen writes: Democracy means “rule of the people.” The Istanbul election results suggest that so long as core political freedoms and institutions remain, the people have a voice even in less-than-ideal circumstances. We should always press these governments to do better, but genuine friends of democracy should rest easier. Democracy looks stronger than many had thought. – Washington Post

Selim Koru writes: He did what Mr. Erdogan has never truly been able to do: He assumed that we could forgive each other and live as equals under the law. “This is not a victory,” he said in his victory speech, “it is a new beginning.” A mayor’s election will change little about the way Turkey is governed, but there is a feeling that there is a new dawn in Istanbul, and the two halves of the country might finally whirl toward a place of greater balance. – New York Times

Bobby Ghosh writes: It is much too early to anoint Ekrem Imamoglu, now effectively the twice-elected mayor of Istanbul, as the New Erdogan—but the willingness of so many, Turks and Turkey-watchers alike, to do so should worry the Old Erdogan. For the first time in the best part of two decades, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a political challenger of proven vote-gathering ability, and only himself to blame for providing the proof. – Bloomberg

Laura Pitel writes: For the tens of thousands who danced in the streets of Istanbul after Ekrem Imamoglu’s electoral victory, the triumph was about much more than the mayorship of Istanbul. “This is only a beginning,” they chanted. Mr Imamoglu has previously sought to bat away questions about his ambitions beyond the city he will now lead. But in his victory speech on Sunday night, he nodded to the broader consequences of his win against the party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, who has so often seemed unstoppable. – Financial Times

Benny Avni writes: Turkey’s location makes it a desirable strategic ally for world powers. Erdogan has ignored centuries of enmity between his country and Russia and seems willing to turn away from NATO and America to embrace Vladimir Putin. As Erdogan’s grip on power loosens, America must warn Erdogan that such realignment is neither in Turkey’s interest — nor his. – New York Post


Despite withering criticism, charges of hypocrisy and outright rejection from the intended beneficiaries, the Trump administration is plowing ahead with a $50 billion economic proposal to aid the Palestinians and hopes it will drive a much-anticipated but unseen Mideast peace plan. – Associated Press

Reaching an Israeli-Palestinian deal along the lines of the Arab peace initiative will not be possible, requiring instead a stance between that and the Israeli position, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said in an interview with Al Jazeera. – Reuters

Palestinians burned portraits of President Donald Trump as they protested in both the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Monday against U.S.-led plans for a conference on their economy in Bahrain. – Reuters

The Iran-backed Lebanese terror group had been trying to set up a front on the Syrian Golan for years, but had previously been unable to gain a sufficient foothold in the area. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s conquest of the border area last summer provided the regime-allied organization with an opportunity to once again attempt to establish the necessary infrastructure with which it could threaten Israel near the border. – Times of Israel

Israel announced Tuesday morning that it would cut supplies of fuel to the Gaza Strip after a rash of cross-border arson attacks. At least 13 brush fires were sparked in southern Israel on Monday by balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the coastal Palestinian territory, the local fire service said. – Times of Israel 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top security adviser on Monday that Israel will do “anything it takes” to ensure Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons. – Times of Israel

The IDF announced that Nine Palestinians were arrested overnight on Tuesday in the West Bank for suspected terrorist related activity.  – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: The 83-year-old Palestinian leader needs to decide what he wants to leave as his legacy: a better, safer and more prosperous society for his people, or – to paraphrase the late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban – take the opportunity to miss an opportunity yet again. – Jerusalem Post

Danny Danon writes: The Palestinians have little to lose and everything to gain by putting down the sword and accepting the olive branch. Israel awaits the emergence of a Palestinian Anwar Sadat, a leader who is willing to do what is best for his people — a leader who recognizes that building a bright future requires surrendering a dark past. – New York Times 

Alan Dershowitz writes: If he were to agree to negotiate in earnest about the proposed peace plan — the geopolitical elements of which will be rolled out toward the end of this year — there is a significant likelihood that the end result of mutual, painful compromises may be a Palestinian state. If he persists in his refusal to negotiate, he and his people will have no one but themselves to blame for the persistence of an untenable status quo. The U.S. has presented the first phase of its plan. It’s an excellent, fair start. The ball is now in the Palestinian court. They should reconsider their knee-jerk rejection and begin negotiations that may be the only road to statehood. – The Hill

Katherine Bauer writes: Even so, they would not give the PA sufficient political cover to accept partial revenue transfers from Israel or address the underlying problem of “martyr” payments. Donors should therefore continue pushing the PA to replace such payments with a needs-based social safety net for “martyr” families. In essence, these are fundamentally political problems, but passing the political hot potato to technocrats in existing bilateral and multilateral channels might be the only way to deescalate the current crisis. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

At a time of increased tensions between Washington and Tehran, the U.S. Navy has more personnel deployed to the Middle East than anywhere else in the world, USNI News has learned. – USNI News

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks Monday with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about countering the military threat from Iran by building a broad, global coalition that includes Asian and European countries. – Associated Press

Britain’s defense secretary says the country’s most advanced military aircraft, the Lightning F-35B, has flown its first missions over Syria and Iraq as part of the ongoing operations against the Islamic State group. – Associated Press

Yemen’s rebels last month turned back a World Food Program shipment meant to feed some 100,000 families in the war-torn nation that’s been pushed to the brink of starvation, a spokesperson for the aid agency said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Eli Lake writes: When Egypt’s first and only elected president, Mohamed Mursi, dropped dead in a courtroom last week, official Washington barely noticed. President Donald Trump was focused on the crisis in Iran. Besides, Mursi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Trump administration has considered designating as a terrorist organization. Mursi’s death, however, should be a wake-up call, particularly for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In a letter to Pompeo, a bipartisan group of Egypt experts says that Mursi’s death was likely a result of the poor conditions of his incarceration. Sadly, Mursi is hardly the only Egyptian prisoner suffering through gulag-like conditions. – Bloomberg

Simon Henderson writes: The “Peace to Prosperity” workshop being held in Manama on June 25-26 represents a considerable success for the Gulf island state. Bahrain lacks the oil wealth of some of its neighbors and has been overtaken in the business world by Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Qatar, but hosting a discussion on the economic facets of Middle East peace gives it a claim to the major leagues. But the Palestinian Authority’s decision to boycott the workshop and Bahrain’s failure to formally invite an official delegation from Israel shows just how sensitive public outreach can be, especially at a time when tensions are high in the Gulf. – Washington Institute 

Korean Peninsula

More than a third of Americans would support a preemptive nuclear strike on North Korea if that country tested a long-range missile capable of reaching the United States, new research has found, even if that preemptive strike killed a million civilians. – Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump has no plans to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un when he travels to South Korea over the weekend after attending a summit of the Group of 20 leaders in Japan, a senior administration official said on Monday. – Reuters

The U.S. intelligence community does not believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is ready to denuclearize, U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Robert Ashley told Fox News in an interview on Monday. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump will visit South Korea this weekend after an exchange of letters with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un boosted hopes for a resumption of talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear program. – Reuters

Kristine Lee and ​Neil Bhatiya write: When President Trump meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in after the G-20 Summit next week, he will have a golden opportunity to jump-start diplomatic engagement with North Korea. But Trump’s meeting with Moon can only be declared a success if the two leaders telegraph their countries’ continued vigilance with regards to joint military cooperation, sanctions enforcement, and curbing Chinese influence on the peninsula. Successfully managing the North Korea threat hinges not on Trump-Kim bilateral negotiations, but rather on a tightly choreographed U.S.-South Korean approach. – Center for New American Security

Duyeon Kim writes: Trump and Kim have, for better or worse, embarked on relationship summitry. This means their interactions or negotiations cannot simply be transactional—the process entails the good, the bad, and the ugly of any relationship. It means extra work is needed to cajole, explain, and patch up hurt feelings as needed. It means that the stakes are higher because if talks fail at the summit level, there is nowhere else to go. That is what makes the news that Trump had sent an “excellent” letter to Kim all the more important. – The Atlantic


Lawyers for Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei Technologies executive held in Canada on U.S. charges, are calling on Canada’s minister of justice to withdraw extradition proceedings against their client, a move that could complicate a standoff that’s left Ottawa stuck between Washington and Beijing. – Washington Post 

U.S. President Donald Trump views this week’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping as a chance to see where Beijing stands on the two countries’ trade war, and is “comfortable with any outcome” from the talks, a senior U.S. official said on Monday. – Reuters

China Merchants Bank said on Tuesday that it complies with related United Nations resolutions and Chinese laws, and is not involved in any investigations related to possible violations of sanctions. The Washington Post reported on Monday that three large Chinese banks could lose their access to the U.S. financial system after a judge found them in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoenas in a probe into violation of North Korean sanctions. – Reuters

Joseph Bosco writes: Now Xi has pretty much ripped off the mask, and even invokes the very Thoughts of Mao that Nixon had hoped to “detoxify” from China’s policies. But Nixon said, years later, that his policies might have “created a Frankenstein” — and the family of nations he hoped would domesticate China finally has begun to take notice of the monster that has arisen in its midst. – The Hill

Antony Dapiran writes: Many assume that Beijing’s response to the latest round of protests in Hong Kong will be to clamp down on the city. This is a reasonable assumption. Missing from the discussion, though, is how it would benefit both Hong Kong and China if the country’s leaders opted for a more moderate course in dealing with the city’s pro-democracy forces. After all, it has done so before – and with some success. – Bloomberg

Peter Mattis and Alex Joske write: Led by Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party is working to ensure that the united front remains a magic weapon eighty years after Mao’s famous formulation. United front work may have suffered from a lack of coordination and emphasis in past decades, but reforms since 2015 have elevated the united front to a position of greater importance than it has enjoyed since the communist victory. The “Great United Front” that has emerged since then is increasingly institutionalized, coordinated, and controlling. While the full extent of this expanding united front system remains to be seen, its importance is difficult to overstate, and it will be crucial to understanding the party’s engagement with the outside world. – War on the Rocks


With U.S. and Taliban negotiators set to gather for another round of talks this week in the Gulf state of Qatar, U.S. and Afghan officials see keeping the insurgents at bay—even rolling them back in areas like Khawja Umari—as crucial for reaching a comprehensive settlement of the nearly 18-year war.  – Wall Street Journal

U.S. President Donald Trump has recently spoken privately about withdrawing from the defense treaty with Japan as he is of the view that the postwar pact treated the United States unfairly, Bloomberg reported late on Monday. – Reuters

Unauthorized drone flying caused the second spate of delays and flight diversions in less than a week at Singapore’s Changi airport on Monday night, the city-state’s aviation authority said. – Reuters

Japan sees ensuring the safety of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz as a matter of life and death in terms of its energy security, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. – Bloomberg

Rui Zhong writes: However, as larger numbers of protesters continue to express grievances on the streets, the police have quickly began using more crowd control tactics, stopping just short of live ammunition. As the city government ponders criminalizing demonstrations, and law enforcement reacts with harsher tactics and officers march without identification numbers visible, many in Hong Kong cannot help but wonder is 2047 has now come early. – The Hill


The U.S. deployment of land-based missile systems near Russia’s borders could lead to a stand-off comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying on Monday. – Reuters

One of the Russian navy’s most advanced warships entered Havana’s harbor Monday and docked at the port used until this month by U.S. cruise lines. Here are some questions and answers about the Admiral Gorshkov’s travels through the Caribbean. – Associated Press

In the opinion of Russian officials, the oil contamination crisis that disrupted flows from the world’s second-largest exporter of crude this spring is long over. But a closer look at a dozen tankers containing dirty Russian oil suggests that for the buyers, the debacle has a long way to run and will cost them hundreds of millions of dollars. – Reuters

Leonid Bershidsky writes: For years, Russia has been the world’s biggest sovereign gold bug: Even while gold prices were in the doldrums, it doggedly kept increasing its reserves. Now that gold is at the highest level since 2013, the tactic appears to be paying off.  The U.S. dollar’s dominance as a global reserve currency is commonly thought to result from the dearth of safe assets. Russia, however, recently has provided an example of how a sizable economy with the world’s fifth biggest international reserves can minimize dollar assets ad still do well. So far, it doesn’t have many followers, but gold buying by central banks is going up. – Bloomberg


Police in Brussels have arrested a man suspected of planning an attack on the U.S. embassy in the Belgian capital, prosecutors said Monday. The Belgian man, identified only by his initials, M.G., was charged with “an attempted attack in a terrorist context and preparing a terrorist offense.” – Associated Press

A member of the British parliament from the Labour party is hosting Ahmed Alshami, an international spokesman for the Houthi movement, the Sun reported. The Houthis slogan contains the phrases “death to Israel” and “curse the Jews.” – Jerusalem Post

Vera Kobalia writes: Starting this week, in response to the blockade, Georgians all over the country are opening their Airbnb homes for free to vacationers from across the world, and Georgian businesses are stepping up to cover the costs of charter flights to get them to the country. Putin believes that by banning flights to Georgia he will sink the Georgian economy. By vacationing in Georgia, you can prove him otherwise. – Jerusalem Post

Jesse Bogner writes: The contrast with Muslim-majority, yet secular Azerbaijan could not be starker. Azerbaijan has consistently stood up against anti-Semitism, and maintains close defense and economic ties with Israel, and is a bulwark against the threat of Iran. Jewish and Israeli leaders must keep this historic and present-day context in mind. Don’t judge a nation by its predominant religion. Although conventional wisdom on sources of religious hatred often holds to form, allies can still be found in unexpected places. – Jerusalem Post


The Ethiopian army general accused of leading a failed coup in a restive northern region was killed Monday in a firefight with security forces amid a security crackdown in which more than 180 others have been arrested. – Associated Press

Sudanese security forces used violence to break up a protest in Khartoum on Monday by dozens of students demanding that the military council which ousted former president Omar al-Bashir hands over power to civilians. – Reuters

Karen E. Young writes: There is a lot of money, or at least the prospect of it, flowing into East Africa and the Horn from the Gulf Arab states these days. […]The Emirati investment push into Ethiopia has been ramping up at least since 2013. The numbers are overwhelming, and their deployment will be fraught with challenges of governance and transparency. […]But a more pressing transfer is also underway. The movement of people across the Red Sea corridor is a destabilizing force in the domestic politics of countries like Ethiopia. As Saudi Arabia continues to calibrate its labor and immigration policies in an effort to increase employment among nationals, the ripple effects are reaching the other side of the Red Sea. – American Enterprise Institute

Nathaniel Allen and Sharan Grewal write: Convincing Sudan’s Transitional Military Council to agree to civilian rule is unlikely but still possible. Protestors will need to continue to apply nonviolent pressure to agitate for civilian-led rule, and to hold security forces accountable for their actions. But, as our research suggests, it will also require concessions to address the military’s fears about its place in a future political settlement. By ramping up the pressure on the Transitional Military Council to allow civilian rule while offering to support those security forces not implicated in the recent crackdown, the United States and its allies can help keep Sudan’s hopes for peace and democracy alive. – War on the Rocks

United States

A rabbi here has asked congregants to consider bringing guns to religious services as a form of protection in response to recent shootings at synagogues across the country. – Jerusalem Post

Lawmakers are stumbling in their efforts to address the border crisis before bolting for the holiday recess, dimming long-shot hopes that Congress can meet President Donald Trump’s two-week deadline to stave off his threatened mass deportations. – Politico

Latin America

After nearly two months in hiding here in the Colombian capital, protected around the clock by a security detail, Figuera arrived in the United States on Monday armed with allegations about Maduro’s government: The illicit gold deals. The Hezbollah cells working in Venezuela. The extent of Cuban influence inside Maduro’s Miraflores Palace. – Washington Post

A New York man died during a vacation to the Dominican Republic earlier this month, marking at least the 11th recent death of a U.S. citizen visiting the Caribbean nation known for its beaches and all-inclusive resorts. – Washington Post

A June 7 deal between the Mexican authorities and the United States to reduce migration had brought extra security forces to the border. Mexico’s mobilization of its security forces has been halting, and for most of the past two weeks it seemed to fall short of the dramatic show of force that the government had promised. Still, the deployment has already disrupted the usual flow of people and commerce passing over this historically porous border, and sown fear among migrants and their smugglers alike. – New York Times 

A Russian air force plane landed on Monday in Venezuela’s main airport, according to a Reuters witness and a website that tracks plane movements, three months after a similar arrival spurred a war of words between Washington and Moscow. – Reuters

For more than four months, Haitians have been taking to the streets to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse amid allegations he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars of government funds earmarked for badly needed social programs. A damning report on government corruption, delivered to the Haitian senate by official auditors on May 31, has triggered fresh demonstrations, with thousands marching through the capital, Port au Prince, and other cities throughout June. – Time


Hackers believed to be backed by China’s government have infiltrated the cellular networks of at least 10 global carriers, swiping users’ whereabouts, text-messaging records and call logs, according to a new report, amid growing scrutiny of Beijing’s cyberoffensives. – Wall Street Journal

Mossad Director Yossi Cohen said that cyber intelligence has become the main tool in the world of counterterrorism, at the Cyber Week Tel Aviv University Conference on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Iran and the US cyber attacks on each other in the midst of the nuclear standoff show that hacking attacks between countries in conflict will be on the rise, former US National Security Agency and Cyber Command chief Mike Rogers said Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post


With barely one day on the job, Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper is heading to Europe to try to persuade reluctant and increasingly wary NATO allies to work with the Trump administration on Iran sanctions and security in the Middle East, amid worries that the U.S. and the Islamic Republic may be on a path to war. – Associated Press

Ivanka Trump went to Congress earlier this month to launch a new White House strategy supporting a proven but overlooked approach to ending wars: the participation of women. The Trump administration’s embrace of this approach underscores its broad bipartisan support: the strategy follows Congress’s 2017 passage of the most comprehensive law in the world in support of women’s contributions to security and reinforces U.S. commitments first instituted by the Obama administration in 2011. – Defense One