Fdd's overnight brief

June 4, 2019

In The News


Iranian officials rebuffed an offer by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for talks between the U.S. and Iran without preconditions, saying his suggestion amounted to “word play,” given the Trump administration’s escalating campaign of maximum pressure. The response by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, carried in state media, came as the two countries have ratcheted up tension in recent weeks and as the U.S. has built up its military forces in the region. – Wall Street Journal

A U.S. aircraft carrier ordered by the White House to rapidly deploy to the Mideast over a perceived threat from Iran remains outside of the Persian Gulf, so far avoiding any confrontation with Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces amid efforts to de-escalate tensions between Tehran and Washington. – Associated Press

Iran called U.S. sanctions “economic war” on Monday, and said there could be no talks with the United States until sanctions are lifted, a day after Washington suggested it could hold talks without preconditions if Iran changed its behavior. – Reuters

An Iranian lawyer has been jailed for 30 years after setting up a channel on the popular social media platform Telegram, highlighting human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic. Amir Salar Davoudi was convicted by a revolutionary court for “propaganda against the state” and “insulting officials” and is set to be flogged 111 times. – Radio Farda

Iran’s Ambassador to Turkey said on Sunday the two countries are working to establish a joint bank and develop a financial tool to protect bilateral trade amid U.S. sanctions, Saudi-owned news outlet Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported. Ambassador Mohammad Farazmand said that Iran exports a large volume of gas to Turkey and needs a new mechanism to enable financial transactions via the countries’ national currencies. – Ahval News


President Trump rebuked the Syrian government and Russian forces for airstrikes that monitoring groups say have killed hundreds of people in the last Syrian-opposition stronghold, amid fears the Assad government and Moscow are planning an all-out military offensive to recapture the area. – Wall Street Journal

Ankara and Moscow are again facing an escalation of violence in Syria’s last rebel-held territory, a development that puts their cooperation to the test even as they support opposing sides in the eight-year war that has devastated Syria. – Associated Press

Russia blocked the U.N. Security Council on Monday from issuing a statement sounding alarm about the increasing fighting in and around Syria’s Idlib province and the possibility of a humanitarian disaster, a council diplomat said. – Associated Press

Janine di Giovanni writes: Mr. Assad’s campaign against hospitals is not just inhumane — it represents one of the most repellent aspects of modern warfare. Hospitals were once off limits; even in conflicts where the international laws of war were routinely flouted, medical facilities were spared. […]President Assad is intent on ending the war by taking the last piece of Syria to resist his control — Idlib. That is why so many hospitals in the area have been attacked over the past month. – New York Times

Steven Heydemann and Michael O’hanlon write: If U.S. and European allies wish to preserve possibilities for a political settlement that will provide security for Syrians — and not just for the Assad regime — now is the time to act. An alternative path to a real political settlement for Syria is still possible. To achieve it, however, will require increased U.S. and European pressure on the Assad regime and on Russia to end the current offensive. It will require closer U.S. cooperation with Turkey in removing radical Jihadist forces from northern Syria. – The Hill


Palestinian militant groups have restocked an arsenal of rockets to levels reached just before the last war with Israel, current and former Israeli officials say, part of a pressure campaign to ease Israel’s punishing blockade on the Gaza Strip. Through a combination of smuggling and local manufacturing, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have replenished their stock of roughly 10,000 rockets. – Wall Street Journal

Jared Kushner’s Middle East peace plan isn’t even out yet, but there are already intensifying calls to scrap the rollout — including from some Trump allies. Prominent conservative and pro-Israel voices close to the White House are increasingly sharing their fears, which range from the possibility that the peace proposal could trigger violence to worries that its offerings could forever kill efforts to craft a two-state solution. – Politico

UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite who doesn’t know that he is one, Tony Blair said Monday during a visit to Israel, speaking of the “shameful” anti-Semitism scandal that has engulfed the opposition party. Blair, a former prime minister and long-time leader of Labour, said he no longer recognizes the party he led from 1994 until 2007. – Times of Israel

Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, said on Monday that his organization was planning to send hundreds of millions of text messages to Muslims around the world in order to raise money for its activities. The text messages, he said, will be sent in eight languages and the money collected will be intended to “support the open campaign with the supreme enemy of the Islamic nation.” – Arutz Sheva

The Israel Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin uttered an interesting statement during the ceremony exchanging the commander of the Ramat David base last week. According to a Kann 11 report, the Air Force Commander said “In the last two years … these were wing 1 squadrons who sought contact, initiated and stretched the IAF’s operational reach … as in the north, so in the Gaza Strip and even in the Red Sea.” – Arutz Sheva

The Israeli military says it has finished sealing the last of a series of Hezbollah attack tunnels under the country’s northern border with Lebanon, roughly six months after they were found. Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters Monday during a tour of the tunnel that it was “the longest and deepest attack tunnel that Hezbollah dug,” plunging more than 80 meters (260 feet) below ground. – Ynet

Despite the tension at the southern border, Israel decided to increase the Gaza fishing zone to 15 miles on Tuesday, according to Israeli media. – Jerusalem Post

Eli Lake writes: Israel’s sale of cyberweapons to Saudi Arabia undermines Middle Eastern security in a more intangible sense as well. The best way to fend off Islamist revolution is to build durable, open societies over time. This was the vision of former President George W. Bush and Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharanksy. It is also the vision of Iyad Al-Baghdadi. The Jewish state should use its power to protect him and others like him, instead of giving the Saudis the means to silence their voice. – Bloomberg

Gulf States

The French government came under criticism Monday from human rights advocates as Iraqi terrorism courts completed the trials of 11 French citizens and one French resident, sentencing all of them to death for support of the Islamic State. – New York Times

Four security forces members were killed and four wounded in shooting in the Iraqi town of Tarmiya, 25 km (15 miles) north of Baghdad, Security Media Cell said in a statement early on Tuesday. – Reuters

In a region of tight media control and official statements, the body language of Saudi Arabia’s king and Qatar’s prime minister spoke volumes about one of the Gulf’s deepest fault lines. Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani did not bow or kiss the cheek of King Salman, whose country has led a two-year economic boycott of Qatar, when they met in Mecca on Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

Smadar Perry writes: Israel draws a lot of fire from the Arab world, but it none the less fascinates them. Like children, they come near and then run far, only to come back again. One day we’ll know more about what went on behind the scenes last weekend, and how it shaped the future of Mideast politics. – Ynet

Middle East & North Africa

A lone gunman using a motorcycle fired on police and army vehicles in different parts of the northern city of Tripoli, killing two police officers and a soldier and wounding several others Monday night before blowing himself up later when confronted by troops, Lebanon’s army and the state-run National News Agency said. – Associated Press

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday it was out of the question for Turkey to take a step back from its deal with Moscow to buy Russian S-400 missile defense systems. – Reuters

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

Korean Peninsula

A U.N. agency’s bid to curb North Korea’s missile program with an airspace safety audit and at the same time revive its air traffic has been delayed amid U.S. concerns that it may breach U.N. sanctions, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. – Reuters

The powerful younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended a public event in Pyongyang for the first time in more than 50 days, casting further doubt on media speculation he had ordered her to lay low over the failed nuclear summit with Washington. – Associated Press

Kim Jong-un’s influential younger sister has appeared in public for the first time in more than 50 days, attending the “Mass Games” propaganda displays that the North Korean leader later criticised for their “wrong spirit”. – The Guardian


China warned students on Monday to think about the “risks” associated with attending college in the United States, an apparent sign that the authorities in Beijing are expanding the boundaries of the trade war to include educational exchanges. – Washington Post

The U.S. Trade Representative and Treasury Department have issued a statement defending Washington’s strategy in its trade dispute with Beijing. – Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Switzerland about its close business ties with China, telling a newspaper the neutral European country was exposing itself to privacy breaches if it let Chinese companies help build its infrastructure. –  Reuters

China’s embassy in the United States expressed “strong dissatisfaction” on Tuesday towards the United States’ remarks on the 30th anniversary of the Chinese government’s bloody crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square. – Reuters

The Trump administration has moved ahead with a surveillance drone sale to four U.S. allies in the South China Sea region as acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Washington will no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behavior in Asia. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the United States is seeking to “level the playing field” with China after decades of unfair trade practices, but his Dutch counterpart said tariffs would hurt international trade. – Reuters

The United States said Monday it was committed to welcoming Chinese nationals for “legitimate” studies but acknowledged increased visa scrutiny after Beijing warned its students of risks. – Agence France-Presse

Seth Cropsey writes: The goal of military forces in the nuclear age, particularly during a confrontation between nuclear-armed powers, must be to deter. But deterrence requires a commitment to fighting and winning a war.  Deterring China requires reversing current conventional attitudes – that American and allied ships, aircraft, and submarines will have nowhere to hide.  Investments in intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting capabilities will demonstrate to China that the U.S. military is willing and able to take the fight to them. – Real Clear Defense

South Asia

The disparity between Mr. Mubarez’s claim — that 12 members of his family were killed — and the matter-of-fact denial from the American military are emblematic of the nearly 18-year-old war, where civilians in virtually every corner of Afghanistan have been touched by violence and death at the hands of both sides. – New York Times

A three-day holiday will begin here Tuesday without a cease-fire, after a wave of violence in recent days left at least 17 people dead and dozens injured. – Washington Post

Eleven Muslim politicians resigned from top government posts in Sri Lanka on Monday, saying they wanted to enable the government to investigate allegations that some of them had links to the extremists who carried out the deadly Easter attacks. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: There any many flaws in Khalilzad’s plan: It revives the pre-9/11 formula of legitimizing Taliban rule in exchange for a Taliban pledge to close terror camps; it undercuts the legitimacy of the elected Afghan government; and it discounts the Taliban’s long history of insincere diplomacy and fleeting commitments. The biggest problem with Khalilzad’s approach, however, is it ignores a simple fact: There can be no peace in Afghanistan so long as Pakistan chooses to undercut Afghan stability and support extremism. The missing piece to the Khalilzad strategy, therefore, is how to bring Pakistan to heel. – The National Interest


Australians enjoying a sunny winter morning were surprised by the sight of three Chinese warships steaming into to Sydney Harbour Monday, forcing the prime minister to reassure jittery residents. Amid heightened concern about Beijing’s growing clout and military muscle flexing, the appearance of a Chinese flagged task group and around 700 sailors came as a surprise. – Agence France-Presse

An Indonesian militant suspected of being influenced by Islamic State was seriously wounded when he tried to blow himself up in a suicide attack outside a police station, authorities said on Tuesday. – Reuters

It was a chance to pour some cool water on a flaring dispute. The US and Chinese defense chiefs were both at Asia’s premier defense forum at the weekend. Yet neither acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan nor Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe addressed the increasing anxiety among smaller Asian states over the growing face-off between the world’s two largest economies. Instead they used highly anticipated speeches at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore to lob allegations of deceit, subversion and mistrust at each other. And all that the rest of the kids in the schoolyard could do was look on, hoping they don’t get hit when the punches start flying. – CNN


The arrest of a Michigan corporate security executive on espionage allegations in Russia seemed to his family like a horrible mistake, a misunderstanding that could be quickly resolved with help from the U.S. government. – Associated Press

Popular dating app Tinder is now required to share users’ data with Russian security services after being placed on an official register, the country’s telecoms watchdog said Monday. – Agence France-Presse

Russia told a hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday that the court lacks jurisdiction in a case filed by Ukraine against Moscow over its alleged support of pro-Russian separatists in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine. – Reuters

Stephen Blank writes: European security is much in the news today. Brexit, EU parliamentary elections, unresolved issues in the Balkans, Russia’s unremitting war on European integration and democracy, and Ukraine make it easy to surrender to pessimism about Europe. But this despair is unwarranted and antithetical to U.S. and European interests in democracy, integration and security. Moreover, there are mechanisms available through which European governments, institutions and the U.S. can advance their shared interests and values in Europe if not beyond. – The Hill


A Swedish judge on Monday rejected a request to issue an arrest order for Julian Assange, a move that could ease efforts by the U.S. to extradite the WikiLeaks founder. Monday’s decision could prevent—at least for now—an extradition tussle between the Scandinavian nation and the U.S. over who gets to try Mr. Assange. – Wall Street Journal

Mr. Trump and Queen Elizabeth II exchanged toasts shortly after they arrived at their seats at a lavish state banquet held in Buckingham Palace, where the menu included steamed halibut with watercress mousse and saddle of lamb. Mr. Trump sat to the right of the queen at the horseshoe-shaped table. – New York Times

President Trump once declared himself “Mr. Brexit,” and before his trip this week, he offered advice on Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union. But after arriving in London on Monday, he showed little interest in expending his time or political capital to rally the Brexit movement, which he sees as a result of the same nationalistic forces that lifted him to the presidency. – Washington Post

French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that he fully accepted his “bad guy” role in insisting on a shorter extension to Britain’s tortuous exit from the EU, while insisting that October 31 is the “final, final deadline.” – Agence France-Presse

Bulgaria expects the United States to make an offer soon to sell it eight new F-16 fighter jets for its army at $1.2 billion, the defense ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Theresa May is set for robust discussions with Donald Trump on issues like climate change and her decision to let Chinese technology company Huawei develop the United Kingdom’s 5G mobile phone networks, when she hosts the president in Downing Street on Tuesday. – Business Insider

Walter Russell Mead writes: Mr. Trump’s outreach to anti-Brussels figures such as Britain’s Nigel Farage and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán gets a lot of attention, but the real danger is elsewhere. There’s a world leader who dislikes the EU much more than Mr. Trump does: Vladimir Putin. […]For Europe, the best answer to Mr. Trump isn’t to argue with him but to succeed. An economically dynamic Europe—bearing its share of defense costs and pursuing strategic interests in an intelligent way—will command respect even if it doesn’t always spark love. – Wall Street Journal

Noah Barkin writes: Regardless of who is in the White House, European countries must prepare for a world in which they will be viewed by Washington through a China prism—much in the same way that Europe was seen through a Soviet lens during the Cold War. If no common agenda is possible, the transatlantic relationship might be headed for even more trouble, Trump or no Trump. – The Atlantic


Streets in the Sudanese capital were empty on Tuesday, a day after a pro-democracy sit-in was violently overrun by the country’s ruling military authorities, who say they want to stage early elections. […]The U.N. Security Council is set to discuss Sudan after its ruling military conducted a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The United Kingdom and Germany requested the closed-door session, set for Tuesday afternoon. – Associated Press

Sudan’s ruling military council said on Tuesday it was canceling all agreements with the main opposition coalition and called for elections within nine months, following the worst violence since President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in April. – Reuters

Noah Smith writes: All across Africa, investors — many of them private entrepreneurs from China — are building factories. […]So despite myriad policy challenges — a fragmented patchwork of governments, fragile nations with artificial boundaries drawn by colonial empires of the past, scattered wars and violence — many African countries might be starting down the well-worn path of manufacturing-driven growth trodden by the developed world. – Bloomberg

United States

Congressional Republicans have begun discussing whether they may have to vote to block President Trump’s planned new tariffs on Mexico, potentially igniting a second standoff this year over Trump’s use of executive powers to circumvent Congress, people familiar with the talks said. – Washington Post

A federal judge on Monday denied a House request to prevent President Donald Trump from tapping Defense Department money for his proposed border wall with Mexico, saying Congress lacked authority to sue. – Associated Press

While President Donald Trump dined with the British royal family, his team back in Washington was rushing to deal with the expanding trade war he left behind. Administration officials started the week with a multi-front scramble as they sought to ease worries about another market-shaking tariff escalation, explain the president’s thinking to allies and salvage negotiations with lawmakers over his signature trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. – Politico

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s family has deep business ties to China — placing the key Cabinet official in a potentially conflicting position with the Trump administration’s confrontational posture toward the US’ major economic rival, according to a report from The New York Times. – CNN

Latin America

President Trump said Monday that Russia has informed his administration that it had “removed most of their people in Venezuela.” His remarks, made on Twitter during his visit to London, followed charges by national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month that increased Russian military, diplomatic and economic support were propping up Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in the face of U.S. and other calls for his ouster. – Washington Post

Mexico’s foreign minister warned Monday of dire economic consequences if the United States imposes the tariffs that President Trump has threatened as punishment for the flow of migrants transiting to the U.S. border. Marcelo Ebrard, who spoke at a news conference in Washington, said the threat would have no impact on Mexico’s immigration policy. – Washington Post

Mexico launched a counteroffensive Monday against the threat of U.S. tariffs, warning not only that it would hurt the economies of both countries but also could cause a quarter-million more Central Americans to migrate north. – Associated Press


US moves against Chinese tech titan Huawei have had “no effect” on the firm’s aviation business despite several countries taking steps to block its mobile services, a top company executive said Monday. – Agence France-Presse

A top Australian university with close ties to the country’s government and security services on Tuesday said it had been the victim of a vast hack by a “sophisticated operator” who gained access to 19 years of sensitive data. – Agence France-Presse

A House Armed Services subcommittee has raised concerns regarding the Department of Defense cyber enterprise’s ability to procure cyber tools. – Fifth Domain


A military judge took the rare step Monday to remove a prosecutor accused of misconduct from the war crimes case of a decorated Navy SEAL. – Associated Press

The Navy’s newest aircraft carriers are being delivered without the capability to deploy with the service’s most advanced fighters, a situation lawmakers call unacceptable. – USNI News

The Navy is rebranding its organization tasked with acquiring and maintaining its information technology backbone and satellite networks to place an emphasis on information warfare, according to a Monday video statement from Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson. – USNI News

The Marine Corps’ emphasis on experimentation will be in full swing this summer, with the kickoff of a new urban warfare experimentation series and a technology demonstration focused on naval maneuver. – USNI News

The U.S. Air Force may be unable to buy the eight F-15EX planes it plans to purchase in fiscal 2020 unless it submits a series of program details to Congress, according to provisions in proposed legislation. – Defense News

The White House has already canceled its politically unpopular plans to decommission the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman 25 years early as a cost-savings measure ― and now House lawmakers are spiking the football. – Defense News

The Democratic-led House Armed Services Committee on Monday released its draft defense policy bill that moves to stop the deployment of a new low-yield nuclear warhead, teeing up a partisan fight over America’s nuclear arsenal. – Defense News

Congress has approved a $19.1 billion disaster aid deal that contains nearly $3 billion for storm-stricken military facilities around the country after the House passed it Monday, 354-58. A House defense panel is concerned about the Pentagon’s efforts to rebuild its electronic warfare capabilities. – C4ISRNET