Fdd's overnight brief

June 6, 2019

In The News


Iran’s supreme leader accused Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries of betraying the Palestinians by cooperating with the U.S. and Israel, in an attempt to rally regional supporters and raise the stakes for the Trump administration’s long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

The World Bank says Iran is likely to experience an even worse recession this year than previously thought, as U.S. sanctions largely choke off oil exports that have been Tehran’s main revenue source. – Voice of America

Iran launched a Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) in December 2018, the Israeli representative to the UN told the Security Council in a letter released on 5 June. – Jane’s 360

The US State Department has suspended funding for an organization whose hardline stance against the Iranian regime saw it targeting American journalists, activists and academics whom they didn’t consider tough enough on Tehran, according to a State Department spokesperson. – CNN

A month after sending an aircraft carrier to the Middle East in reaction to intelligence the US claims it had showing Iran was preparing to attack US troops, military tensions appear to be easing, according to several US officials. – CNN


Two serious incidents on the on the Golan Heights put an end to any hope that the Israeli-Syrian border will be return to the calm of the pre-civil war days, now that Bashar Assad’s army has cemented its control, with the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin. – Ynet

The Lebanese daily Al-Mudun and the Shi’ite Janoubia.com website, both known to be anti-Hizbullah, published articles bemoaning the situation in South Lebanon under Hizbullah rule. The articles criticized Hizbullah’s suppression of free expression, leisure and political activity, and more, against which the residents are unwilling to protest for fear that they will be harmed. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech he delivered on May 31, 2019 in honor of Quds Day that Trump and his administration are fully aware that a war against Iran would ignite the entire region, and he threatened that Israel and the Saud clan would be the first to “pay the price” because they had “plotted and schemed.” He said that the only thing preventing an American war with Iran is the human and material loss that the U.S. would sustain. – Middle East Media Research Institute


The job of Israel’s ambassador to Egypt is too important to be put into the hands of a “political appointment” and not given to a professional and respected diplomat, a group of 18 retired ambassadors said in a sharply worded letter on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Yarden Vatikai, head of public relations in the Prime Minister’s Office, disclosed on Wednesday the inside story of how Benjamin Netanyahu’s now famous April 2018 speech about the Mossad’s appropriation of Iran’s secret nuclear archives came to be. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli diplomats in Washington have been working to prevent the Senate from passing a bipartisan resolution that would endorse a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to a report published Wednesday. – Times of Israel

Tyler Cowen writes: Many visitors to Israel come for its historic and religious wonders, while others view it through the prism of political conflict. I am currently visiting Israel, and I’d like for you to ponder it from another angle: Israel’s 72-year history is a pretty spectacular example of economic science getting it right. – Bloomberg

Gulf States

The United Arab Emirates, along with Saudi Arabia and Norway, will on Thursday present to the UN Security Council the findings of their probe of the May 12 attacks on oil tankers off the Emirati coast, diplomats said. – Agence France-Presse

Saudi Arabia said it evacuated an Iranian crew member from a “hostile” ship off the coast of Yemen amid its war against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the second-such aid it has offered in recent weeks amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. – Associated Press

Strip malls and palm-dotted boulevards stand in the once bullet-scarred old quarter of Awamiya, a Shiite-majority town on Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern coast where the long-planned facelift fuelled deadly clashes. – Agence France-Presse

Senator Chris Murphy argued that President Donald Trump is committing “nuclear nonproliferation malpractice” by transferring nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia against the wishes of Congress, as a bipartisan group of lawmakers aims circumvent a multibillion-dollar arms sale to the kingdom. – Newsweek

Bobby Ghosh writes: Two years ago today, the tottering edifice known as the Gulf Cooperation Council collapsed in a heap when three of its members—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain—announced an embargo on a fourth, Qatar. The troika, joined by Egypt, claimed to be punishing the rulers in Doha for an array of sins, including their relationships with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. – Bloomberg

Middle East

Islamic State militants killed at least eight policemen in an attack on a checkpoint in Egypt’s volatile northern Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. – Washington Post

Abu Mohammed lives his life in lists: he lists the places in Syria to which his family has been forcibly displaced. He lists the different reasons for each displacement. He lists the number of Muslim holidays he’s spent away from home. – Reuters

Air strikes and shelling by regime forces killed 10 civilians in Syria’s northwest on Wednesday, as residents marked the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, a war monitor said. – Agence France-Presse

Korean Peninsula

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to cast doubt on news reports of North Korean executions as part of a purge in the aftermath of a failed Hanoi summit and lamented that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was blamed too quickly. – Reuters

South Korea and the United States agreed June 3 to move the headquarters of Combined Forces Command out of the greater Seoul metropolitan area as part of efforts to set up a new joint command structure led by a South Korean four-star general. – Defense News

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he still believes North Korea “would like to make a deal” and left the door open for a third summit with Kim Jong Un despite a new warning from Pyongyang urging the US to change the course of its negotiations “before it is too late.” – CNN


Some U.S. lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would make it harder for Chinese students and scholars to work in the United States, citing security concerns as a trade war rages between Washington and Beijing. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to hit China with “at least” another $300 billion of tariffs but said he thought both China and Mexico wanted to make deals in their trade disputes with the United States. – Reuters

China launched a space rocket from sea for the first time on Wednesday, its space agency announced, the latest step in Beijing’s push to become a major space power. – Agence France-Presse

While Muslims around the world celebrated the end of Ramadan with prayers and festivities this week, the recent destruction of dozens of mosques in Xinjiang highlights the increasing pressure Uighurs and other ethnic minorities face in the heavily policed region. – Agence France-Presse

Jeff Moon writes: American and Chinese notions of national security diverge in practical and moral terms, and Huawei may become the first major Chinese company compelled to operate under broad national-security limitations resembling those that foreign governments, companies, social-media sites, media platforms and nongovernmental organizations have experienced in China for decades. – Wall Street Journal

Joseph Bosco writes: China is likely planning to give the United States a “bloody nose” in Asia — economically and militarily. This would be a turnabout of the tactic Washington openly considered in late 2017: launching a limited military strike to give the Kim Jong Un regime a taste of the consequences it would suffer if it persisted in its nuclear and missile testing and threats. – The Hill

Dean Cheng writes: Whether it was confidence due to his growing domestic strength, a belief that the balance of economic power in the U.S.-China relationship had already shifted, or a concern about appearing weak in front of Trump, Xi seems to have reached the conclusion that China, under his leadership, can successfully challenge the United States. This appears to have been a dangerous miscalculation. Xi may soon find that a perfect storm of agricultural problems, internal unhappiness, and his own chosen hard line on the trade war could undermine the domestic power he has worked so hard to consolidate. – War on the Rocks


On Wednesday, federal police showed up at the ABC’s Sydney headquarters armed with a warrant naming a news director and the two reporters who broke that story and demanding access to everything from emails to notes and drafts. Federal agents later reviewed more than 9,000 documents, according to John Lyons, ABC News’s executive editor. – Washington Post

Thailand’s new parliament confirmed military junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha as civilian prime minister on Wednesday, five years after he seized power from an elected government while he was army chief. – Reuters

Pakistan’s powerful military has agreed in a rare move to cut its hefty budget for a year to help ease the South Asian country’s “critical financial situation”, Prime Minister Imran Khan said. – Reuters

Hong Kong’s last British governor Chris Patten said on Thursday a proposed extradition bill allowing suspects to be sent to China for trial is a “terrible blow” to the rule of law and will undermine Hong Kong’s reputation as a global financial hub. – Reuters

The Japanese government is arranging for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Iran in the near future, the government spokesman said on Thursday. – Reuters

The U.S. Department of Defense has announced a contract award for 34 Insitu ScanEagle drones under the Foreign Military Sales program to partners in the Asia-Pacific region. – Defense News

The Pentagon and State Department have informally notified Congress of a potential $2 billion deal with Taiwan that includes the first-time sale of one of the U.S. Army’s top tanks, according to an official familiar with the proposal, drawing protests from China. – Bloomberg

Damien Cave writes: One journalist is being investigated for reporting that several boats filled with asylum seekers recently tried to reach Australia from Sri Lanka. Another reporter had her home raided by the authorities this week after reporting on a government plan to expand surveillance powers. – New York Times

Michael Mazza writes: Publicly establishing the “normalcy” of US-Taiwan relations contributes to stability by enhancing deterrence vis-à-vis China. The United States has long maintained a policy of so-called strategic ambiguity with respect to the Taiwan Strait. The purpose has been to ensure that Taipei would not be confident the United States would come to its aid in the event of a conflict and thus constrain any inclination towards pursuing de jure independence. On the other side of the strait, Beijing could not be sure that the United States would not intervene in a conflict and would thus be hesitant to use force against the island. – Global Taiwan Institute


Even as Russia has muscled back onto the world stage politically, its economy suffers from flat growth and shrinking incomes. President Vladimir V. Putin has a plan to change that — and it involves pianos. – New York Times

Russia’s alienation from the West has put China center stage at the country’s flagship annual investment forum this week, as Moscow and Beijing cement their political, economic and military ties. – Wall Street Journal

A Russian fighter jet made a dangerous high-speed pass that put a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft at risk during an intercept over the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, the U.S. Sixth Fleet said, but Moscow said its pilot had behaved responsibly. – Reuters

A former U.S. Marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying is being illegally isolated in a Moscow pre-trial detention center and prevented from communicating with visitors, Russian rights activists and U.S. diplomats said. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday after talks in Moscow with Chinese leader Xi Jinping that Moscow and Beijing wanted the situation in Venezuela to stabilize. – Reuters


President Trump reassured Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, on Wednesday that Britain’s exit from the European Union would “work out very well,” including for Ireland, “with your wall, your border.” – New York Times

World leaders and World War II veterans observed the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy on Wednesday, with a moving ceremony that wove together firsthand accounts of the day with rousing music and reflections. – New York Times

It looked for all the world like a boardroom scene from “The Apprentice,” with President Trump appraising the candidates to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May, even as she stood by his side at a news conference on Tuesday. – New York Times

A political newcomer whose anti-corruption pledges won him the presidency of Ukraine in a landslide could weaken Russian President Vladimir Putin, Western officials say. – Washington Examiner

Far-right parties’ hopes of forging a powerful new eurosceptic bloc in the European Parliament suffered a double blow on Wednesday when Poland’s ruling nationalists and Britain’s Brexit Party both said they would not join such a grouping. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the situation in Libya and West Africa during a meeting in Britain on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump understood in a meeting with Irish officials on Wednesday that Brexit cannot result in the return of a hard border on the island, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Britain has fallen behind its allies and potential adversaries in key armored combat vehicle capabilities and must do more to become a force to be reckoned with, Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt has warned. – Defense News

France’s armed forces minister has pledged the country will remain committed to the Pacific region, as she warned of a “global confrontation” emerging there. – Defense News

The European Commission formally put Italy on notice Wednesday about its deteriorating deficit and snowballing debt, re-opening a political battle with populist-led Rome. – Agence France-Presse

Germany on Wednesday rejected a fresh demand from Greece for hundreds of billions of euros in World War I and II reparations, insisting the issue had been legally settled decades ago. – Agence France-Presse

Calls by German politicians for the wearing of kippot as a gesture of solidarity with the country’s Jewish community have fallen flat with the general public, a leading Jewish commentator said on Wednesday. – Algemeiner


Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has effectively closed the book on a lengthy Pentagon investigation into a deadly ambush in Niger in 2017, officials said on Wednesday, approving a high-level review of earlier findings that mostly blamed junior officers. – New York Times

A Sudanese rebel leader who returned from exile after the overthrow of president Omar al-Bashir was arrested on Wednesday, his organization said. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it is watching developments in Sudan with great concern and it supports continued dialogue between the ruling military council and the opposition. – Reuters

The United Nations said on Wednesday it is temporarily removing some civilian staff from Sudan because of the security situation in the country, where security forces on Monday carried out a deadly raid on a protest camp. – Reuters

The Islamic State group has claimed it was involved in an insurgent clash in Mozambique for the first time, but analysts expressed doubt and police dismissed the claim outright. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: A precious chance to introduce democracy into Sudan, a nation of 43 million people at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East, is being snatched away. No amount of sympathy and tut-tutting will do in the aftermath of Monday’s reported massacre by security forces of 100 people among the demonstrators for civilian rule, and the injuring of hundreds more. […]The West must speak up strongly for the demonstrators, force the military junta to relinquish power, and impose sanction on those who carried out the carnage. – Washington Post

Editorial: Hope for democracy in Sudan hangs by a thread. On Monday, the generals running what is meant to be an interim administration unleashed paramilitary forces on a peaceful sit-in in Khartoum, killing at least 60 people. Crackdowns in other parts of the country increased the toll. – Bloomberg

Latin America

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered a candid assessment of Venezuela’s opposition during a closed-door meeting in New York last week, saying that the opponents of President Nicolás Maduro are highly fractious and that U.S. efforts to keep them together have been more difficult than is publicly known. – Washington Post

The Trump administration banned cruises to Cuba under new restrictions on U.S. travel to the Caribbean island imposed on Tuesday to pressure its Communist government to reform and stop supporting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. – Reuters

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that progress was being made in talks with Mexico to stem the flow of migrants to the United States and would continue on Thursday, but unless an agreement can be reached a 5% tariff on Mexican goods would begin on Monday. – Reuters


YouTube said it is stepping up efforts to scrub hateful content from its platform, including videos that deny historical events like the Holocaust, taking on more of the task of judging the validity of information on its popular video-streaming site. – Wall Street Journal

Russia’s infamous troll farm conducted a campaign on Twitter before the 2016 elections that was larger, more coordinated and more effective than previously known, research from cybersecurity firm Symantec out Wednesday concluded. – Politico

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has warned Microsoft Windows users to make sure they are using updated systems to guard against cyber-attacks. – BBC

Anarchists, radical hackers, terrorists, disgruntled employees, organized criminals and states make up the range of potential cyber threats, according to Roee Laufer, head of Cyber and Information Security at the Israel Airports Authority (IAA). – Jerusalem Post

The people of Baltimore are beginning their fifth week under an electronic siege that has prevented residents from obtaining building permits and business licenses — and even buying or selling homes. A year after hackers disrupted the city’s emergency services dispatch system, city workers throughout the city are unable to, among other things, use their government email accounts or conduct routine city business. – Fifth Domain


The U.S. military may be close to falling victim to a “deliberate, patient and robustly resourced” Chinese strategy to blunt the technological advantages of the American armed forces, a new report co-written by the Pentagon’s former No. 2 official warned. – Washington Post

A House panel wants the Army to come up with a plan to get a cheaper missile for the Patriot air-and-missile defense system. – Defense News

A report by the U.S. Commerce Department recommends the government strengthen relations with foreign companies that provide minerals critical to military development. – Defense News

James Stavridis writes: It is now 75 years since D-Day, and its lessons are timeless. But how, specifically, can looking back help the U.S. and its allies deal with the security challenges of the 21st century? – Bloomberg

Long War

Two American women and six children affiliated with the Islamic State have been sent back to the United States from Syria at the request of the American authorities, American officials and local forces in northeastern Syria said Wednesday. – New York Times

A New Zealand judge has ruled that media outlets can now show the face of the man accused of killing 51 people at two Christchurch mosques. – Associated Press

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up on the terror group’s ability to remain a force in Syria and Iraq, according to a new study that examined their behavior on the Telegram instant messaging service. – Voice of America