Fdd's overnight brief

March 20, 2019

In The News


A senior U.S. arms control official said on Tuesday that Iran’s missile program is destabilizing the Middle East and raising the risk of a “regional arms race” through the provision of such weapons to armed groups in Lebanon and Yemen. – Reuters

A senior U.S. official says Washington is monitoring ships involved in clandestine transfers of Iranian oil and will hold anyone involved in such transfers responsible for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. – Voice of America

The Jewish Museum Berlin (JMB) confirmed on Tuesday that it has no plans for cooperation with the Iranian government, following a controversy this week around a recent meeting between the institution’s director and one of the Tehran regime’s diplomats stationed in Germany. – Algemeiner

James M. Dorsey writes: Officially, both Saudi Arabia and the US, which withdrew last year from the 2015 international accord that curbs the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and imposed harsh economic sanctions, are demanding a change of Iran’s regional and defense policies rather than of its regime. Yet statements in recent years by some Saudi leaders and US officials — as well a string of declarations at the recent US-sponsored Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Stability in the Middle East in Warsaw by officials of the Trump administration, as well as Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain — suggest that regime change is on their radar. – Algemeiner


U.S. officials have questioned suspected Islamic State militants who Syrian forces believe have links to a suicide attack that killed four Americans in January, an American official said Tuesday. – Washington Post

U.S.-backed Syrian forces on Tuesday seized control of an encampment held by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria, after hundreds of militants surrendered overnight, a spokesman said, signaling the group’s collapse after months of stiff resistance. A group of suspects involved in a January bombing that killed four Americans in northern Syria were among militants captured by the Kurdish-led forces. – Associated Press

U.S.-backed Syrian forces said they were close to defeating Islamic State in its final scrap of territory at Baghouz in eastern Syria after seizing an encampment from the jihadists on Tuesday, though the battle was not over yet. – Reuters

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) detained hundreds of wounded Islamic State militants on Tuesday when they captured a camp where the jihadists had been holed up in their final enclave in eastern Syria, an SDF official told Reuters. – Reuters

Syria’s defense minister on Monday slammed what he called the “illegitimate” U.S. military presence in his country, vowing that Damascus has a right to self-defense, while Iraq said a border crossing with Syria will open in the coming days. – Associated Press


Ignoring widespread criticism, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday again showed excerpts of a video taken by the attacker who killed 50 people in mosques in New Zealand, to denounce what he called rising hatred and prejudice against Islam. – Associated Press

President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called on New Zealand to restore the death penalty for the gunman who killed 50 people at two Christchurch mosques, warning that Turkey would make the attacker pay for his act if New Zealand did not. – Reuters

Elizabeth Teoman writes: Turkey is deepening its strategic cooperation with Russia as the U.S. draws down its forces in Syria. Turkey is strengthening its naval coordination with Russia in the Black Sea and negotiating to expand bilateral economic ties. – Institute for the Study of War


In a provocative campaign ad released late Tuesday night, the right-wing justice minister of Israel, moving in slow motion and cast in black and white, appears to be modeling for a luxury perfume. “Fascism,” the perfume bottle label reads — a taunt to the minister’s critics, three weeks before Israelis vote. – New York Times  

With three weeks to go, the Israeli election is so close that Arab voters, who make up only a fifth of the population, could help bring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long career to an abrupt end. Mr. Netanyahu has been fanning the flames of anti-Arab sentiment almost daily. – New York Times  

Israel and the U.S. have successfully intercepted a series of medium to long-range ballistic missiles in a joint drill. – Associated Press

It has almost been one year since the start of the Gaza-Israel border uprisings that left 189 Palestinians dead in a monthslong rash of violent demonstrations demanding an end to the blockade on Gaza and the right to return to their lands. To mark the March 30 anniversary, a three-person U.N. war crimes investigation team, as part of a Commission of Inquiry (COI), has released a report indicating that Israeli security forces committed possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, and this week called on Israelis to prevent snipers from using lethal force against demonstrators. – Fox News

Hamas is facing the biggest demonstrations yet against its 12-year rule of the Gaza Strip, with hundreds of Palestinians taking to the streets in recent days to protest the dire living conditions in the blockaded territory. – Associated Press

GOP congressman Gary Palmer blasted Ilhan Omar’s “anti-Semitic … bigotry” by highlighting a Jewish CIA officer and former Green Beret who was killed on a peacekeeping mission in her native Somalia. – Washington Examiner  

Shin Bet, the country’s national security agency, denied a Saudi report that Iranian hackers successfully breached the private cellphones of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s family, shortly after a Saudi Arabian news outlet carried the claims on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Vivian Bercovici writes: Aiming rockets at Tel Aviv, Israel’s business and cultural capital, is a statement. In the minds of many of Israel’s enemies, Tel Aviv is the real capital of the country, not Jerusalem. Iranian leaders, as well as those of Hezbollah and Hamas, have a thing for talking about attacks on “Tel Aviv” rather than “Israel.” They cannot even bring themselves to utter the name. – Commentary Magazine

David Makovsky writes: The Israeli attorney general’s 55-page preliminary indictment linking Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to three charges of corruption may create collateral damage: President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan. Until now, many had assumed that Netanyahu would win Israel’s election on April 9 and the long-awaited Trump plan—an effort to make what the U.S. president has described as “the deal of the century”—would be put forward shortly afterward. – Politico   

Steven Emerson writes: Hamas is ruthlessly trying to crush dissent amid internal protests against the terror group’s rule over Gaza that broke out last Thursday. Hamas officials reportedly are beating protesters with clubs and using other violence — including live fire — to disrupt the protests, along with conducting arbitrary arrests of dissidents, human rights activists, and journalists. – Algemeiner

Middle East & North Africa

Iraqi security and hospital officials say three soldiers have been killed and five wounded in an ambush on an army patrol north of Baghdad. – Associated Press

Egypt’s top media regulator on Tuesday put into effect tighter restrictions that allow the state to block websites and even social media accounts with over 5,000 followers if they are deemed a threat to national security. – Associated Press

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) want to extend a freeze on arms exports to Saudi Arabia imposed after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, party sources said, setting the stage for a row with their conservative coalition partners. – Reuters

The Saudi government denies that it attempts to surveil its students or lure them back. For the majority of its students, Saudi embassy spokesperson Fahad Nazer said, the U.S. college experience is a positive one. – PBS News

The German government must ensure any support provided by a U.S. military base in Germany for U.S. drone strikes in Yemen complies with international law, a German court ruled on Tuesday, handing a partial victory to critics of such strikes. – Reuters

Tunisian special forces killed three suspected Islamic State militants on Tuesday after clashes in mountains near the Algerian border, a security official told Reuters. – Reuters

Yemen is continuing to experience a steady stream of violence, claiming at least one life every eight hours – despite the agreements reached between the internationally recognised government and the Houthis at talks in Sweden just over three months ago. – The Guardian

In an antisemitic article published on the website of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB), journalist Hamza Hussein attacked the Arab leaders who had attended the U.S.-led Warsaw Conference in mid-February, 2019, which was also attended by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and dealt with the Iranian threat. Hussein wrote that these leaders were serving the Jewish plan, which has been ongoing since the days of the Prophet Muhammad and whose goal is to dominate the Muslims and take over the world’s resources. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Korean Peninsula

Spanish authorities have confirmed they are investigating a reported attack on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid, a spokesperson for Spain’s National Police told CNN. – CNN

A senior U.S. arms control official said on Tuesday the only way for North Korea to achieve security and development is to abandon all of its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. – Reuters

North Korea should take “actual action” towards giving up its nuclear weapons to break the deadlock in talks with Washington, a top security adviser to the South’s president said, suggesting Seoul’s patience with Pyongyang may be wearing thin. – Agence France-Presse  


Negotiators for the U.S. and China have scheduled a new round of high-level trade talks in Beijing and Washington, aiming to close a deal by late April to end the yearlong dispute between the world’s two largest economies. – Wall Street Journal  

China’s foreign minister lashed out Monday at what he called “abnormal, immoral” attacks on Huawei amid growing concern, led by the US, that the telecom giant poses a security risk to the West. – Agence France-Presse  

Richard Bernstein writes: In the chaos surrounding America’s War on Terror, Washington fell for Beijing’s ruse that the embattled Muslim minority posed a threat to the West. – The Atlantic


The man accused of carrying out the attack that killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, is expected to represent himself in court, but the country’s prime minister said on Tuesday that she wants to do everything possible to deny him the attention he craves. – New York Times  

Accused killer Brenton Tarrant was on his way to a third target when he was apprehended by police roughly 21 minutes after they were alerted to the shooting at the Al Noor mosque, investigators believe. – Wall Street Journal  

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would deny the accused gunman the fame he sought by refusing to even speak his name in an emotive parliamentary meeting on Tuesday, the first since the worst massacre in her country’s modern history. – Washington Post

Kazakhstan’s president, an autocrat who has ruled since the fall of the Soviet Union, unexpectedly announced his resignation on Tuesday, plunging Central Asia’s biggest energy exporter into its greatest period of uncertainty in three decades. – Wall Street Journal  

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday of the “rapidly deteriorating situation” and rights violations in Indian Kashmir, and called for India to look again at its policies there. – Reuters


Russia’s defense minister has visited Damascus to deliver a letter from President Vladimir Putin to Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Russian Defense Ministry said that during Tuesday’s visit, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Assad “discussed the issues related to fighting international terrorism along with various aspects of Mideast security and post-conflict settlement.” – Associated Press

A prominent U.S. investor being held in Russia on embezzlement charges has asked U.S. diplomats not to defend him because he is worried about his case becoming politicized, a prison monitor who visited him in custody said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Matthew R. Costlow writes: In the past 20 years, American presidents have devoted precisely 38 words — combined — in their State of the Union addresses to supporting the country’s nuclear deterrent. […] In stark contrast, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently blew past this mark in one paragraph. His latest speech to the Federal Assembly, roughly the Russian equivalent to the State of the Union, ultimately delivered more than a half-dozen paragraphs on Russian nuclear capabilities, and another half-dozen hypocritically accusing the United States of violating the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. – Defense One  


While Europe struggles with Brexit, a visitor to its southern shore this week is exposing divisions that could have even bigger consequences for its place in the world: over how to deal with China. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Italy and France, beginning Thursday, will take him to countries on opposite sides of the European Union’s divide. – Wall Street Journal  

After an avowed white nationalist allegedly killed 50 Muslims in two New Zealand mosques on Friday, heightened scrutiny was directed to right-wing parties across Europe, where the accused gunman said he had traveled extensively and gleaned some of the inspiration for his Islamophobia – Washington Post

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s efforts to steer her nation out of the European Union remained in a state of chaos Tuesday, as she struggled to get around a shock parliamentary ruling that may force her to beg fellow European leaders for a long divorce delay. – Washington Post

Describing his work as an undercover agent among a group of heavily armed Qaeda terrorists, Morten Storm said his job as a jihadist-turned-informant was dangerous and grueling. Spy agencies never acknowledged his secret service. But now a Danish state agency, in a breakthrough ruling for Mr. Storm, has awarded him about $27,000 in damages for loss of work ability because of post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said in his claim was a result of his undercover role for the Danish and other intelligence agencies. – New York Times   

Germany, which had already announced that it will fall significantly short of NATO’s defense spending goals, annoying the United States, risks provoking Washington further by failing to reach even its own slimmed-down target. – New York Times  

A court in Germany ruled Tuesday that the government has partial responsibility to ensure U.S. drone strikes controlled with the help of an American base on German territory are in line with international law, but judges stopped short of ordering the ban that human rights activists had called for. – Associated Press

Any long Brexit delay would pile on economic and political costs for the European Union, the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday, stressing that these would need to be weighed up carefully against potential benefits. – Reuters

France is ready to veto any British request for a Brexit delay that either kicks the can down the road without offering a way out of its deadlock or imperils European Union institutions, an official in President Emmanuel Macron’s office said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Just when you thought Brexit couldn’t get any more complex or arcane, it now looks like the crucial next 10 days will be shaped by decisions made in 1604. That’s because of a colossal constitutional wrench thrown into the works by the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who has sent an already chaotic process spiraling deeper into uncertainty. – NBC News

Theresa May will ask for only a short extension to article 50 delaying Brexit by less than three months, after a revolt among pro-leave cabinet ministers and MPs that threatened her premiership. – The Guardian

Donald Trump Jr and the US national security adviser, John Bolton, spoke out over Brexit on Tuesday in what appeared to be a coordinated intervention by the White House into British domestic politics. – The Guardian

Editorial: Just when you thought the Brexit misadventure could get no worse, the speaker of the House of Commons stepped forward to turn it into a constitutional farce. What else can go wrong, one wonders, between now and March 29, the U.K.’s designated date to leave the EU? – Bloomberg

Adam Taylor writes: Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union was supposed to be about imagining a new, independent future for the nation. But as Brexit moves forward, it has often ended up mired in the past, with centuries-old disputes — including over the Irish border or the status of Gibraltar — proving to be newly intractable. – Washington Post

Theodore R. Bromund writes: Britain’s House of Commons has voted to request a delay in Britain’s exit from the European Union. It’s like a kid who removes a band-aid slowly hoping it’ll hurt less. Far better to rip it off and be done with it. […] And that means Britain must rip off the band-aid, exit the EU without a deal — and then approach the EU not as a supplicant, but as an independent nation with both the desire and the power to negotiate a free trade area. – Heritage Foundation  


For years, the U.S. military has denied that any of its airstrikes in Somalia against the extremist group al-Shabab have resulted in civilian casualties, but a new report released Tuesday by Amnesty International alleges that 14 civilians were killed in five airstrikes in 2017 and 2018. – Washington Post

Matt Kennard and Ismael Einashe write: It may be hard to tell by looking at it, but some 30 percent of the world’s crude oil transported on ships passes just a few miles offshore, a detail that has made Berbera’s port a prized location for outside powers looking for a new connection to the world’s most vital sea transport route. As a result, Somaliland, like its neighbor Djibouti, which is emerging as a hub for foreign military installations, has found itself at the center of big power rivalries that could reshape the Horn of Africa. – Foreign Policy

Amy Mackinnon writes: The Chinese telecommunications company Huawei has made huge inroads in Africa in recent years even as the United States urges its allies around the world to avoid working with the firm over cybersecurity concerns. – Foreign Policy

Latin America

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned gold-mining company and the company’s president on Tuesday, and President Trump later said the U.S. could be “a lot tougher” on the government of President Nicolás Maduro. – Wall Street Journal  

This nation’s slums have been the backbone of the leftist government for decades, and one of the few remaining bulwarks for President Nicolás Maduro. They are now turning on the embattled leader—a shift born of economic misery and police violence that could cost him the country. – Wall Street Journal  

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was strongly considering NATO membership for Brazil as he welcomed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to the White House. – Reuters

Russia and the United States remain split on how to resolve the crisis in Venezuela, officials from both powers said Tuesday after talks in Rome. – Associated Press

Cyber Security

Norsk Hydro ASA, one of the world’s biggest aluminum producers, suffered production outages after a cyber attack affected operations across Europe and the U.S. – Bloomberg

A proposed law that would give broad power to the National Cyber Directorate is expected to advance in the Knesset, and experts in the field are raising the alarm over its vague wording and lack of oversight mechanism, saying it would give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unprecedented power over Israel’s cyber operations. – Haaretz

Four congressmen urged the FBI on Tuesday to investigate “foreign entities” believed to be targeting service members and veterans online with false information. – Stars and Stripes  


Hundreds of U.S. soldiers have begun arriving in Germany in the first test of a rapid deployment strategy meant to bolster NATO’s presence in eastern Europe in the event of Russian aggression or other emergencies. – Associated Press

A federal judge on Tuesday said her injunction preventing President Trump’s transgender military policy from taking effect remains in place days after the Pentagon released a memo to implement the policy. – The Hill  

The U.S. Navy is preparing to sign a contract with General Dynamics Electric Boat and subcontractor Huntington Ingalls Industries for the next tranche of Virginia-class submarines, according to budget documents submitted to Congress this week. The 10-ship contract, which will include nine of the 84-foot Virginia Payload Module upgrades, is planned for April, the documents say. – Defense News  

With the Pentagon making hypersonic weapons a priority, Northrop Grumman is throwing its hat into the ring in an attempt to claim space in the still-early hypersonic defense market. – Defense News  

Federal workers told Congress this week that defense acquisition reform proposals billed as cutting red tape for the Pentagon to buy trailblazing commercially available items would “result in large unnecessary costs,” and they are urging lawmakers to reject them. – Defense News

A government watchdog organization says that the Navy’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter isn’t ready for combat, even though the service signed off on the aircraft’s initial operating capability status last month. – Military.com  

Amid ongoing testing challenges and delays in the Marine’s CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter program, the legacy CH-53E fleet is seeing its highest reliability in decades and is focused on modernization efforts to keep it ready through 2031 or beyond. – USNI News  

At a time the Navy is trying to improve fleet readiness, two construction projects intended to address submarine maintenance backlogs and support Littoral Combat Ship crews are at risk of being delayed because their funding could be diverted to pay for increased border security along the U.S. border with Mexico. – USNI News  

Jimmy Panetta, Don Bacon, Chrissy Houlahan, and Michael Waltz write: As we seek to break through the political dysfunction, we are pleased to announce the launch of the For Country Caucus. The caucus will provide principled military veteran members a platform to work in a nonpartisan way and create a more productive government. For Country’s vision is a less polarized Congress that works for — and is trusted by — Americans. – Washington Post

Long War

Dutch investigators said Tuesday that terrorism was “a serious possibility” in a shooting that killed three people on a tram a day earlier in Utrecht, citing a note found in the suspect’s vehicle that they said gave new guidance about the potential motive for the attack. – Washington Post

As Islamic State battles to keep control of its last slice of territory in Syria, the extremist group’s propaganda machine is invoking international acts of terrorism in a bid to rally its remaining supporters. Islamic State spokesman Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir called for retaliation for the mosque attacks in New Zealand that left 50 people dead,in a speech released Monday and translated by monitoring group SITE Intelligence. – Wall Street Journal  

Police in Brussels have reopened a street close to the European Union headquarters after a bomb threat was sent to a company linked to the EU. – Associated Press

An estimated 7,000 women and children from more than 40 nations, including the US, UK, Australia and Europe, are living in tense and chaotic conditions in camps in north-eastern Syria, where they are “not wanted” due to their supposed affiliation with Islamic State. – The Guardian

Trump Administration

The White House has ignored more than a dozen letters requesting documents from House Democratic chairmen investigating President Trump since the party took control in January, Democrats say, setting up a clash that could escalate into subpoenas or even court battles. – Washington Post

The Defense Department has identified $12.8 billion in possible funding that it could use to fulfill President Trump’s call for a border wall. – Washington Examiner

President Trump on Tuesday dismissed a proposal backed by a growing number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to add seats to the Supreme Court. – Washington Examiner   

Prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team on Tuesday asked a judge to extend a deadline for them to respond in court to a request brought by The Washington Post, citing the “press of other work.” – The Hill

Theodore R. Bromund writes: Former Vice President Richard Cheney and current Vice President Mike Pence had an argument last week. It revolved around a major theme in the Trump administration’s foreign policy: that U.S. allies should pay more of the costs of the American security guarantee. – Heritage Foundation  

Steven Stalinsky writes: Given the disturbing incidents now occurring daily in the U.S., there is an urgent need for an initiative to create a similar domestic office, for monitoring and combatting anti-Semitism here at home. The victims of the Tree of Life attack should be commemorated with the establishment of this new proposed office. This initiative should be championed by Members of Congress and sent to President Trump for his approval. – Middle East Media Research institute