Fdd's overnight brief

March 26, 2019

In The News


South Korean government officials are expected to press for extending a sanctions waiver on Iran’s petroleum exports that expires in May on a visit to Washington this week. – Reuters

Turkey plans to increase imports of Iranian natural gas, a senior Iranian official told state news agency IRNA on Monday. – Reuters

USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) entered the Persian Gulf on Friday, returning to the region after spending roughly two months operating in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. […] Iranian officials continue to contest U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf – USNI News

Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, on Sunday castigated those calling for the United States to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal after several Democratic 2020 candidates promised to do so if elected. Such a move, he said, would mean giving “hundreds of billions of dollars to people who are committed to Israel’s destruction.” – Times of Israel

Islamic State

The final defeat of the Islamic State extremist group’s self-declared caliphate marked an important battlefield victory in the fight against the terrorist network, but it also signaled a shift to a more difficult fight to come, U.S. military officials and experts said. – Wall Street Journal

Syria’s Kurds on Monday called for an international court to be set up in the country to try suspected Islamic State group jihadists following the announced fall of their “caliphate”. – Agence France-Presse

More than 9,000 foreigners, mostly children, linked to the Islamic State group are present in a camp for the displaced in northeast Syria, a Kurdish spokesman said Monday. – Agence France-Presse


Syrians who remained loyal to President Bashar al-Assad throughout the past eight years of war are increasingly expressing discontent with his government as living standards in the country continue to deteriorate even as the conflict winds down. – Washington Post

The Syrian government said on Monday that Washington’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights were a “blatant attack on its sovereignty”, according to AFP. – Arutz Sheva

Jon B. Alterman writes: It is hard to say what “victory” looks like in Syria, but it has seemed for some time that Bashar al-Assad has won one. He controls all of the country’s major population centers, his Syrian adversaries are in disarray, and his regional and international antagonists are no longer contesting his rule. Eight years ago, it seemed unlikely that Assad’s bold bet on repression to defeat a broad-based opposition would work. Even four years ago, before Russia’s military engagement, his position seemed tenuous. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Israel’s military said it struck dozens of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip and the Islamist group launched numerous rockets into its territory, raising the risk of a wide-scale conflict two weeks before an Israeli election. – Wall Street Journal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared President Trump to Cyrus the Great, Lord Balfour and Harry S. Truman — historic giants who helped secure the future of the Israeli people. Mr. Trump called Mr. Netanyahu a “very special man.” […] Mr. Netanyahu was thanking Mr. Trump for signing a proclamation recognizing Israel’s authority over the long-disputed Golan Heights — a valuable political gift to the prime minister two weeks before he faces voters in a hard-fought election back home. – New York Times

A tense quiet has taken hold after a night of heavy fire as Israeli aircraft bombed targets across the Gaza Strip and Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel. – Associated Press

Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza Strip, said it reached an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel after an exchange of fire, but explosions in the enclave could still be heard early Tuesday. – Al Jazeera

President Trump signed a proclamation Monday that recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, formalizing the Middle East policy shift he announced over Twitter last week. – NPR

The U.N. Security Council in a December 1981 resolution called Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights “null and void and without international legal effect” — and the U.N. says Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (goo-TEHR’-esh) adheres to council resolutions. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric (steh-FAHN’ DOO’-jar-ihk) said Monday that Guterres’ position remains unchanged despite President Donald Trump’s formal recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. – Associated Press

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on Monday was one of the most powerful launched ever by Gaza militants, flying nearly 120 kilometers (70 miles) before it slammed into a house in central Israel, wounding seven people. – Associated Press

Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces an election next month, was by Mr Trump’s side as he signed the proclamation. Syria said Mr Trump’s decision was “a blatant attack on its sovereignty”. – BBC

The Security Council must condemn Hamas for Monday’s rocket attack that destroyed a home north of Tel Aviv, Israel’s UN envoy told The Algemeiner. – Algemeiner

Hamas officials have said that the rocket which struck a home in central Israel injuring seven civilians was fired from the Gaza Strip by mistake, Israeli media reported Monday morning. – Jerusalem Post

Lindsey Graham writes: President Trump’s tweeted last week that the U.S. will formally recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel. The decision is strategically wise and morally important. – Wall Street Journal

Middle East & North Africa

Turkey’s banking regulator has announced that it will begin an inquiry into JPMorgan Chase for providing “misleading and manipulative” investment advice that, it said, prompted a run on the Turkish lira last week. – New York Times

In January 2008, a team of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents travelled to Ottawa to meet with RCMP leaders. They had stunning news. The DEA said an elite group of Middle East narco-terrorists in Colombia was using Canada as a key money laundering hub. – Global News

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the United Arab Emirates to ensure a fair trial for eight Lebanese nationals accused of setting up a “terrorist cell” with links to Hezbollah in Lebanon. – Reuters

Yemen’s warring parties exchanged heavy weapons fire overnight in Hodeidah, residents and military sources said, as the United Nations scrambled to salvage a ceasefire deal in the Yemeni port city that is a lifeline for millions at risk of starvation. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday rejected US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, condemning it as a violation of international law. – Agence France-Presse

The U.S. State Department has cleared Morocco for a major increase to its F-16 fleet, including both sales of new planes and upgrades to older models. – Defense News

Korean Peninsula

North Korean officials reversed course and returned to talks with the South at a joint liaison office near their border, a sign Pyongyang remains open to diplomacy with Seoul and Washington after their detente had shown signs of strain. – Wall Street Journal

South Korea’s nominee for unification minister said on Tuesday he will seek a creative solution so that North Korea and the United States can meet again soon. Inter-Korean relations are in limbo since the second U.S.-North Korea summit broke down last month. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump was open to easing sanctions on North Korea provided there was a ‘snapback’ clause if the North restarted nuclear activities, according to South Korean media reports of a North Korean statement. – Reuters


France rolled out red carpets and honor guards for President Xi Jinping of China on Monday, but beneath the pomp, there were wary statements about China’s influence by his host, President Emmanuel Macron. – New York Times

China is actively attempting to influence the global media to deter criticism and spread propaganda, according to a new report released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Monday. – Time

Xinjiang needs to “perfect” stability maintenance measures and crack down on religious extremism, the ruling Communist Party’s fourth-ranked leader said on a tour of the troubled region where China is running a controversial de-radicalisation program. – Reuters

While U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing for a trade deal to slash his country’s yawning deficit with China, it was his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron who landed a €30 billion aviation contract with Beijing on Monday. – Politico

Anjani Trivedi writes: China has become the fail-safe excuse for every bad economic indicator in the world. Among industries, autos are playing a similar role. So it should be little surprise that both have been fingered as fall guys for a slump in Germany manufacturing activity that spurred gloom over global growth and doom in financial markets (including an inverted U.S. yield curve).  The purchasing managers’ index fell to the lowest in six-and-a-half years. Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said it was the biggest reaction to German data that they could recall. – Bloomberg

Bruno Macaes writes: Italy has just become the latest of around 12 EU member states to approve BRI-linked agreements, with Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio signing a memorandum of understanding on March 23 with He Lifeng, chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, during a high-profile visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping. Joining the Belt and Road is not just a matter of symbolism. True, the memorandums signed have no legal value. Geopolitical agreements never do. – Nikkei Asian Review


Now, in a stark demonstration of the twists and contradictions of the long American involvement in Afghanistan, five of those men are sitting across a negotiating table from their former captors, part of the Taliban team discussing the terms of an American troop withdrawal. – New York Times

Thirteen civilians were killed by joint U.S. and Afghan airstrikes in northern Afghanistan over the weekend, the United Nations said on Monday, casting a pall over the country’s hopeful embrace of the Persian new year. – Washington Post

Myanmar’s Supreme Court was scheduled on Tuesday to hear the appeal of two Reuters journalists imprisoned for breaking a colonial-era official secrets law, in a case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress towards democracy. – Reuters

Australia’s prime minister on Tuesday accused an influential minor political party of trying to “sell Australia’s gun laws to the highest bidders” by asking the U.S. gun lobby for donations. – Associated Press

A U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyer and a Coast Guard National Security Cutter completed a transit of the Taiwan strait early Monday, the fifth such transit in six months. The move was immediately decried by Chinese officials. – USNI News

Sadanand Dhume writes: In my most recent Wall Street Journal column — read it here — I point out China’s double standards on Islam and Islamist terrorism. At home, Beijing persecutes members of the Uighur minority merely for practicing their faith. Overseas, China supports Masood Azhar, a hardened Pakistani jihadist blamed by the US, the UK, and other major Western democracies for fomenting terrorism against India. […] China’s apparent double-standard can be explained by a mixture of Communist Party amorality and realpolitik. – American Enterprise Institute


Britain’s Parliament grabbed control Monday of the government’s efforts to leave the European Union, challenging the country’s political traditions and inflicting on Prime Minister Theresa May a rebuke not suffered by any recent predecessor. – New York Times

A petition calling for Prime Minister Theresa May to revoke Article 50 and remain in the European Union surpassed 5.5 million signatures on Monday, setting a new record for petitions hosted on the British Parliament website. – Washington Post

Germany’s second-richest family built its multibillion-dollar fortune with Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Jimmy Choo shoes and Calvin Klein perfume — and forced laborers under the Nazis. – New York Times

A French Muslim group is suing Facebook and YouTube after the internet giants broadcast a livestream of the March 15 New Zealand mosque shootings, Agence France-Presse reports. – Time

Ukraine’s Western backers fear the country’s next president may prove unwilling or unable to accelerate reforms they have spent five years investing in, whoever it turns out to be. – Reuters

William Booth and Karla Adam write: The brinkmanship, the dozens of “last ditch” and “cliff edge” summits and debates, the snakes and ladders — for those who like political drama, these are gripping times. It’s “Game of Thrones,” final season. Plenty of plot twists to come. Will Prime Minister Theresa May survive? Probably, for the short term. But late Monday night, Parliament resolved to take control of Brexit through a series of upcoming “indicative votes,” which will allow lawmakers to propose their own ways to exit the European Union. Will things get any clearer? Maybe not. – Washington Post


Congo’s Ebola epidemic has now exceeded 1,000 cases, the Health Ministry said on Monday, with a death toll of 629 in the world’s second worst ever outbreak. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: As China moves into Djibouti and Ethiopia and as the US-funded government in Mogadishu increasingly offers its strategic assets to China, the State Department has decided to break past precedent and turn its back on Somaliland, the only stable, secure, and truly democratic region in the Horn of Africa, even as Russia seeks to move in on the territory. More important, however, is that the US State Department is, through either neglect or malpractice, risking a resurgence of radicalism in the Horn of Africa. – National Review

Emily Estelle writes: The Trump administration is drawing down the US military presence in Africa in order to pivot to great power competition and claim success — prematurely — on the many fronts of the war on terror. This drawdown requires local partners, like Mali and Burkina Faso, to continue a counterterrorism mission that is far from complete. But these states, among the poorest in the world, are not only incapable of completing the fight against al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)- and Islamic State-linked groups. They are part of the problem. – American Enterprise Institute

United States

The Pentagon notified Congress Monday night that it has authorized the transfer of $1 billion to begin new wall construction along the US-Mexico border, drawing immediate objections from Democratic lawmakers. – CNN

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the growing rise in anti-Semitism around the world Monday, telling a massive crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s that anti-Zionism is commensurate to Jew-hatred. – Times of Israel

US Vice President Mike Pence suggested support for Israel was no longer a bipartisan cause in Washington on Monday, telling the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that the Democratic Party has been “co-opted by people who promote rank anti-Semitic rhetoric.” – Times of Israel

A spokesman for the Simon Wiesenthal Center called on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to condemn an imam in her district who preached antisemitism, according to an article published by the Jewish Journal last week. – Jerusalem Post

Senate Republicans are set to introduce two bills that oppose anti-Semitism, JTA reported on Monday. The bills follow the controversy surrounding Rep. Ilhan Omar, the freshman Muslim Democrat from Minnesota, who has caused an uproar over anti-Semitic remarks she made about Israel and its supporters. – Arutz Sheva

Eli Lakes writes: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” That single sentence, taken from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, calls for a reckoning. It’s a reckoning for Democrats who saw almost every development in this almost-two-year investigation as another dot connecting a conspiracy Mueller has not found. It’s a reckoning for many in the media that dutifully passed along this theory along without scrutiny or context. – Bloomberg


Latin America

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told his Russian counterpart Monday that the United States “will not stand idly by” if Russia continues to send military personnel to Venezuela to prop up President Nicolás Maduro, the State Department said. – Washington Post

Two Russian planes carrying soldiers landed in Caracas in a show of support for Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, drawing a rebuke from Washington on Monday, as the authoritarian leader defied U.S. efforts to oust him. – Wall Street Journal

A new power outage spread across much of Venezuela on Monday, knocking communications offline and stirring fears of a repeat of the chaos almost two weeks ago during the nation’s largest-ever blackout. – Associated Press

Dominican President Danilo Medina met Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua on Monday, the president’s office said, deepening ties between the countries as the United States warns governments in the region against getting too close with China. – Reuters

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Monday he had asked the Spanish government and Pope Francis to apologize to indigenous Mexicans for wrongs committed during the Spanish conquest some 500 years ago. – Reuters

Editorial: The stakes for American interests keep rising in Venezuela, as Vladimir Putin is now moving his little green men to keep dictator Nicolás Maduro in power. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called his Russian counterpart Monday after Russian air force planes carrying about 100 troops arrived in Caracas Saturday. – Wall Street Journal

Gregory Weeks writes: Two months ago, Trump recognized National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s interim president in January. Increasing numbers of Venezuelans — and foreign governments — have backed Guaidó and rejected the contested presidency of Maduro, but the country remains in a political stalemate. What happens next? Debate over whether to invade a Latin American country has been far less common in this century than the last, but there is currently a high-level public discussion around the world about whether to use force in Venezuela to end the Maduro regime. – Washington Post

Jacob Kurtzer writes: Recently, much of the analysis of the crisis in Venezuela has focused on video sleuthing to determine responsibility for the burning of a truck loaded with relief supplies. The needless political bickering over desperately needed assistance underlies the danger of humanitarian assistance becoming a political football entangled in complex debates over political change. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Pentagon said that a test on Monday of a new tactic for intercepting missiles aimed at American cities was a success, in an exercise that appeared intended to simulate how the United States would defend against an adversary like North Korea. – New York Times

If the United States is to have a chance at warding off new hypersonic weapons being tested and fielded by Russia and China, its defensive framework will need to integrate cyber and other emerging “non-kinetic” capabilities. But it appears that industry and Defense Department requirements officials are focusing on creating kinetic interceptors, giving dangerously short shrift to the new capabilities. – Defense One

Finding $653 million for a trio of submarines that the Navy is trying to repair in private yards and $49 million to convert a Military Sealift Command ship into an ‘ambulance’ for naval forces top the Navy’s unfunded priorities list that was delivered to Congress on Friday. – USNI News

The Maryland-based firm, best known for its work on case-telescoped (CT) weapons and ammo, delivered the first of five AR prototype demonstrators to the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Armaments Center and Joint Services Small Arms Program, according to a March 24 Textron press release. – Military.com

Tommy Ross and Philip McDaniel write: These trends highlight a key weakness in the U.S. government’s approach to extremism and terrorism in the post-9/11 era. […]However, over the same period, the U.S. failure to engage with its partners’ policing and law enforcement agencies has left unaddressed one of the key drivers of extremism. – War on the Rocks

John J. Klein writes: Regarding deterrence by punishment efforts, the commercial space sector can play a role, albeit an indirect one, through improved space situational awareness (SSA) and space forensics (including digital forensics and multispectral imagery). The commercial industry may support the attribution process following a hostile or illegal act in space through its increasingly proliferating network of SSA ground telescopes and other terrestrial tracking systems. The DoD may also leverage the commercial space sector’s cyber expertise to support digital forensic efforts to help determine the source of an attack. – Center for New American Security

Long War

Military prosecutors say they have tapes of telephone calls between the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and three of his accused co-conspirators talking in code about the plot months before it took place, a defense lawyer disclosed on Monday. – New York TImes

Graeme Wood writes: The Islamic State has had years to prepare for this moment and for some time had signaled that it was resigned to eventually losing some or all of its territory. By May 2016, its spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was telling followers abroad not to bother traveling to Syria. – New York Times

Brian J. Phillips writes: In a recent interview, President Trump said he is “very seriously” considering labeling Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). Some other politicians and activist groups support the move. This would be an extreme policy shift — and might not result in the intended consequences. Does this approach make sense for dealing with criminal organizations in Mexico? […] Calling cartels FTOs would impose redundant sanctions, while sending a confusing message about terrorism — doubling down on the questionable notion that criminals are “terrorists.” – Washington Post

Trump Administration

During a briefing at the Justice Department about three weeks ago, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III made a revelation that those supervising his work were not expecting, a person familiar with the matter said: He would not offer a conclusion on whether he believed President Trump sought to obstruct justice. – Washington Post

Russian lawmakers welcomed the findings of a monthslong investigation that said Donald Trump didn’t conspire or collude with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections, though few in Moscow saw the outcome as likely to ease strained ties between the Kremlin and Washington. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump and his Republican allies went on the offensive on Monday, vowing to pursue and even punish those responsible for the Russia investigation now that the special counsel has wrapped up without implicating him or his campaign in a criminal conspiracy to influence the 2016 election. – New York Times

President Trump came into office signaling a desire to improve relations with Moscow, pledging on the campaign trail to “get along great” with President Vladi­mir Putin and win his respect. With the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, the president has won more freedom to pursue that goal. But experts say the sand has shifted significantly in Washington since the inauguration, with limitations imposed by Congress and policies implemented by Trump’s own administration reducing the likelihood of any substantive rapprochement with Russia in the near term. – Washington Post