Fdd's overnight brief

March 29, 2019

In The News


Syrian militiamen paid by Iran have seen their salaries slashed. Projects Iran promised to help Syria’s ailing economy have stalled. Even employees of Hezbollah, the Lebanese group that has long served as Iran’s closest Arab ally, say they have missed paychecks and lost other perks. – New York Times

Nearly half of Middle Eastern survey respondents say they are skeptical that Iran has stopped working to achieve nuclear weapons, according to a poll taken by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and reported by the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom. – Jerusalem Post

The United States is keen to see that Malaysia, Singapore and others are fully aware of illicit Iranian oil shipments and the tactics Iran uses to evade sanctions, a top U.S. sanctions official said on Friday. – Reuters

The sources said it appeared that the supertanker was selling Iranian oil in violation of U.S. sanctions. If confirmed, the sale would shine a rare light on how traders and shippers were evading the sanctions […]Two days later, a U.S. State Department official said Washington was investigating and that it reserved the right to take action against any person helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions on energy shipments. – Reuters

Yochanan Visser writes: Iran is using the same type of indoctrination Islamic State used to win over the Sunni Arabs residing in the eastern Syrian Province Deir ez-Zur, he told WSJ. Many Syrian Arabs have already converted to Shia Islam, most likely because of the dire situation in Syria. An estimated 89 percent of Syrians live in poverty, dependent on humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations. – Arutz Sheva

Emily B. Landau and  Ephraim Asculai write: There cannot be any doubt that Iran had a production program dedicated to nuclear weapons. Iran still holds plans to build those weapons: including sites, materials, equipment and capabilities to resume this program at any time. The JCPOA only delays Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The IAEA’s manifest procrastination only helps Iran, and it is only thorough insistent inspection activity that the international community can delay, if not thwart Iran’s potential. – The National Interest


The announcement a week ago that the Islamic State had lost its final patch of territory in Syria was a milestone in the battle against the world’s most fearsome terrorist network. But it also raised urgent questions about the tens of thousands of people who flocked to join the jihadists from around the world and now have nowhere else to go. – New York Times

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has “hamstrung” attempts to negotiate an end to the civil war that has racked his country since 2011, a top U.S. diplomat says. Special envoy James Jeffrey has been working with the United Nations to negotiate a political settlement to end the Syrian civil war. – Washington Examiner

A school, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province have been targeted by the Syrian government in a wave of attacks by President Bashar al-Assad in the last month, according to a report from Amnesty International. – The Guardian

Kevin Baron writes: It’s not a new problem. When the ISIS war started, Votel’s predecessors, President Obama, and Congress disagreed over how much U.S. military force they should send to stop the fast-moving terror group, and whether to get involved in Syria at all. Then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey and Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno wrung their hands and wondered what the United States wanted to happen “the day after” ISIS was defeated. – Defense One


Every week for the past year, Palestinians have massed at the fence to demonstrate in the March of Return. For Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, the protests have become a tool to pressure Israel into softening restrictions on the enclave, with limited success. – Washington Post

Throughout their eight years working opposite one another, there was no shortage of difficult moments between Obama and Netanyahu. In his memoir last year, former secretary of state John F. Kerry describes Netanyahu as disrespectful toward Obama, with particular emphasis on the Israeli leader’s 2015 address to a joint meeting of Congress where he lambasted the president’s attempts to reach a deal on nuclear disarmament with Iran. – Washington Post

Egyptian mediators pressed ahead Thursday with efforts to broker a cease-fire between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel, even as the sides braced for the possibility of renewed violence this weekend. – Associated Press

A senior member of Hamas’s military wing said Thursday that rockets recently fired from the Gaza Strip toward central Israel launched on their own due to the terror group’s heightened war footing. – Times of Israel

It was a rare sight in Gaza: a woman daring to publicly denounce Hamas — not Israel — for the wretched conditions in the isolated Palestinian enclave. “Our sons and daughters have lost 12 years of their lives, and for what?” Mervat al-Buheisi, 52, railed during a protest on March 15, referring to the time that’s elapsed since the militant group took over the coastal territory. “Each son of a Hamas official owns an apartment, a car, a jeep, a building” while “our sons have nothing,” she said in a widely shared video, earning the family a late night raid from Hamas forces who arrested her husband and son. – Bloomberg

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel is prepared to wage a broad military campaign in Gaza if needed, after a two-day flareup of cross-border fighting that has thrust his security policies to the fore two weeks before an election. – Reuters

United States government maps are slated to be redrawn to reflect US President Donald Trump’s official recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, according to a report by Voice of America. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Authority has once again glorified terrorist Dalal Mugrhabi, the woman who carried out the the Coastal Road Massacre of March 11, 1978 in which 37 Israelis were killed. – Jerusalem Post

Well-known Palestinian-Jordanian Professor of Islamic Law, Ahmad Nofal, has called the Holocaust “an illusion,” the Middle East Media Research Institute revealed on Friday morning. – Jerusalem Post  

As the Israeli military continued its preparations for a possible outbreak of violence at protests along the Gaza border planned for Saturday, an Egyptian delegation reportedly told Hamas that any mistake it makes could lead to war. – Times of Israel

Israel will pursue only a ground operation in the Gaza Strip if all other options fail, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, as efforts to restore the calm between Israel and Hamas after several days of fighting appeared to be taking effect. – Ynet

The US shale boom has enabled the Trump administration to more strongly back Israel, top American official told the Financial Times. The lack of dependence on foreign oil has “allowed the president to make foreign policy decisions that simply were not available to previous presidents, at least not in my lifetime,” Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in remarks published on Thursday. “The freedom that this allows this president, and future presidents … is simply stunning,” he added. – Algemeiner

A new survey by the Israel Democracy Institute shows that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews viewed President Donald Trump’s recognition of their country’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights as “helpful.” The recognition was formalized at a White House ceremony on Monday attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After Trump signed the proclamation, he told Netanyahu, “This was a long time in the making.” – Algemeiner

Benny Avni writes: Arab Spring-like anti-Hamas demonstrations that began this month have received little attention outside the Middle East, but they are growing. Sick of Hamas’ cruelty, misrule and corruption, dissident Gazans have been pouring into the streets. The revolt has persisted even as Hamas thugs have used force, including live ­ammunition, to snuff it out. Hence the Hamas leadership’s ­decision to turn to an old playbook: escalating attacks on Israel to divert attention from their own unpopularity back home. – New York Post

Israel Ziv writes: There is no doubt the reemerging Syria, will resume an international battle aimed at preserving the narrative of the Golan Heights as occupied Syrian territory while denying the legitimacy of Israeli annexation and sovereignty. In the face of this, Israel will be required to conduct a complicated legitimization battle, while increasing its effort to prevent an Iranian establishment on the other side of the Golan Heights. The American declaration with no doubt will help to manage those efforts. – Jerusalem Post

Ian Bremmer writes: Yet the strength of Netanyahu’s political position comes less from the change in the White House than from Israel’s stable place in the region. Over a decade of Middle East turmoil, Israel has managed to remain mainly above the fray of the upheavals within Arab countries and the Saudi-Iranian proxy wars. This has allowed Netanyahu to maintain a solid bond with the U.S., even when Netanyahu and Obama were at odds, and to build pragmatic relations with Russia, particularly in containing the violence in Syria. – Time

Arabian Peninsula

A senior United Arab Emirates official questioned the viability of Palestinian statehood in a rare break from the decades-long Arab consensus. If the conflict continues, it will witness a “strategic shift” toward giving equal rights to Palestinians in Israel, Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs, was cited as saying in Dubai newspaper Gulf News. “A two-state solution will no longer be feasible and a reduced rump state will no longer be attractive. – Bloomberg

A United States State Department spokesman has called the bombing earlier this week of a Save the Children-supported hospital in Yemen “awful” and urged the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen to conduct an investigation. – Al Jazeera

Dalia Hatuqa writes: Most of the political parties running in the upcoming elections have not proposed an end to the military regime in the West Bank and siege on Gaza, and Arab governments don’t seem to care. Gulf governments have largely discounted their own attempt at diplomacy between Israelis and Palestinians, instead opting to move forward with normalization whether a peace plan is in place or not. These overtures confirm the beginning of a new era in Middle Eastern politics—one where Palestine is no longer the defining issue. – Foreign Policy

Saudi Arabia

The Trump administration has kept secret seven authorizations it has issued since November 2017 allowing U.S. nuclear energy companies to share sensitive technological information with Saudi Arabia, even though the kingdom has not yet agreed to anti-proliferation terms required to construct a pair of U.S.-designed civilian nuclear power plants. – Washington Post

Saudi Arabia released on bail three women’s activists facing charges for their human-rights work and contacts with foreign journalists and diplomats in a case that became a global symbol of a political crackdown under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. – Wall Street Journal

Germany has extended a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia for another six months, a government spokesman said. The ban, imposed after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has been criticised by European allies since it put a question mark over billions of euros of military orders, including a 10 billion pound ($13.27bn) deal to sell 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Riyadh that would be led by Britain’s BAE Systems. – Al Jazeera

Saudi Arabia’s secretive hearings for 11 suspects accused in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi fall short of international standards and should be open to the public and trial observers, a United Nations human rights expert has said. – Al Jazeera

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers on Thursday he did not know whether any of the approvals he authorized for U.S. companies to sell nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia were made after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October last year. – Reuters

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Thursday with the Saudi Arabian prince who lied to senators about his role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. According to the CIA, Prince Khalid bin Salman helped persuade Khashoggi to visit the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where an elaborate operation was in place to have him killed and dismembered. – Washington Examiner

Middle East & North Africa

An Istanbul courtroom opened a window on the state of American-Turkish relations as Metin Topuz, a Turkish employee of the United States Consulate in Istanbul, went on trial in one of several cases that showcase American powerlessness in the face of the intransigence of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – New York Times

When his rebel fighter son was killed and life in Syria became impossible for Jamal Sahlabji, he and his remaining family packed up and joined hundreds of thousands fleeing to neighboring countries. Sahlabji settled in Gaziantep, a Turkish town close to the Syrian border that became a haven for opposition figures, rebels and refugees escaping fighting and bombardment. – Reuters

Arab leaders meeting in Tunisia on Sunday hope to project unified opposition to the Trump administration’s acceptance of Israeli control over the Golan Heights and Jerusalem, but as with past Arab League summits, the gathering is likely to expose their own bitter rivalries. – Associated Press

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in will meet with President Trump at the White House in April to discuss their efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The White House said in a statement that Mr. Moon and South Korea’s first lady Kim Jung-sook will visit the White House on April 11. The two presidents will discuss “the latest developments regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as well as bilateral matters,” the statement said. – Wall Street Journal

In broad daylight in late February, just days before President Trump met with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, a group of masked men forced their way into the North Korean Embassy in Madrid. […]But as details of the raid became publicly known over the past few days, the group has pushed back against media attention, apparently fearful not only of the Spanish legal system but also the potential to be targeted by North Korea. – Washington Post

President Trump discussed using the “nuclear football,” a briefcase that can be used to authorize a nuclear attack, on North Korea during a 2017 visit to Puerto Rico, CNN reported Thursday. – The Hill

A shadowy dissident group accused of breaking into North Korea’s embassy in Madrid last month said on Thursday it was temporarily suspending operations, after a Spanish judge issued international arrest warrants for two suspects Spanish authorities say fled to the United States. – Reuters


The wife of the missing Chinese former head of Interpol on Thursday dismissed allegations by authorities in China accusing her husband of graft and said his arrest was politically motivated. China will prosecute former Interpol chief, Meng Hongwei, for graft after an investigation found he spent “lavish” amounts of state funds, abused his power and refused to follow Communist Party decisions, Beijing’s anti-corruption watchdog said in a statement on Wednesday. – New York Times

After a shooting rampage left dozens of Muslim worshipers dead in Christchurch, New Zealand, the governments of Muslim-majority countries condemned the attack. Some cited Islamophobia as a cause of the violence. This is understandable, but most of the Islamic world remains silent about the world’s worst instance of official Islamophobia. About 15 years ago China began a program of protracted cultural genocide against the nearly 11 million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. – Wall Street Journal

The British government on Thursday released a scathing assessment of the security risks posed by Chinese telecom company Huawei to Britain’s telecom networks, as London weighs whether to heed U.S. calls to bar the firm from its next-generation 5G networks over fears it could enable cyberattacks and espionage by the Chinese government. – Washington Post

Chinese technology giant Huawei Technologies Co. said revenue rose 20% last year to $107 billion, signaling that a U.S.-led campaign to block its rise in networking technology hasn’t curbed its overall growth. – Wall Street Journal

China is offering foreign technology firms better access to the country’s fast-growing cloud-computing market, people briefed on the matter said, as Beijing fashions a compromise in a tech sector the U.S. wants opened as part of a trade deal. – Wall Street Journal

Top negotiators from China and the United States resumed a fresh round of trade talks in Beijing on Friday aiming to settle the bruising spat that has threatened the global economy. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were greeted by Vice Premier Liu He at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse as the three men seek to resolve the long-running trade war between the world’s top two economies. – Agence France-Presse

State Department sources say they know American residents — either US citizens or people with legal status in the United States — are being held in detention camps in Xinjiang, China. When asked if there were many, one of the sources said, “No, a few.” They were unable to disclose more details due to privacy concerns, for the time being. – CNN

Influential figures in Washington are calling for the establishment of a bilateral free-trade agreement with Taiwan, even as U.S. and Chinese officials move toward a resolution of their long-running trade dispute. – Voice of America

China on Thursday hit back at criticism from the United States’ top diplomat who called its treatment of Muslims “shameful hypocrisy” after speaking with a former prisoner from a Chinese detention camp. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the comment after meeting with Mihrigul Tursun, a member of the Uighur ethnic group who has spoken publicly in the US about what she said was widespread torture in China’s prisons for the minority group. – Agence France-Presse

The Chinese government’s top diplomat has thanked Kazakhstan for its support for a controversial de-radicalization program in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, and said others should follow China’s example. – Reuters

The Trump administration is prepared to keep negotiating with China for weeks or even months to reach a trade deal that will ensure the world’s second-largest economy improves market access and intellectual-property policies for U.S. companies, a senior American official said. – Bloomberg

Editorial: Over the past few years, Mr. Xi has been unflinching in his demands for fealty to Chinese political ideology, insisting that educational institutions, as well as the news media and others, show loyalty to party, China’s socialism and a doctrine called “Xi Jinping Thought.” Those who resist are punished and in many cases find themselves locked up for years at a time. What’s happened to Mr. Xu is a warning that will chill other educators. Once again, Mr. Xi stifles free thinking, that essential ingredient for any successful university — and, ultimately, any successful society. – Washington Post

Charlotte Allen writes: Beijing argues the crackdown is necessary to stop Uighur terrorists. Several extremist-separatist groups operate in Xinjiang, and some may have ties with international Islamist organizations. They have been responsible for numerous deadly incidents in China over the past two decades. – Wall Street Journal

Josh Rogin writes: Washington must wake up to the danger of China’s massive effort to infiltrate, undermine and eventually abolish Taiwan’s democracy. […]a Chinese military invasion is no longer the scenario Taiwanese fear most. China’s strategy to take over Taiwan is focused now on the hybrid warfare tactics authoritarian regimes increasingly deploy in free societies. Pro-Beijing interests have bought up a huge portion of Taiwanese media and coordinate with Beijing to spread propaganda and fake news and manipulate social media. – Washington Post

Stephen Blank writes: Russia’s strategic partner is the People’s Republic of China. Bilateral military cooperation is developing actively. Primarily it is focused on the fight against international terrorism. Joint actions are regularly practiced during the military exercises Naval interaction and Peaceful Mission. The Russian Federation continues to prepare specialists for the People’s Liberation Army of China. – American Foreign Policy Council

South Asia

Bhat’s brief transition from academia to insurgency was part of a troubling trend. Growing numbers of young Kashmiris turned to militancy in 2018, according to official figures, giving new energy to an armed struggle that as recently as a few years ago appeared to be diminishing. – Washington Post

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Thursday he expected debris from an Indian anti-satellite weapons test to eventually burn up in the atmosphere instead of creating a lasting debris field that could threaten other satellites. – Reuters

Pakistan says it has conducted initial investigations into a dossier provided by neighbouring India on the Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir, concluding that so far no links can be drawn between Pakistan and the bombing, the foreign office said. – Al Jazeera

Afghanistan will remain dependent on foreign donors and international help even after a peace deal with the Taliban is reached, a watchdog in the United States has said, warning that the prospect of a potential end to fighting raises its own risks to rebuilding efforts. – Al Jazeera


Two months ago, Sum Moeun was last seen being beaten by Cambodian soldiers following his arrest over an ongoing land dispute with an agro-industrial company. […]Human rights groups have increased pressure on the Cambodian government with both Human Rights Watch and Licadho releasing statements demanding that Moeun be presented. The UN is also investigating the issue. – Al Jazeera

A U.N. human rights watchdog called on Vietnam on Thursday to stop imprisoning activists and journalists for criticizing state policies and voiced concern at a “high number of death sentences and executions” imposed for lesser crimes after flawed trials. – Reuters

A new law which comes into effect from next week will punish homosexual sex and adultery with death in the small southeast Asian kingdom of Brunei. Beginning on April 3, any individuals found guilty of the offenses will be stoned to death, according to a new penal code. The punishment will be “witnessed by a group of Muslims.” – CNN

Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a land battle for almost three decades, but some officials say that long-running feud has reached a dangerous tipping point – capped by casualties and daily cease-fire violations. – Fox News

Australia is seeking to repair its relationship with its largest trading partner, China, following a deterioration in ties after it banned Huawei Technologies Co. from bidding for 5G contracts and the introduction of anti-foreign interference laws aimed at Beijing.  – Bloomberg


Campaigning for Ukraine’s presidential election had just begun to heat up when the authorities announced they had thwarted a Russian plot to use Facebook to undermine the vote. Unlike the 2016 interference in the United States, which centered on fake Facebook pages created by Russians in faraway St. Petersburg, the operation in Ukraine this year had a clever twist. It tried to circumvent Facebook’s new safeguards by paying Ukrainian citizens to give a Russian agent access to their personal pages. – New York Times

Russia will be keeping a close eye on the result to see how pro-western — or anti-Russian — Ukraine’s next leader might be. It is the first national vote since Russia annexed Crimea in early 2014 and subsequently supported an uprising by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine. – CNBC

Dan Sullivan writes: Fortunately, the Trump administration has reversed most of Obama’s harmful anti-energy policies. The United States is once again the world’s energy superpower — producing more renewables, oil and natural gas than any other country on Earth, including Russia and Saudi Arabia. And with Trump administration policies, such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for responsible energy production, U.S. energy dominance is likely to endure for decades. – Washington Post

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: Unlike the Levant, the Red Sea region is still crowded with great powers, so Russia’s ascent there is by no means inevitable. For example, Djibouti hosts American, Chinese, French, Italian, and Japanese military outposts; Moscow is not guaranteed a base there despite recent talks toward that end. Even so, its position in Syria has served as a springboard for widening its regional activities, from collecting intelligence and running general interference to launching specific initiatives such as last August’s counterpiracy training exercises in the Gulf of Aden. – Washington Institute


Who will be the next prime minister of Britain if Theresa May steps down? A surprise offer on Wednesday by Mrs. May to step aside if her plan for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union were approved prompted political analysts to speculate about who might replace her. While Mrs. May did not specify a date for her departure — it would not come until after the May 22 deadline for withdrawal, known as Brexit — her Conservative colleagues would have to appoint a new leader to see the process through. – New York Times

NATO said Thursday it had extended until 2022 the mandate of Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has won praise from the Trump administration for his efforts encouraging allies to spend more on defense. – Wall Street Journal

Joseph C. Sternberg writes: The myth and reality of British self-understanding also have collided over the economic aspects of Brexit. A particular kind of Brexiteer views Britain as a free-market, free-trading economic dynamo. The idea of a global-trading Britain enticing investment away from the Continent is at the core of the economic logic of Brexit. – Wall Street Journal

Meg Lundsager writes: Rapid increases in Italian debt to Chinese entities will raise the risk of a future eurozone debt crisis. An Italian debt crisis will be much worse than Greece’s financial crisis and much more difficult for the eurozone to handle. Italy’s size and core historical role in the European Union and eurozone monetary union mean a financial crisis would significantly stress the union. – The Hill

Yasmeen Serhan writes: But if the past two years have demonstrated anything, it’s that Britain hasn’t taken back control. It has lost control entirely. […]With few lawmakers signaling their willingness to shift in support of the prime minister’s deal, even her own resignation seems to be out of her control. Now it’s up to Parliament to reach a consensus on May’s deal or find an alternative. – The Atlantic


Days after President Trump declared the Islamic State’s caliphate had been eliminated in Syria, the prime minister of one of West Africa’s most turbulent nations urged the United States to shift attention to a rising extremist threat in the Sahel. – Washington Post

A car bomb exploded on Thursday near a hotel and restaurant in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, killing at least 15 people, rescue services said, in a strike on a busy area that has been targeted by Islamist militants in the past. – New York Times

Government forces in Cameroon’s restive Anglophone regions killed at least 170 civilians over the past six months, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). – Al Jazeera

The U.S. government ordered its personnel to leave Comoros as clashes erupted in the Indian Ocean archipelago after this week’s contested election, leaving at least three people dead. Opposition leaders dispute the outcome of a March 24 vote that the electoral authority said was won by Azali Assoumani, who’s ruled Comoros on three previous occasions. Assoumani changed the constitution last year to enable him to remain in office until 2029. – Bloomberg

Eritrea must investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings by its security forces and resolve the fate of dozens of missing detainees, including a former finance minister, a United Nations human rights watchdog said on Thursday. – Reuters

Siobhan O’Grady writes: National security adviser John Bolton outlined a new U.S. strategy in Africa in December that highlighted concerns about the threat of jihadists in the Sahel. But Africa continues to be somewhat of a blind spot for the Trump administration. And in an already unstable region, some groups seem ready and willing to take advantage of that. – Washington Post

Dan Hannan wrties: The United States, and the international community in general, can defend the integrity of the Nigerian judiciary. A few weeks before the poll, Nigeria’s chief justice was sacked and replaced with someone thought to be more amenable to Buhari. This is the most dangerous aspect of the whole business, and it is here that friendly countries should take their stand. – Washington Examiner

United States

A former National Security Agency contractor described as a “hoarder” by his lawyer pleaded guilty Thursday to illegally retaining a huge volume of government secrets at his house in what investigators initially suspected could be a major espionage case. – Washington Post

A Brooklyn lawmaker doubled down on his denial of Palestine’s existence on Thursday – even as he faced being bounced from a City Council committee. – New York Post

Maria Butina, who has admitted to working as a Russian agent to infiltrate an influential gun rights group and make inroads with U.S. conservative activists and Republicans, will be sentenced on April 26, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said on Thursday. – Reuters

Latin America

Russia hit back against U.S. warnings over its support for Venezuela’s government, defending its arms trade with the Latin American country and promising to keep its military advisers there as long as President Nicolás Maduro deemed necessary. – Wall Street Journal

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime, bolstered by a Russian military deployment infuriating the US, on Thursday announced a ban on Washington-backed self-declared interim leader Juan Guaido holding public office. – Agence France-Presse

US tech giant Google has signed a deal with Cuban operator ETECSA to explore ways of boosting internet service on the island, despite diplomatic tensions between Washington and Havana. – Al Jazeera

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday tackling illegal immigration is an issue chiefly for the United States and Central America to address, as a senior Mexican official called U.S. policy on migration “bipolar.” – Reuters

U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary Francis Fannon has raised questions about Venezuela’s Manuel Quevedo serving as the president of OPEC. Fannon, who runs the Bureau of Energy Resources, expressed serious concerns to OPEC’s secretary-general about a former Maduro regime official continuing to act as the president of an international organization, a senior State Department official said in a statement Thursday. U.S. concerns about Quevedo were reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

China is open to negotiate trade and investment agreements with Brazil, including a double tax treaty, as part of a broader move to engage the Latin American commodities giant, Beijing’s new ambassador in Brasilia said. – Bloomberg

Fareed Zakaria writes: I have never alleged collusion or conspiracy between Russia and Trump, writing merely that we should wait to see what evidence special counsel Robert S. Mueller III presented. But the real puzzle remains: Why has Trump been unwilling to confront Putin in any way on any issue? And will Venezuela be the moment when Trump finally ends his appeasement? – Washington Post


Political campaigners and candidates running Facebook ads about the upcoming European elections will need to undergo strict checks for the first time as part of the social network’s efforts to combat foreign interference. Facebook will ask anyone running ads relating to the European Parliament elections in May to provide documentary evidence of their identity and location. They will need to be “authorised in their country” to run ads about the election. – Business Insider

A new Army unit will help the service operate against enemies such as Russia and China on a daily basis but will do so below the level of conflict. In addition, the new group could help set the stage for more traditional kinetic battles. The Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic Warfare and Space detachment (I2CEWS) — a battalion sized unit described as the “brain” of the Army’s multidomain task force — will integrate all the capabilities within its namesake under a single formation. – Fifth Domain

Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday that would end the collection of Americans’ phone records by the National Security Agency in an effort to undo a widely criticized security measure passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. – Reuters

Russia’s communications watchdog has threatened to block access to popular VPN (virtual private network) services that give Russian Internet users access to websites outlawed by Moscow. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


The Army has selected Martin UAV and Textron, AAI Corporation to provide unmanned aircraft systems for platoons to try out as possible candidates to replace the Shadow tactical UAS. – Defense News

The nominees to lead President Donald Trump’s new Space Force could be announced in “weeks, not months,” according to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. – Defense News

If the U.S. opts to develop low-yield nuclear missiles, expect the Navy to deploy these weapons as part of the nation’s undersea nuclear deterrent, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command told lawmakers Thursday. – USNI News

Lawmakers told industry representatives today that, if it wasn’t already clear from their hearings with Pentagon and Navy leadership this week, they had no intention of letting the Defense Department shed an aircraft carrier instead of refuel it. – USNI News

A Mississippi senator is pushing to get the Navy authority to begin advance procurement and early construction activities on two amphibious ships, despite the Navy’s budget request that show those two ships being purchased in full later than the shipbuilder might like. – USNI News

Big data company Palantir won an $800 million contract to develop a battlefield intelligence system for the U.S. Army, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. Although Palantir has worked with the government in the past, this is the first time Palantir has been named a “defense program of record,” which means that this multi-year project is part of the congressional budget. – Business Insider

Jules Hurst writes: Like the advent of the helicopter before it, increasingly capable small unmanned aerial systems require a rethinking of service dominions. The U.S. Department of Defense needs to clearly define responsibility for control and exploitation of the air domain below 5,000 feet so the United States can continue a near flawless record of air superiority as small aerial drones evolve. – War on the Rocks

Long War

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Thursday naming terrorist financing a serious crime and demanding that all countries set up a domestic legal framework to counter the practice. – Wall Street Journal

The demise of the jihadist empire that spirited away his teenage son could have been reason to rejoice but, for Abdelsalam Mohammed, with the fall of Baghouz came a crushing disappointment. The eastern Syrian hamlet was the Islamic State group’s last bastion but for the relatives of many missing people it was also one of the last places where their loved ones might have stayed alive. – Agence France-Presse

European authorities busted a suspected Islamist terror cell in central Europe, arresting an Iraqi ISIS sympathizer who allegedly carried out two unsuccessful attacks on trains in Germany last year. – Fox News

Trump Administration

President Trump renewed his push for OPEC to lower oil prices on Thursday. But behind scenes the U.S. has opened a rare dialogue with the leadership of what many have long considered an illegal cartel. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump, fresh off what he claims was “total vindication” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, told supporters here Thursday he had vanquished a corrupt cabal of Democrats, the news media and the Washington elite, who tried to nullify his historic election victory by painting him as an agent of Russia. – New York Times

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Attorney General William Barr on Thursday over his handling of the special counsel’s report, pressing the case for the full release of the document as President Trump and Republicans continued to claim vindication in the Russia probe. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration is reportedly expected to tap national security analyst and former Fox News contributor Morgan Ortagus as the State Department’s top spokeswoman. – The Hill

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner on Thursday appeared at a closed door meeting of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee for the second time, four congressional sources said. – Reuters