Fdd's overnight brief

March 7, 2019

In The News


An Iranian cleric known for his role in condemning thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s will take leadership of Iran’s powerful judiciary this week, in a move that is expected to keep the post under the influence of hard-liners. – Wall Street Journal

A prominent Iranian lawyer who defended women arrested when they defied Iran’s head-covering rule has been convicted of security-related crimes in a secret trial and could face a “very lengthy sentence,” a human-rights monitoring group reported Wednesday. – New York Times

Cyberattacks linked to Iranian hackers have targeted thousands of people at more than 200 companies over the past two years, Microsoft Corp. MSFT 0.04% said, part of a wave of computer intrusions from the country that researchers say has hit businesses and government entities around the globe. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s president said on Wednesday that there was no chance of negotiations or compromise with the United States, allegedly because Washington is seeking to topple the government in Tehran. – Associated Press

India wants to keep buying Iranian oil at its current level of about 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), as it negotiates with the Washington about extending a sanctions waiver past early May, two sources in India with knowledge of the matter said. – Reuters

Iran hopes to have its part of a new payments vehicle — devised to allow it to trade with EU firms despite US sanctions — — ready within a fortnight, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Israel‘s navy could take action against Iranian oil smuggling, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, urging world powers to foil any effort by Tehran to evade US sanctions. – Reuters

Hanin Ghaddar writes: Despite Hezbollah’s repeated claims that foreign sanctions would not affect its capabilities, evidence suggests that the group is facing a serious financial crisis. Its leaders have already implemented harsh new austerity measures, and sources close to the group believe these efforts will become more severe over time. […]Although Iran has not stopped sending money to Hezbollah so far, the group realizes that continued sanctions and/or altered regional circumstances may require it to seek alternative sources of funding down the road. – Washington Institute


In Syria’s jihadist-controlled Idlib province, Mudar Darwish and fellow medical students clutched banners and chanted against the closure of their university. – Agence France-Presse

Veiled women carrying babies and wounded men on crutches hobbled out of the last jihadist village in eastern Syria on Wednesday after US-backed forces pummelled the besieged enclave. – Agence France-Presse

Emerging from Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria, a widow of one of the group’s fighters made no effort to hide her enmity towards the United States as she handed herself over to US-backed Syrian forces besieging the area. – Reuters

The European Union General Court has rejected an appeal by Gaza-based Hamas requesting they be removed from the EU’s list of terrorist organizations. – Jerusalem Post

A senior reporter for the Al Riyadh, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent newspapers, claimed that the US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” will divide Jerusalem. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli warplanes bombed a Hamas naval post in the Gaza Strip early Thursday, hours after a mortar shell was fired from the Palestinian enclave at southern Israel, the army said. – Times of Israel

A Jordanian court on Wednesday sentenced two men to 10 years in prison with hard labor for planning an attack against Israeli forces on the kingdom’s border with the West Bank. – Agence France-Presse

Riyadh Al-Maliki, the Palestinian Authority’s “foreign minister”, on Wednesday called on Arab states to implement the resolutions of the Arab League and take the necessary measures to act against any state that recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or relocates its embassy to Jerusalem. – Arutz Sheva


Turkey will not go back on its agreement to buy S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding that Ankara may subsequently look into buying S-500 systems. – Reuters

Turkey cannot accept control of a planned safe zone in northern Syria being given to anyone else, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Turkey and Iran are planning joint military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced Wednesday, according to the Anadolu state news agency. – Algemeiner

Asli Aydintasbas writes: If you think Turkey’s relationship with the United States is currently very tumultuous, you haven’t seen anything yet. The two allies have had bouts of hysteria on and off since 2015, mostly to do with Ankara resenting U.S. support for Syrian Kurds and Washington increasingly finding its longtime ally an unreliable partner in the Middle East.[…] As much as a strongman as Erdogan appears, the S-400 controversy actually demonstrates the weak position he has put Turkey in. His effort to demonstrate that Turkey has choices and is not an American vassal has so alienated Turkey’s Western partners and weakened its economy that the country now risks becoming a Russian vassal. – Washington Post


The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet mentioned potential rights violations in China and Israel in an address on Wednesday that condemned a litany of “gross inequalities” at play across the world today. – New York Times

Gaza’s Health Ministry says a 15-year-old Palestinian has died from Israeli gunfire during nighttime skirmishes along Gaza-Israel frontier. Saif Abu Zaied was wounded in the head Wednesday and died at a hospital, the ministry said early Thursday. – Associated Press

The main rivals to Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu in April elections said Wednesday they want to separate from the Palestinians but refrained from using the term two-state solution as they released their platform. – Agence France-Presse

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu designated Al-Aqsa television channel of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas a “terrorist organisation” on Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Mere hours after the Americans deployed the THAAD in Israel, the Pentagon announced a $1 billion payment from Saudi Arabia toward its acquisition, reflecting both countries’ concerns about Iran’s continued missile program. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF, in cooperation with the Israel Border Police and Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, destroyed the home of terrorist Asem Barghouti, who is responsible for the death of three Israelis. – Jerusalem Post

Eli Lake writes: If Netanyahu loses power next month, the government that replaces him is likely to continue most of his national-security policies. Call it Bibiism without Bibi. […]Despite Netanyahu’s reputation as a hawk, he has managed to govern Israel for a decade without getting into a major war. That may seem like a low bar. But in a region beset by revolutions, failed states and an emboldened Iran, it’s the kind of success that even Netanyahu’s opposition seeks to emulate. – Bloomberg


Iraqi authorities are holding at least 1,500 children suspected of being members of the Islamic State and are using torture to extract confessions that lead to wrongful convictions, according to a report released Wednesday. – Washington Post

The RAF killed or injured 4,315 enemy fighters in Iraq and Syria between September 2014 and January this year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said. Yet the MoD says only one civilian was killed in the airstrikes, according to figures released to the charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV). – BBC News

Omar Al-Nidawi writes: Disagreements between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over oil policy have been one of Iraq’s most stubborn problems. Resolving this issue would allow for better development of natural resources, generate more revenue that’s badly needed for reconstruction, and might potentially deflate competing claims to disputed territories. – Middle East Institute

Arabian Peninsula

Senators on Wednesday warned that Saudi Arabia is committing a growing list of rights abuses, citing the detention and alleged torture of a U.S.-Saudi physician, adding to pressure on the Trump administration to reconsider its close ties to the country’s rulers. – Wall Street Journal

American- and British-made bombs may have killed or injured nearly 1,000 civilians, including women and children, in Yemen’s four-year conflict, according to a report released Wednesday by human rights groups. – Washington Post

An American hostage who was freed in Yemen in February after nearly 18 months in captivity was rescued in an armed raid led by the United Arab Emirates with help from the United States, according to American and Yemeni officials. – New York Times

The German government will extend an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia through the end of the month, risking escalation of a growing dispute with France and the United Kingdom over sales of jointly produced weapons. – Defense News

Korean Peninsula

When President Trump abruptly walked away last week from a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, he emphasized that it was not an angry walk, “it was a very friendly walk,” and he hoped the two sides would return to the negotiating table “soon.” One week later, however, the negotiating process appears more fragile than ever following reports that North Korea has begun rebuilding a satellite rocket launchpad and engine test site it previously said it was dismantling. – Washington Post

The revelation on Wednesday that North Korea had started rebuilding the partly dismantled facilities at Tongchang-ri, where the country tests technologies for its intercontinental ballistic missiles, raised the specter that Mr. Kim was returning to his provocative behavior. But experts on North Korea say Mr. Kim may be boxed in: He returned home without sanctions relief amid strong signs that the North Korean economy is continuing to contract. The deepening economic trouble may force the country to return to the negotiating table. – New York Times

North Korea has released a film on leader Kim Jong Un’s second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump last week in which talks broke down over how to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but saw the two leaders engage in an amicable farewell. – Reuters

A U.S. military commander says his country is keeping a close watch on North Korea following reported activity at a rocket launch site there. The head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson, says he is working with countries including South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and France to enforce sanctions against North Korea at sea. – Associated Press

Editorial: New satellite photos show North Korea may be prepping for another nuclear test after the summit in Hanoi. That’s all the more reason for President Trump to rethink his cancellation of large military exercises with South Korea. […]The military does sometimes burn money like it’s jet fuel, including procurement nightmares such as the F-35 fighter. But learning how to work with allies and stress-testing U.S. forces is not a waste of money. Exercises are a crucial signal of resolve to North Korea and are essential to deterrence in one of the world’s most dangerous corners. – Wall Street Journal


The global economy is unlikely to receive a big boost from a trade agreement between the U.S. and China, since it would likely leave much uncertainty over future economic relations between the two, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese technology executive Meng Wanzhou appeared in a Vancouver courtroom Wednesday for the first hearing in an extradition process that will put Canada squarely in the middle of a standoff between the United States and China. – Washington Post

Huawei Technologies Co. filed a lawsuit challenging a law signed by President Trump in August that restricts federal agencies from doing business with the Chinese company, the latest in a series of countermoves by the telecommunications giant. – Wall Street Journal

Huawei Technologies Co., China’s biggest smartphone maker, is using its financial and political clout to fight U.S. allegations that the company was involved in bank fraud, technology theft and spying. – Bloomberg

The U.S. has observed a rise in Chinese military activity in the South China Sea area over the last year, according to the top American military officer in the region. – Bloomberg

At stake is China’s avowed goal of establishing itself as a global superpower with influence over a network of allies to balance U.S. influence. China is pouring billions into global efforts such as Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative to forge stronger links with countries around the world. But China’s increasingly strident diplomatic approach could do more harm than good. – Bloomberg

Philip Heijmans writes: With Huawei at the heart of the Trump administration’s wide-ranging trade dispute with China, the Czech Republic’s quandary is a microcosm of a debate raging across Europe—whether to stand with Washington, at the risk of delays in integrating a new technology that could set the course for business in the modern age. – The Atlantic


At least 16 civilians were killed Wednesday in a complex attack on a construction company in eastern Afghanistan, officials said. – New York Times

Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 16 people in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the militant group’s Amaq news agency said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Explosions rocked Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul on Thursday, two officials said, but it was not clear if bombs had gone off or if rockets had been fired into the city, and there was no immediate word on any casualties or damage. – Reuters

Suleiman Amanzad writes: As a nation, we are tired of this bloody war. We crave peace and we are ready to pay a high price for it. I believe there is no higher price than overlooking the Taliban’s massacre of my people and embracing them. We are ready to do that. We are ready to let our lost souls rest in peace once and for all. […]I will embrace the Taliban if they come in peace. I will try to get past their brutality against my family. But I will not accept the Taliban if they try to force us to go back to their version of Islam. And this is not just my sentiment. This is the view of millions of young Afghan men and women of my generation who came of age in the new Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal

South Asia

Pakistan has taken control of 182 religious schools and detained more than 100 people as it intensifies its crackdown on banned militant organizations, the interior ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters

A grenade explosion at a bus stand in the Indian city of Jammu wounded at least 18 people on Thursday, police said, in an attack just weeks after a Pakistan-based militant group killed 40 paramilitary police in Kashmir, almost sparking a war. – Reuters

China has praised Pakistan’s “restraint” and willingness to talk with India to ease tensions between the two countries after a deadly bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir last month. – Reuters

Three senior Western diplomats said international reaction leaned toward India, which has long been seen as a victim of Pakistani-sponsored militancy. There was a lack of condemnation over the strikes into Pakistan. India is seen as an increasingly crucial ally to the U.S. and the West because of its economic growth and as a strategic hedge against an assertive China. […]The government in Islamabad has also been recalibrating its political alliances, turning away from the West and leaning toward countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. – Bloomberg

Ahmed Rashid writes: Pakistan should prosecute the perpetrators of the Kashmir attack. And once India forms a new government, the United States, Britain and the United Nations, whose response to the current crisis has been slow, must encourage India to restart dialogue with Mr. Khan. Simultaneously, Islamabad must start dismantling the terrorist groups operating from its soil. Mr. Modi must stop his relentless use of lethal force in Kashmir and end his stubborn refusal to hold talks. A return to back-channel diplomacy is necessary, and the Musharraf-Manmohan peace process needs to be dusted off and looked at again.  – New York Times

Andy Mukherjee writes: The 43-year-old U.S. Generalized System of Preferences, the privilege India now loses, is part of a shared commitment by developed countries to promote export-oriented growth in emerging economies […]In expelling India, the largest GSP beneficiary, the Trump administration is making a declaration: While its trade relationship with New Delhi may not be as frayed as it is with Beijing, it’s certainly fraught.  – Bloomberg


The U.S. Treasury said on Wednesday it was extending by four months the deadline for investors to divest from Russian automaker GAZ, a company linked to Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska that Washington sanctioned over Russia’s “malign activity.” – Reuters

Russia’s leading telecoms firm said Thursday it had agreed to pay $850 million to settle a US corruption case over huge bribes paid to the family of Uzbekistan’s former president. – Agence France-Presse

President Vladimir Putin urged Russia’s top domestic security agency on Wednesday to tighten its protection of information related to new weapons and other sensitive data. – Associated Press

While Russian influence and meddling in the United States, as well as in other countries, remains a pressing concern for western lawmakers, Vladimir Putin has voiced his own warnings about similar foreign efforts in his country. – Newsweek

The United States is considering whether to provide more lethal weaponry to Ukraine so that the country can protect itself from Russian aggression, according to officials. – Newsweek


In a move certain to cause consternation among American officials and leaders of the European Union, Italy appears poised to help China extend its vast global infrastructure push deeper into Western Europe, part of Beijing’s sweeping plan to advance its economic interests and influence around the world. – New York Times

Hungary defied demands to apologize on Wednesday for vitriolic criticism of EU leaders, but a senior government aide suggested it was seeking compromise to avoid its ruling party’s ejection from the main conservative group in the European Parliament. – Reuters

The National Crime Agency is leading an investigation into a suspected cyber attack on a British institute that seeks to counter Russian disinformation, Sky News can reveal. – Sky News (UK)

Ferdinando Giugliano writes: The news that Italy is set to sign a memorandum of understanding with Beijing at the end of March signals a significant break with its traditional allies. […]Italy’s flirtation with China is another reminder of Washington’s waning influence in Europe. And it comes even after Rome’s populist leaders have been very supportive of Trump and his “America first” agenda. Still, when you preach nationalism at home and abroad, it’s hard to complain about a lack of cooperation. – Bloomberg


Zimbabwe on Wednesday slammed as a travesty of justice the “regrettable” year-long extension of sanctions targeted against selected government officials and institutions by the United States. – Agence France-Presse

Cameroon may fall further into violence if the government does not stop hate speech by politicians and heavy-handed tactics by security forces, the U.N. human rights chief said on Wednesday. – Reuters

A U.S. judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit seeking to require Germany to pay damages over genocide and property seizures by colonists in what is now Namibia more than a century ago. – Reuters

United States

House Democratic leaders put on hold a vote to denounce anti-Semitism as divisions grew within the party over the response to a freshman lawmaker’s repeated criticism of U.S. policy toward Israel, the latest issue to roil the party since it gained a majority in November’s elections. – Wall Street Journal

The Justice Department will escalate its crackdown on illegal foreign influence operations in the United States, a senior Justice Department official said on Wednesday, violations that prosecutors have targeted with renewed vigor in recent years. – New York Times

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States is holding negotiations to try to win the release of U.S. hostages held abroad, but he declined to say in what countries. – Reuters

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, president of Proclaiming Justice to The Nations (PJTN) called on the US Justice Department “to launch a full and thorough investigation” into Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) “possible connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.”  – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: The main point is that a larger trade deficit is a benign byproduct of a healthier American economy. Supply-side policies revived animal spirits and gave the economy a second wind. Trade negotiations that further open foreign markets like China’s to U.S. goods and investment can keep growth humming, but tariffs that retard growth in the name of reducing the trade deficit are destructive. The best way to respond to a trade deficit is to ignore it. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: On Tuesday, Jonathan Chait asked whether anti-Semitism “will split Democrats like it split Labour?” I believe the answer is clear: Anti-Semitism is already splitting Democrats, and if they’re not careful, it will devastate their party just as it has devastated the British Labour Party. – Washington Examiner

Jonathan Greenblatt writes: The controversy surrounding the recent comments of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., implying that Jewish Americans have an allegiance to a foreign government — Israel — has ignited a debate in the House of Representatives over whether the freshman congresswoman’s remarks were anti-Semitic, and what should be done about them.[…] We will continue to call out elected officials in both parties when they spew hate, and now is the time for Congress to send a clear, unambiguous message: There is no place for anti-Semitism in the United States. –  USA Today

Noah Rothman writes: Today, as Democratic House leadership calculates precisely how forcefully to condemn anti-Semitic sentiments within its ranks without alienating anti-Semites, a full-scale rebellion is brewing. […]Confronted today with a kind of prejudice to which not all its members are entirely hostile, Democrats have revealed how hollow those condemnations really were. The battle for the future of the Democratic Party isn’t over yet, but, for now, Ilhan Omar is winning. – Commentary Magazine

Eliot A. Cohen writes: In the United States, anti-Semitism has taken many forms—whether it is nominally respectable professors insisting that a vast Israel Lobby controls American foreign policy, or clueless congressional representatives accusing American Jews of dual loyalties[…]. But what the resurgent anti-Semitism of our times—and the numbers of incidents are growing—tells us is that our societies are more troubled than we think. Confident, thoughtful, and upright people do not go in for Jew hatred; it is, rather, sick souls who do. – The Atlantic

Latin America

Venezuela’s government expelled the German ambassador and detained a U.S. freelance journalist in Caracas for several hours Wednesday as President Nicolás Maduro sought to maintain control amid a Western-backed opposition campaign to unseat him. – Washington Post

The Trump administration warned foreign financial institutions Wednesday that they will face U.S. sanctions if they engage in transactions benefiting the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro. Unnamed banks were being put “on notice,” national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement. – Washington Post

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido said in an interview that the expulsion of the German ambassador by Caracas was a threat against Germany, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Thursday. – Reuters

The United States is set to revoke the visas of 77 people associated with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday, adding to a list of 49 others whose visas were revoked on Friday. – Reuters

Cyber Security

Singapore’s worst cyberattack, which stole personal information regarding 1.5 million people, including the prime minister, from a health database, was the work of a state-sponsored espionage group called Whitefly, Symantec Corp said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Cyber attacks against democratic elections could rob governments of their legitimacy and more must be done to deter the threat, the foreign secretary is expected to say today. – Sky News (UK)

With Europe in the early stages of developing their 5G networks, the Pentagon’s top general in the region issued a stark warning March 5: Allies need to keep China out or risk losing the ability to integrate with America’s military. – Defense News


The U.S. Navy’s Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program is getting a new head and a new program office, the service’s top acquisition boss announced Wednesday. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force’s new T-X jets could be more than just trainers, with aggressor or light-attack missions now on the table for the Boeing-made plane, the head of Air Combat Command said Thursday. – Defense News

The Army is preparing to make what it deems as necessary, and major, organizational changes to its force structure within the next five years, according to the Futures and Concepts Center director. – Defense News

U.S. Army officials have delayed a decision on moving BAE Systems Plc’s new self-propelled howitzer into full production, possibly as late as November, until the service sees more improvements in the $8.1 billion program that’s one its highest priorities. – Bloomberg

The Air Force has started deployment of its new M18 Modular Handgun System. The Air Force Security Forces Center and the Air Force Small Arms Program Office is fielding the gun to Security Forces units, according to a statement. The move is part of the Reconstitute Defender, which aims to modernize the service’s weapons. – Fox News

Trump Administration

President Trump proclaimed in a freewheeling speech to a conference of conservatives last weekend that “America is winning again.” But his administration has been on a pronounced losing streak over the past week. Trump is losing ground on top priorities to curb illegal immigration, cut the trade deficit and blunt North Korea’s nuclear threat — setbacks that complicate his planned reelection message as a can-do president who is making historic progress. – Washington Post

The Trump administration has revoked part of an Obama-era executive order mandating an annual accounting of how many civilians have died in military and CIA strikes, reducing the potential for public scrutiny of counterterrorism activities overseas. – Washington Post

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress Wednesday that the U.S. faces a “real, serious and sustained crisis at our borders” and defended President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to obtain more funds for border barriers. – Wall Street Journal

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s impending report on the findings of his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election may far fall short of the searing and voluminous Starr report, legal experts said, in part due to constraints on Mueller that did not exist when Starr produced his report. – Reuters