Fdd's overnight brief

March 8, 2019

In The News


Families of Americans imprisoned or missing in Iran faulted the U.S. government on Thursday for not doing more to bring their loved ones home and called for establishing a dialogue with Tehran to negotiate their return. At turns embittered and bewildered, the criticisms of the Obama and Trump administrations were leveled by relatives of three men whom the United States considers hostages of the Iranian government. – Washington Post

Britain will hand diplomatic protection to British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to underline the government’s belief that Iran has behaved unjustly in its treatment of her, foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Thursday. – Reuters

The United States has urged the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran over its recent ballistic-missile test and launches of two satellites, saying they violate the world body’s resolutions. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

In advance of Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s upcoming visit to Iraq next week, Iranian regime and banking officials in Baghdad have held preliminary meetings, during which the Iranian regime ensured that it would control the Iraqi banking system in a way that would allow Iran to circumvent the U.S. sanctions. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Karim Sadjadpour writes: Yet the perception of Zarif as a vulnerable moderate only makes him more valuable to Khamenei. Iran is perhaps the only country in the world simultaneously fighting three cold wars—with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States—and Khamenei manages these conflicts with two crucial tools. Soleimani serves as Khamenei’s sword, projecting Iranian hard power in the Middle East’s most violent conflicts. – The Atlantic


The Trump administration is pressing eight European allies to commit by Friday to a U.S. proposal to stabilize northeastern Syria, U.S. officials said, setting a target meant to persuade reluctant partners to join Washington in the still-developing plan. – Wall Street Journal

Human rights lawyers have today filed the first ever case against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his government at The Hague, after making a “breakthrough” in attempts to hold the regime to account. – The Telegraph

Human rights lawyers have urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a preliminary investigation into alleged mass deportations by Syrian authorities, in an attempt to hold President Bashar al-Assad’s regime accountable for atrocities carried out during the country’s bloody civil war. – Al Jazeera

The general overseeing US forces in the Middle East said on Thursday that he was under no pressure to withdraw forces from Syria by any specific date, after President Donald Trump ordered the pull-out of most US troops from Syria. – Al Jazeera  

Thousands of people could still be left inside Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said, as the waves of evacuations from the tiny area continued on Thursday. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: The Trump administration should make clear to Assad’s regime that it knows the regime has been holding courageous journalist Austin Tice since August 2012. If Tice is killed or “disappeared,” the U.S. should destroy Assad’s security command infrastructure in Damascus and sanction Russia. That threat will increase pressure on Assad to release Tice, while dangling the prospect of punitive and painful retaliation if he is harmed. – Washington Examiner


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan broke his silence over a U.S. threat to punish Turkey with sanctions should it buy an advanced Russian S-400 missile-defense system, saying the purchase is a “done deal.” – Bloomberg

David Ignatius writes: The United States and the NATO alliance are strong enough to survive Erdogan’s mischief. The tragedy is that the Turkish leader has been sabotaging his own country’s progress, which had been one of the world’s great success stories. […] In today’s messy world, the United States seems to be everyone’s target, and authoritarian leaders take potshots at will. And for now, sadly, Erdogan is a wrecking ball for Turkish efforts to build a modern, Western-style democracy. But eventually, the political pendulum swings back. – Washington Post

Micheal Rubin writes: A broader reason for Western and European cynicism toward Erdogan’s complaints is the growing evidence that much of the terrorism about which Erdogan complains is actually sponsored by Erdogan himself as a means to demonize political enemies and fuel the emergencies which allow him to consolidate power. – American Enterprise Institute


Donald Trump’s drive to reshape global trade won’t spare one of his country’s closest allies and its oldest free-trade partner — Israel. – Bloomberg

An Israel Defense Forces tank on Thursday shelled a Hamas post in the northern Gaza Strip after Palestinian gunmen fired on an Israeli military position along the border fence, the army said. – Times of Israel  

During a visit to southern Israel on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gaza Strip-ruling Hamas over a new wave of violence emanating from the coastal enclave. – Algemeiner

Hamas calls for ‘day of rage’ amid the dispute over contested area near Gate of Mercy on Temple Mount; troops deployed along border of Strip after week of increased fighting. – Times of Israel

Mkhaimar Abusada writes: Ultimately, it is safe to say that Hamas and Fatah have reached the point of no return; there is no chance of ending the political division and restoring Palestinian unity in the foreseeable future. The Hamas-Fatah political competition, divergent political ideologies, and their special interests have poisoned any chance of reconciliation between them. Moreover, the PA is not ready to discuss power sharing with Hamas in Gaza. – Washington Institute

Eli Lake writes: Finally, the probable continuation of Netanyahu’s policies says something about the man himself. 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 President Barham Salih said foreign Islamic State fighters tried in Iraq could be handed death sentences, according to an interview published by Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National on Friday. – Reuters

Militants ambushed a convoy of pro-government, Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary fighters in northern Iraq on Wednesday night, killing at least seven of them and wounding 30, Iraqi military and police said on Thursday. – Reuters

A Forum in the Kurdistan region of Iraq has illustrated many of the difficulties Iraq faces in the future, and has also highlighted its successes. Held at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani, it was the 6th annual Sulaimani Forum and was held to look at “Iraq and its neighbors.” Iraqi President Barham Salih and a variety of other voices from Iraq and the region spoke about the country’s challenges. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

Dozens of Western countries rebuked Saudi Arabia for its aggressive crackdown on free expression in a landmark initiative on Thursday in the United Nations’ top human rights body. – New York Times

The 28 member states of the European Union all backed a decision on Thursday to reject a proposal from the EU executive to add Saudi Arabia to a blacklist of countries suspected of being lax on terrorist financing and money laundering. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia, which behind closed doors is reportedly cooperating with Israel on a range of issues, chaired an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Wednesday to stem Israeli inroads into Africa. According to the Saudi Press Agency, Ahmed Abdulaziz Kattan – the Saudi Minister of State for African Affairs – chaired a meeting of the Arab Ministerial Committee to Counter Israeli Activities in Africa. – Jerusalem Post  

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon on Thursday warned its Mediterranean neighbors that a planned EastMed gas pipeline from Israel to the European Union must not be allowed to violate its maritime borders. – Reuters

Protesters have rallied in Yemen’s port city of Aden for a fourth day, angry at the killing of a man who testified against four Emirati-backed fighters accused of raping a seven-year-old boy. – Al Jazeera

Ross Harrison writes: The U.S. not only has interests at the national level with allies Saudi Arabia and Israel but also at the regional level. Washington seems intent on bringing Iran to its knees and back to the negotiation table by re-imposing sanctions and using its relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel as cudgels to this end. Its support for the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), otherwise known as the “Arab NATO” is part of this initiative. – Middle East Insitute

Emadeddin Badi writes: In early February, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that “the recent operations of the Libyan National Army have eliminated important terrorist targets and could permanently hinder the activity of human traffickers that continue to plague this region.” Additionally, LNA attacks on Chadian rebels near Murzuq forced them to flee to northern Chad, where French jets targeted their convoys. This may signal a degree of coordination between the LNA and French forces in the region. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. will ask North Korea to admit American inspectors to a missile-launch site that Pyongyang has begun to restore, but the Trump administration hasn’t concluded the facility is currently operational, a senior State Department official said. – Wall Street Journal

North Korea is not about to surrender its nuclear weapons, because the regime considers them essential to its survival. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cannot be starved into submission, and sanctions will only make him more hostile and unpredictable. – Washington Post

President Trump has scaled back U.S. military exercises with South Korea, but that apparently was not enough to satisfy North Korea. Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Service (KCNA) issued a strongly worded condemnation of the more limited exercises on Thursday in what may be another example of hardening attitudes since a summit meeting in Hanoi between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed last week without an agreement. – Washington Post  

President Trump declared himself a “little disappointed” on Thursday by new evidence that North Korea was restoring a space-missile launch site, as a senior American official warned that a satellite launch would violate Kim Jong-un’s commitments to suspend missile and nuclear testing. – New York Times

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has replaced his unification minister who played a major role in detente with North Korea over the past year, his office said on Friday, and named a longtime confidant to lead a drive for “a new Korean peninsula”. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump is open to additional talks with Pyongyang over denuclearization, his national security adviser said on Thursday, despite reports that North Korea is reactivating parts of its missile program. – Reuters

Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Victor Cha write: Commercial satellite imagery acquired on March 6, 2019—four days after our previous image—shows that North Korea has continued the rebuilding of key components of the launch pad and the vertical engine test stand at the Sohae Launch Facility, returning it to normal operating status. – Center for Strategic & International Studies

Arthur Herman writes: This is Trump’s other ace. As in 1986, we have a president who understands that protecting the American people must be his number-one priority, not reaching international agreements that win the applause of the New York Times and the Council on Foreign Relations. He also has a new secretary of defense,[…], who understands how technology can reshape the international balance of power as well as the battlefield; […] – Hudson Institute


A proposed law that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China is drawing opposition, including from foreign business leaders who warn Beijing could exploit the law for political purposes and shake confidence in the city. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. and China have yet to set a date for a summit to resolve their trade dispute, the U.S. ambassador to China said Friday, as neither side feels an agreement is imminent. – Wall Street Journal

China’s foreign minister endorsed the aggressive legal strategy adopted by Huawei Technologies Co. in its fight against the U.S., saying the outcome is critical to China’s national interests. – Wall Street Journal

For years, Huawei Technologies Co. bided its time as the U.S. gradually escalated its campaign to rein in the Chinese telecom giant. Now, Huawei has shifted to a war footing, suing the U.S. government as the company looks to defend its global business.- Wall Street Journal

Taiwan has submitted an official request to purchase new fighter jets from the United States to “counter current enemy threats,” the island’s deputy defense minister said Thursday. The request comes as Chinese leader Xi Jinping has used increasingly strident rhetoric toward Taiwan, a self-governed island which split from the mainland during a civil war in 1949. – CBS News

Fearing that China could be spying on them using power cords and plugs, several U.S. technology companies have asked their Taiwanese suppliers to shift production of some components out of the mainland, Nikkei Asian Review reported on Friday. – CNBC


An outdoor memorial service attended by numerous Afghan politicians and officials, including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former president Hamid Karzai, was attacked by mortar fire Thursday in the Afghan capital, killing three people, police and health officials said. The attack, which also wounded 20 people, was claimed by the Islamic State extremist group through its affiliated website. – Washington Post

Nearly 11 days after peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban began with high hopes, it has become clear that any resolution to the 18-year war could be frustratingly slow. One of the most prominent issues thwarting progress is a disagreement over a fundamental question: What is terrorism, and who is a terrorist? The answer is so important because the two sides had already agreed in principle on a framework for two crucial issues. – New York Times

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani supported the initiation of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban despite his public concerns, a top U.S. general said on Thursday. – Reuters

Rockets fired at a gathering of the Shi’ite Muslim Hazara minority in the Afghan capital Kabul killed three people and wounded dozens on Thursday in an attack claimed by Islamic State. – Reuters

South Asia

India has signed a $3 billion deal to lease a third Russian nuclear-powered submarine for 10 years, giving Delhi a boost in the Indian Ocean against arch-rivals Pakistan and China, media reports said. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: A solution to a conflict that touches so many religious and nationalist nerves must ultimately come from within, through talks among India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. It’s a long shot, and the protagonists have shown no serious interest, but that’s the reality nonetheless. The two countries have crossed into dangerous territory, with India attacking Pakistan and engaging in aerial duels. The next confrontation, or the one after that, could be far more unthinkable. – New York Times

C. Christine Fair writes: But with the available evidence, one should be cautious. If the Indian government is  fostering an inaccurate account of its military strength, its citizenry will have unreasonable expectations of future punitive measures. Civilian governments might feel compelled to engage in miscalculations of their own to satisfy the demands of a public with outsize beliefs about its military’s capabilities. This could have enormous consequences. In short, if India’s account is fundamentally braggadocious, a dangerous equilibrium will be established. – The Atlantic

Sadanand Dhume writes: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election prospects in a few months hinge partly on his image as a strongman, unafraid to take India’s fight against terrorism to Pakistan. A tale of eliminating 250 bloodthirsty jihadists obviously plays better than one of accidentally felling a pocket of forest. Nonetheless, the debate over casualties obscures the larger implications of India’s action. Simply put, New Delhi’s military retaliation against Pakistan for an attack by a terrorist group it hosts sets a precedent. – Wall Street Journal


Mile by mile, a ribbon of concrete is slicing through the mountains and dense forests that make up some of the world’s most inaccessible wilderness. The Trans-Papua Highway is intended to connect ports in western New Guinea with the highland interior, a largely untapped area for timber and palm-oil companies. […] On Thursday, three Indonesian soldiers deployed to guard a highway construction site were killed by Papuan insurgents, the military said. – Wall Street Journal

Human rights organisations have criticised Malaysian authorities for detaining four Egyptians critical of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with the intention of returning them to Egypt. – Al Jazeera

A Vietnamese government official says a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea’s contested Paracel Islands capsized after being rammed by a Chinese vessel. – Associated Press


Russian lawmakers, moving to further restrict freedom of speech, passed bills on Thursday that would introduce jail terms and fines for insulting the government online or spreading so-called fake news. – New York Times

Russia says two U.S. citizens detained in the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk will be deported for alleged violations of immigration laws. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

At a post-summit news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin last July in Helsinki, President Trump did not once mention Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Nor did he point to its military support of pro-Russian secessionists in eastern Ukraine. – NPR


A French-Algerian man and his accomplice were found guilty of shooting four people in the Jewish Museum of Brussels five years ago, the first verdict against a European who joined Islamic State in Syria and returned to stage terrorist attacks. – Wall Street Journal

Two are barely teenagers. The oldest is beyond retirement age. But all three are among 14 people in Denmark who have been charged with unlawfully sharing a graphic video online of the killing of a young woman in Morocco late last year. – New York Times

The British cabinet minister for Northern Ireland apologized on Thursday after causing widespread anger by asserting in Parliament that killings by soldiers and the police during the decades-long conflict there “were not crimes.” – New York Times

Bosnian lawmakers approved on Thursday a guarantee for a Chinese loan to help power utility EPBiH expand its Tuzla coal power plant, despite a warning from the European Union energy watchdog that it violates EU subsidy rules. – Reuters

A Tunisian man and his German wife who bought ricin and tested the lethal toxin on a hamster have been charged with plotting Islamist-motivated attacks using a biological weapon, German prosecutors said on Thursday. – Reuters

Prominent UK Jewish groups praised the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Thursday for its decision to open an investigation into antisemitism in the Labour party. – Algemeiner

The EU General Court rejected an appeal by the terrorist group Hamas which claimed it is ‘a lawful political movement’ on Wednesday. The ruling rejected all the arguments made by Hamas, ensuring the EU funds controlled by the movement will remain frozen. – Jerusalem Post

Desmond Lachman writes: In the wake of the June 2016 Brexit referendum, uncertainty about the United Kingdom’s future economic relationship with Europe has cost the U.K. economy dearly. Sadly, things are not likely to improve for the U.K. economy after March 29, when it is scheduled to leave Europe with or without a Brexit deal. Indeed, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, things could get considerably worse for the U.K. economy. – American Enterprise Institute

Alan Riley writes: In view of Gazprom’s recent severing of gas flows to EU Member States on two occasions, Moscow’s claim of Ukrainian unreliability—one argument that underpins the argument for Nord Stream 2—overlooks not only Russian unreliability but the fact that since 2009, transit of gas flows across Ukraine have been stable despite invasion, annexation, and significant economic and political turmoil. – European Policy Analysis

Leonid Bershidsky writes: That’s where AKK will need to watch herself as she runs her many political campaigns to come. Does her political incorrectness stretch to anti-Muslim rhetoric, for example? Turkish jokes? That would be a much more politically important red line than being flippant about third gender bathrooms. Politically incorrect speech can only be useful to a centrist politician as long as outright hate-mongering remains taboo. – Bloomberg


A car bomb in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, has killed seven people and wounded several others, police say. The bomb that went off on Thursday was in a car parked outside a restaurant near a checkpoint manned by the presidential guard regiment. – Al Jazeera

A rapid and alarming deterioration of the security situation in Burkina Faso is threatening to spread to its three southern neighbours, a senior US military figure has warned, heralding the potential destabilisation of a vast area of west Africa. – The Guardian

Micheal Rubin writes: Arguably, Somalia—rather than Afghanistan—is America’s longest war. […], the failure even to coordinate with those controlling key territory most successful again Al-Shaabab, pirates, and weapons smugglers suggests that, while the Pentagon is willing to spend money, AFRICOM is not prepared to win. – American Enterprise Insitute

United States

High school students at the elite Sidwell Friends School displayed swastikas during an afternoon assembly Wednesday, the head of the D.C. private academy informed families in a letter. – Washington Post

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a broad resolution condemning bigotry on Thursday after remarks by a Democratic member that some viewed as anti-Semitic exposed an ideological and generational rift in the party. – Reuters

A prominent American racist and white supremacist seems to be taking sides with Somalian-born Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar.  On Thursday, David Duke named Omar “the most important member of US Congress” in a tweet and then sent readers back to his website where he has a recorded hour-long and overtly antisemitic show. – Jerusalem Post

Bret Stephens writes: If Pelosi can’t muster a powerful and unequivocal resolution condemning anti-Semitism, then Omar will have secured her political future and won a critical battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. At that point, the days when American Jews can live comfortably within the Democratic fold will be numbered. – New York Times

Philip Klein writes: Democrats seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination are starting to come out in defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar, and in the process, they are normalizing anti-Semitism. […] All along, I’ve noted that this isn’t primarily a story about Omar, who we know is an anti-Semite. It’s about whether Democrats care about combating anti-Semitism. – Washington Examiner

Latin America

Brazil’s firebrand foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, said his country will put pressure on China, Russia, and other emerging-market nations to back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. – Wall Street Journal

A widespread blackout enveloped much of Venezuela in darkness on Thursday night, stopping subway service in the capital and causing problems around the country, which has been plagued by power failures as its economic crisis has worsened. – New York Times

In public statements, Russian Foreign Ministry officials have gone in the past few weeks from unequivocally supporting Mr. Maduro to offering to mediate negotiations with the opposition or hold talks on Venezuela with the United States. Venezuela has largely disappeared from the saber-rattling talk shows of Russian state television. – New York Times

The Trump administration said Thursday that it had revoked 77 more visas of individuals aligned with President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela in its rolling campaign against a leader who has thwarted humanitarian aid deliveries and aggressive American-led efforts to install his replacement. – New York Times

The Chinese government’s top diplomat issued a stern warning on Friday against interfering in Venezuela or imposing sanctions on the South American nation, saying history offered a clear lesson about not “following the same old disastrous road”. – Reuters

Venezuelan security officials who detained an American journalist for more than 12 hours pushed him to voice support for socialist President Nicolas Maduro, whose government faces international condemnation, the journalist said on Thursday. – Reuters

The European Union will respond to further developments in Venezuela and the threat of further sanctions against socialist President Nicolas Maduro is still on the table, Germany’s foreign minister said on Thursday. – Reuters

The Trump administration is preparing to “financially strangle the Cuban regime” because of its support for Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro, according to a senior administration official. – Washington Examiner

Cyber Security

Facebook Inc said on Thursday it had removed 137 fake pages, groups and Instagram accounts in the United Kingdom and a further 31 in Romania for engaging in hate speech and making divisive comments. – Reuters

The federal government’s failure to follow recommended cybersecurity oversight practices has created a national security threat and may harm agencies, including the Department of Defense, according to a biannual report from the Government Accountability Office on high-risk behaviors. – Fifth Domain

In a speech in Glasgow, Jeremy Hunt said authoritarian regimes view democratic elections as “key vulnerabilities” to be targeted. But he stressed there was no evidence of successful interference in UK polls. Mr Hunt called for economic and diplomatic sanctions to be part of the response to attacks. He added that the government was expanding its network of “cyber attaches” – diplomats working with governments around the world to address the problem. – BBC

Erin Dunne writes: Clearly, this shift to private messages won’t prevent abuse of platforms for dangerous and illegal communications. It will allow the company to wash its hands of direct knowledge of a much broader societal problem that it can’t fix. – Washington Examiner

Trump Administration

A federal judge sentenced Paul Manafort, who served as Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, to 47 months in prison on Thursday for dodging taxes and committing bank fraud, much less than he could have faced. – Wall Street Journal

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against President Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen filed by the adult-film star Stephanie Clifford. U.S. District Judge S. James Otero ruled on Thursday that there was nothing left to litigate now that a nondisclosure agreement at the heart of the case was no longer being enforced. – Wall Street Journal

Michael Cohen, a former attorney for President Trump, on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Trump Organization for not paying legal fees Mr. Cohen alleges he was owed as a result of his work for the company. – Wall Street Journal