Fdd's overnight brief

May 16, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies haven’t called for a confrontation with Iran over recent attacks in the region that the U.S. has said Tehran likely initiated, a tack that reflects their limited appetite for another conflict in the war-racked region. – Wall Street Journal

The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces, three American officials said. – New York Times

Growing U.S. pressure on Iran has weakened pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani and made his hardline rivals more assertive at home and abroad, recent developments show. – Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s advisor assailed President Trump Tuesday, saying he will get a “war” for listening to National Security Advisor John Bolton, referring to him as “the mustache.” – Fox News

Iran’s foreign minister on Thursday slammed escalating U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran by the Trump administration as “unacceptable,” even as he insisted that his country is committed to an international nuclear deal that has steadily unraveled amid rising tensions in the Mideast. – Associated Press

The US narrative of a deepening threat from Iran was questioned and contradicted as senior Iranian officials warned the US against conflict and Russia’s foreign minister spoke of a “downward spiral.” – CNN

Lawmakers from both parties in Congress demanded more information on the White House’s claims of rising threats in the Middle East, warning President Donald Trump off a dangerous escalation with Iran. – Associated Press

Iran’s top defense official predicted Wednesday that the Islamic Republic would vanquish the US and its ally Israel if his country is attacked. – New York Post

In his May 15, 2019 column in the Saudi English-language Arab News, Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and researcher of international relations, called for international action against Iran in response to the May 13 sabotage of Saudi oil tankers off the UAE coast and the May 14 attack on a Saudi oil pipeline. These incidents, he wrote, prove that Iran is bent on using the militias under its control to threaten the security of the region and the entire world.  – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: Ms. Sherman and the Obama Administration gambled that a nuclear deal would cause Iran to change its revolutionary behavior and become a normal country. The bet failed. Mr. Trump’s alternative of sanctions and diplomatic pressure is now forcing the regime to make hard choices about its support for militias abroad even as it faces growing unrest at home. If Iran or its proxies react to this pressure by killing Americans, don’t blame Mr. Trump. Blame the state sponsors of terrorism in Iran. – Wall Street Journal

James Carafano writes: From the U.S. perspective, the campaign to isolate and pressure the Iranian regime seems by and large to be working. Tehran is increasingly short on cash, faces serious internal dissent, and has little international support. […]What Tehran doesn’t get is that if anything, Americans are likely to appreciate Trump being tougher on Iran. Americans know Trump didn’t start these troubles. Tehran did. – The Daily Signal

Omar Hossino writes: The back and forth between the U.S. and Iran and its proxies in the region highlights a stark reality: While ISIS has been defeated, Iran has filled the vacuum and now holds sway over vast stretches of the northern Middle East. As ISIS’s caliphate has collapsed, Iran has cemented its hold on Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The strategic dilemma for the U.S. is that while the defeat of ISIS has been touted as a signature success, much of it has come about by turning a blind eye to the expansion of Iran and its proxies, which now pose a serious threat to U.S. forces and allies in the region. – Tablet Magazine

Seth G. Jones, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Nicholas Harrington write: As U.S.-Iranian tensions escalate in the Middle East, it is important to take a close look at Iran’s primary irregular force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF). The IRGC-QF is instrumental in helping Iran expand its influence in the Middle East and other regions. It engages in a wide range of activity, such as gathering intelligence; training, equipping, and funding state and non-state partner forces; conducting assassinations and bombings; perpetrating cyberattacks; and providing humanitarian and economic aid. The IRGC-QF has partners in countries like Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bahrain. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Erin Banco and Asawin Suebsaeng write: The Trump administration’s increasingly aggressive military posture toward Iran is overshadowing its more concrete plans for crippling the regime in Tehran: a set of robust new sanctions to add to its economic warfare campaign. […]The statements have increased the likelihood of a direct, or even inadvertent, confrontation. And lawmakers, fearful of such an outcome, have called for more briefings from the administration on Capitol Hill. – The Daily Beast


On April 13, 2019, Syria’s official news agency reported that Israeli planes had targeted a “military outpost” in the city of Masyaf in the Hama Governorate. Syrian opposition websites reported that the targets were a site for developing Iranian medium-range missiles and headquarters of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and of Iran-backed militias. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Belgium, Germany and Kuwait on Wednesday requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the upsurge in fighting in northwest Syria, diplomats said. – Agence FrancePresse

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces said on Wednesday they had begun a campaign against “terrorists” linked to Islamic State in a strategic town in the oil rich eastern province of Deir al Zor that residents and witnesses say has been at the center of protests opposing the rule of U.S.-supported militia. – Reuters

Joe Macaron writes: By now it is clear that “trying to have it all” might not be the best strategy for Turkey to pursue. In the foreseeable future, it might have to decide whether its priority is a deal east or west of the Euphrates River, and most importantly whether it should give up Tel Rifaat, Manbij or Idlib and at what price. If the US doubles down on its stance on the S-400, Turkey may also be forced to choose between US sanctions that undermine the Turkish economy or a Russian offensive in Idlib that weakens Turkish influence in Syria. – Al Jazeera


A U.S. House of Representatives committee on Tuesday released an early version of a spending bill that seeks to prevent the shipment of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, as U.S. officials press Turkey not to buy a Russian S-400 air defense system. – Reuters

Implementation of the deal for the delivery of Russia’s S-400 air defense system to Turkey is in full swing despite U.S. pressure, Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov said on May 14. – Hurriyet Daily News

A Turkish court refused to release an employee of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday, in a trial on espionage charges that has damaged relations with Washington. – Reuters


The PA has filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice in The Hague against the US for moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. – Jerusalem Post

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel’s sovereign territory fulfills UN Security Council Resolution 242, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman argued in an op-ed published Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal. – Jerusalem Post

Despite unprecedented tensions between Iran and Israel, as well as the Tehran regime’s pledge to commit genocide against the Jewish state, a small group of Israeli artists and activists are attempting to build a bridge between the two countries by holding the largest Farsi-language class in the world. – Algemeiner

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened urgent consultations with Israel’s security chiefs this week amid the escalating tensions between Iran and the United States, and reportedly urged them to do their utmost to ensure that Israel is not dragged into the fraught situation. – Times of Israel

An Israeli man arrested for assaulting the Polish ambassador to Israel apologized Wednesday over the incident — which has caused a fresh diplomatic tempest between the countries — and his lawyer claimed the incident had been “blown out of proportion.” – Times of Israel

Former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot warned on Wednesday that Israel would face a dangerous situation in the West Bank if its security coordination with the Palestinian Authority were to end. Eizenkot, a retired Lt. General who led the IDF from 2015 to 2019, said that preserving security coordination is “an Israeli interest” and that this coordination should be strengthened. – Haaretz

Israel and Lebanon both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to unleash offshore oil and gas production as it grapples with an economic crisis. Washington is mediating between the two countries, which have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948. – Associated Press

Senior Palestinian leader Jibril Rajoub is currently undergoing treatment at an Israeli hospital, Palestinian Media Watch reported on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Alex Fishman writes: Just as they didn’t hesitate to use the Houthis in Yemen against the Saudis in order to fan the flames of the crisis with the Americans, the Iranians will likely try to ramp up tensions against Israel in order to speed up international intervention over the death blow that the U.S. has just dealt their economy. – Ynet

Fred Zeidman and Steve Israel write: Despite these disagreements with some elements of Israeli policy, one ideal that has remained paramount is that the alliance with Israel is vital to protecting American interests. This is why we need to occasionally step back and remind ourselves of the basics. A strong ally in the war on terror, intelligence cooperation with Israel is unparalleled.  – The Hill


In the Trump administration’s recent bellicose talk about Iran, Iraqis hear eerie echoes of the months just before the American invasion of Iraq. Iraqi officials, wary of another war on their land, say they have warned armed groups tied to Iran to refrain from taking any action that could provoke American retaliation. – New York Times

Germany is suspending military training operations in Iraq due to increasing regional tensions, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Randa Slim writes: At the heart of the conflict in Iraq has been a clash of visions over the identity and ownership of the Iraqi state. The post-2003 conflict was, in effect, a violent renegotiation of both the political compact in place since the 1960s and of the balance of power among regional and international players. This competition often proceeded along ethno-sectarian divides with Shi’a and Kurds seeking to reclaim ownership of a state that they had long perceived as Arab Sunni-centric. As much as it has been Shi’a vs. Sunni, and at times Arab vs. Kurd, however, the conflict had also been an intra-Shi’a, intra-Sunni, and intra-Kurdish competition for power. – Middle East Institute


Houthi rebels allied with Tehran have finished pulling forces out of three Red Sea ports in Yemen, the United Nations said, a withdrawal that comes as the U.S. has warned of heightened threats from Iran and its proxies in the region. – Wall Street Journal

Warplanes struck in and around the rebel-held Yemeni capital Thursday two days after the insurgents claimed drone strikes that shut a key oil pipeline in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the rebels and witnesses said. – Agence FrancePresse

Houthi fighters and Saudi-backed pro-government forces renewed fighting in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

The fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi criticized the U.S. response to his killing on Wednesday, saying that the Trump administration has failed to uphold American values by allowing the Saudi government to avoid meaningful consequences for the crime. – Washington Post

The United Nations called on Tunisia on Wednesday to immediately release a U.N. official who was detained more than six weeks ago as part of an investigation by a Tunisian anti-terrorism unit. – Reuters

Ben Fishman writes: Ongoing chaos in Libya has the potential to radiate outward to its neighbors in North Africa and Europe. Conversely, a stable Libya with a functioning government and economy could provide a source of relief to neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, enable counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, and contribute to regional stability in North Africa. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Impoverished North Korea is suffering its worst drought in decades and food supplies are reportedly running low, but South Korea’s push to provide aid is bogged down in the growing tension marked by missile tests and sanctions crackdowns. – Reuters

United States President Donald Trump will travel to South Korea next month for talks on the North Korean nuclear programme, the White House has said, in a visit that will take place months after a failed summit with North Korea’s leader in Vietnam. – Al Jazeera

Robert R. King writes: The intensity of North Korea’s struggle to limit access to foreign news, information, and culture reflects Kim Jong-un’s conviction that foreign media represents a significant challenge to his totalitarian regime. The influence of South Korean dramas, open media, K-Pop, fashion, and cosmetics in North Korea does represent a threat to one party rule. And that makes it all the more important that efforts continue to provide increased access to outside information for the people of North Korea. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Trump administration on Wednesday slapped a major Chinese firm with an extreme penalty that makes it very difficult for it to do business with any U.S. company, a dramatic escalation of the economic clash between the two nations. – Washington Post

China has rallied countries around its ambitious ports-and-railways infrastructure plan as a global vision to shift the economic center of gravity away from traditional powers such as the United States. – Washington Post

China says domestic spending by its own citizens will minimize the economic damage of its trade fight with the U.S. Yet demand from consumers and factories is looking shaky. – Wall Street Journal

China has formally arrested two Canadians who have been detained for months on national security grounds, a Canadian newspaper reported on Thursday, in a case that has inflamed tensions between Ottawa and Beijing. – Agence FrancePresse

In a fateful swipe at telecommunications giant Huawei, the Trump administration issued an executive order Wednesday apparently aimed at banning its equipment from U.S. networks and said it was subjecting the Chinese company to strict export controls. – Associated Press

China is pushing legislation that would “legalize kidnappings” of Americans in Hong Kong, a prominent pro-democracy activist warned Congress on Wednesday. – Washington Examiner

Henry Olsen writes: Even the United States is not large enough and powerful enough to fight the entire world at once. The global trading economy did not arise overnight, and it will not be reformed overnight. Chinese authoritarian expansion poses a unique and genuine national security threat to the United States and the entire free world. Trump should think strategically, make friends and strike favorable deals with our allies quickly in exchange for their cooperation in our battle with China. – Washington Post

James Pethokoukis writes: Whatever’s wrong with the American economy can best be fixed by what’s right with the American economy. It’s important trade policy doesn’t undermine those deep strengths by closing America off to competition or portraying the natural churn of a market economy as a market failure. America’s master plan must be keeping its economy open to risk, talent, capital, and the “invisible foot” of failure. Slowing China’s advance is less important and doable than accelerating America’s.. – American Enterprise Institute


The ensuing attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, on March 1, was not one of the country’s deadliest, but it may well have been its most embarrassing. It was the third time the Taliban had infiltrated that base, the headquarters for the Afghan Army’s 215th Corps. – New York Times

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has recalled his country’s ambassador to Canada after Ottawa failed to take back tons of rubbish it had dumped in the Southeast Asian country, the Philippine foreign secretary said Thursday. – New York Times

In a recent online discussion, Bill Shorten, the front-runner in the race to be Australia’s next prime minister, left little doubt about where he stood on the politically delicate issue of relations with China — and where the world’s other superpower fit into his calculus. – New York Times

Australia’s main parties are treading a fine balance as they work to woo Chinese immigrants who could swing the outcome of this week’s national parliamentary election amid lingering concerns about influence efforts by Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday revived an effort to provide visas to move to the United States for Afghans who worked for Americans during the long war in their country and are now stranded, their lives at risk due to that work. – Reuters

Amy Searight, Brian Harding, and Kim Mai Tran write: TranThe United States has long historic ties to the Pacific Islands, but for many decades this region has taken a back seat to other areas viewed by U.S. policymakers as holding greater strategic and economic weight. This has begun to change as Washington has started shifting its focus back to the Pacific Islands, reaching levels of political attention in recent months not seen since the end of the Pacific War in 1945. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Russian State Research and Production Enterprise Region ‘GNPP Region’, part of JSC Tactical Missiles Corporation, has completed trials and will soon begin serial production of its new APR-3M air-launched anti-submarine warfare missile. – IHS Janes

Britain has scrambled Typhoon fighters twice in two days in the Baltic to intercept Russian aircraft, the defense ministry said. – Reuters

Donald N. Jensen writes: For the moment at least, this seems to be the thrust of the Kremlin’s gambit to get out from under the sanctions regime imposed on Russian leaders for their aggression in Ukraine and interference in the U.S. elections.  The approach’s prospects for success will be evident soon, both in the more intensified diplomatic activity likely to be a result of this week’s discussions and as the result of an expected meeting summit between Trump and Putin in June on the margins of the G20 in Japan. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Zvi Bar’el writes: The sanctions on Iranian oil intensified, but gave rise to a symbiotic relationship with Russia: The less oil Iran can export, the more Russia is able to take over lost markets. – Haaretz


President Trump will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda at the White House next month for discussions about defense cooperation and energy independence, the White House said on Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

Official German government statistics on rising antisemitism came under criticism on Wednesday, as several observers charged that the data was based on the incorrect assumption that far right activists are to blame for the vast bulk of anti-Jewish incidents in the country — despite evidence from Jewish victims indicating that Muslims influenced by Islamist and antisemitic beliefs are behind an increasing number of these outrages. – Algemeiner

The European Union will review whether Palestinian Authority textbooks promote hatred and violence, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said late last month. – Algemeiner

The U.S. military gave a top British general a public tongue-lashing Tuesday after he told reporters at the Pentagon that Iran does not pose a threat to coalition troops in the Middle East. – Washington Examiner

The White House has drafted an ultimatum to Japan and the European Union regarding trade in autos and auto parts: agree to limits on exports to the U.S. within 180 days or face tariffs. The ultimatum was reported by Bloomberg, citing a draft version of the executive order it had seen. – Washington Examiner

Barely two weeks into her new job as British defense secretary, Penny Mordaunt has used her maiden speech to warn the Treasury that she will be fighting to secure the “critical investment” the military needs to meet the emerging challenges from Russia, China and elsewhere. – Defense News

Senior UK Labour Party member Emily Thornberry this week said Jerusalem should be “run by an international body” and recognized East Jerusalem as the likely future capital of Palestine while citing Tel Aviv as the potential capital of Israel. – Times of Israel

Lionel Laurent writes: The optimists assume two things: That Trump has a long-term game plan, and that it’s one where he’ll ultimately want to keep the Europeans onside. But there’s every indication that this U.S. administration is ideologically opposed to the entire system that allows the EU to thrive as an open, trade-reliant and soft-power economy. Trump applauds Brexit, hates the World Trade Organization and prefers bilateral arm-twisting to international rules. It’s hard to see how delaying fresh tariffs means anything other than short-term relief. – Bloomberg


Power-sharing talks in Sudan between the ruling military junta and the leaders of a powerful protest movement collapsed on Wednesday after violent clashes erupted in the capital, Khartoum, for the second time this week. – New York Times

Leaders of Sudan’s military and the protest movement that unseated dictator Omar al-Bashir agreed on a three-year blueprint for democratic rule, days after clashes between the two sides left at least four people dead. – Wall Street Journal

Gunmen killed at least 17 Nigerien troops in an ambush near the Malian border, where several jihadist groups are active, and another 11 soldiers are missing, a government spokesman said on Wednesday. – Reuters

United States

Israel’s UN envoy, Danny Danon, criticized US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib by name on Wednesday, as he spoke about antisemitism at an event at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. – Algemeiner

On April 27, 2019, John T. Earnest, a 19-year-old nursing student at California State University San Marcos, carried out a shooting attack at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, near San Diego, California[…]. Earnest’s manifesto enables us to see a chain of events: His attack was inspired by perpetrators of similar attacks – Tarrant’s attack in 2019, who in turn drew inspiration from the 2011 Norway mass murder carried out by Anders Breivik. – Middle East Media Research Institute

A poll commissioned by the left-wing Jewish group J Street shows that while most Democrats in the United States have a favorable view of Israel, only 12 percent have a favorable view of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. – Haaretz

Robinson Meyer writes:  The disjuncture pointed to the larger failure of American policy in the Arctic: a U.S.-border region in upheaval, both ecologically and strategically, that the government can’t quite ever focus on. And Pompeo only underlined that stance when he said that the United States would soon reestablish a permanent diplomatic presence in Greenland[…]. Greenlandic and American interests have long been intertwined: The Arctic island is the home of the northernmost U.S. military base. It also housed some of the Cold War–era Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, because an intercontinental ballistic missile inbound from Russia would likely pass over its massive area. – The Atlantic

Latin America

The Trump administration suspended all commercial passenger and cargo flights between the U.S. and Venezuela, citing safety concerns stemming from political instability and economic turmoil in the South American nation. – Wall Street Journal

A special court rejected a U.S. extradition request for a prominent former guerrilla leader accused of drug trafficking and ordered his release from jail Wednesday, prompting the resignation of Colombia’s top two prosecutors and stoking tensions over the country’s fragile peace process. – Wall Street Journal

Representatives of Venezuela’s government and the opposition have traveled to Norway to discuss potential options following a failed uprising against President Nicolas Maduro, according to four opposition sources familiar with the situation. – Reuters

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she will visit Cuba on Thursday to discuss the political crisis in Venezuela and the United States’ decision to allow lawsuits for property confiscated after the 1959 revolution. – Reuters


The United States broke with 18 governments and five top American tech firms Wednesday by declining to endorse a New Zealand-led effort to curb extremism online, a response to the live-streamed shootings at two Christchurch mosques that killed 51. – Washington Post

The White House on Wednesday escalated its war against Silicon Valley when it announced an unprecedented campaign asking Internet users to share if they had been censored on Facebook, Google and Twitter, tapping into President Trump’s long-running claim that tech giants are biased against conservatives. – Washington Post

More than a week after a cyberattack hobbled Baltimore’s computer network, city officials said Wednesday they can’t predict when its overall system will be up and running and continued to give only the broadest outlines of the problem. – Associated Press

The White House announced a reporting tool to let people share instances of political bias by social media platforms. – Washington Examiner


Next month, the Army will award key contracts for prototypes of a radically new set of networked training simulations, the two-star chief of the service’s training modernization task force told Breaking Defense. – Breaking Defense

After a vigorous interagency debate, new rules have been drafted for licensing commercial remote sensing satellites proposed by the Commerce Department would reduce DoD control over decision-making. The proposed rules, designed to speed the licensing process, would overturn the current process of case-by-case review that require DoD and State Department input in favor of a two-tier license system, based primarily on the potential risk to national security. – Breaking Defense

The largest union representing Transportation Security Administration personnel balked at the Trump administration’s plans to send upwards of 400 employees to the U.S.-Mexico border to help with border operations and warned the move may “undermine aviation security” as airports head into the busiest time of the year with fewer security screeners. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. Army’s competition for a new air-and-missile defense radar has officially begun with the release of a request for proposals asking for prototypes. – Defense News

While the US Navy (USN) is investing more heavily in unmanned systems the service is seeking to develop operational concepts for how those systems can be integrated into service operations and be counted as USN assets, said Vice Admiral William Merz, deputy chief of naval operations for Warfare Systems. – IHS Janes

A Dynetics and Lockheed Martin team have beaten out Raytheon in a head-to-head competition to build a 100-kilowatt laser weapon for the U.S. Army. – Defense News

Long War

Attorneys for a Navy officer who supervised a SEAL accused of killing an Islamic State prisoner demanded prosecutors stop monitoring defense lawyer emails and put the case on hold, according to court documents obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. – Associated Press

Α Greek court on Wednesday acquitted nine Turkish citizens of terrorism-related offences, citing a lack of evidence, a judicial source said. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates on Wednesday jailed six Lebanese men, four of them for life, for setting up a terrorist cell with links to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the state news agency WAM reported. – Reuters