Fdd's overnight brief

May 21, 2019

In The News


Hard-line pro-Iran militias in Iraq denounced the late-night rocket strike near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, seeking to distance themselves from an attack that threatens to inflame tensions amid efforts to de-escalate a crisis between Washington and Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Iranian officials said Monday that within weeks they could exceed an internationally agreed cap on their stockpile of low-enriched uranium, as tensions between Iran and the U.S. escalated. – Wall Street Journal   

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Monday the “genocidal taunts” of US President Donald Trump will not “end Iran”, as tensions spike between the two countries. “Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone. Economic terrorism and genocidal taunts won’t ‘end Iran’,” Zarif wrote on Twitter. – Agence France-Presse  

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday Iran would be met with “great force” if it attempted anything against U.S. interests in the Middle East, adding that Tehran has been very hostile toward Washington. – Reuters

Iran has increased by fourfold the rate of enrichment of low-enriched uranium, an official in Natanz nuclear facility was cited as saying by Tasnim news agency on Monday, a week after Iran officially stopped some commitments under an international nuclear accord. – Reuters  

Britain told Iran on Monday not to underestimate the resolve of the United States, warning that if American interests were attacked then the administration of President Donald Trump would retaliate. – Reuters  

Iran’s president has told a group of clerics that he is seeking expanded, wartime executive powers to better deal with an “economic war” triggered by the Trump administration’s pullout from the nuclear deal and escalating U.S. sanctions. – Associated Press  

As long-simmering tensions heat up between the United States and Iran in the Middle East, a look at the various countries or players involved, and what could happen. – Associated Press

Senate Republicans say that for all his bellicose rhetoric, President Donald Trump doesn’t want a war — and neither do they. Some Republican hawks are pushing for an aggressive approach with Iran, arguing that military conflict may be unavoidable. Yet their vocal warnings are obscuring the fact that many in the GOP don’t want to fight and that Trump himself is deeply reluctant to entangle the United States in foreign interventions. – Politico  

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday night that he favors talks and diplomacy but not under current conditions, Reuters reported, citing the Iranian state news agency IRNA. “Today’s situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only,” said Rouhani. – Arutz Sheva  

President Donald Trump is a “crazy president” whose threats against Tehran aren’t going to work, a senior Iranian official said Monday, adding that if the President wants to talk, he’ll not only have to show some respect, but come up with a consistent message. – CNN

The Justice Department says a New Hampshire man sold nearly $1 million worth of surplus Defense Department hand-me-down machinery to Iran—and they’ve got secret tracking data to prove it. Prosecutors charged Aiden Davidson, an Iranian citizen and a naturalized American, with money laundering, violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, and immigration offenses in the fall of 2018. – The Daily Beast

Gerald F. Seib writes: Whatever other assets and liabilities he brings to the table, President Trump certainly offers this: He is a master at sowing uncertainty, so neither friend nor foe really knows what he’s up to. […]Mr. Trump almost certainly doesn’t seek armed conflict with Iran. He’s gone out of his way to avoid or end clashes involving American forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea, and has done little to suggest a military move against Venezuela. – Wall Street Journal  

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The U.S. sees Iran as inseparable from its cobweb of allied militia groups and proxies, many of which are supported by the IRGC. The U.S. designated the IRGC a terrorist organization in April and repeatedly has warned Iran that any attack by it or its proxies will be met with a response. – National Review


Islamic State

The British government could ban travel to parts of Syria and West Africa in a bid to combat the problem of foreign fighters who join extremist organizations such as the Islamic State. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said Monday that he was asking counterterrorism officials to look into whether it would be appropriate to use the authority vested under a recently enacted law “in relation to Syria, with a particular focus on Idlib and the northeast.” – Washington Post

It had only been a week since Mohammad Ali Acampong finished renovating his house when bombs and bullets struck Marawi City. Two years ago, pro-Islamic State militants took over in a bid to carve out their own “Wilayah”, or province, forcing nearly 100,000 people to flee in what became the Philippine military’s toughest and longest conflict since World War Two. – Reuters

Two friends who planned their journey to Syria on TripAdvisor have each been jailed for 14 years for preparing to join Islamic State. Safwaan Mansur and Hanzalah Patel, both 22, used the travel review site to check out an area near the Syrian border before travelling to Turkey in 2016 and 2017. Prosecutors claimed the men tried to explain away their travel plans as an “innocent camping holiday”. – The Guardian

Russia’s top security chief on Tuesday raised alarm about Islamic extremists massing on Afghanistan’s northern border. Alexander Bortnikov, chief of the main Russian intelligence agency FSB, said on a visit to Tajikistan that some 5,000 fighters of an Islamic State group affiliate have gathered in areas bordering on former Soviet states in Central Asia, saying that most of them fought alongside IS in Syria. – Associated Press


Palestinian officials said Monday that they were not invited to a summit planned for Bahrain next month to discuss the Trump administration’s proposal to bring economic development to Palestinian areas as part of a wider peace effort. But private Palestinian business people said they had been contacted about attending. – Washington Post

Palestinians will stay away from a U.S.-led conference in Bahrain next month that the Trump administration has cast as an overture to its own plan for peace between them and Israel, a Palestinian cabinet minister said on Monday. – Reuters

The White House will unveil the first part of President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan when it holds an international conference in Bahrain in late June to encourage investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, senior U.S. officials said on Sunday. – Reuters

The Palestinian prime minister said Monday that any American peace plan that ignores the Palestinian people’s aspirations for an independent state is doomed to fail. Mohammad Shtayyeh’s comments immediately cast a cloud over the American-led Mideast peace  conference expected to take place in late June in the tiny Gulf Arab state of Bahrain. – Associated Press

Israel and Hamas have denied reports that a Gaza ceasefire understanding had been reached that would ensure six-months of calm. Channel 12 news on Monday night reported that a truce had been reached, sparking a chain of Israeli political reactions and diplomatic denials. – Jerusalem Post  

Hamas released its first response to the upcoming Bahrain workshop scheduled for June, which is seen as a prelude to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.  “This is the beginning of the ‘Deal of the Century,'” the terrorist group proclaimed, according to Maariv, the Hebrew-language sister publication of The Jerusalem Post. “We demand from Bahrain and its noble people not to allow the Israeli occupation, the murderers of the Palestinians, to desecrate their land,” they stated. – Jerusalem Post  

Qatari envoy and chairman of the gulf nation’s National Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza Strip, Ambassador Mohammed al-Emadi, reaffirmed his nation’s “special relationship” with internationally recognized terrorist organizations based in the Palestinian territories on Thursday, according to Qatari media. – Daily Caller

Israel on Monday indicted former Fatah militant Zakaria Zubeidi and his alleged accomplice Tarek Bargut with carrying out shooting attacks in Jerusalem in 2016 and near the West Bank settlement of Beit El in 2018 and 2019. – Ynet

Ukraine’s new Jewish president Volodymyr Zelenskiy was sworn into office Monday in Kiev, but not one single Israeli minister or senior official was present at the event. Instead, the country relied on its ambassador to Kiev, Joel Lion, to represent the government. – Associated Press

Ben-Dror Yemini writes: One of the main problems in the fight against the BDS lies in the deceptive definition of its goal to “pressure Israel into ending the occupation.” Although some BDS activist do genuinely believe the organization uses legitimate and non-violent ways to apply pressure on Israel – in order to achieve peace between Palestinians and the State of Israel – the movement’s true goal isn’t to end the occupation. The BDS opposes the very existence of Israel, and the movement’s leaders admit that.  – Ynet

Amos Harel writes: Amid intensive efforts to form a new government and maneuvers meant to extricate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the indictments piling up against him, the existing government in Israel is dealing with another important issue – developments in the Gulf. – Haaretz

Noa Landau writes: For the moment, the Peace to Prosperity conference that the Trump administration will host in Bahrain at the end of next month is looking like a festive wedding lacking a small but important detail: The presence of the intended partner in marriage. – Haaretz

Arabian Peninsula

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement denied Saudi media reports on Monday that it had fired a ballistic missile toward Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, at a time of heightened tensions between Tehran and Gulf Arab states allied to Washington. “The Saudi regime is trying, through these allegations, to rally support for its brutal aggression against our great Yemeni people,” Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said on Facebook. – Reuters

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement targeted an arms depot at Najran airport in Saudi Arabia which caused a fire to break out in the facility, the group’s Al Masirah TV said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Italian unions refused on Monday to load electricity generators onto a Saudi Arabian ship with weapons on board in a protest against the war in Yemen. The Bahri-Yanbu vessel loaded arms in the Belgian city of Antwerp earlier this month, but was prevented from picking up another consignment of weapons in the French port of Le Havre following protests by humanitarian groups. – Reuters

The World Food Programme is considering suspending aid delivery in the areas under the control of Yemen’s Houthi group because of fighting, insecurity and interference it its work, the agency said on Monday. “Humanitarian workers in Yemen are being denied access to the hungry, aid convoys have been blocked, and local authorities have interfered with food distribution,” the WFP said in a statement. “This has to stop.” – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Hundreds of members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to President Donald Trump on Monday arguing that the United States should remain engaged with the conflict in Syria, saying they were “deeply concerned” about extremist groups in the country. – Reuters

A rocket was fired into the Iraqi capital Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, on Sunday night, falling near the U.S. Embassy but causing no casualties, the Iraqi military said. – Reuters

Leading Iraqi Shiite figures warned Monday against attempts to pull their country into a war between the U.S. and Iran, saying it would turn Iraq into a battlefield yet again, just as it is on the path to recovery. The warning came hours after a rocket slammed into Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, landing less than a mile from the sprawling U.S. Embassy. No injuries were reported and no group immediately claimed the Sunday night attack. – Associated Press

Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem on Monday accused the United States and Israel of being responsible for “the escalation and tensions in the region.” “The rhetoric being used by this front is a rhetoric of threats and war and this might push things to the brink of confrontation,” Qassem told the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis during a meeting, according to the Naharnet news website. – Arutz Sheva  

Gunmen have cut off the main water pipeline to Libya’s besieged capital, Tripoli, spelling more misery for residents already reeling from weeks of fighting. The United Nations said the water blockage was a possible war crime as Libya’s internationally recognized government accused forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, which have been trying to capture Tripoli, of being behind the blockage. – Reuters

After years of assassinations, bombings and militia firefights, Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi finally feels safe again — but security has come at a heavy cost. Uniformed police are out at major intersections, cafes and restaurants stay open late into the night, and local groups hold art exhibitions and festivals. But the city center lies in ruins, thousands remain displaced, and forces loyal to commander Khalifa Hifter, who now controls eastern Libya, have cracked down on dissent. – Associated Press


U.S. officials said Monday they would grant a handful of temporary exceptions to an export blacklist against Huawei Technologies Co., giving some suppliers and customers of China’s telecom giant a 90-day reprieve from tough trade penalties. – Wall Street Journal

A former top U.S. trade negotiator said talks with China for a trade deal had made significant progress despite recent setbacks and an agreement would eventually be reached. – Wall Street Journal  

Cases of European firms forced to transfer technology in China are increasing despite Beijing saying the problem does not exist, a European business lobby said, adding that its outlook on the country’s regulatory environment is “bleak”. – Reuters

China could retaliate against the U.S. after President Donald Trump blacklisted Huawei Technologies Co., the Chinese ambassador to the European Union said. – Bloomberg  

President Xi Jinping’s visit to a rare earths facility fueled speculation that the strategic materials could be weaponized in China’s tit-for-tat with the U.S. on trade. – Bloomberg


The man accused of shooting dead 51 Muslim worshippers in the Christchurch mosque attacks was formally charged with terrorism for the first time on Tuesday, New Zealand police said. In addition to the terror charge, Brenton Tarrant also faces 51 charges of murder and 40 of attempted murder over the March 15 attacks. – Agence France-Presse  

Hong Kong’s leader said on Tuesday that her administration was determined to push through an extradition bill that could see individuals sent back to mainland China for trial, despite mounting opposition locally and internationally. – Reuters

China’s defense minister will speak at an Asia defense forum in Singapore, the organizer said on Monday, the first time in eight years that Beijing has been represented at this level at the gathering and at a time when China-U.S. ties are strained over trade and security. – Reuters

The United States is backing calls for Taiwan to be granted observer status at the U.N. health agency’s biggest annual gathering, the U.S. health secretary said Monday. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar spoke to reporters in Geneva on the sidelines of the start of the World Health Organization’s annual assembly, which China’s government has prevented Taiwan from attending. – Associated Press

Several multinational exercises focused on interoperability have taken place in the Indo-Pacific region recently, including two involving French Navy aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R 91) on its first deployment since 2016. Late last week, Charles de Gaulle – back on international patrol after coming out of an 18-month mid-life refit – led ships from the U.S., Australia and Japan during the La Perouse exercises in the Bay of Bengal. – USNI News

Clark Packard writes: If economic relations with China are going to be rocky for the foreseeable future, the U.S. should do everything it can to expand commercial ties with partners across the Asia-Pacific region. – Washington Examiner

John Lee writes: The Coalition government has issued strongly worded criticisms of Chinese violations of international law in the South China Sea, which are ahead of statements made by even regional claimants to disputed territories and warned against assertive Chinese behavior in the East China Sea. Those declarations were made in defense of international law and norms and to condition Beijing to accept Australian positions on these issues. – CNN

John Schaus writes: Since October, U.S. Army War College researchers have looked into Indo-Pacific theater design at and beyond 2028 on behalf of the Secretary of the Army. Though we have found that U.S. and partner forces have an impressive body of work under way, it is clear that the Army must change across five major elements of design: strategy and operational concepts; forces and capabilities; footprint and presence; authorities, permissions, and agreements; and mission command arrangements. – Defense One


Ukraine’s new leader launched his presidency with a vow to end a five-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists on Ukraine’s terms and a move to dissolve parliament that could set the stage for elections that expand his mandate. – Wall Street Journal  

The left has been invigorated elsewhere in Europe as the center-left declines. In Greece, a radical leftist party won two elections and has driven the old center-left party to the brink of extinction. In Britain, the Labour Party is led by Jeremy Corbyn, a figure once relegated to the far-left fringe. And in Spanish elections last month, the center-left Socialists came out on top with an unapologetic defense of progressive policies, including a 22-percent minimum wage hike. – Washington Post

China’s under-the-radar push into Ukraine illustrates Beijing’s hunger for technology imports and its ability to access them even though Western countries have limited military-related exports to China. It comes as Ukraine struggles to reorient its economy away from Russia. And it puts Washington in a quandary as U.S. rhetoric supporting Ukraine in its conflict with Russia collides with the Trump administration’s widening competition with ­Beijing. – Washington Post

With Julian Assange locked away in a London jail, a new battle has broken out over what may contain some of the WikiLeaks founder’s biggest secrets: his computers. On Monday, judicial authorities from Ecuador carried out an inventory of all the belongings and digital devices left behind at the London embassy following his expulsion last month from the diplomatic compound that had been his home the past seven years. – Associated Press

The leaders of MI5 and MI6, the United Kingdom’s top intelligence agencies, were briefed about British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier shortly after 2016 election, learning about its salacious and unverified claims about President-elect Trump’s ties to Russia before the incoming commander in chief was told about them, according to a new report. – Washington Examiner

Several prominent Jewish leaders on Monday denounced as “reprehensible” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s reported comment last week that paying compensation for Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust would be a “posthumous victory” for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. – Algemeiner  

The German government expects to receive a long-awaited industry offer for revamping the country’s missile defenses next month, just as the debate in Germany over defense spending kicks into high gear once again. – Defense News

Mitchell A. Orenstein and Ecaterina Locoman write: After it became clear that Moscow had vetoed a Socialist-Democrat coalition, Plahotniuc was forced to try to form a government with a new, more genuinely pro-E.U. party. Yet he proved no less toxic to them. The reformist ACUM bloc deeply distrusts Plahotniuc, believing that he is the source of corruption in the country and only likes the E.U. because it gives him the opportunity to skim off E.U. funds.  – Washington Post


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says Somalia is making progress toward building a functioning state but must tackle violent extremism, terrorism, armed conflict, political instability and corruption. – Associated Press  

The South African government does not intend to change its behaviour towards Huawei, Sidwell Medupe, department of trade and industry spokesperson told Business Insider South Africa. Huawei is the biggest seller of smartphones in South Africa, after Samsung. The US government this weekend blacklisted the Chinese firm due to security concerns, which forced Alphabet, Google’s parent company, to suspend its corporate relationship with Huawei. – Business Insider

In 2014, the Kenyan government decided the aging line needed replacing and agreed to pay the state-owned China Road and Bridge Company (CRBC) about $3.6 billion to build, finance and, initially, operate a Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) between the capital of Nairobi and Mombasa, in a bid to fire-up the East African country’s developing economy. It was a huge gamble. Like its predecessor, the new railway line has been plagued by controversy, as well as accusations that it has resulted in huge debt to China it will take Kenya years to climb out of. But now China appears to be unwilling to fund further sections of the line, leaving a question mark over its future. – CNN

Paul D. Williams writes: For over a decade, a dozen states and multilateral organizations have invested considerable time, effort, equipment, and hundreds of millions of dollars to build an effective Somali National Army (SNA). So far, they’ve failed. – War on the Rocks

The Americas

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday he had ordered his foreign minister to seek a pact with the United States, Canada and other nations in support of a development plan for Central America to control immigration. – Reuters

The Venezuelan opposition’s envoy to the United States said he met Pentagon and State Department officials in Washington on Monday to discuss “all aspects of the Venezuelan crisis.” Carlos Vecchio, opposition leader Juan Guaido’s ambassador to Washington, said in a message on Twitter that the talks held at the State Department had been “very positive” but offered no further details. “We continue to advance,” he said. – Reuters

U.S. Secret Service personnel have been sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to handle migrants attempting to enter the U.S. The Homeland Security Department has already sent some officers and plans to send more soon, according to a Homeland Security document obtained by the Daily Beast. The plan was created after then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen requested each unit of the agency recruit volunteers that would be shipped to the southern border. – Washington Examiner


A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats to develop a strategy for ensuring surveillance capabilities are not exported to foreign governments with records of human rights abuse or arbitrary detentions. – Washington Post

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned U.S. firms of the risks to company data from Chinese-made drones, according to a notice reviewed by Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

Apple Face ID parts supplier Lumentum Holdings Inc followed Google on Monday in clamping down on the business it does with Huawei Technologies, after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed a ban on the Chinese firm on national security grounds. – Reuters


Plucked from the special operations world at the beginning of the Trump administration, the U.S. Navy’s top acquisition official oversees procurement of some of the most expensive assets the military owns and operates. – Defense News  

House appropriators want more information before they sign off on a sixth military branch for space, rejecting the Pentagon’s request for $72 million to build a Space Force headquarters. – Defense News  

While the Trump administration has made updating and upgrading America’s nuclear arsenal a priority, a pair of key House appropriations subcommittees are setting up a fight over funding for fiscal year 2020. – Defense News  

Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor demonstrator, participating in the U.S. Army’s Joint Multi-Role technology demonstration, has wrapped up low-speed agility maneuver testing — completing the final key performance parameters left to prove out with the system, according to Ryan Ehinger, the company’s V-280 program manager. – Defense News  

As Congress reviews the Defense Department’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year, the prospect of adding a new, fourth-generation fighter should be weighed against the necessity of growing the Air Force’s inventory with more capable aircraft to replace the aging current fleet, according to the service’s top civilian. – Military.com

President Donald Trump could issue a pardon on Memorial Day for Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher, former Special Forces Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, and Marine Scout Snipers accused of urinating on Taliban corpses, the New York Times is reporting. – Military.com

As the Pentagon prepares to spend about a half trillion dollars over a decade on new nuclear weapons, a new poll suggests that the public favors a more constrained nuclear posture and is growing more skeptical of weapons that are in the U.S. arsenal already. A majority of respondents also favored restraining the president from launching a nuclear strike before seeking congressional approval. – Defense One

Congress is worried about a proposed massive budget increase to the Air Force’s next generation missile warning satellite system. In a report released May 20, the House Appropriations Committee expressed concern over the Air Force’s $1.4 billion budget request for its Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Program for fiscal year 2020. – C4ISRNET