Fdd's overnight brief

May 29, 2019

In The News


The White House isn’t planning a military offensive response to a U.S. assessment that Iran was behind recent attacks on tankers off the United Arab Emirates, national security adviser John Bolton said Wednesday, mirroring a conciliatory tone taken by President Trump toward Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Iran sees no prospect of negotiations with the United States, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program was possible. – Reuters

Iran’s “absolute power” in its region has sapped the capacity of arch-enemy the United States to wage war against it, the commander of its elite Revolutionary Guards said on Tuesday, according to semi-official Mehr news agency. – Reuters

US National Security Advisor John Bolton said Wednesday Iran was “almost certainly” behind attacks on ships off the United Arab Emirates earlier this month. – Agence France-Presse

Donald Trump’s national security adviser said Wednesday there was “no reason” for Iran to back out of its nuclear deal with world powers other than to seek atomic weapons, a year after the U.S. president unilaterally withdrew America from the accord. – Associated Press

The Islamic Republic of Iran is committed to a program of weapons of mass destruction, the domestic intelligence agency for the southern German state of Bavaria said in its May 2019 intelligence report. – Jerusalem Post

Ken Dilanian writes: Starting in April 2018, a group of anonymous people created fake American social media accounts to pose as journalists, plant letters to newspapers and impersonate Republican candidates for Congress — all in an apparent effort to promote Iranian interests. Was this the work of an Iranian intelligence service? A third country? A band of pranksters? – NBC News



A radio station broadcasting in support of the Houthi rebels in war-torn Yemen has launched a fundraising campaign for Lebanon’s Hezbollah which is facing increasing financial pressure from American sanctions on Iran. – Jerusalem Post

Organizers of the annual “Quds Day” protests  — which will take place this coming Friday to Sunday in several cities around the world — could be facing an unprecedented pushback this year from both political opposition and potential law-enforcement measures. – Algemeiner

A book by Hezbollah deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem was reportedly removed from the Amazon bookstore following an appeal by a reporter from The Jerusalem Post’s sister paper, Maariv. – Jerusalem Post


New satellite images show fields, orchards and olive groves burning in northwest Syria, where the army has waged an assault against rebels in their last major stronghold. – Reuters

The United States continues to be alarmed by Syrian government and Russian air strikes in northwest Syria and believes they are a “reckless escalation” of violence, the State Department said on Tuesday. – Reuters

France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday there were signs that chemicals had been used in attacks by Syrian government forces on rebels in northwest Syria, but they still needed to be verified. – Reuters


The United States is seriously considering suspending training for Turkish pilots on advanced F-35 fighter jets as Ankara moves ahead with plans to purchase a Russian missile defense system despite objections from Washington, sources told Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters

Five Turkish foreign ministry staff detained last week on suspicion of links to a failed coup three years ago have said they have been tortured and mistreated in custody, the Ankara Lawyers’ Bar Association said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Turkey’s military dropped commandos on mountain ridges in a new operation against Kurdish militants based over the border in northern Iraq, the defense ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters


Israel moved closer to snap elections as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggled to form a government from a fractious group of secular and religious parties after April’s elections. – Wall Street Journal

Israel’s prime minister has been a vocal critic of Iran over the years, accusing the Islamic Republic of sinister intentions at every opportunity. But the outspoken Benjamin Netanyahu has remained uncharacteristically quiet throughout the current crisis between the U.S. and Iran. – Associated Press

Hamas fired more than one anti-tank missile toward Israeli civilians during the last round of fighting between the two, the head of the IDF’s Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Hertzi Halevy said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Russia on Tuesday criticized a US-hosted economic workshop planned for next month in Bahrain, saying it was worried that Washington was attempting to use economic incentives to blur the principle of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Times of Israel

What initially appeared to be matter of signing a coalition deal with partners who he had picked in advance has transformed into a direct confrontation between the prime minister and Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman. This standoff for now appears to be leading to national elections for the second time in 2019 – something that has never happened before in Israel’s history. – Ynet

William A. Galston writes: Doing business with China is not the same as doing business with a democracy. Does Israel really want to enable China’s rise at the cost of weakening its relationship with its greatest ally? It’s not too late for Mr. Netanyahu to turn back, starting with the port of Haifa. – Wall Street Journal

Philip Klein writes: So, it is fitting in a way that the fate of the Israeli government would hinge on a question of the balance between religion and secular world realities that is so central to its future as a nation. – Washington Examiner

Gulf States

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday ahead of talks scheduled for Wednesday, he said in tweet, amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. – Reuters

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Tuesday that his country was ready to engage in dialogue with Gulf Arab countries in order to address escalating tensions in the region. – Reuters

The United States clinched a strategic port deal with Oman last week which US officials say will allow the US military better access the Gulf region and reduce the need to send ships through the Strait of Hormuz, a maritime choke point off Iran. – Reuters

A possible US-backed thaw in Qatari-Saudi relations has been signalled by Qatari diplomats travelling to Saudi Arabia to lay the ground for their country’s attendance at a major summit in Jeddah on alleged Iranian aggression in the region. – The Guardian

Middle East & North Africa

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is leading a U.S. delegation to the Middle East this week seeking support for a late June workshop aimed at helping the Palestinians, a White House official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A Baghdad court sentenced two more Frenchmen to death Tuesday for joining the Islamic State jihadist group, raising the number of French IS members on death row in Iraq to six. – Agence France-Presse

Korean Peninsula

Despite talks by both President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un of the country’s commitment to development and its economic potential, the people of the reclusive nation face a web of corruption, deprivation and official crackdowns that denies them an adequate standard of living, a new U.N. report states Tuesday. – Washington Post  

North Korea’s entire weapons of mass destruction program violates U.N. Security Council resolutions, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday, when asked about recent missile launches by Pyongyang. – Reuters

China has appointed its special envoy for North Korea, Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, its ambassador to Japan, Chinese state media said on Tuesday. – Reuters


The Bank of Canada is widely expected to leave its key interest rate on hold at an announcement this week as escalating U.S.-China trade tensions weigh on the economic outlook. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump’s trade war with China has prompted a broad rethinking of how the two economies have become so intertwined, leading some manufacturers to trim supply chains in China and American authorities to start cutting off crucial technology for Chinese companies. – New York Times  

China accused the U.S. of abusing a national security exception at the World Trade Organization by cutting off Huawei Technologies Co. to American suppliers and warned the move could have grave consequences for the global trading system. – Bloomberg

China is not seeking a sphere of influence in Pacific Ocean island states, President Xi Jinping told the visiting prime minister of Vanuatu amid fears in Western capitals of China’s growing role in the region. – Reuters

Joseph Bosco writes: This past week at the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute, Henry Kissinger’s former associates met to discuss “Kissinger on Kissinger,” an oral history by the former secretary of State. […]But the reprise of Kissinger’s diplomatic feats suffers from historical myopia. Roy asserted, for example, that “The breakthrough to China … really was a turning point in the Cold War,” inducing Moscow to enter Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.[…] In fact, however, the détente period brought heightened Cold War tensions, Soviet global advances, and a near-nuclear confrontation during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. – The Hill

James Pethokoukis writes: The more you look at the idea of a tech cold war — from the lack of serious planning to the problems in disentangling the two ecosystems, the more fanciful it seems. Not that America should do nothing. Washington should consider banning Chinese companies using stolen intellectual property or tech from involvement in US markets or with American firms. Moreover, it is perfectly reasonable to limit Chinese access to critical military technologies or those used for internal repression. What isn’t reasonable is a policy whose success depends on containing, even isolating, a technologically advanced mega-economy. – The Week  

South Asia

When members of the Taliban and Afghan politicians met Tuesday in the Russian capital for talks aimed at ending the war in their country, one face in particular stood out: Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and the head of its political office, who spoke publicly for the first time about the need for a peace deal. – Washington Post

More than 40 people were killed across Afghanistan on Tuesday on the eve of talks between Afghan politicians and Taliban leaders in Moscow, as the militant group pursued a familiar tactic of intensifying its attacks before high-profile meetings. – New York Times

A Taliban delegation met a group of senior Afghan politicians in Moscow on Tuesday, insisting that international forces must leave Afghanistan for peace to be agreed, amid gathering diplomatic efforts to end the 18-year war. – Reuters

Myanmar’s military is guilty of committing new “war crimes”, extrajudicial killings and torture in its fight against ethnic Rakhine rebels, Amnesty International said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Clerics in Pakistan declared Monday hoarding U.S. dollars a “grave sin,” the Financial Times reported. “We have issued a fatwa [religious order] which says that people must not hoard dollars as hoarding creates chaos,” Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, the head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, a network of Sunni Muslim clerics, told Financial Times. – The Hill


President Trump flew over 14 hours, passed through 13 time zones and crossed the international date line to — essentially — be feted by the Japanese. – Washington Post

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host the Chinese President Xi Jinping later this year for an informal summit, an Indian foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement on Wednesday. – Reuters

The United States has warned Hong Kong to be on alert for a vessel carrying Iranian petroleum that may seek to stop in the Asia financial hub, and said that any entity providing services to the vessel will be violating U.S. sanctions. – Reuters

Some Hong Kong judges fear they are being put on a collision course with Beijing as the special administrative region’s government pushes for sweeping legal changes that would for the first time allow fugitives captured in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial. – Reuters

The U.S. wields more power in Asia-Pacific than any other country but China is gaining ground due to President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies, according to a think tank study ranking the region’s major players. – Bloomberg  

Taiwan landed warplanes on a normally busy highway Tuesday to simulate a response to a Chinese attack on its airfields, part of annual drills designed to showcase the island’s military capabilities and resolve to repel an attack from across the Taiwan Strait. – Associated Press

Unidentified plotters linked to recent violent protests against Indonesia’s president planned to kill at least four of the country’s most senior security officials, police said on Tuesday. – Reuters


Russia summoned Spain’s ambassador to Moscow on Tuesday after acting Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell referred to the country as an “old enemy”, the Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman will boycott a flagship investor forum in St Petersburg this summer to protest against Moscow’s prosecution of prominent U.S. investor Michael Calvey, a State Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The U.S. special envoy on Ukraine has called Russian activity in eastern Ukraine an “occupation” and has called on Moscow to start implementing its obligations under the 2015 Minsk accords — the international agreement aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Galip Dalay writes: Undeniably, Turkish-Western relations have undergone a major change in recent years. The old status quo will not come back. Nor, however, will the relationship break—and especially not because of Turkey’s ties with Russia, which are loose at best. – Foreign Policy


An official has triggered a fierce debate in Germany for saying over the weekend that it might at times not be safe for Jews to wear the traditional kippah skullcap in the country, more than seven decades after the end of the Holocaust. – Washington Post

European Union leaders began contentious talks to assign new leadership of the bloc as they seek to revive its fortunes after some of them suffered a rebuke from voters in elections last week. – Wall Street Journal

The prospect of an abrupt and messy split between the U.K. and the European Union has risen as leading candidates to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May talk up a “no deal” exit after almost three years of inconclusive Brexit wrangling. – Wall Street Journal

A French rights group sought on Tuesday to block the loading of what it said were munitions onto a Saudi Arabian ship docked in southern France, as pressure mounts on Paris to stop military sales to the kingdom. – Reuters

Serbia ordered its troops on full alert on Tuesday and Russia accused Kosovo of provocation after a Kosovan police anti-crime operation in a region populated mainly by Serbs led to clashes. – Reuters

Britain’s equality watchdog said on Tuesday it was launching a formal investigation to determine whether Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has discriminated against, harassed or victimized people because they are Jewish. – Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview airing Tuesday that police have to guard every synagogue, Jewish school and day care center in her country. – The Hill

A Polish court has sentenced two Belarusian men to prison for a 2017 stunt in which they and other young adults stripped naked at Auschwitz and chained themselves together to the main gate as one of them slaughtered a sheep. – Times of Israel

Lindsay J. Benstead writes: Available data suggest that to a greater extent than toward the US, there is a reservoir of goodwill in the Arab world toward Europe, highlighting the benefits of Europe’s internationalism. Goodwill toward Europe appears to be deeper in countries with limited, unwanted interference in Arab politics. – Middle East Institute


Sudan’s alliance of opposition and protest groups held a general strike on Tuesday as tensions mounted with the country’s military rulers over the transition to democracy. – Reuters

West African states fighting Islamist militancy in the region should not take France’s military presence for granted because Paris will not be there forever, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: In the grand scheme of things, Sudan is not as important as containing Iran, keeping Chinese technology out of Europe’s 5G network or negotiating with North Korea. And yet in Sudan’s crisis is an opportunity to help show that nonviolent democratic change is possible in the Muslim world. There is an alternative to dictatorship. The Sudanese people have done the hard part. Pompeo can help ensure that their gains are lasting. – Bloomberg

United States

The lawyer for a man who pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime after vandalizing an Indiana synagogue is arguing that conservative media outlets and commentators helped radicalize him, specifically naming conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. – The Hill

In a speech at the reception, DeSantis boasted about Florida being the first state to sanction Airbnb over its decision not to list properties in Israeli settlements in January. “You remember when Airbnb came out with its discriminatory policy, it was Florida that acted first, and we said, ‘This is not going to happen. And if you boycott Israel, we are going to boycott you.’ And that led to Airbnb reversing its policy,” DeSantis told the audience. “That’s a good thing.” – Jewish Insider

Eric Havian writes: As a whistleblower attorney, it is not in my personal interest to suggest that the government focus its wrath solely on those who purloin classified information. But the First Amendment will be eroded if reporters who publish classified information need to rely on prosecutorial restraint to avoid the threat of federal prison. As a former prosecutor, I do not want my colleagues at the Justice Department to have that power. Congress should stop claiming that the gun pointed at the media is unloaded and take it away entirely. – The Hill

Latin America

The degradation of relations between the U.S. and Cuba under President Donald Trump has begun to cut into scientific and medical cooperation on issues ranging from treatment of infectious diseases to coral reef preservation. – Associated Press

The United States walked out of the Conference on Disarmament on Tuesday to protest against Venezuela assuming the rotating presidency of the U.N.-sponsored forum – as it did a year ago when Syria took the chair. – Reuters

Talks between Venezuela’s government and opposition on ending months of crisis were under way in Norway, sources said Tuesday, but Washington insisted that the only item for discussion should be President Nicolas Maduro’s removal. – Agence France-Presse


Huawei Technologies has filed a legal motion to have the Trump administration’s efforts to ban its equipment in the United States declared unconstitutional, calling the prohibition “trial by legislature” and an assault on global human rights. – Washington Post

New Zealand’s treasury department said on Tuesday it was deliberately hacked after the country’s opposition party released what it said were key details of a budget due to be announced on Thursday. – Reuters

A relative latecomer to the cyber game, NATO is beginning to “operationalize” cyber capabilities into its overall structure by integrating those tools of member nations, said the alliance’s secretary general. – Defense News  


Lockheed Martin won’t submit a bid to compete in the design of the Navy’s next-generation guided-missile (FFG(X)) frigate competition, company officials told USNI News on Tuesday. – USNI News

President Donald Trump again called to install steam catapults on future aircraft carriers, in a move experts say would cost billions of dollars and reduce the capital ships’ capabilities. – USNI News

The Zumwalt destroyer program will continue to mature even after the lead ship’s final delivery this fall, as the combat system undergoes testing on a surrogate ship and eventually aboard USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) in 2019 and 2020, according to the Navy. – USNI News

Navy service members who donned “Make Aircrew Great Again” uniform patches during President Trump’s visit to Japan may have broken Pentagon rules. – Washington Examiner

The Pentagon has hit the pause button on a troubled effort to redesign the kill vehicle on the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system’s interceptors after reporting a two-year delay in its development earlier this year. – Defense News

After more than a decade of research and development and upwards of $500 million in funding, the Navy finally plans on testing its much-hyped electromagnetic railgun on a surface warship in a major milestone for the beleaguered weapons system, Navy documents reveal. – Task & Purpose

Rick Berger writes: The advanced capabilities pursued by transformation advocates — artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, advanced networking — will prove necessary, if not sufficient, for deterring high-end conflict with China and Russia. But financing these new capabilities by cutting existing weapons systems amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul, a choice that Congress will never make. While some trade-offs make sense, policymakers should accept that the need for new, leap-ahead weapons systems is an additional burden on the Pentagon, unable to be met through rearranging programs under a flat budget. – Defense News