Fdd's overnight brief

May 8, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran’s president declared on Wednesday that the country would stop complying with two of its commitments under the Iranian nuclear deal, pushing the growing confrontation between Washington and Tehran into new and potentially dangerous territory. The announcement by President Hassan Rouhani came exactly a year after President Trump withdrew entirely from the 2015 agreement, which limited Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear fuel for 15 years. – New York Times

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described Iran as a growing regional threat during an unannounced visit to Iraq, where he underscored U.S. warnings to Tehran while offering support to allied officials in Baghdad. – Wall Street Journal

When the United States said this week that American forces in Iraq faced threats from Iranian “proxies,” it was referring to the armed groups that helped fight the Islamic State and have bedeviled Iraq ever since. The Iraqi armed groups, some with ties to Iran, have a footprint in every Iraqi province. Whether they function as Iranian proxies, however, is far from settled. – New York Times

Iraq is close to signing a $53 billion, 30-year energy agreement with Exxon Mobil and PetroChina, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday, denying any link between the mega-project and U.S. permission for Iraq to do business with Iran. – Reuters

The U.S. military said on Tuesday that B-52 bombers will be part of additional forces being sent to the Middle East to counter what the Trump administration says are “clear indications” of threats from Iran to U.S. forces there. – Reuters

Iran dismissed announcement of a U.S. aircraft carrier deployment as old news, recycled for psychological warfare, and said it would soon announce plans to roll back some of its commitments under the 2015 deal. – Reuters

France’s defense minister said on Wednesday it wanted to keep the Iran 2015 nuclear deal alive and warned that if Iran were to not keep to its commitments then the question of triggering a mechanism that could lead to sanctions would be on the table. – Reuters

Intelligence showing that Iran is likely moving short-range ballistic missiles aboard boats in the Persian Gulf was one of the critical reasons the US decided to move an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers into the region, according to several US officials with direct knowledge of the situation. – CNN

On Sunday, the National Security Council announced that the U.S. was sending a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Gulf in response to “troubling and escalatory” warnings from Iran[…]. But multiple sources close to the situation told The Daily Beast that the administration blew it out of proportion, characterizing the threat as more significant than it actually was. – The Daily Beast

Omer Carmi writes: To set the clock for thirty-five days of Joint Commission deliberations, Iran could lay out a roadmap for how it might reduce its JCPOA commitments in the next week or two unless the West takes certain actions. From Tehran’s perspective, this could allow the regime to deter Western pressure and leave an alarming impression with key audiences in Europe, while retaining the flexibility to actually implement its threats. – Washington Institute


Under the Trump administration, the number of refugees allowed into the United States has fallen to its lowest level since the resettlement program began in 1980. And few groups have been as affected as Syrians, who have been fleeing a brutal civil war that has left hundreds of thousands of people dead since it began in 2011. – Washington Post

Tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled their homes in recent days, as the regime and Russia escalated their bombardment on the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria in northwest Idlib province. The bombing has frayed a monthslong cease-fire agreement brokered by Turkey and Russia for the northwest area and renewed fears of an imminent ground assault. – Wall Street Journal

Renewed bombardment in north-west Syria that has displaced 200,000 people and destroyed 12 healthcare centres could have been sparked by Russia and Turkish moves to entrench their zones of influence as the seven-year conflict winds down, according to regional diplomats. – The Guardian

Arab inhabitants of Syria’s Deir al-Zor began a third week of protests against Kurdish rule, the largest wave of unrest to sweep the oil-rich region since the U.S.-backed forces took over the territory from Islamic State nearly 18 months ago, residents, witnesses and tribal figures said. – Reuters

Violence in the northwestern Syrian region of Idlib has displaced more than 150,000 people in the past week, the UN said Tuesday, as the regime and Russia upped deadly bombardment of the jihadist bastion. – Agence FrancePresse


Turkish opposition leaders vowed to reconquer Istanbul’s mayoral seat in a rerun set for next month, after the national election authority drew international condemnation when it erased the results of the March ballot that was lost by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Mr. Erdoğan’s domestic shenanigans come amid increasingly confrontational behavior toward Turkey’s NATO allies. Ankara hasn’t backed down from its decision to purchase the Russian S-400 antiaircraft missiles, and it remains at odds with the U.S. over Iran and Syria policy. The Trump Administration should call him out—and start rethinking its relationship with the country. – Wall Street Journal

Medeni Sungur writes: The election result should be a wake-up call to Mr. Erdogan. Turkey has to go back to the basics and re-evaluate the path it has taken for the past decade. Turkey’s bright future lies with stronger democratic institutions, the rule of law and respect for individual liberties. If Mr. Erdogan resorts to further authoritarian measures and keeps pushing the system, he will further impoverish his own voters. He will risk losing their support, and ultimately his power. – Wall Street Journal

Eli Lake writes: A Turkey without Erdogan would still present challenges for U.S. foreign policy. But the main irritant in the relationship will be gone. The U.S. does not have to intervene in Turkish politics. It only needs to listen to what millions of Turkish citizens, including Erdogan’s former allies, are now saying. This is one case where America’s values align with its interests. – Bloomberg

Soner Cagaptay writes: Besides casting his political opponents as “enemies of the state,” Erdogan could use security crises abroad as a pretext to tip the revote in his favor. Take for example Turkey’s brewing crisis with Cyprus over natural gas exploration in the East Mediterranean, where conflicting maritime border claims could be escalated into a showdown that further galvanizes Erdogan’s nationalist base. A confrontation between Turkish and Assad regime forces in Syria could serve similar ends. –  Washington Institute


A song contest may not seem like a trigger for military conflicts, but in the latest confrontation between militants in the Gaza Strip and Israel, Europe’s kitschiest and most widely watched music competition has played a starring role. – Washington Post

A group of 17 Democratic lawmakers wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week to ask his government to stop the planned deportation of Omar Shakir, a U.S. citizen and director of the Human Rights Watch office for Israel and the Palestinian territories. – Washington Post

Several prominent Saudi journalists and intellectuals expressed support for Israel during the latest Gaza flare-up last weekend, and blamed Iran for the outbreak in hostilities. – Algemeiner

The Islamic Jihad, one of the terror organizations responsible for the recent wave of attacks against Israel, admitted that the baby that was killed in Gaza during the latest escalation died as a result of a misfired rocket, TPS reported on Monday. – Jerusalem Post


Forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar shot down a Tripoli government warplane purportedly flown by a foreign mercenary south of the Libyan capital on Tuesday, the Libyan National Army (LNA) said. – Reuters

U.N.-backed Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj will meet President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Wednesday, a French official said, at a time Serraj’s administration is unhappy about Paris’s perceived support for eastern commander Khalifa Haftar. – Reuters

The United Nations human rights office called on Malta on Tuesday to drop terrorism charges against three African teenage migrants arrested for hijacking a small commercial tanker that rescued their vessel off the coast of Libya. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt’s top appeals court on Tuesday upheld death sentences for 13 members of a disbanded militant group who were convicted of launching attacks on security forces, a judicial source and lawyer said. – Reuters

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) called on Tuesday for the release of more than 3,000 migrants, mainly Ethiopians, who it said remain held in inhumane conditions in two detention centers in southern Yemen. – Reuters

The bomb that destroyed the children was a 500 pound, laser-guided device built by Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms dealer, and one of thousands sold to Saudi Arabia by the United States. The U.S. has backed the theocratic kingdom’s ongoing bombing campaign against Yemen with intelligence, targeting support and aerial refueling, in addition to weapons. – Newsweek

As the popular uprising against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir gained strength earlier this year, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia began reaching out to the military through secret channels to encourage his removal from power, according to Egyptian and Sudanese officials. – Associated Press

The CIA alerted Norway that an Arab activist critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may face a potential threat from Saudi Arabia. – Washington Examiner

Korean Peninsula

Despite North Korea’s recent weapons tests, including of a possible new short-range ballistic missile, President Trump said he supported South Korea’s humanitarian aid for the North to help alleviate its food shortages, the office of President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said on Tuesday. – New York Times

The two dissidents, 37-year-old U.S. Marine Christopher Ahn and noted human rights activist Adrian Hong, are members of the North Korean resistance group Free Joseon, or “Free North Korea.” They are calling for the downfall of Kim Jong Un’s regime and consider themselves the “Provisional government of Free Joseon.” But now, the U.S. is seeking to extradite the two to face charges in Madrid. – Fox News

North Korea may be preparing to make contact with Tokyo after Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said he was willing to hold a summit “without conditions” with its leader Kim Jong-un, according to media reports. – Telegraph

North Korea is finding that there’s no such thing as a bad hair day when it comes to fighting crippling economic sanctions. – New York Post


President Trump’s brinkmanship with China this week represents a test of his administration’s tougher foreign policy toward the East Asian power as he seeks to clinch a hard-fought trade deal while preserving Beijing’s cooperation on North Korea. – Washington Post

The trade war has also exposed a rift inside the White House and among the president’s allies — with some officials pushing for a quick resolution to calm the markets ahead of 2020, and others warning the president that a weak deal with China could leave him politically vulnerable. – Washington Post

China is sending its top trade envoy to Washington to resume negotiations and confront U.S. demands that Beijing detail the laws it would change as a part of a trade deal, ahead of a deadline set by President Trump to raise tariffs on Chinese goods. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously backed legislation supporting Taiwan which faces military and diplomatic pressure from China as members of the U.S. Congress push for a sharper approach to relations with Beijing. – Reuters


Myanmar’s concern that its global standing was being tarnished prompted the government to release two Pulitzer Prize winning journalists from prison, officials said, following an international campaign on their behalf. – Wall Street Journal

At least nine people were killed by a blast targeting a security checkpoint outside a major Sufi shrine in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday, officials said. – Reuters

The Taliban attacked the offices of an international NGO in the Afghanistan capital on Wednesday, setting off a huge explosion and battling Afghan security forces in an assault that wounded at least nine people, officials said. – Al Jazeera

Hungary tried and failed to deport three Afghan families to Afghanistan on Tuesday, in a move that rights groups say is a breach of international law. – BBC


Relations between the United States and Russia are at an ebb today over Moscow’s election interference and the wars in Ukraine and Syria. Even so, a group linked to the Russian government plans to restore and exhibit the American aircraft as a centerpiece in a new museum — a reminder of a time when the two powers set aside their differences and worked closely together. – New York Times

Tall and eloquent, Lawson raises his voice slightly to be heard over the rat-ta-tat-tat gunfire of the Royal Marines to explain that NATO’s military leaders in the Arctic had been hitting the history books. In order to meet the threat posed by Vladimir Putin’s resurgent Russia, they’ve been studying past incursions by the USSR and defense plans drawn up to counter aggression from the east stretching back from the Cold War to the German strategy for defending Nazi-occupied Norway against Russia during World War II. – The Daily Beast

Before special counsel Robert Mueller submitted his 448-page report to the Department of Justice in March, the special counsel’s team had argued in court against handing over sensitive evidence to Concord Management, a Russian company caught up in the sweeping investigation into Russian election interference. – Newsweek


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin on Tuesday. But at the last minute, the State Department canceled the visit, blaming “pressing issues.” […]Instead, it emerged hours later, Pompeo had flown to Baghdad. – Washington Post

The British government on Tuesday acknowledged for the first time that the country will definitely take part in the European Parliament elections this month because there’s no chance that a Brexit deal can be approved in time to avoid them. – Associated Press

The Romanian Navy is exploring the purchase of a new drone for its expansion and modernization plans, the chief of the Romanian Naval Forces said Monday. Amid growing tensions with Russia on the Black Sea, the service is looking at a “totally new” unmanned aerial system for the maritime and riverine domain, Vice Adm. Alexandru Mirsu said at the Sea-Air-Space forum here. – Defense News

A Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter squadron will make history by deploying aboard the British Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier — the first deployment of its kind and one that could serve as a model for the new normal, a three-star general said. – Military.com

Sylvie Kauffmann writes: In his list of items of discord, Mr. Macron mentioned neither Germany’s retreat on military spending, despite multiplying threats from Russia, China and terrorists and heavy pressure from President Trump, nor did he discuss its reluctance to take a stand on major strategic and security issues, perhaps because these subjects are so sensitive. Or perhaps because Mr. Macron has not lost hope in his efforts to make Germany more European, rather than making Europe more German. – New York Times

Dalibor Rohac writes: It is a mistake for European institutions to allow for bargaining with China to take place in such a decentralized fashion. Neither the Czech Republic nor Italy nor the United Kingdom can provide an effective counterweight to China at the negotiating table—but a united EU could. Creating that sense of geopolitical unity in the face of adversaries that are seeking to divide the continent is thus the most important challenge facing the EU, more urgent than technocratic tweaks to its internal governance. Here’s hoping it can do better than the Holy Roman Empire. – The American Interest

North America

The Mexican government said the country’s tomato growers face more than $350 million a year in losses from U.S. anti-dumping duties on their exports as the U.S. Commerce Department terminated an agreement that had suspended the duties since 1996. – Wall Street Journal

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that the Trump administration can for now continue returning Central American migrants to Mexico while their requests for asylum in the U.S. are adjudicated, a boost for White House efforts to tighten the southern border. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. is threatening to pull the F-35 from Canada’s fighter jet competition if the ally to the north doesn’t change requirements for the winning bidder to stipulate specific industrial benefits for domestic firms. The U.S. government is arguing that since Canada is a partner in the F-35 program it cannot request guaranteed industrial benefits for its companies. – Defense News


The Trump administration lifted sanctions on a Venezuelan general who broke ranks with President Nicolás Maduro’s regime in an effort to encourage others to do the same, and warned Venezuela’s top judges of consequences if they don’t back opposition leader Juan Guaidó. – Wall Street Journal

After the failure of last week’s plot to oust President Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s opposition and its foreign backers are debating a new approach: extending an offer to senior government and military officials to join a post-Maduro transitional government — while also heightening the threat of U.S.-led intervention. – Washington Post

Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro is partnering with Iran to establish a beachhead for terrorist groups in the Western Hemisphere, Vice President Mike Pence warned Tuesday. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. Navy is slated to deploy a hospital ship to Latin America next month to provide humanitarian medical support to countries hosting Venezuelans who have fled their home country, the Pentagon announced Tuesday. – Washington Examiner

The European Union-backed International Contact Group on Venezuela said on Tuesday it could send a political mission to Caracas to pursue a solution to the country’s ongoing crisis, reiterating its call for fresh elections. – Reuters

Editorial: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that Russia convinced Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro not to leave the country when it looked like his military was ready to remove him. National security adviser John Bolton has repeatedly said Russia and Cuba are propping up the Maduro regime. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Sunday gushed about the Venezuelan regime as “our partner for a long time” and called the attempt by democrats to restore the constitution a “cynical and reckless attack,” which aims “to overthrow the legitimate government.” Apparently Mr. Putin’s idea of “something positive” for Venezuela is not the same as Mr. Trump’s. – Wall Street Journal


American officials are pushing ahead on efforts with allied nations to counter Russia’s interference in democratic elections and other malign activities, military cybercommanders said on Tuesday, an effort intended to allow the United States to better observe and counter Moscow’s newest cyberweapons. – New York Times

5G’s long-term future is largely a given, but the timing is highly uncertain. 5G service will be available in only a handful of U.S. cities this year, and the still-evolving nature of the standard means most people will only get incremental upgrades to the speeds that they get with today’s 4G/LTE services. In a report Monday, a team of Cowen analysts predicted that “true 5G” services won’t materialize until 2022, at the earliest. – Wall Street Journal

A group of Democratic senators has asked the National Security Agency to publicly clarify the status of a surveillance program that collects information about U.S. phone calls and text messages, saying an update is needed so lawmakers can decide whether to renew the controversial spying tool. – Wall Street Journal

Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that advancing technology would force not only a re-examination of free-speech and privacy rights, but also of war powers as international conflict expands across the internet. – Wall Street Journal

The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, defended the bureau on Tuesday amid another round of accusations that agents abused their powers in investigating the Trump campaign, saying he was unaware of any illegal surveillance and refusing to call their work “spying.” – New York Times

To gain greater unity of effort across its information warfare entities, including those at sea and those ashore, the Navy last fall created an information warfare enterprise. – C4ISRNET

When a collection of Navy vessels and 4,500 sailors left San Diego on May 1 as part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, they departed with the standard materials and supplies crews need for a scheduled deployment. But Navy officials are monitoring with a keen eye the ships’ maintenance while at sea. […]As part of the service’s growing emphasis on information, the Navy has mined its maintenance and repair databases and tried to determine “where we think single points of failure might occur,” Becker said. – C4ISRNET

Baltimore’s government on Tuesday rushed to shut down most of its computer servers after its network was hit by a ransomware virus. Officials believe it has not touched critical public safety systems. – Associated Press


The U.S. Navy plans to boost spending for its next-generation nuclear missile submarine program by $2 billion in fiscal year 2021 and continue pushing toward $5 billion in 2024, according to the service’s latest annual report to Congress. – Bloomberg

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are monitoring the development of the Air Force’s T-X training jet, but it may be years before they can launch their own competitions to replace the T-45, officials said Monday. – Defense News

Boeing’s E/A-18G Growler could be getting a package of upgrades in the mid-2020s that will give it a suite of new tools to electronically attack its foes. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy is considering a significant change to its new stealth destroyers, one driven by the change of mission announced in last year’s budget documents, the head of the program said May 7 at the Sea-Air-Space conference. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy is racing to field unmanned systems, and while much work remains for distributed, unmanned sensors and missile shooters, one area of unmanned warfare is seeing success: hunting and destroying mines. – Defense News

The U.S. Coast Guard is in a pinch. Pentagon leaders need it to exercise a unique mission in the Pacific Ocean to counter a rising China, but those same officials can’t foot the growing bill, according to Coast Guard commanders. As the only military service under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard has a unique set of capabilities that come in handy for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, especially with an overtasked U.S. Navy. – Defense News

Weapons testing is now in full swing for the Navy’s new Zumwalt class of giant guided-missile destroyers. – Military.com

President Donald Trump on Monday granted a pardon to a former first lieutenant in the US Army who was sentenced to prison in 2009 for killing an Iraqi detainee, according to the White House. – CNN