Fdd's overnight brief

May 9, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


The White House expanded its pressure campaign against Iran by imposing sanctions for the first time against its industrial-metals sector, hitting one of the largest nonpetroleum segments of Iran’s economy just hours after Tehran warned it may restart parts of its nuclear program. – Wall Street Journal

Europe rejected Iran’s ultimatum and said it viewed Tehran’s threat to abandon some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear pact with “great concern.” In a statement Thursday, French, German, British foreign ministers and the European Union foreign policy chief said Europe is determined preserving the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and plans to pursue steps to maintain some trade between Iran and Europe. – Wall Street Journal  

Russia and Iran condemned the United States on Wednesday, blaming it for what they portrayed as Tehran’s forced decision to scale back some curbs to its nuclear programme, while putting the onus on European powers to offer Iran sanctions relief. – Reuters

France called on Iran on Wednesday to respect all its commitments after Tehran announced it was relaxing some curbs to its nuclear programme, and warned against any action that would lead to an escalation. – Reuters

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday put off a visit to Greenland, citing pressing business in Washington — just two days after he also ditched a trip to Germany to fly to Iraq amid soaring tensions with Iran. – Agence France-Presse

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that he would build up stockpiles of low enriched uranium and heavy water, used to create nuclear reactors, and end limits to uranium enrichment if Europe doesn’t adequately compensate Iran in the oil and banking sectors within 60 days, a move former CIA station chief Daniel Hoffman calls “nuclear blackmail.” –  Fox News  

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a May 8, 2019 address that aired on IRINN TV that […] he sent letters to the leaders of the five countries remaining in the JCPOA announcing that Iran will stop selling surplus heavy water and surplus enriched uranium to a “certain country”. – Middle East Media Research Institute

President Donald Trump has long wanted the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran to fall apart. He got one step closer to that on Wednesday, when Iran warned European nations it’s ready to quit the accord in 60 days if it doesn’t start seeing greater economic benefits from the agreement. – Bloomberg

As the Trump administration doubles down on the contention that Tehran is cooperating with Al Qaeda, another former Iranian commander has reportedly come forward with allegations about an Iran-Al Qaeda link. – Fox News  

The chief of U.S. Central Command put Iranian leaders on notice Wednesday, warning: “If a fight is to be had … it won’t be a fair fight.” Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie’s warning followed the military’s recent deployment of a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Middle East. This deployment, according to the general, sends a clear message to adversaries and allies alike. – Washington Examiner  

Eli Lake writes: Trying to influence Trump to go easy on Iran has not worked for Europe. On Wednesday afternoon, the White House announced new secondary sanctions on Iran’s industrial metals sector. By the end of the month, the Trump administration is planning to introduce even more sector-based sanctions. Slowly and surely, the maximum pressure is building. Instead of trying to relieve it, the Europeans should use that pressure to get a better nuclear bargain with Iran. – Bloomberg  

David Ibsen writes: After Trump pulled out of the deal, which rewarded Iran financially for making narrow and temporary promises to curtail aspects of its nuclear program, critics of the president warned that his policies would put the U.S. on a path to war with Tehran and that the U.S. would be isolated in the world. – NBC News  

Mike Giglio writes: The fact that U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria remain heavily engaged in the fight against ISIS underscores the risks of a U.S. strategy in the region that seeks to pivot to a new enemy, in Iran, even as the battle with the old one remains a work in progress. – The Atlantic  


The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took credit for defeating the Islamic State group in its last stronghold in eastern Syria, celebrating the victory in front of throngs of journalists at a ceremony in March following a bloody four-year war. – Associated Press  

A Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in the rebel-held northwest has killed dozens of people and forced more than 150,000 to flee, the biggest escalation in the war between President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies since last summer. – Reuters

In part of northern Syria’s last rebel enclave, doctors have pulled back into cave shelters to treat the wounded and protect their patients from a government offensive that has hit health centres and hospitals. – Reuters


Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials have allegedly been passing around in their online communication an unsigned document that claims to offer insight into the secret “deal of the century” peace plan soon to be released by US President Donald Trump and his administration. – Jerusalem Post

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah has said that he believes attempts to demilitarize the Gaza Strip and disarm Palestinian factions will trigger a war in the coming summer. – Haaretz

Abu Hamza, spokesman for the Islamic Jihad’s “military wing”, the Al-Quds Brigades, said on Wednesday that the Palestinian “resistance organizations” would start from the point at which the last round of the conflict ended should the “enemy” refuse to implement the understandings. – Arutz Sheva

Deputy Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya claimed on Wednesday that after the Gazan terrorists launched rockets towards Israel at a range of more than 40 kilometers, Israel conveyed messages through mediators about its willingness to return to calm. – Arutz Sheva

The crash of the Israeli “Beresheet” robotic lunar lander and lunar probe as it attempted to land on the moon’s surface prompted many reactions in the Arab world, especially on social media. Some of the responses expressed glee at the crash, or even said that Allah had “wreaked vengeance” on Israel. Conversely, other Arab journalists and social media users criticized these reactions, contrasting Israel’s scientific achievements with the Arabs’ backwardness. This report reviews some of the reactions. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Middle East & North Africa

France’s President Emmanuel Macron called on Wednesday for a ceasefire in the month-long battle for Libya’s capital Tripoli after fighting hit a migrant detention centre overnight. – Reuters

United Nations sanctions monitors are investigating likely use of an armed drone by eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces or a supporting “third party” in an attack last month on troops affiliated with Libya’s internationally-recognised government, according to a confidential report to the U.N. Security Council. – Reuters

The Yemeni government has accused the United Arab Emirates of landing around 100 separatist troops on a remote island in the Arabian Sea this week, a claim the UAE denied, deepening a rift between nominal allies in Yemen’s war. – Reuters

With the extremist militants driven out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia is preparing to reopen the land crossing to trade this year because of the latest conflict that’s dominating the region: its proxy war with Iran. In a stark reversal of policy, the kingdom has identified Iraq as a timely ally in curbing the influence of its Shiite enemy, which on Wednesday threatened to abandon commitments made in its 2015 nuclear deal in response to American sanctions. – Bloomberg

Michael Knights writes: The Iraq-Turkey Pipeline is jointly owned by both states and governed by international agreements. In Ankara’s view, these agreements allow the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) to access the ITP directly, but Baghdad sees things differently and has sued Turkey in the International Chamber of Commerce. As the ICC arbitration approaches a ruling, Washington urgently needs to midwife a settlement that keeps Ankara from cutting off Iraqi oil exports—especially at a time when every barrel is needed on the market to replace sanctioned Iranian oil. – Washington Institute

Michael Doran writes: Pay attention to what Donald Trump does, not what he tweets, former prime minister John Howard said in an interview last year. Look beyond the “media snow”, he counselled, and examine “the substance of the outcome of all the things he does”. That was good advice 10 months back, but it is even better advice now that we have a solid track record to examine. – Hudson Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea launched a projectile that appeared to have been fired from a missile base in the country’s western region, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry, the second weapons test conducted by Pyongyang in under a week. – Wall Street Journal  

North Korea on Thursday described its firing of rocket artillery and an apparent short-range ballistic missile over the weekend as a regular and defensive military exercise and ridiculed South Korea for criticizing the launches. – Associated Press  

The Pentagon says it has suspended its efforts to arrange negotiations with North Korea on recovering additional remains of U.S. service members killed during the Korean War. – Associated Press  

North Korea’s recent firing of a new type of short-range missile is raising questions about the feasibility of South Korea’s missile defense capability. – Defense News


China warned Wednesday of retaliation if President Trump goes through with his threat to further raise tariffs on Chinese goods, setting up a potential escalation in a trade war that had seemed just weeks ago to be nearing its end. – Washington Post

American national security and economic interests in Hong Kong face serious risks from proposed changes to the semiautonomous Chinese city’s extradition laws, a U.S. commission said. – Wall Street Journal  

Lawyers for senior Huawei Technologies Co. executive Meng Wanzhou told a Vancouver court they would ask it to dismiss the U.S. request to have her extradited, saying the U.S. interfered in the case politically and Canadian border officials violated her rights. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. and Chinese negotiators are to resume trade talks just hours before the United States is set to raise tariffs on Chinese imports in a dramatic escalation of tensions between the world’s two biggest economies. – Associated Press   

A Chinese court held an appeal hearing Thursday for a Canadian who was sentenced to death for drug smuggling in a case that has deepened a diplomatic rift between the two countries. – Associated Press  

China bears significant blame for Iran’s success in developing a dangerous new array of ballistic missiles, a top White House adviser said the same day the administration imposed significant new sanctions on the Middle Eastern regime. – Washington Examiner  

Democratic countries are locked in an existential struggle with the dictatorship of China’s Communist Party, says U.S. President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, and all free nations, including Canada, must band together to fight the threat. – The Globe And Mail  

Joseph Bosco writes: If President Trump follows through with his threat to increase tariffs on imported Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent unless China complies with its fair trade obligations, it will be a healthy development in U.S.-China relations and good for U.S. foreign policy broadly. – The Hill


Heavily armed Taliban fighters stormed the offices of a Virginia-based nonprofit group in central Kabul on Wednesday, sparking a five-hour gun battle with security forces, witnesses and government officials said. – Washington Post  

Nearly a decade after a Pakistani Christian woman named Asia Bibi was accused of blasphemy during a dispute over a bucket of water, then condemned to death and imprisoned for eight years, she has been finally allowed to leave Pakistan and join her family in Canada, her attorney and Pakistani officials said Wednesday. – Washington Post

President Rodrigo Duterte has given Canada a May 15 deadline to take back tons of trash mistakenly sent to the Philippines several years ago, saying he will ship the garbage back if the Canadians do not comply. – New York Times  

Taiwan will strengthen ties with India’s new government, including more official visits, a top official of the self-ruled island said on Wednesday, despite China’s continuing efforts to isolate what it considers to be a wayward province. – Reuters

In fresh show of naval force in the contested South China Sea, a U.S. guided missile destroyer conducted drills with a Japanese aircraft carrier, two Indian naval ships and a Philippine patrol vessel in the waterway claimed by China, the U.S. Navy said on Thursday. – Reuters


As the divide widens between the United States and Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal, the European Union finds itself trapped between them, with no easy or quick way to respond to its dilemma. – New York Times  

The EU needs to integrate the Western Balkans quickly to safeguard its own future as well as protect the buffer region from Russian and Chinese influence, Montenegro’s president Milo Djukanovic said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Russia expelled two Swedish diplomats in what Moscow described as retaliation for Stockholm’s denial of accreditation to its diplomats in the wake of a spying case. – Bloomberg

The Metropolitan Police Service for London appears ready to confiscate flags, banners and other items bearing the insignia of the Hezbollah terrorist paramilitary organization during the annual Quds Day demonstration, stating on Tuesday that it will ‘intervene’ if it sees such things publicly displayed. – Jerusalem Post


President Trump has declared that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is “100%” defeated. It seems unlikely he will ever say the same about Somalia’s al-Shabab. […]Al-Shabab is not seen as strong enough to make a serious effort to supplant the U.S.-allied government in Mogadishu, but there is also little immediate prospect of ousting the group from its strongholds in southern Somalia and in small pockets of neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. – Washington Times  

The United Nations has elected several countries with poor women’s rights records to boards charged with promoting those rights — leading one critic to compare the decision to “asking the fox to guard the chickens.” – Fox News

Authorities in Cameroon say 165 Anglophone separatists and Boko Haram terrorists have voluntarily surrendered in the past two months, while hundreds of other separatists have stopped fighting. – Voice of America

Latin America

The vice president of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly was detained by intelligence officers in the capital on Wednesday night, the latest sign of crackdown following a failed call for a military uprising against President Nicolás Maduro last week. – New York Times

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to take the security aid his country receives from the U.S. and use the money instead for a development plan for Central America and southern Mexico to help stop migration. – Wall Street Journal  

The head of Venezuela’s top court on Wednesday rejected a U.S. threat to apply sanctions to all its judges, accusing the Trump administration of trying to manipulate the crisis-wracked nation’s justice system and foment a coup. – Associated Press  

Clay Fuller and Ryan Berg write: Venezuelan leader Juan Guaidó is gambling that massive civilian protests and nationwide strikes will shake the military’s loyalty to embattled dictator Nicolas Maduro and end the extended political standoff in Caracas. Several have already died, and more violence appears inevitable. But avoiding it is key, because nonviolence tears down dictators better than anything else. – The National Interest


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday made a blistering attack against China as he stepped up pressure on Britain, warning that American intelligence sharing could be risked by the involvement of a Chinese company in a new British telecommunications network. – New York Times

Kaveh Waddell writes: Today’s great powers are sliding toward a new arms race, this time on the battleground of lethal computer code, but experts say that rushing to develop autonomous weapons — which can be erratic and easily stolen — will make violent conflict more likely and yield no winners. – Axios

William Schneider writes: As the pace of technological progress continues to speed up, broad implications are emerging for almost every dimension of human life. One less-noted aspect of this evolution is the potential convergence of several rapidly-developing technologies into an integrated “infosphere.” Such at least is the aspiration of China in its pursuit of dominance and control of the global information infrastructure— the “digital road” component of its Belt-and-Road-Infrastructure (BRI). – Hudson Institute


As assured access to position, navigation, and timing data (A-PNT) grows as a military concern, Northrop Grumman is updating its product line to create drop-in replacements for legacy aircraft PNT systems. – Jane’s 360  

America’s Air Force faces a serious challenge — a mismatch between available capacity and demand. As Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson recently explained in congressional testimony: “We are too small for what the nation is asking us to do.” Since the end of the Cold War, the service has grown radically smaller through a series of force-structure cuts. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday stated its intent to sole source A-29 Super Tucanos from Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer. But a similar solicitation for Textron’s AT-6 Wolverine will be forthcoming, an Air Force spokeswoman confirmed. – Defense News

Long War

Many of them were barely school age when their parents took them to the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Thousands of others were born there. Yet even when it comes to the children, the foreign governments whose citizens are marooned in the camps and prisons have struggled with what to do with them. – New York Times

Bangladesh’s counter-terrorism police have arrested a suspected Islamic State member who returned to the country after fighting for the militant group in Syria, police said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

On May 3, MEMRI released a clip from a video of an April 22, 2019 “Ummah Day” celebration at the Muslim American Society Islamic Center in Philadelphia (MAS Philly) that had been posted on the MAS Philly Facebook page (MEMRI TV Clip No. 7194, Children In Philadelphia Muslim Society: We Will Sacrifice Ourselves For Al-Aqsa; Will Chop Off The Enemies’ Heads, Subject Them To Eternal Torture). The clip received over two million views on social media, and was denounced by Members of Congress. Following the release of the MEMRI clip, MAS Philly removed the video from its Facebook page. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Trump Administration

The constitutional conflict between congressional Democrats and President Trump accelerated sharply Wednesday, as the White House blocked access to potentially damaging information in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s work and lawmakers declared the standoff had become a crisis. – Washington Post  

Crises around the globe are shining a bright spotlight on John Bolton a little more than a year into his tenure as President Trump’s national security adviser. – The Hill  

President Trump would destabilize his reelection coalition if he attacks Iran or Venezuela, supporters and outside observers say, as key administration officials threaten war. – Washington Examiner

The FBI began its obstruction of justice case against President Trump before the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, newly unsealed court documents show. – Washington Examiner