Fdd's overnight brief

November 1, 2018

In The News


Denmark is leading a push for new E.U. sanctions against Iran, after its intelligence agencies blamed Tehran for a foiled plot to assassinate an Iranian dissident on Danish soil. The plot was already uncovered in September and triggered a massive police operation, in which Denmark shut down streets and bridges nationwide. – Washington Post

Iran on Wednesday summoned the Danish ambassador to Tehran over Copenhagen’s allegations about an Iranian plot to kill an opposition activist in Denmark, the official IRNA news agency reported. – Associated Press

The Mossad provided Denmark with information that thwarted an Iranian plot to assassinate an Iranian separatist leader in the Scandinavian country, it was revealed on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Wednesday the Trump administration wants sanctions on Iran’s crude exports to strain Tehran, but does not want to harm countries that depend on the oil. – Reuters

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would push Trump officials to ensure Iran is cut off from a key financial service amid concerns that the administration is shying away from its maximum pressure campaign against Tehran. – Weekly Standard

Congress is working to pass new legislation that would completely cut Iran’s access to international financial systems amid criticism by Iran hawks that the Trump administration’s Treasury Department is seeking to keep these financial lines open, a major concession to Tehran and European allies scrambling to save the landmark nuclear agreement. – Washington Free Beacon

Editorial: But a key question remains: Will the United States move to cut off Iran from SWIFT, the financial network critical for money transfers between countries? Taking that step would make it much harder for the regime to obtain hard currency or transfer funds to entities outside its borders, thus handicapping its ability to fund terror proxies. – Weekly Standard

Ilan Berman writes: On Nov. 6, Americans will go to the polls in midterm elections that are likely to reshape the complexion of national politics. But even before they do, U.S. foreign policy will face a crucial test of resolve vis-a-vis the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. – Washington Times

Morgan D. Ortagus writes: As lines are drawn in the sand, European governments must ask themselves: Is anger at Trump for his tactics worth standing by a brutal regime who has been caught multiple times in the past 6 months planning attacks on European soil? […] While European governments continue to devise their strategy, it’s clear that the private sector has made its choice. – Washington Examiner

Elana DeLozier and Simon Henderson write: Many fear that renewed sanctions will spur Iran to accelerate its efforts toward that end, whether by pursuing undeclared nuclear activities or stockpiling components in order to ramp up its declared program if the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action collapses entirely. If so, the regime would likely make use of clandestine channels, just as it did in the past when acquiring uranium enrichment equipment and other technology. – Washington Institute


Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the appointment of veteran Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen to one of the U.N.’s toughest jobs on Wednesday — trying to bring peace to Syria after more than seven years of war. – Associated Press

U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria said Wednesday they are temporarily suspending their campaign against the last batch of territory held by Islamic State militants in northeast Syria, accusing Turkey of jeopardizing their efforts. – Associated Press

A Kurdish-led force backed by a US-led coalition on Wednesday suspended operations against the Islamic State group and said they would not resume until Turkey halts its attacks on Kurdish militia posts in northern Syria. – Agence France-Presse

Iraq’s Shi’ite militias said on Wednesday that they had killed two Islamic State commanders who ordered an attack last week on US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces along the Iraq-Syria border. – Reuters

A total of 260,000 Syrian nationals have returned to a swathe of land in northern Syria where Turkey carried out a cross-border operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield”, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday. – Reuters


With President Donald Trump getting a cool welcome from the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, Israel’s envoy to the memorial ceremonies for the synagogue shooting victims has come to his defense, saying it was “unfair and wrong” to link him to the tragedy. – Associated Press

The next expected conflict between Israel and Hezbollah will lead to unprecedented casualties on both sides and a new escalated round of lawfare against the IDF’s conduct, says a new report by top ex-US military officials. – Jerusalem Post

Canada is committed to comprehensive peace in the Mideast, visiting Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Wednesday, noticeably using phrasing that avoided mention of a two-state solution. – Jerusalem Post

There has been a significant progress in reaching a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, brokered by Egypt and the UN over the past few days, Palestinian sources were cited as saying on Wednesday. – Ynet

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was strangled almost as soon as he stepped into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul a month ago, and his body was then dismembered and destroyed, the chief prosecutor for Istanbul said on Wednesday, giving the first official explanation from Turkey of how Mr. Khashoggi died. – New York Times

Indonesia has responded with outrage after Saudi Arabia executed an Indonesian domestic worker who was convicted of killing her Saudi employer — even though an activist group says the maid had been defending herself from being raped. – Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump says he doesn’t feel “betrayed” by Saudi Arabia over the death of a Saudi journalist who was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. – Associated Press

Ishaan Tharoor writes: While the White House may be keen to back its man in Riyadh, the rest of Washington is less enthusiastic. […]Indeed, the administration — which seemingly gave MBS carte blanche to wage a ruinous war in Yemen, trigger a regional crisis by blockading Qatar and allegedly detain the Lebanese prime minister — may be reaching its limits.  – Washington Post


The Trump administration has launched its most concerted effort yet to pressure Saudi Arabia to end the conflict in Yemen amid growing opposition in Congress to continued U.S. military support for the kingdom’s war there. – Washington Post

The killing in Istanbul of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Oct. 2 by Saudi agents — and Saudi Arabia’s repeated initial denials of any knowledge of his fate — is raising new concerns about the Saudi account of how the kingdom is waging its military campaign in Yemen. – Washington Post

The surprise US call for a ceasefire in Yemen marks a growing sense that Saudi Arabia’s campaign has proven disastrous, but experts say more action is needed to end the devastating war. – Agence France-Presse

Qatar said it welcomed a renewed push by the United States for a ceasefire in Yemen and a return to U.N.-backed peace talks aimed at ending the three-and-half-year war. – Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition has massed thousands of troops near Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah, local military sources said on Wednesday, in a move to pressure Iranian-aligned Houthi insurgents to return to U.N.-sponsored peace talks. – Reuters

A leading Yemeni rebel figure says the Trump administration’s calls for a cease-fire in his country are “positive” but urged more international action to stop deadly airstrikes by the rebels’ adversary, the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition. – Associated Press

Elana DeLozier and August Pfluger write: On October 30, the U.S. government’s public position on Yemen appeared to shift as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis called for the parties to cease hostilities and begin peace talks in November. […]If talks do convene, they would represent the first real effort to end the war since the Kuwait negotiations collapsed in 2016, so Washington and its partners should do what they must to seize this opportunity. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Wednesday the differences blocking a deal over a new national unity government were “not easy” and signaled he was at odds with his ally Hezbollah over the last outstanding issue. – Reuters

Armed forces and observers from eight Arab countries are converging on Egypt for exercises starting on Saturday, the Egyptian military said on Wednesday, in a move that could evolve into a regional pact to counter Iran’s influence. – Reuters

Libya’s rival parliaments agreed on Wednesday to work together to reform state institutions in an attempt to unify government authority in the oil producer, officials from both sides said. – Reuters

Aaron Y. Zelin writes: It is important not to downplay the security dilemmas presented by female sympathizers, whose involvement in AST and the Islamic State has grown markedly since 2011. By acknowledging the agency of women in these movements and avoiding overly simplistic or sexualized narratives like jihad al-nikah, officials in Tunis and their partners abroad can begin to untangle this complex phenomenon and formulate effective ways to tackle it. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans a meeting next week with a North Korean counterpart to push for progress on denuclearization and arrange for a second summit meeting between the two countries’ leaders. – Wall Street Journal

North Korean officials commit sexual violence against women with apparent impunity as part of systemic oppression and other abuses tolerated within Kim Jong Un’s regime, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday. – Washington Post

South Korea’s supreme court ruled Thursday that moral and religious beliefs are valid reasons to refuse the country’s mandatory military service, in a case that has implications for hundreds of conscientious objectors. – Agence France-Presse

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will “soon” visit Seoul as part of a flurry of high-profile diplomacy aimed at ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons. – Associated Press

A no-fly zone and a ban on military drills near the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea came into effect on Thursday as the once uneasy neighbors push to further defuse tensions. – Reuters

North Korea is reportedly preparing its Punggye-ri nuclear test site for international inspectors. The development was reported by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing the country’s spy agency. – Sky News (UK)

Mark Lippert writes: This meeting will mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) Security Consultative Meeting (SCM). […]Given the many challenging issues that confront the alliance, it is healthy and natural to consider whether changes are necessary to the structures that underpin it. But on this anniversary, especially when contemplating the future direction of the alliance, we should be reminded that the SCM and its associated structures have proven both their value, adaptability, and versatility over time. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Franco-German plans to create a rail company able to rival Chinese competitors hit roadblocks Wednesday when the European Union’s competition authority listed objections to a planned merger. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese authorities aggressively expanded the scale of internment camps in Xinjiang this year, according to a new study, even as China’s program of mass detentions of Muslims in the region started to draw international scrutiny. – Wall Street Journal

The top cyber and communications spy in Australia has explained why Huawei and ZTE have been barred from the country’s 5G network and China is unimpressed. Mike Burgess, the director-general of the Australian Signals Directorate, said in Canberra on Monday that the ban on Chinese telecom firms like Huawei Technologies and ZTE was in Australia’s national interest and would protect the country’s critical infrastructure. – Business Insider

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States was engaged in a “multi-pronged effort … to convince China to behave like a normal nation on commerce” and respect international law after Washington indicted 10 Chinese nationals for stealing aviation secrets. – Reuters

China’s restrictive internet policy and digital surveillance has spread worldwide over the last two years, with its government training emerging market countries on process and its companies furnishing the tools, a democracy watchdog group’s annual report says. – Reuters

China and the United States can overcome their differences and get relations back on track if they work together in a spirit of mutual respect, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told a group of visiting U.S. politicians on Thursday. – Reuters

War between the U.S. and China, inconceivable just a decade ago,  is now a regular topic of analysis and conversation. Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the just-retired commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, suggested conflict with the People’s Republic could come soon. – The Daily Beast

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: Recent reporting on Chinese military forces by the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense shows that China is already emerging as a far more serious nuclear weapons power[…]. What is far less clear is how much of a build-up will take place in Chinese nuclear weapons and delivery systems, what new capabilities and weapons China will acquire, and how its nuclear posture and strategy will evolve as China approaches parity in other aspects of military power with the United States. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


A new report by a U.S. government watchdog paints a discouraging portrait of Afghanistan in recent months, detailing continued Taliban gains, record civilian casualties by pro-government airstrikes and insurgent attacks, a disappointing performance by U.S.-funded ­anti-corruption agencies, and soaring drug production and addiction. – Washington Post

Nearly two dozen Afghans perished in the crash of a military helicopter Wednesday in western Farah province, including the deputy commander for the region and local politicians. – Washington Post

The Taliban have strengthened their grip in Afghanistan over the past three years, according to a new report released by the US government’s own ombudsman of the war. In its quarterly report for the US Congress, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said, “The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since 2001.” – CNN

South Asia

When it comes to trade, it often seems that India and the United States are playing a perplexing game of multidimensional chess. – New York Times

The United States weighed in Wednesday on a political crisis that has engulfed the Indian Ocean island nation of Sri Lanka since the president abruptly fired the prime minister and replaced him with an authoritarian former leader who has been accused of serious human rights abuses. – Associated Press

Daniel F. Runde and Richard Olson write: Pakistan’s system is ill-equipped to make changes which would avoid future excessive debt. A bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is probably the safest bet for the country although it is unclear whether the United States will support the program. How Pakistan decides to handle its debt crisis could provide insight into how the U.S., IMF, and China will resolve development issues in the future. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Jeff M. Smith writes: If India is content being the only member of the “Quad”—the grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States—without security guarantees from the others, America has little to gain from pressing the issue. […]As the nonalignment crowd shadow boxes with this phantom menace, our task is to look past the alliance models of the Cold War and continue constructing a flexible new strategic partnership framework tailored to fit contemporary geopolitical realities. – Heritage Foundation


Australia is to help Papua New Guinea develop a navy base and train police, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, the latest Australian action to protect its interests in the Pacific in the face of a more assertive China. – Reuters

Japan’s central government resumed work at a disputed U.S. military base relocation site on Thursday even though Okinawa residents see the project as an undemocratic imposition on the small southern island. – Associated Press

A Pentagon official is urging Taiwan to boost its defense spending and “modernize its military” in the face of Beijing’s growing military prowess. – Business Insider


NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is urging Russia to provide details about a new missile system the United States and other allies claim violates an important nuclear weapons treaty. – Washington Post

Russia opened an investigation into suspected terrorism after a 17-year-old youth blew himself up on Wednesday in the lobby of an office belonging to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the north of the country. – Reuters

Russia imposed sweeping financial sanctions on Ukraine’s political elite on Thursday, freezing the Russian assets of hundreds of politicians and dozens of businesses owned by major Ukrainian businessmen. – Reuters

A senior Russian official said Wednesday that his country was seriously considering establishing a military base in Cuba, just as the two Cold War–era allies were set to meet for high-level talks and the United States mulled quitting a nuclear missile deal. – Newsweek

Russia’s agriculture safety watchdog said on Wednesday it would allow imports of beef and pork from nine Brazilian plants to resume from Thursday, ending an 11-month ban triggered by food safety concerns. – Reuters

Luke Coffey writes: Obviously, being on the U.S. sanctions list is bad for business. However, the administration needs to realize that it, too, has a responsibility to its shareholders — the American people. Until Russia changes its behavior on the international stage — stops occupying Crimea, ends its support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and stops its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine — it remains in America’s interest to keep the sanctions in place. – Heritage Foundation

Cyrus Newlin and Jeffrey Mankoff write: With a new bill that expands sanctions on Russia circulating within Congress, it is clear that the United States will continue to rely on sanctions as a primary tool for confronting Russia. It is less clear, however, what the many sanctions imposed since 2012 have done to change Russian behavior. Not all sanctions are created equal, and if poorly designed and implemented, sanctions can bring problems as well as benefits for the United States. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


NATO and Russia envoys on Wednesday discussed their respective large-scale military exercises and a Cold War-era missile treaty that Washington vows to quit over accusations of Russian non-compliance, the Western alliance said. – Reuters

Britain’s Brexit minister believes a divorce deal with the European Union could be struck by November 21, it emerged Wednesday, prompting EU leaders to warn this would require a breakthrough within days. – Agence France-Presse

Austria and Hungary’s decision to turn their backs on a U.N. agreement on how to manage migration is bizarre and mistaken, U.N. Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour told Reuters on Wednesday. – Reuters

Converting Aegis Ashore facilities in Poland and Romania into land stations for cruise missile coupled with already available sea-based and air-launched missiles would complicate Kremlin planning on how to defend itself from attack or strike targets in Europe, a former U.S. defense official on Wednesday. – USNI News

Luigi Zingales writes: Last week, the European Union Commission rejected the 2019 fiscal budget proposed by the new Italian government. […]This decision has no immediate economic consequences, but it does have huge political ones. It marks a sharp increase in the political tension between Italy and the rest of Europe — tension that might even cause Italy to exit from the eurozone. – New York Times

Desmond Lachman writes: President Trump has not hidden his dislike for Merkel and will no doubt be pleased to see her leave the international stage. However, he should be careful what he wishes for. If the European economy were to become unstuck and suffer a banking crisis as it lost its steady hand at the helm, the U.S. economy could get hit hard. – The Hill

Mark Sobel writes: Despite welcome achievements over the past four years, due in no small part to the IMF’s role, Ukraine has not escaped its past and put itself on a strong and sustained upward track. Ukraine remains caught between West and East, past and future. The economic promise of the Euromaidan revolution is not yet close to fruition. With hope, one day it will be realized. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

United States

President Trump said Wednesday that he would deploy as many as 15,000 military personnel to the border with Mexico in response to caravans of Central American migrants making their way northward, doubling the figure Pentagon officials have announced would be operating there.  – Washington Post

Federal prosecutors alleged in a new court filing that 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc committed “a domestic terrorist attack” in mailing possible package bombs to prominent critics of President Trump, and they detailed more evidence connecting him to the crime. – Washington Post

The suspect in a grisly shooting that left 11 people dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue was charged Wednesday in a 44-count indictment accusing him of federal hate crimes. – Washington Post

A synagogue in California was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti, police said on Wednesday, in an attack that took place just days after 11 people were gunned down at a Pittsburg synagogue. – Agence France-Presse

Latin America

Washington is preparing sanctions to impede Venezuela’s gold exports and clamp down on what U.S. officials say is an effort by President Nicolás Maduro to loot the embattled nation’s riches and offset a U.S. campaign to squeeze the authoritarian government’s finances, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal

The former finance chief of Venezuela’s state oil company pleaded guilty Wednesday to participating in an alleged $1.2 billion embezzlement scheme, a major breakthrough for U.S. prosecutors targeting corruption by people close to President Nicolas Maduro, including his stepsons. – Associated Press

Diplomats representing more than 135 countries spoke against the American economic embargo of Cuba ahead of votes Thursday on a U.N. resolution condemning the policy and proposed U.S. amendments criticizing the lack of freedom of expression and other human rights in Cuba. – Associated Press


Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a mandate to the U.S. military: get the mission capable rates of the F-35, F-22, F-16 and F/A-18 up to 80 percent. For the defense firms that make those planes, that could mean a chance to rake in more cash. – Defense News

The U.S. Army formally announced its plan to conduct a missile defense radar “sense-off” to replace the aging Patriot that will be included in its Integrated Air and Missile Defense system (IAMD) under development. – Defense News

The U.S. Defense Department announced the top-line budget for its secretive intelligence programs on Tuesday. The total Military Intelligence Program, or MIP, budget for fiscal 2018, including the base budget and Overseas Contingency Operations appropriations, was $22.1 billion. – Defense News

Trump Administration

The United States is “right now undertaking offensive cyber operations” to safeguard next week’s midterm elections, though it was “too soon to tell” whether they are having an effect, White House national security adviser John Bolton said Wednesday. – Washington Post

U.S. archivists on Wednesday revealed one of the last great secrets of the Watergate investigation[…]. The legal analysts argued the report could offer a precedent and guide for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as his office addresses its present-day challenge on whether, and if so, how to make public findings from its investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, including any that directly involve President Trump. – Washington Post

David Becker writes: While the White House continues to send mixed messages on what happened in the 2016 elections, the intelligence community and bipartisan committees in Congress have made one fact clear: Russia attacked our election and continues to target our elections today. But a lot has changed since 2016. Thanks to the efforts of election officials around the country, the 2018 midterms will be the most secure elections we’ve ever held.  – Washington Post