Fdd's overnight brief

November 13, 2019

In The News


Altair suspected an unaffiliated third-party consultant in Poland may have provided proprietary software to an individual subcontractor residing in Iran, according to a regulatory filing in May that disclosed the potential breaches. The commercial software involved was developed by a Greek subsidiary of Altair, according to the May filing. – Wall Street Journal

Europeans have failed to fulfil their own commitments to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Tuesday, in response to a warning by the EU that urged Tehran to stick to the pact or face consequences. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s cabinet on Tuesday said Iran was being “deceptive and evasive” about its nuclear programme and accused it of delaying giving information to the U.N. atomic watchdog. – Reuters

Just days before President Donald Trump’s slated meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday at the White House, Ankara hosted an Iranian official linked to the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires. Erdogan declined to enforce an arrest warrant for the alleged terrorist Hadi Soleimanpour. – Jerusalem Post

Ellen R. Wald writes: It seems unlikely in Iran’s present situation that this oil has any chance of making it out of the ground, much less to market. It was a good publicity by Rouhani, and the international media paid attention. However, this discovery will not change the fortunes of Iran. – Forbes


U.S. military officials watched live drone feeds in October that appeared to show Turkish-backed Arab gunmen targeting civilians during their assault on Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, attacks the Americans reported to their commanders as possible war crimes, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the incidents said. – Wall Street Journal

Ms. Mueller may have been executed on the orders of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the slain Islamic State leader, not in a Jordanian airstrike as the Islamic State long claimed. – New York Times

The United States has no intention to end its alliance with Syrian Kurdish SDF militia, a senior administration official said on Tuesday, effectively pushing back on Ankara’s demand that Washington stop supporting the fighters it sees as hostile. – Reuters

Bernard-Henri Lévy writes: Mr. Macron’s hour has arrived. That is the message addressed to him by the many Americans of goodwill—Republican, Democrat and independent—I have had the good fortune to meet during a weekslong tour of America I made to support the Kurds in cooperation with the New York–based nonprofit Justice For Kurds. May Mr. Macron act—not against but alongside the best of the United States. – Wall Street Journal


President Trump has offered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, due to visit the White House on Wednesday, a package of inducements for better U.S.-Turkey relations that is virtually identical to those the administration proposed last month in a failed effort to stop Turkey’s invasion of Syria. – Washington Post

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is slated to visit President Trump at the White House on Wednesday. For Trump, it may be a welcome diversion. Erdogan’s visit, after all, coincides with the launch of the first public hearings in the House’s impeachment inquiry into the president. – Washington Post

Since taking office, President Trump has frequently extolled Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling him “a hell of a leader” despite Turkish policies that run counter to U.S. priorities and alarm some of Mr. Trump’s own advisers. – Wall Street Journal

Turkish authorities said they needed to further investigate the death of a Briton who helped create the Syrian relief group White Helmets and was accused by Russia of being a spy, a day after a preliminary finding suggested he fell from his apartment window. – Wall Street Journal

A Turkish judge ordered a prominent journalist detained again on Tuesday — only a week after he was released — signaling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s intention to continue his government’s crackdown on dissent. – New York Times

Turkey removed four more mayors on Wednesday as part of a widening government crackdown on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), bringing to 20 the number of mayors who have been dismissed after being elected earlier this year. – Reuters

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the European Union’s decision to sanction Turkey over drilling off the coast of Cyprus could disrupt talks with the bloc, and he warned that Turkey could send captured Islamic State fighters to Europe. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: Erdogan may consider legal sanctions and official concerns about his government’s tolerance of jihadists to be the plotting of deep state saboteurs. But he is mistaken. Washington isn’t Ankara. When it comes to Turkey, there is a bipartisan consensus that Erdogan has been duplicitous.[…] In other words: Turkey’s problems will not go away simply because Trump has decided to overlook them. – Bloomberg

Selcan Hacaoglu writes: President Vladimir Putin is eager to offer Erdogan access to some of Russia’s best military hardware, including Sukhoi fighters, if it helps drive a wedge between NATO and Turkey. But that’s an option which brings far-reaching consequences for Turkey’s economy and its relationship with the U.S. and other allies, as will be made clear to Erdogan this week. – Bloomberg


After an overnight lull, a cross-border battle between the Israeli army and militants in the Gaza Strip resumed Wednesday, with a second day of attacks sparked by Israel’s targeted killing of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader. – Washington Post

The European Union’s top court ruled Tuesday that EU countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements on their labels, in a decision that was welcomed by rights groups but sparked anger in Israel. – Associated Press

The State Department is sending a top official to Israel amid a spike in violence between the country’s military and militants in the Gaza Strip. – The Hill

Hamas Leader Yahya Sinwar said in a November 4, 2019 speech that aired on Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas-Gaza) that Hamas has hundreds of kilometers of underground tunnels, hundreds of underground and above-ground command centers, thousands of traps, and thousands of locally-made anti-tank missiles, which he claimed can destroy Israel’s tanks. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo strongly condemned Iraq’s crackdown on anti-government protesters, including kidnappings and civilian deaths in a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi on Tuesday. – The Hill

Iraq’s ruling parties appear to have rallied behind a strategy, blessed by Iran, to try to survive a mass anti-government uprising by containing protests on the streets of Baghdad while offering a package of political reforms and elections next year. – Reuters

Michael Knights writes: Iraq’s ongoing protests are an opportunity and a test of the U.S.-Iraq friendship. As hard as it may be for our critics to believe, the United States wants Iraq to be sovereign, stable, and democratic. This could be the beginning of a turnaround: it is better to be with the next generation of Iraqis and the religious establishment than the corrupt elite. In this instance, Iran has backed the wrong horse. – Washington Institute

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: It is now going to take real U.S. leadership to convince Iraq that the U.S. can be its best partner in such efforts. It is also going to take far more active U.S. support than narrow military aid and counterterrorism efforts to bring the changes Iraq needs. Without them, however, today’s demonstrations and protests can only be the prelude to more extremism, violence, and tragedy. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Arabian Peninsula

Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia’s State Security released a video on Twitter listing feminism, homosexuality, atheism and more than three dozen other categories as forms of extremism.[…] By Tuesday, the oil-rich kingdom was distancing itself from the move. – Washington Post

A British Army veteran has been cleared of supplying drugs in the United Arab Emirates after more than a year in detention, his family has said. – Telegraph

Bobby Ghosh writes: There’s little the U.S., or any other nation, can do to help beyond encouraging the Saudis to stick to the jaw-jaw instead of the war-war. But the international community can, and should leap at the opportunity to get more humanitarian assistance to the Yemenis. Rescuing optimism from its Yemeni grave will take time, but this is as good a time as any to start digging. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

A local official for a Lebanese political party was shot dead by soldiers trying to open a road closed by protesters in southern Beirut late Tuesday, the army reported, marking the first death in 27 days of nationwide protests. – Associated Press

Ezzedine C. Fishere writes: For lasting change, Arab democratic leaders must begin building robust partnerships among themselves and envisaging deals with those that benefited from authoritarianism. They must also prepare realistic pathways to revive dysfunctional state institutions. These are daunting tasks — but they mark the difference between making lofty demands and shaping reality. – Washington Post

Antoun Issa writes: Creativity and flexibility are required in U.S. policy to learn from its mistakes in its handling of the Arab Spring in 2011 and to build alliances from the bottom-up — with ordinary Lebanese and Iraqis who share democratic aspirations and want their nations to reflect the stability of Western democracies, not the theocratic autocracy of Iran. – The Hill

James Durso writes: The recent protests in Iraq and Lebanon are an opportunity for the U.S. to cause additional stress in the Tehran regime, distract the leadership, and empower Iranian citizens with confirmation of the regime’s corruption. – The Hill

Korean Peninsula

A $5 billion demand to meet the cost of hosting American troops, and tensions between Seoul and Tokyo that threaten to undercut regional cooperation are set to top the agenda when senior U.S. defense officials visit South Korea this week. – Reuters

The 70-year security alliance between the United States and South Korea is under fresh focus as Washington seeks a sharply higher share of cost to be borne by Seoul for hosting U.S. troops as deterrence against North Korea. – Reuters

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, agreed with Japanese officials Tuesday that three-way cooperation with South Korea is key to regional security and that an intelligence sharing pact between Tokyo and Seoul should not be scrapped. – Associated Press


Tariffs are emerging as the main stumbling block in efforts by the U.S. and China to come to a limited trade deal, a month after the two countries called a truce in their trade war. – Wall Street Journal

Michael Peck writes: With just an estimated 300 nuclear warheads compared to the approximately 7,000 fielded by both the U.S. and Russia, China’s nuclear arsenal is comparatively small. But even a few Chinese H-bombs could wreak tremendous damage to the United States. – The National Interest

Michael Peck writes: Sinking an American carrier would be an act of war, period. If Chinese like Admiral Lou are right, then America is finished as a major power. […]But what if Lou is wrong, as he is almost certainly is? No U.S. president, no Senator or Congressman, could remain in office if they did not respond forcefully to the sinking of U.S. carriers, the very symbol of American power and prestige. To the American psyche, such an act would be equivalent to Pearl Harbor or 9/11. – The National Interest

Mordechai Chaziza writes: As China aims to strengthen its partnerships with Middle East countries, undoubtedly the use of soft-power capabilities, among them outbound tourism, will continue to complement its growing political and economic interactions. However, recent instances of Beijing’s employment of outbound tourism — through the use of travel advisories — as a soft power instrument might give pause to Middle East countries, causing them to take a more cautious approach to the Chinese tourist market. – Middle East Institute


Six Philippine soldiers were killed and 23 others wounded, the military said on Tuesday, when a platoon checking on reports of an infiltration by communist rebels stepped on improvised bombs as they negotiated hilly terrain. – New York Times

A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up outside police headquarters in Indonesia’s city of Medan on Wednesday, wounding six people, police said, just a month after an Islamist militant attacked a former security minister. – Reuters

Seven people were killed and seven injured on Wednesday after a car bomb explosion near the interior ministry in the Afghan capital of Kabul, a government spokesman said. – Reuters

A sharp escalation of violence in Hong Kong is once again raising the question of how China’s central government will respond: Will it intervene, or allow the chaos to persist? – Associated Press


The Russian military hackers who stole tens of thousands of sensitive Democratic Party documents in 2016 struggled to disseminate their bounty online — at least until anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks joined the effort, according to a report released Tuesday night. – Washington Post

A Russian man charged by federal authorities with committing more than $20 million in computer fraud has been extradited to the United States from Israel, the latest development in a legal drama pitting Washington against Moscow and involving an imprisoned Israeli American woman as an apparent pawn. – Washington Post

Borys Gryzlov, Russia’s envoy to an international working group on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, said on Tuesday that Kiev should extend until 2020 a policy granting special status to that region, known as Donbass, Interfax news agency reported. – Reuters

U.S. prosecutors have accused Russian operatives of seeking to interfere with a federal agency charged with policing American elections, as part of their case relating to interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential contest, saying the group aimed to interfere with a ban on some election spending by foreign nationals. – Reuters


Ukraine is front and center on Capitol Hill these days. But decades before the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, the former Soviet republic became a key part of U.S. policy discussions. Here’s a walk through the history of U.S.-Ukraine relations. The developments and dramas help inform the hearings now unfolding in the House. – Washington Post

Just three weeks before NATO leaders gather in London for a summit to mark the 70th anniversary of the Washington Treaty that formed the alliance, Macron has set off diplomatic shockwaves, and upended the conversation about the future of transatlantic relations, with a series of provocative statements including his assertion last week that “we are currently experiencing the brain death of NATO.” – Politico

U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron on a phone call on Monday discussed Syria, Iran and trade according to a series of tweets posted by White House spokesman Judd Deere on Tuesday. – Reuters

Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) handed down a deeply flawed ruling which determined that goods produced by Israelis in the West Bank may not be labeled as ‘Made in Israel.’ This is the highest court in the European Union; its decision is legally binding for all EU members and cannot be appealed. – Conference of Presidents

Iain King writes: NATO leaders will gather in London next month to review the progress on how the alliance adapts to current challenges. […]Such rapid adaptation is not the sign of an institution that is experiencing brain death. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. The alliance is as mentally alive as it could be, kept on its toes by vigorous 21st century challenges. – The Hill

Latin America

During the later years of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s tenure in office, when he raised concerns by challenging term limits and jailing opposition leaders, he kept at least one strong ally in Mexico: Andrés Manuel López Obrador. – Washington Post

The United States sees the departure from Bolivia of ousted President Evo Morales as a positive step, a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The United States on Tuesday ordered family members of U.S. government employees to leave Bolivia due to civil unrest in the South American country, the State Department said in a statement. – Reuters

Pirates attacked an Italy-flagged offshore supply vessel in the southern Gulf of Mexico, injuring two crew members, the Mexican Navy said on Tuesday, in the latest outbreak of robbery and piracy to hit oil platforms and infrastructure in the area. – Reuters


China’s Huawei Technologies plans to double the amount it pays nearly all of its 194,000 employees this month and reward them with bonuses totaling $285 million, in recognition of the “extraordinary external challenges” posed by the Trump administration’s pressure campaign. – Washington Post

Facebook Inc. was accused in a lawsuit of censorship by a user who says the company hasn’t explained to him why it deleted three of his posts that named “the alleged Ukraine whistle-blower” who kicked off the presidential impeachment inquiry. – Bloomberg

Hackers hit Britain’s two main political parties with back-to-back cyberattacks on Tuesday, sources told Reuters, attempting to force political websites offline with a flood of malicious traffic just weeks ahead of a national election. – Reuters


Barely four months into his tenure, Defense Secretary Mark Esper is making his second trek across the Pacific. And yet it is the Middle East – most recently a near-war with Iran and an actual war in Syria – that in Washington commands more attention and demands more American troops. – Associated Press

Aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) is repaired and preparing to deploy, after extensive electrical issues sidelined the carrier from its scheduled September deployment date. – USNI News

Defense Department officials may select a bomber already in the Air Force’s inventory to become its munitions-packed “arsenal plane,” Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said Tuesday. – Military.com

The future aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy may be a way off from commissioning, but its medical facilities have already accepted and treated a first patient. – Military.com

Charlie Gao writes: Aircraft carriers face a litany of threats in the modern age, but the U.S. Navy has spent the last half-century thinking of ways to defeat threats to them. Kornets mounted on dhows is the least of a carrier’s worries. – The National Interest

Wes Rumbaugh writes: Whatever path is ultimately chosen, the Pentagon and MDA must balance risks and potential benefits to determine a comprehensive approach for the future of homeland missile defense, both in the near- and long-term. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Long War

An Irish citizen aligned to Islamic State who is set to be deported from Turkey has the right to return to Ireland but the government’s main concern is for the safe repatriation of her two-year-old daughter, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Some 10,000 Islamic State detainees held in prisons in northeastern Syria present a major security risk, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday, urging countries to take back their citizens who joined the group and were detained. – Reuters

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that America now has its eye on a new Islamic State leader, telling the Economic Club of New York that “we know where he is.” – Associated Press

An American suspected of being an Islamic State militant is stranded between Turkey and Greece, highlighting the difficulty in handling jihadist prisoners no one wants. – Bloomberg

Trump Administration

Among those in attendance were two Florida business executives who had little history with Republican politics but had snagged a spot at the dinner with the promise of a major contribution to the America First super PAC. They turned the conversation to Ukraine, according to people familiar with the event, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private dinner. – Washington Post

The Justice Department inspector general has begun scheduling witnesses to review draft sections of his report on the FBI’s investigation of President Trump’s 2016 campaign — the clearest indication yet that the long-awaited document will soon be released publicly, people familiar with the matter said. – Washington Post

In the lead-up to the 2016 election, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller sought to promote white nationalism, far-right extremist ideas and anti-immigrant rhetoric through the conservative site Brietbart, according to a report released Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center. – Washington Post

Americans who tune in this week to the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry will be treated to something unusual in U.S. media: an in-depth discussion of Ukrainian politics.[…] Here’s a guide on some of the big names to watch for and how they fit into the allegations against the Trump administration. – Washington Post