Fdd's overnight brief

November 15, 2018

In The News


The United States is claiming that Iran spends nearly $1 billion a year providing support to Hizballah, Hamas, and other allied militant groups in the Middle East. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The head of Iran’s naval forces has said he plans to soon send a fleet to visit Italy, where the U.S. Navy and the U.S.-led Western military alliance have critical command posts. – Newsweek

A special European Union initiative to protect trade with Iran against newly reimposed U.S. sanctions faces possible collapse with no EU country willing to host the operation for fear of provoking U.S. punishment, EU diplomats said. – Reuters

South Korea’s October imports of Iran oil remained at zero for a second straight month ahead of U.S. sanctions against Iran that came into effect on Nov.5, customs office data showed on Thursday. – Reuters


Israel’s defense minister announced his intention to resign and withdraw his party from the ruling coalition Wednesday, a move that weakens Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hold on power and could pressure him to call for early elections. – Wall Street Journal

A knife-wielding Palestinian attacker sneaked into a Jerusalem police station and lightly wounded four police officers before he was shot and captured, Israeli police said Thursday. – Associated Press

Editorial: Critics point out that by striking deals with Hamas, Mr. Netanyahu is further undermining the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank and has been trying to force Hamas to hand over control of Gaza. But years of negotiations have failed to bring about that transition, largely because Hamas refuses to disarm. […]Long-term peace between Israel and Hamas looks impossible. But the cease-fire and humanitarian respite that Mr. Netanyahu has accepted are far better than another war. Washington Post

Editorial: The very existence of Israel is a perpetual source of shame for Palestinians. What they need most is not to put aside their rocks and knives and bomb-vests for a few days but to acclimate to the reality of the neighboring Israeli state. That won’t happen until the Palestinians find a leader willing to renounce the honor-cult of Jew-hatred and to seek peace and prosperity in earnest. Neither Hamas in Gaza nor Fatah in the West Bank is likely to produce such a leader, although hope is not vain. – Weekly Standard

Jonathan Ferziger writes: Many Palestinians think the militancy of Hamas may one day compel Israel to allow their people full independence. Others worry that Israel will never permit a Palestinian state in the face of that belligerence and that the key to the future is negotiation. Some commentators argue that reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas would facilitate peacemaking with Israel. It could give Abbas an answer to Israeli complaints that negotiations are pointless because he can’t ensure that a treaty will hold in Gaza. – Bloomberg

Zev Chafets writes: Despite losing Lieberman, Netanyahu will likely keep up his efforts to reach an accommodation with Hamas: a cease-fire of indeterminate length, in return for easing the siege of Gaza. […]Most difficult, both sides will have to prepare their public for the realization that Islamist Hamas and Zionist Israel are both here to stay. That may not be an easy message for Netanyahu to take into an election campaign, but it is the right one. – Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia

Turkey’s foreign minister on Wednesday called for an international investigation into the killing of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, pointedly reminding Saudi Arabia of Ankara’s determination to keep calling attention to the case. Saudi Arabia is expected this week to conclude its own inquiry. – New York Times

The “America First” Trump administration has surprised critics with its willingness to sanction human rights abusers around the world. But with the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, that willingness is facing its biggest test yet. – Politico

As a global outcry over the killing of a government critic morphs into a U.S. demand for Saudi Arabia to end its war in Yemen, King Salman has turned to traditional means of building domestic loyalty. Greeted by throngs of well-wishers, the 82-year-old monarch embarked on his first tour of the country since assuming the throne in 2015. – Bloomberg


The Saudi-led coalition has ordered a halt in its offensive against Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah, three sources told Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters

An airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least seven civilians in Yemen’s rebel-held port city of Hodeida, Yemeni security and medical officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates, a leading member of a pro-government coalition fighting in Yemen, said Wednesday it supports a UN plan for peace talks to be held in Sweden by the year’s end. – Agence France-Presse

Michael Rubin writes: It is unfortunate that as the White House and international community are increasingly inclined toward a diplomatic settlement, the State Department undercuts the U.S. position by locating its embassy to Yemen in Saudi Arabia. […]At the very least, locating the embassy in Saudi Arabia undercuts any pretense of neutrality at a time when peace talks require it. – The Hill

Korean Peninsula

Three South Korean companies agreed to plead guilty and pay $236 million in criminal and civil penalties for conspiring to fix prices on fuel supplied to U.S. military bases in their country, the Justice Department said. – Wall Street Journal

Thae Yong Ho, one of the highest profile North Koreans to defect in recent years, had hoped to visit New York last month to speak on a United Nations panel, meet U.S. envoys, and discuss human rights in the reclusive Asian nation. […]This time, however, Thae said the Americans told him they would not provide him with the security protection he was provided in the past, prompting him to cancel the trip. – Reuters

A U.S. congressional commission said on Wednesday that China appears to have relaxed enforcement of sanctions on North Korea and called on the Treasury Department to provide a report on Chinese compliance within 180 days. – Reuters

South Korea exploded a front-line guard post Thursday, sending plumes of thick, black smoke into the sky above the border with North Korea, in the most dramatic scene to date in the rivals’ efforts to reduce animosities that sparked last year’s fears of war. – Associated Press


China has cast itself as a champion of free trade and multilateralism in the “America-first” era, but the world’s second-largest economy is finding that turning such talk into outcomes is substantially more difficult. – Wall Street Journal

Trade disputes have for months been the focus of souring relations between the United States and China. But intractable problems in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait underscore that competition for dominance of the Pacific Ocean remains the most volatile source of conflict between the two nations — and the tensions are rising. – New York Times

A group of 15 Western ambassadors in Beijing, spearheaded by Canada, are seeking a meeting with the top official in China’s restive, heavily Muslim Xinjiang region for an explanation of alleged rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs. – Reuters

Chinese officials have outlined a series of potential concessions to the Trump administration for the first time since the summer as they continue to try to resolve a trade war, according to three people familiar with the discussions. – Bloomberg

Michael Schuman writes: Trump has woken Washington to the true danger of Xi’s China. But his stance is, at least in part, a reaction to the drastic shifts Xi has brought about. That means much of the responsibility for fixing ties falls on the Chinese president. Unfortunately, he’s shown no interest in reflecting on his role in the impending international crisis. Until he does, relations with the U.S. will continue to deteriorate, China will find itself increasingly isolated, and the world will face a greater risk of renewed superpower confrontation. – Bloomberg

Claude Barfield writes: Navarro (and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer) are correct on one significant point: A deal in which the Chinese agree only to buy billions and billions more of US products, while refusing to budge on issues of mercantilist protectionism and outsized high-tech subsidies, would be a very bad outcome for the United States. – American Enterprise Institute


Thousands of members of Afghanistan’s mainly Shi’ite Hazara ethnic minority have fled their homes in the central province of Ghazni as the Taliban have pressed into two previously safe districts, officials and witnesses said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Major assaults by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan’s western province of Farah bordering Iran, mounted with the aim of weakening the government’s grip on the region, have killed at least 30 Afghan security forces, officials said on Thursday. – Reuters

Vinay Kaura writes: While Chinese-Indian cooperation on measures like joint diplomatic training is welcome, there remains a fundamental difference on how to resolve the Afghan problem. […]the belief that China’s increasing involvement in Afghanistan might eventually motivate Beijing to put pressure on Pakistan to cut its ties with terrorist groups has yet to be translated into reality. Ultimately, if Chinese-Indian cooperation in Afghanistan is to prove successful, the two countries will need to find common ground on the issue of terrorism. – Middle East Institute


Vice President Mike Pence urged Myanmar’s civilian leader to pardon two journalists who were imprisoned after exposing atrocities committed by the military during its deadly campaign against the ethnic Rohingya. – Wall Street Journal

A memo sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this summer gave the greenlight for a tough U.S. response to systematic slayings and mass expulsions against Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslim population. – Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump’s absence was felt as world leaders gathered on stage for the traditional group photo at the end of one of Asia’s biggest annual summits. Russian President Vladimir Putin — not Trump, like last year — took the prominent spot to the right of host Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the end of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations events Thursday in Singapore. – Bloomberg

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told leaders of Southeast Asian nations on Thursday that there is no place for “empire and aggression” in the Indo-Pacific region, a comment that may be widely interpreted as a reference to China’s rise.- Reuters

Bangladesh authorities said they are ready to begin repatriating some of the more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled from army-led violence in Myanmar since last year. But refugees scheduled to leave said they would refuse to go because of fears for their safety. – Associated Press


The French president responded Wednesday evening to President Trump’s scathing personal attack on him, declining to lash out and instead taking the long view. – New York Times

British Prime Minister Theresa May secured cabinet approval for her Brexit deal Wednesday evening, clearing an important hurdle but setting the stage for a battle in Parliament that could shake her government and unravel the agreement with the European Union for Britain’s orderly withdrawal. – Wall Street Journal

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain faced a new political crisis on Thursday after Dominic Raab, her chief negotiator on withdrawal from the European Union, quit, a decision that threatens to wreck not only her plans for exit, but also her leadership. – New York Times

European Union chief Donald Tusk has called for a summit of leaders to take place on Nov. 25 so they can endorse a draft Brexit deal that has been reached with the British government. – Associated Press

Austria will not unilaterally expel any Russian diplomats in response to a case in which an Austrian army colonel is suspected of having spied for Moscow for 26 years, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Editorial: Mrs. May has reached this pass because she and much of her party have lacked the conviction to push for a Brexit that would require widespread economic reform at home and a Singapore-style free-trade policy abroad. […]The best of the bad options now is to accept Mrs. May’s plan, warts and all, and then focus on negotiating a better permanent free-trade relationship with Brussels and better economic policies at home. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May announced Wednesday that she has secured her cabinet’s support for her plan to leave the European Union. The choice now, she said, is her deal, “or leave with no deal, or no Brexit at all.” Put that way, the right choice — the only sane choice — is more obvious than she perhaps intended: no Brexit at all. […]May’s universally disliked plan is not the only way to avoid a chaotic Brexit. As the prime minister herself said, there’s another option. – Bloomberg

Benjamin Haddad writes: Macron’s — and now German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s — desire to build a European army is a reflection that the Continent has woken up to the reality that it needs to stand on its own two feet, instead of relying on the U.S. on security. And that’s exactly what Trump has said he wants. – Hudson Institute


The United States has no plans to redeploy personnel to fight the growing Ebola outbreak on the ground in Congo because of worsening security concerns, administration officials said Wednesday. – Washington Post

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday lifted sanctions imposed on Eritrea nine years ago, rewarding its improved relations with Ethi­o­pia and other neighboring countries, though concerns about its human rights record remain. – Washington Post

International donors have disbursed less than half of what they had pledged for a regional force fighting to contain West African jihadists, hampering its efforts as insecurity spreads across the region, a United Nations report said. – Reuters

United States

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis described the deployment to the border as “great training” and told active-duty soldiers in Texas not to pay attention to the news coverage of the operation because they would “go nuts.” Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited troops near the U.S.-Mexico border on Wednesday, a little over two weeks after President Trump dispatched thousands of active-duty forces in anticipation of a Central American migrant caravan. – Washington Post

The number of U.S. troops at the border with Mexico may have peaked at about 5,800, the U.S. commander of the mission told Reuters, noting he would start looking next week at whether to begin sending forces home or perhaps shifting some to new border positions.- Reuters

U.S. Secretary of States Mike Pompeo will hold talks with incoming Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard in Houston on Thursday, according to the U.S. State Department. – Reuters

A self-described white nationalist who claimed he was a “friend” of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers was busted on a gun charge after claiming the massacre was a “dry run.” – New York Post

Cyber Security

Huge losses of personal data are by now a familiar story, even if the causes have changed. More than a decade ago, the UK government came under fire for losing 25m personal records after two discs were lost in the post. Then, advice from information security professionals focused on the importance of encrypting data and avoiding backing up systems to physical data tapes that could easily be misplaced. – Financial Times

The Defense Department is adding a new metric to determine whether cyber forces are ready for battle. The cyber warriors that serve under U.S. Cyber Command on the cyber mission force reached a critical milestone in March known as full operational capability.  – Fifth Domain

Cyber experts on Tuesday called for a new focus on cyber education to train the professionals needed to ensure that autonomous vehicles are safe. – Times of Israel

China’s cyber watchdog said on Thursday it will require internet firms to provide detailed logs on users as part of a new policy designed to curb dissent and online social movements. – Al Jazeera

Vietnamese civil society groups are concerned Facebook has begun to block or shut down accounts requested by the authorities. This move could silence many dissidents currently using the platform to share independent news and opinions. – Al Jazeera


The military staff at the Pentagon is dominating deliberations over strategy and the deployment of forces to such an extent that it is undermining the principle of civilian control of the armed forces, according to a congressionally mandated study by former high-ranking national-security officials. – Wall Street Journal

The Pentagon on Wednesday announced it had awarded Lockheed Martin a $22.7 billion contract for 255 F-35 fighter jets. – Agence France-Presse

The undersea warfare community wants to boost attack sub lethality by providing new payloads for the Virginia-class SSNs, especially ones that can be leveraged through the Virginia Payload Module missile tubes that will be added to new-construction boats beginning this year. – USNI News

A woman soon may join the ranks of the Green Berets. A new report says a woman has just completed the Special Forces Assessment and Selection, a 24-day test of survival skills and both physical and mental training that candidates for the Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, must best. – Washington Examiner

Long War

CIA interrogators considered using a truth serum on an al Qaeda suspect after waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” failed to get the answers they wanted, according to newly declassified documents. – Sky News (UK)

Three men have been found guilty of plotting bomb attacks in the Australian city of Melbourne in 2016, according to a court ruling made public on Wednesday. – Reuters

The price tag of the ongoing “war on terror” in the Middle East will likely top $6 trillion next year, and will reach $7 trillion if the conflicts continue into the early 2020s, according to a new report out Wednesday. – Military Times

Muhammad Mansour writes: Now that Ashmawy is in the hands of the LNA, security forces have an opportunity to learn more about Al-Mourabitoun members, allies, and sleeper cells, as well as about the operations of other Jihadi groups in the region[…]. This terrorist, if kept alive, can help authorities understand the reasons and conditions that enabled al-Qaeda to plant its operatives within the Egyptian army and the success of terrorist groups in recruiting officers – Washington Institute

Trump Administration

A transoceanic personnel crisis that engulfed the National Security Council this week is partly rooted in a bureaucratic dispute over the seating arrangements aboard first lady Melania Trump’s plane to Africa last month during her maiden solo trip abroad. – Washington Post

The Trump administration on Wednesday spoke out forcefully against efforts by China and Myanmar to punish news reporters and political dissidents. But at the White House, President Trump was focused on another case — his efforts to discredit CNN correspondent Jim Acosta. – Washington Post

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office is exploring whether longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone tried to intimidate and discredit a witness who is contradicting Mr. Stone’s version of events about his contacts with WikiLeaks, according to people who have spoken to Mr. Mueller’s investigators. – Wall Street Journal

The word out of the White House is that anyone not directly related to Donald Trump could be on the chopping block as this most mercurial of presidents seethes and stews over the midterm setback for his party last week and his broader grievances that he is not being well-served by his staff. – CNN

President Donald Trump said he would make a decision on the future of U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen soon, the Daily Caller reported on Wednesday, with speculation rampant he would soon replace her. – Reuters