Fdd's overnight brief

November 15, 2019

In The News


A prominent member of Iran’s powerful Guardian Council has told The Associated Press that the Islamic Republic should stop honoring all terms of the collapsing 2015 nuclear deal with world powers amid tensions with the United States. – Associated Press   

Iran’s state news agency is reporting that authorities have imposed rationing and increased the prices of fuel. – Associated Press 

A State Department employee working on Iranian policy was improperly removed from her post by officials who took into account her ethnic background, perceived political views and prior role in the Obama administration, according to a report Thursday from the agency’s inspector general. – Associated Press   

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned Muslim countries against working with Israel in a speech aired Thursday by Iran’s IRINN TV news broadcaster. – Times of Israel 

An Iranian businessman charged with exporting tons of carbon fiber, a controlled substance with military and nuclear uses, from the U.S. to Iran was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Thursday, the Justice Department announced. – Fox News 

The Islamic Republic of Iran owes Saeed Abedini and his sister Zibandeh Abedini Galangashy $47 million for the torture and beatings Abedini endured in prison between July 2012 and January 2016, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled Nov. 13. – Bloomberg Law

Mehdi Khalaji writes: Whether Rouhani feels betrayed by his constituency or is simply recognizing who really holds the levers of power, he has recently focused on reaching out to the hardliner power circles that have pressured him since the day he took office, in particular by appealing to their emphasis on security issues. He knows that state propaganda and related efforts by Khamenei have made security a major concern for the majority of Iranians, who have observed regional developments such as the Islamic State’s emergence with worried eyes. – Washington Institute


The aerial bombings of hospitals in rebel areas of Syria have long stood out as possible war crimes, so brazen that the leader of the United Nations ordered a special inquiry three months ago, raising hope of some accountability. But with evidence accumulating that the Syrian government’s Russian allies are responsible for some of those bombings, the opposite appears to be happening. – New York Times 

Questions have been raised about documents that seemed to indicate that the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was able to hide out in a hostile area of northwestern Syria because ISIS paid members of a rival jihadist group. – New York Times 

Over 11 million people across Syria need aid — more than half the country’s estimated population — and the U.N. and other organizations are reaching an average of 5.6 million people a month, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Thursday. – Associated Press   

Syrian President Bashar Assad says the American presence in Syria will lead to armed “resistance” that will eventually force the U.S. troops to leave. – Associated Press  

Syrian government forces started deploying Thursday in areas close to the Turkish border in the country’s northeast as part of an agreement reached between Russia and Turkey, state media reported. – Associated Press   

The United States has called “irresponsible” a French proposal to put thousands of jailed Islamist extremists on trial in Iraq, as Washington and its European allies clashed over what to do with thousands of militants being held in Syria. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Uri Friedman writes: The dizzying developments in Syria represent “a decisive moment for the United States in terms of its relationships in general and at the same time being a superpower in the world. Power always brings authority, and authority comes with responsibility,” the senior Afghan official told me. The United States “cannot be a great nation and fully isolated and secluded and inward-looking and thinking that whatever happens in the rest of the world has nothing to do with them,” the Afghan official continued. – The Atlantic


Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan said Washington was not right to propose that Ankara get rid of the Russian S-400 missile defenses it purchased, calling it an infringement of sovereign rights, according to Turkish media. – Reuters

The Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Thursday he did not want lawmakers to pass legislation imposing sanctions on Turkey for now, to lessen friction during talks over Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system. – Reuters

Turkey’s production program for its first new-generation main battle tank, the Altay, may be facing delays due to technological snags. – Defense News  

A meeting between Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Trump, and congressional Republicans became tense when Erdogan pulled out an iPad and played an anti-Kurdish propaganda video. – Washington Examiner  

Soner Cagaptay writes: I would not be surprised, therefore, if Erdogan came to Washington offering to “settle” the S-400 issue with Trump. Journalists already reported that the Turkish president may have indeed suggested to his American counterpart that he block sanctions against Turkey in return for Ankara not “unpacking” the S-400s, i.e. not activating operational parts of the Russian system—a “temporary” permanent solution to Erdogan’s and Turkey’s Russia problem. – Duvar.English  

Christina Bache writes: The European Union no longer has as much influence over Turkey’s democratic trajectory as it once had at the height of the customs union and accession processes. With what leverage remains, the European Union should require recipients of funds from the European Union Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis and the Facility for Refugees to adopt conflict-sensitive approaches in their programming. – War on the Rocks


A tense cease-fire between a Gaza militant group and Israel was teetering early Friday after Israel resumed airstrikes in the Palestinian territory following two days of rocket-fire from the enclave, threatening to ignite a broader conflict. – Wall Street Journal  

Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad and Israel declared a halt to hostilities across the Gaza Strip border on Thursday but a lasting ceasefire appeared tenuous as they differed on terms. – Reuters

A pro-Palestinian charity allegedly funneled money to Hamas, a Palestinian terror group controlling the Gaza strip, terror victims claimed in an unprecedented lawsuit filed this week in Washington, D.C.. – Fox News

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday visited the Israel Security Agency’s (Shin Bet) Special Operations Center in central Israel, from which the operation to eliminate senior Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza, Baha Abu Al Ata, was commanded. – Arutz Sheva

The Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, announced the introduction of the new Buraq 120 rocket to its arsenal on Thursday, according the Shehab News Agency. – Jerusalem Post


Iraqi security forces killed at least four anti-government protesters on Thursday as they sought to push them back to their main camp in central Baghdad, police and medics said, but demonstrations resumed at the same spot later in the day. – Reuters

Wearing surgical masks, motorcycle helmets and clothes stained with blood and grime, they populate the protest barricades of Baghdad, chanting for the government to fall. Young Iraqis have been out in their thousands since mass anti-government protests kicked off on Oct. 1 in the capital and then quickly spread to the country’s south. – Reuters

Iraq is descending into its most violent days since the battle against ISIS concluded in late 2017 — and the world is completely underestimating its significance, regional experts told CNBC at the Middle East’s premier oil and gas conference this week. – CNBC

Arabian Peninsula

Now, the kingdom’s air defenses are undergoing a realignment to provide a “360-degree air defense umbrella that could counter threats emerging from all sides,” according to a source with ties to the Arabian Gulf’s defense market. – Defense News   

Saudi Arabia needs the initial public offering (IPO) of its state oil company to be successful as it needs to attract outside investment and, frankly, it needs the money, the former chief of the CIA David Petraeus told CNBC Thursday. – CNBC

Over 130 attacks on medical facilities in Yemen’s civil war could constitute war crimes by all parties to the conflict, a database project said on Thursday. – Associated Press 

Gulf States

Kuwait’s emir accepted the resignation of the government on Thursday, two days after parliament filed a no-confidence motion against Interior Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Jarrah al-Sabah, who is a senior member of the ruling Al Sabah family. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates and Egypt plan to jointly invest $20 billion in economic and social projects, under a bilateral project announced by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on Thursday. Sheikh Mohammed made the announcement on Twitter during a two-day visit to the UAE by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The UAE, and Saudi Arabia, have been the main backers of Sisi since he took power after the overthrow of president Mohamed Mursi in 2013. – Reuters

Neil Bush writes: Lazareva has been the target of a sustained campaign of harassment and persecution by rogue officials within the Kuwaiti government. […]It would be easy to paint all of Kuwait as a villain in this story, but it should be noted that the emir has a reputation as a defender of human and religious rights. But given Lazareva’s false conviction this week, the time for action is running short. Americans and people of faith around the world will be praying that the emir steps in to free this family before Trump and Pence are forced to take action against a longstanding U.S. ally. – Washington Examiner 

Middle East & North Africa

The U.S. has warned Egypt of possible sanctions over Cairo’s decision to proceed with a purchase of Russian warplanes, a new source of friction with a country whose leader has been lauded by President Trump. – Wall Street Journal   

Eastern Libyan authorities forced a civilian flight to land for security checks soon after it had taken off from a city controlled by their rivals in the Tripoli government on Thursday, authorities said. – Reuters

Lebanon’s Defense Minister said on Thursday the country was in a “very dangerous situation” and compared street unrest of recent days to the start of 1975-90 civil war. – Reuters

Three major Lebanese parties agreed to nominate Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, to become prime minister, three sources familiar with the situation said, suggesting progress toward a new government at a time of acute economic crisis. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

South Korea on Friday adamantly rejected an American request to continue sharing military intelligence with Japan, as the two American allies remained locked in festering disputes over trade and history. – New York Times

North Korea said on Thursday that the United States had proposed resuming talks on denuclearization in December, but warned that Pyongyang was not interested unless Washington was ready to meet its terms. And a top envoy said he believed the proposal was merely “a trick to earn time.” – New York Times  

The United States will consider changing plans to conduct joint military exercises with South Korea if that helps support diplomatic efforts to restart a dialogue with North Korea, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said on Friday. But Esper stopped short of canceling a planned joint air drill, as North Korea has demanded. – Washington Post

North Korea said on Friday it had sent South Korea an “ultimatum” about its Mt Kumgang tourist resort, saying it will unilaterally remove South Korea’s facilities there if Seoul insists on talks about the issue. – Reuters

North Korea called former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden a “rabid dog” that “must be beaten to death with a stick” in its latest swipe against foreign and political leaders it sees as hostile to the North’s leadership. – Associated Press 

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says South Korea is wealthy enough to pay a bigger share of the cost of having U.S. troops on its soil. – Associated Press   

North Korea is poking holes through a global web of sanctions and generating enough cash to keep its nuclear weapons program moving along as a year-end deadline Kim Jong Un set to reach a deal with the U.S. approaches — with little progress in sight. – Bloomberg  

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper landed in South Korea on Thursday to navigate renewed threats from an “enraged” North Korea and newly heightened strain in the alliance with Seoul that congressional aides, lawmakers and Korea experts say has been caused by President Donald Trump. – CNN 

Ankit Panda writes: The nuclear deterrence relationship with North Korea, however, remains fragile, young—and dangerous. The United States hasn’t gotten used to the consequences of thinking about nuclear stability with anyone but Russia and China. Now with North Korea’s nuclear weapons well out of the barn, there’s a third adversary that demands consideration. – Foreign Policy 


The U.S. and China are nearing a trade deal, but President Trump isn’t ready to sign off, White House economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal  

A bipartisan commission convened by Congress wants everyone to stop calling Chinese leader Xi Jinping “president.” The title implies Mr. Xi is elected by a popular democratic vote and not the winner of an internal power contest in the Chinese Communist Party, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in its annual report released Thursday. – Wall Street Journal 

China’s President Xi Jinping warned Thursday that protests in Hong Kong threaten the “one country, two systems” principle governing the semi-autonomous city that has tipped into worsening violence with two dead in a week. – Agence France-Presse  

China’s wants to replace the United States as the dominant power in space, a new report warned, and to hold onto this position the Pentagon should consider having the Space Force protect freedom of navigation and communications in space. – C4ISRNET 

Scott Kennedy and Jude Blanchette write: Yes, the U.S. will need to continue to deter China from using force against Taiwan and do more to push back in the South China Sea. But the U.S. — and the West more generally — needs to integrate concerns of security and values into every aspect of how we engage China. Otherwise, the relationship will have little chance of being sustainable. – Bloomberg 

Joseph Bosco writes: Similarly, Trump’s demands for structural economic change in China, if actually implemented by Beijing, could finally bring the accompanying political reforms that were supposed to occur when the West allowed it to join the World Trade Organization. That would be more likely if accompanied by a sustained information campaign to the Chinese people. The combined efforts — while maintaining a security shield on Taiwan and the South and East China Seas — could enable a relatively peaceful transition for the communist regime. It would help if Trump could emulate Reagan and demand: “Mister Xi, tear down those concentration camps and stop the Hong Kong crackdown.” – The Hill


For months, Hong Kongers have taken to the streets in pro-democracy demonstrations against Chinese influence that have become increasingly more violent. What began in June over frustrations with a bill that would have allowed for extraditions to mainland China has since ballooned into a wide-ranging rebuke of Beijing’s influence on the island. Struggling to keep up with what’s happening? Here are some key questions, answered. – Washington Post

For six months, protesters have taken to the streets of the semiautonomous financial hub demanding more democracy and less Chinese encroachment. The movement assumed new urgency Tuesday night when police pummeled students with tear gas and rubber bullets, turning the Chinese University campus into a conflict zone as students fought back with gasoline bombs and bricks. Since then, the campus has been usurped by students and volunteers, transforming it into a fortress. – Washington Post

Taiwan suspended sales of three Huawei Technologies Co. smartphone models that identify Taiwan as part of China, striking a fresh blow in a long-running conflict over references to sovereignty. – Bloomberg 

The International Criminal Court said on Thursday it had approved a prosecution request to investigate crimes against humanity against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority who were systematically driven across the border to Bangladesh. – Reuters

The U.S. Senate is preparing for quick passage of legislation to show support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong by placing the city’s special trading status with the U.S. under annual review. – Bloomberg 

Taiwan’s opposition presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu called on Thursday for a return to a consensus with the mainland that there is only one China, but rejected Beijing’s formula for Hong Kong-style “one nation, two systems” unification. – Reuters

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam on Friday condemned a “barbaric attack” on her justice minister, who fell while being surrounded by a crowd of jeering pro-democracy protesters in London. – Agence France-Presse

Chinese technology giant Alibaba on Friday confirmed plans to list in Hong Kong in what it called a $13 billion vote of confidence in the turbulent city’s markets and a step forward in its plans to go global. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: Hong Kong needs the support of the world, especially the U.S. The House has already passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and the Senate is expected to pass it as early as Friday. The legislation would require the Secretary of State to certify each year that Hong Kong still merits special treatment under U.S. law. If the answer is no, the President could strip Hong Kong of privileges on trade and customs, aviation and banking cooperation and more. – Wall Street Journal 


There has been little doubt that Russia was deeply involved in the conflict, despite Kremlin denials: Western journalists saw Russian troops move across the border into Ukraine and witnessed Russian troops operating on the ground. […]But the recordings and transcripts of intercepted phone calls made public Thursday offered a new level of detail about Kremlin involvement in eastern Ukraine as rebels struggled to set up the institutions of a breakaway state, press their advantage with Kyiv and manage the fallout from the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. – Washington Post

As the first day of public impeachment hearings in Washington put a prominent but unflattering spotlight on their nation, Ukrainian politicians were reassessing not only their relationship with the United States but also their ties with Russia. – Washington Post

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the authenticity of phone intercepts which Dutch investigators said show Moscow’s influence over pro-Russian rebels accused of downing Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 was not confirmed. – Reuters

Russia’s security services moved money through Estonia to finance operations overseas, the Baltic country’s finance minister, who is leading a clean up after a money laundering scandal, told Reuters. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: The MH-17 tragedy began with Russian aggression, was defined in the immediate aftermath by the Obama administration’s impotence, and has since been shaped by Russia’s disregard for any semblance of justice. But the publication of this news, and the conclusive proof of Putin’s involvement is a big step in the right direction. – Washington Examiner


French President Emmanuel Macron’s stark description of the “brain death” of transatlantic military alliance NATO grabbed headlines last week, but his views on Russia and European Union enlargement may well have greater long-term impact. – Reuters

European and other members of the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group must take back and prosecute their nationals detained in Iraq and Syria to help keep IS from regaining territory, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday. – Associated Press  

The European Union is piling pressure on Britain and has launched legal action against the departing member of the 28-country bloc over its decision not to name a candidate for the EU’s executive arm. – Associated Press 

North Macedonia is disappointed by the failure of the European Union to open accession talks, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Thursday, but his country was still committed to joining the bloc. – Reuters 

Germany’s parliament has passed an energy law that allows part of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to skirt European rules that forbid one entity from the being both the producer and the supplier of natural gas. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland never linked military aid to Ukraine on whether the foreign government launched investigations into the energy company Burisma, according to a top Ukraine official. – Washington Examiner  

To endorse Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister would be to surrender in the fight against anti-Jewish prejudice, say 24 signatories including John Le Carré, Fay Weldon, Joanna Lumley and William Boyd. – The Guardian

Zlvlle Krisciuniene and Donald N. Jensen write: Opening doors to token opposition representation in parliament, more frequent overtures to the West, and the promotion of national symbols may seem like the early spring of Belarusian rebirth after more than 25 years of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s dictatorship. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Kenya and Somalia agreed to restore diplomatic relations that had deteriorated over the disputed ownership of an Indian Ocean territory thought to be rich in hydrocarbons. – Bloomberg  

Activists warn muzzling of press under President Buhari could herald return to dark days of military rule. – The Guardian 

Nigeria and neighboring countries Benin and Niger have agreed to set up a joint border patrol force to tackle smuggling between the West African countries, they said in a communique on Thursday. – Reuters 

Latin America

Some are calling it a Latin Spring. But unlike the popular rebellions across the Arab world nearly a decade ago, when oppressed and impoverished citizens revolted against apathetic dictatorships, the actors and causes of the still-unfolding uprisings in South America are as varied as the countries themselves. – Washington Post 

As a fiery conservative candidate last year, President Jair Bolsonaro warned that China was a rapacious predator out to exploit Brazil and he pledged loyalty to a leader he called his American idol, Donald Trump. – Wall Street Journal 

Bolivia’s Evo Morales called for the United Nations, and possibly Pope Francis, to mediate in the Andean nation’s political crisis following his ouster as president in what he called a coup d’etat that forced him into exile in Mexico. – Associated Press  

Leaders of the BRICS major emerging economies made no mention of Venezuela during a two-day summit in Brazil’s capital, according to diplomats, putting aside a rift over the fate of the chaotic South American country to focus on global economic issues instead. – Reuters 

Leaders of the BRICS grouping of countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — have railed against protectionism as they vowed to shore up multilateralism. In a declaration issued on November 14 during a summit in Brasilia, Brazil, the five leaders called on all member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to “avoid unilateral and protectionist measures.”  – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Venezuela’s former spy chief has disappeared in Spain after a high court agreed to extradite him to the United States where he faces federal drug-trafficking charges. – Fox News


A week ago, YouTube and Facebook said they would block people from identifying the government official thought to be the whistle-blower who set in motion an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. – New York Times 

While Russia and China pose significant threats, especially in the cyber domain, one expert worries that lesser known actors might be a more immediate concern. – Fifth Domain 

Huawei Technologies Co and ZTE Corp (000063.SZ) “cannot be trusted,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr said, labeling the Chinese firms a security threat as he backed a proposal to bar U.S. rural wireless carriers from tapping an $8.5 billion government fund to purchase equipment or services from them. – Reuters

The several dozen attorneys general investigating advertising practices at Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google are planning to expand their antitrust probe into the unit’s flagship Android business, CNBC reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. The investigation, led by the Texas attorney general’s office, is known to have focused on Google’s search and digital advertising businesses since it began in September. – Reuters


U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday rejected any suggestion of bias in a Pentagon decision to award Microsoft Corp an up to $10 billion cloud computing contract, after Amazon.com Inc announced plans to challenge it. – Reuters  

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist stuck up for American defense firms Thursday, saying they should not be cut out of European Union programs to strengthen its industrial base, the European Defence Fund and the Permanent Structured Cooperation program. – Defense News  

The F-35, the military’s most expensive weapon, keeps breaking down and takes too long to repair, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester told Congress on Wednesday. – Washington Examiner 

Long War

The Turkish government moved forward with deporting an American accused of having been affiliated with a terrorist organization, after Ankara said it received assurances from the Trump administration that it will take him back. – Wall Street Journal  

European governments have resisted repatriating their nationals since the caliphate crumbled. Leaders fear domestic attacks and public backlash and have argued that trials should take place regionally. But now Europe’s hand is being forced. – Washington Post

The United States on Thursday pressured members of a global coalition fighting Islamic State to allow foreign fighters to be repatriated but despite consensus on the gravity of the problem, disagreements on whether and how to send people back persisted. – Reuters

British police arrested a 26-year-old man at Heathrow Airport who had arrived from Turkey on Thursday, on suspicion of terrorism offences related to Syria. – Reuters

A woman born in New Jersey, who fled the United States to join the Islamic State five years ago, isn’t an American citizen and won’t be leaving the Syrian refugee camp where she resides, a federal judge ruled. – Washington Examiner 

The battle against the Islamic State is far from over, as evidenced by this morning’s meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS at the State Department. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leads the lineup of speakers and will address the D-ISIS small group ministerial at 10 a.m. – Washington Examiner 

A Missouri man who came to the U.S. from Bosnia was sentenced Thursday to eight years in prison for supporting terrorists, including an ISIS leader in Syria. – Fox News