Fdd's overnight brief

November 16, 2018

In The News


A U.N. committee on human rights approved a resolution Thursday urging Iran to stop its widespread use of arbitrary detention and expressing serious concern at its “alarmingly high” use of the death penalty. – Associated Press

After having imposed sanctions on Iran, the US is poised to choke off Iran’s financial support for terrorist groups in the region, Brian Hook, Washington’s special envoy on Iran, said on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

The United States has warned that Iran could create a new malign force akin to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and said Saudi Arabia was an ideal partner to help contain the revolutionary Shiite Muslim power in the Middle East. – Newsweek

The health of an Iranian-American dual national held in Tehran is rapidly deteriorating, his family and attorney warned Thursday as they appealed to Iranian authorities to allow him to leave for medical treatment. – Associated Press


Two citizens from Argentina with suspected links to Lebanon’s Hezbollah were arrested on Thursday, leading up to the G20 summit due to take place in Buenos Aires at the end of the month, Argentina’s security ministry said in a statement. – Al Jazeera

American Enterprise Institute research fellow Katherine Zimmerman said on Thursday that Israel is more concerned about threats from Hezbollah and the ongoing Syrian civil war than it is with Hamas. – The Hill

The son of Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader designated by the US State Department this week as a global terrorist is a poet and music lover who is said to move around without security and whose role within the group is shrouded in secrecy. – Times of Israel


Thousands of Syrians are trapped by battles or face hard choices about returning home even though relative calm has held in the northwest for two months, the United Nations said on Thursday. – Reuters

The Trump administration hopes that the U.S.-backed fight against Islamic State in its last foothold in northeastern Syria will end within months but American forces will remain to ensure the “enduring defeat” of the militant group, a top U.S. diplomat said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Syria’s state news agency and a war monitor say airstrikes on an area controlled by the Islamic State group have killed at least 18 people. – Associated Press


Turkish police detained 12 people, including two prominent academics, on Friday as part of an investigation into leading rights activist and businessman Osman Kavala and his cultural organization, state media said. – Reuters

The U.S. Defense Department has delivered a report to Congress detailing implications of Turkey receiving 100 F-35 fighter jets, five people familiar with the report said, removing a key hurdle to concluding the deal. – Reuters

The United States is studying Turkey’s demands for the extradition of preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup attempt, the State Department said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

Elizabeth Teoman writes: Turkey has effectively annexed large portions of Northern Syria. This land grab is similar to its occupation of Northern Cyprus and demonstrates that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is applying a strategy of expeditionary imperialism across the former Ottoman Empire. Erdogan’s adventurism – coupled with Turkey’s complicated instability – risks undermining U.S. and NATO interests. The U.S. must hold Turkey accountable for its disruptive actions and encourage it to engage productively in its near abroad in line with the shared strategic objectives held by the U.S. and NATO. – Institute for the Study of War


Last year, when the Trump administration was still trying to entice the Palestinians into peace talks with Israel through cooperation rather than coercion, it encouraged the two sides to team up on small-scale infrastructure projects as a way to rebuild trust while improving conditions in the here-and-now[…]. Deep in the Negev Desert, a group of Israeli and Palestinian civilians did just that. – New York Times

The U.S. plans for the first time to vote against a United Nations resolution that calls on Israel to end its occupation of the Golan Heights, highlighting a shifting American perspective on the strategic plateau. – Bloomberg

Islamic Jihad released pictures on Thursday of the new rocket with a heavy warhead, which they announced had been fired toward Ashkelon during the escalation of violence earlier this week. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a trip to Europe and tried Thursday to keep his crumbling government together, as at least two coalition partners advised him to call early elections after his defense minister quit. – Bloomberg

On November 14, 2018, following the latest round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza, during which over 450 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza into Israel, Jordanian journalist ‘Abd Al-Hadi Raji Al-Majali glorified these rocket attacks in his column in the government daily Al-Rai. In his column he expressed a burning wish to come to Gaza bearing a rifle, and added that millions of young people  wish they could join the fight in Gaza and be martyred there. […]The following are excerpts from ‘Abd Al-Hadi Raji Al-Majali’s recent column. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Bret Stephens writes: Netanyahu sees no better outcome for Israel in Gaza than to accept what amounts to a kind of low-grade fever in Hamas’s violent but relatively controlled and predictable rule. If anything, Gaza serves him as a political billboard of sorts — a warning to the Israeli public of what it can expect of a Palestinian state should one ever come into being.  – New York Times

Dania Koleilat Khatib writes: There will be no peace unless the Palestinian people get a viable, decent, and fair settlement. A fair solution for the Palestinians will strip radical movements of their legitimacy. On the other hand, forcing a dictum on the Palestinians that does not take their national aspirations into consideration and only serves the interests of Israel is doomed to fail. Not only it will fail, terrorists will use it to gain legitimacy and to mobilize a new wave of Jihadis. Even as ISIS fades away, a new movement will undoubtedly emerge, and you can bet that like its predecessors, it will adopt the issue of Palestine. – Washington Institute

Dan Blumenthal writes: In doing so, Israel’s vaunted diplomatic and national-security agencies would also be wise to engage in a major effort to understand Washington’s new approach to its chief geostrategic rival. Israel has been famously adept at protecting its national-security interests in its region; it has often fallen short in assessing and responding to major geopolitical changes. As China makes dangerous inroads into Israel and the region, time is running short for Jerusalem to mend this weakness. – Mosaic Magazine

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said Thursday he would seek the death penalty for five people charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the Trump administration imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi Arabian officials allegedly involved in the case. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration and Saudi Arabia each took steps Thursday to punish those they said were involved in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but U.S. lawmakers and other critics said the moves did not go far enough. – Washington Post

When U.S. President Donald Trump asked Saudi Arabia this summer to raise oil production to compensate for lower crude exports from Iran, Riyadh swiftly told Washington it would do so. But Saudi Arabia did not receive advance warning when Trump made a U-turn by offering generous waivers that are keeping more Iranian crude in the market instead of driving exports from Riyadh’s arch-rival down to zero, OPEC and industry sources say. – Reuters

Editorial: Accepting the Saudi story means ignoring a number of well-established facts. […]Congress should not allow this travesty to continue. It should suspend all military sales and cooperation with Saudi Arabia until a credible international investigation of the Khashoggi killing is completed. The Saudi cover story is just one more instance of Mohammed bin Salman’s arrogant and reckless behavior. The true murderers of Jamal Khashoggi must be named and punished. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: Nonetheless, the big show of coming indictments just compounds the cruelty of Khashoggi’s murder. It’s more likely than not that the five men the prosecutor seeks to punish with the ultimate sentence were acting on the crown prince’s orders. How would their deaths count as justice for Khashoggi if the man who ordered his murder is never charged? – Bloomberg

Simon Henderson writes: Going forward, Washington and its allies seem to realize the necessity of maintaining working ties with MbS, the kingdom’s main decisionmaker in light of his father’s age and poor health. But as British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt stated while visiting Riyadh this week, officials have been very frank in emphasizing how important it is for Saudi Arabia’s strategic partners “to know this cannot and will not happen again.” – Washington Institute



A bipartisan group of senators is releasing legislation imposing sanctions, prohibitions and restrictions against Saudi Arabia and other entities considered responsible for the humanitarian suffering in war-torn Yemen, the most punitive proposals to emerge from Congress since Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered last month. – Washington Post

The Senate rejected an effort Thursday to block $300 million in weapon sales to Bahrain, but there’s growing unease in Congress about the U.S. role supporting the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s military campaign in Yemen. – Associated Press

Hussein Ibish writes: The senior U.A.E. leader met publicly in his own capital with the heads of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood group and publicized it aggressively on all forms of media[…]. There’s every reason to hope that this is a signal that both the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia are seeking a way to get out of Yemen, as Washington and most of the world are increasingly demanding. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited a facility to oversee testing of a “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon,” the first acknowledgment from the North that it has resumed testing since engaging diplomatically with the U.S. and South Korea this year. – Wall Street Journal

North Korea said Friday that it will deport an American citizen it detained one month ago for illegally entering the country. – Associated Press

A key U.N. committee adopted a resolution Thursday condemning North Korea’s “longstanding and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights” and strongly urging its government to immediately end the abuses. – Associated Press

The withdrawal of a major international aid organization threatens to leave tens of thousands of tuberculosis patients in North Korea without the medication they need and could spiral into a severe crisis if it is not addressed soon, according to health experts familiar with the situation in the North. – Associated Press

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday President Donald Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2019 and will push for a concrete plan outlining Pyongyang’s moves to end its arms programs. – Reuters


Vice President Mike Pence hit out at China during his tour through Asia, signaling an increasingly tough line against Beijing as the world’s two largest economies clash over trade, security and human rights. – Wall Street Journal

China’s chief cyber censor is raising the regulatory pressure on internet companies to police online speech, requiring them to keep extensive records about users and alert authorities about the spread of what the government deems harmful content. – Wall Street Journal

As world leaders land in Papua New Guinea for a Pacific Rim summit, the welcome mat is especially big for China’s president. – Associated Press

David Ignatius writes: As a rising power, China is also a rising threat in the intelligence sphere. The U.S. counterattack, in part, seems to be a public revelation of just how and why Beijing is stealing America’s secrets — overt payback for covert espionage. – Washington Post

Joshua Eisenmann: China is now in full celebration mode, commemorating four decades since it turned away from Mao Zedong Thought and toward Reform and Opening Up — the blend of market and socialist policies initiated in 1978 by Deng Xiaoping that the Communist Party credits for “giving the Chinese people growth and prosperity.” […]This new scholarship has identified three widely accepted myths about the Reform and Opening Up narrative – Washington Pot

Peter Harrell writes: Trump has an opportunity to clarify his demands before the summit with Xi later this month. Much as Vice President Mike Pence recently articulated United States goals on the South China Sea and other strategic disputes, Trump needs to lay out a tough and specific set demands that the United States can actually expect China to meet. Only by finally laying out those demands can Trump turn his growing arsenal of trade war tools into long overdue reforms by Beijing. – The Hill

South Asia

An important upcoming milestone for Afghanistan’s Western-backed democracy and a separate, crucial chance to settle the country’s 17-year war appear to be crashing into each other. The country’s presidential election, planned for April 20, is already roiling the political atmosphere. – Washington Post

More than 28,000 Afghan police officers and soldiers have been killed since 2015, the Afghan president revealed this week, breaking with his government’s longstanding suppression of casualty totals. – New York Times

Pakistan on November 15 said its security forces safely recovered five of the 12 Iranian guards abducted near the countries’ shared border a month ago. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty


More than 40 years after an estimated 1.7 million people were killed during the Khmer Rouge’s rule in Cambodia, an international tribunal for the first time found two surviving senior leaders of the regime guilty of genocide for their role in the bloodshed and sentenced them to life in prison. – Wall Street Journal

A top Australian official seized Friday on past comments from Malaysia’s prime minister seen as anti-Semitic, amid a diplomatic war of words over the possibility of Canberra moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. – Associated Press

Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday he has spoken to President Donald Trump about securing asylum for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman whose conviction for blasphemy was recently overturned by the Pakistani Supreme Court, leading to widespread riots across the country. – Politico

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that Southeast Asian nations might be forced to choose between the U.S. and China, as concerns deepen about a Cold War-style conflict between the world’s two biggest economies. – Bloomberg

Malaysian police say they’ve arrested eight suspects including a number of alleged members of Abu Sayyaf, after reports the group was planning to carry out a series of kidnappings in the waters off eastern Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. – Al Jazeera

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, eager to resolve a row that has haunted ties with Moscow since World War Two, has told Russian President Vladimir Putin the United States would not put troops on disputed islands if they are handed over to Japan, a newspaper reported on Friday. – Reuters

Mihir Sharma writes: While RCEP may appear to be a multilateral deal, negotiations between China and India lie at its heart. Other countries have now accepted that fact, allowing India to also negotiate separately with China, as well as Australia and New Zealand, under a “bilateral pairing mechanism.” […]If the 2019 deadline is to mean anything, then both India and China will have to think very hard about where their national interests really lie. – Bloomberg

Eric Sayers writes: Continuing to give other functional issues and regional challenges budgetary priority will not bring about the shift in national foreign policy emphasis that the United States has set for itself. As Washington’s mental map of the Indo-Pacific matures, the next step in implementing this new consensus on China will fall to the administration, elected officials, and senior congressional staff to prioritize resource levels for the region commensurate with the great power competition we find ourselves in. – War on the Rocks


Europe’s top human rights court ruled Thursday that Russian arrests of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny have been politically motivated, delivering a broad-ranging if mainly symbolic rebuke of the Kremlin’s methods of keeping domestic opposition at bay. – Washington Post

Russia’s multiple arrests of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny during street protests amount to a politically motivated campaign to silence him, Europe’s top human rights court ruled on Thursday, in a rare finding that a government had abused its prosecutorial powers with political intent. – New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he doesn’t expect any progress toward establishing peace in eastern Ukraine until after Ukrainian elections, which he said he hopes will produce a new president next year. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty

Leonid Bershidsky writes: The Putin regime has been playing an unpredictable game with Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption activist with uncanny skills both as a politician and investigative journalist. […]The dehumanizing game the regime has been playing with Navalny shows the Kremlin is less and less concerned about those protections. The dissident has won an important battle, but so far, both he and ordinary Russians appear to be losing the war against a government that treats human rights as a Western imposition. – Bloomberg


U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was fighting to save her Brexit deal on Thursday after several ministers resigned, deepening the political turmoil over the terms of her plan to exit from the European Union. – Wall Street Journal

The disruption of Finland’s global positioning system (GPS) signal during recent NATO war games came from Russian territory, the Finnish foreign ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters

French defense officials said they will bring requirements to the future Franco-German combat aircraft that they believe are deeply connected to the country’s sovereignty: the ability to fire nuclear weapons and operate from aboard aircraft carriers. – Defense News

A proposal to acquire a fleet of Boeing Wedgetail airborne early warning aircraft for the Royal Air Force was so far in advance of a rival Saab/Airbus offering that the British Ministry of Defence felt it would be a waste of time and money to hold a competition, according to Defence Procurement Minister Stuart Andrew. – Defense News

Germany is calling on Ukraine to remove a controversial website that lists what it calls “enemies of the state” after Berlin’s former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder appeared on the list. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty

Rick Noack writes: When May told Parliament on Thursday that “we will leave the E.U. in a smooth and orderly way,” her remarks were met with laughter by lawmakers. So, what could be next? Here are some of the likely scenarios. – Washington Post

Sebastian Mallaby writes: The Brexit purists are threatening to topple the prime minister. But installing a new leader involves a protracted two-stage process: The parliamentary caucus of the ruling Conservative Party must come up with a short list of two candidates, then rank-and-file Conservatives must vote on them. Meanwhile, time is running short. Britain will crash out of the E.U. in March unless it can ratify a divorce treaty before then. – Washington Post


The Pentagon will withdraw hundreds of American service members assigned to Africa as part of a realignment of forces around the world. – Wall Street Journal

An Islamist rebel group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo received money from a financier linked to Islamic State, suggesting tentative ties between the Congo insurgents and other jihadists in Africa and beyond, a report said on Thursday. – Reuters

Eight United Nations peacekeepers and at least 12 Congolese soldiers were killed in a joint military operation against rebels in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is facing a deadly Ebola outbreak, the Security Council said Thursday. – Associated Press

Ethiopia said on Thursday it had arrested the former deputy intelligence chief after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration launched a crackdown this week on senior security officials suspected of human rights abuses and corruption. – Reuters

Cyber Security

The Justice Department has prepared an indictment against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, marking a drastic escalation of the government’s yearslong battle with him and his anti-secrecy group. – New York Times

Facebook said it’s making progress on detecting hate speech, graphic violence and other violations of its rules, even before users see and report them. – Associated Press

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg should quit the social media giant because of its anti-democratic nature that is a danger to the world, a prominent critic of online activity says. – Al Jazeera 

Facebook Inc (FB.O) Chairman and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday defended his response to Russian election meddling on the world’s largest social media network and issued a new plan aimed at stifling misbehavior while maintaining a vibrant hub for online speech. – Reuters

Former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos on Thursday took part of the blame for not doing enough at Facebook to stop nascent political misinformation campaigns in 2016, following a scathing New York Times report about the company’s missteps over the past year. – The Hill

A proposed cybersecurity law in Thailand would give a new government agency sweeping powers to spy on internet traffic, order the removal of content, or even seize computers without judicial oversight, alarming businesses and activists. – Reuters

Editorial: As Representative Cicilline’s tweet suggests, a sense of urgency is growing around the idea Facebook should be regulated, but there’s no consensus on exactly how. The answers can only come if the right questions are asked. Congressional hearings are an obvious start. We can only hope the House doesn’t pull any punches. – New York Times


The U.S. Department of Defense “failed” its first-ever audit, expected to be released Thursday, according to its No. 2 official. But Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan isn’t surprised at the result, saying it was widely expected the audit would find issues. The audit, concluded through the DoD’s Office of Inspector General, has long been sought by lawmakers and good-government groups. – Defense News

Since a U.S. Air Force estimate emerged in September, putting the cost of President Donald Trump’s desired Space Force at $13 billion, Pentagon officials have been pledging that the “official” cost estimate from the department will be much smaller. – Defense News

Aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) has departed Norfolk Naval Shipyard and is returning to Naval Station Norfolk to complete the remaining months of work on its long-overrun maintenance availability there, USNI News has learned. – USNI News

Arthur Herman writes: The recent midterm elections have exposed a political landscape that’s more divided than ever, with a Republican Senate pitted against a Democrat House, with Trump supporters pitted against Never Trumpers, and all deeply at odds on issues from guns and illegal immigration to tax cuts and health care. […]Fortunately that common ground exists, on advanced defense technology. – Hudson Institute