Fdd's overnight brief

November 18, 2019

In The News


Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sought to assuage Iranians’ concerns on Sunday after an increase in fuel prices ignited deadly unrest as the government comes under pressure at home and in pockets of the region. – Wall Street Journal  

Now leaked Iranian documents offer a detailed portrait of just how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs, and of the unique role of General Suleimani. [….]The unprecedented leak exposes Tehran’s vast influence in Iraq, detailing years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and religious life.. – New York Times

Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world as widespread anti-government unrest roiled the streets of Tehran and other cities for a third day. – New York Times 

Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday endorsed a government decision to cut fuel subsidies and warned demonstrators against clashing with security forces, raising fears of a crackdown as the economy falters under U.S. sanctions. – Washington Post 

The United States on Sunday condemned the use of “lethal force” and “severe communications restrictions” against demonstrators in Iran, the White House said. – Reuters    

Iran has slammed a US show of support for “rioters,” after violent protests sparked by a decision to impose petrol price hikes and rationing in the sanctions-hit country. – Agence France-Presse 

Iraq closed its southern Shalamcheh border crossing with Iran to travelers from both countries on Saturday, an Iraqi security source and an Iranian diplomat said. – Reuters

Iran’s foreign minister has upbraided India for adhering to far-reaching US economic sanctions against the OPEC member, saying that the Islamic republic had expected its long-standing ally to be “more resilient” in the face of what he called Washington’s bullying. – Business Line 

A prominent Iranian political activist and journalist called on fellow activists Sunday to put pressure on micro-blogging giant Twitter to block the accounts of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei until internet access was restored within the country. – Algemeiner

Iran is not calling for the elimination of the Jewish people, but believes people of all religions should decide Israel’s future, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday. – Reuters 

Iran’s Deputy Defense Minister Qassem Taqizadeh claimed on Saturday that the ministry has started manufacturing air defense laser cannons. – Arutz Sheva 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: US policy has been a mix of guns and butter in Iraq since the invasion of 2003, offering military training and arms and trying to butter up some officials that the US thought would be its champions in Baghdad. But at every turn an Iranian octopus was lurking, outplaying the ham-handed American attempts to exert influence in Baghdad, even maneuvering Iranian-backed candidates into office with US backing, tricking Washington to make the US think it had “won.” Meanwhile Iran played the long game. – Jerusalem Post


A car bomb ripped through a bus terminal in the Turkish-controlled Syrian town of al-Bab on Saturday, killing at least 10 people in an attack that highlighted the precarious security situation in Syria’s northern border areas. – Washington Post 

Turkish authorities have captured a Syrian Kurdish YPG fighter suspected of a car bomb attack in the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab a day earlier, which killed 18 people and wounded 30 others, Turkey’s defense ministry said on Sunday. – Reuters   

The Turkish Defence Ministry said on Saturday that a car bomb attack by Syrian Kurdish fighters killed 10 people and wounded more than 15 in the northern Syrian border town of Al-Bab, which Turkish forces seized in a 2016 offensive. – Reuters 

A senior U.S. coalition commander said Friday the partnership with Syrian Kurdish forces remains strong and focused on fighting the Islamic State group, despite an expanding Turkish incursion into areas under Kurdish control. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In war, words matter and the videos depicting Turkish-backed groups vowing to kill and pillage, while those opposing them have accused them of being linked to ISIS, has inflamed tensions online between supporters of both sides. The videos and allegations have hardened attitudes on the ground as thousands fled and fear to return to their homes. – Jerusalem Post 


As Turkey followed through on its threat to release more Islamic State detainees last week, Western European nations were confronted with a problem they had long sought to avoid: what to do about the potential return of radicalized, often battle-hardened Europeans to countries that absolutely do not want them back. – New York Times

Turkey removed four more mayors from their posts on Saturday as part of a widening government crackdown against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and replaced them with state appointees. – Reuters 

Turkey is weighing whether to buy more of the S-400 missiles that have caused a feud with the Trump administration, according to the head of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation. – Bloomberg 

Gregg Roman writes: It is hoped that in this latest meeting, behind closed doors at least, President Trump gave his Turkish counterpart a thorough dressing-down and a final warning about his behavior. If this is not heeded, then most certainly this should be the last time Erdoğan receives a warm embrace and, instead, President Trump should back Congress in its attempts to rein in the despotic Mediterranean leader. – The Hill 

Bulent Aliriza writes: Without an effective interagency process to implement his verbal agreements with Erdogan, Trump’s ability to impose direction on the U.S.-Turkey relationship is further constrained by his current problems in Congress. – Center for Strategic & International Studies  


Israeli forces struck multiple targets controlled by the ruling Hamas faction in the Gaza Strip on Saturday after rockets were fired from the territory, potentially jeopardizing a shaky cease-fire following two days of intense exchanges. – Washington Post 

Israel‘s military said on Friday it was investigating “harm caused to civilians” from an airstrike it carried out in Gaza that Palestinian medics said killed eight members of one family including five children. – Reuters

Amos Harel writes: However, unlike in most of the other rounds, this time Israel can sum up the events of the past week as a relative success, even if the fulsome praise being heaped on the army now sounds excessive (and is in particular ignoring the fact that this time the IDF was up against the smaller of its two enemies in the Gaza Strip). […]There is still a huge gap between the army’s awareness of possible risks, especially in a scenario of a war in the north in which damage to the home front would be immeasurably greater, and the public’s expectation that the defense forces will provide nearly hermetic protection in a time of war. – Haaretz

Zvi Bar’el writes: This time, however, the government, the army, the Shin Bet security service and Israeli citizens are all hoping that Hamas will act in a responsible and rational manner and calm down Islamic Jihad or at least hold its own fire. If Hamas does persist in its policy of restraint and does not expand the scope of the fighting — possibly causing it to escalate even more dangerously — Israel will have to reexamine its playbook vis-a-vis Hamas. The change in the rules could mean letting Hamas use instruments of control, management and, above all, financing, so that the organization can more substantially fulfill its standing as an autonomous local regime, in a way that will oblige it to take Israel’s security needs into account without foregoing the ideology of the armed resistance. – Ha’aretz

Amos Harel writes: In spite of the impressions one could have gotten from the statements of a number of members of the security cabinet, Hamas is not an Israeli agent. The buildup of events of the past week created a temporary meeting of interests between the couple. The death of Abu al-Ata removed an obstacle from the path that interfered with both sides in the attempts to reach a long-term understanding. And the bloodletting of Islamic Jihad members did not bother Hamas enough to decide to participate in the rocket fire. – Haaretz

Anshel Pfeffer writes: Iran’s enmity to Israel exists as a raison d’être of the Islamic Revolution and will continue until the Iranian people remove their oppressive regime — no one else will do it for them. But none of this is about Netanyahu. He hasn’t got a unique strategy on Iran; he just has a tendency to talk about Israel’s strategy on Iran. And that hasn’t been working so well for him recently. – Haaretz


Young men chanting the “people want to bring down the regime” gathered outside the office of Lebanese legislator Mohammed Raad, the powerful head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc. […]The protests engulfing Lebanon have united many across sectarian lines and shattered taboos, with some taking aim at leaders from their own sects, illustrating a new, unfamiliar challenge posed to the militant group. – Associated Press 

Protesters waving Lebanese flags rallied in cities and towns in their thousands on Sunday to mark a month of protests against the ruling elite as politicians struggled to form a government and solve the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. – Reuters  

Lebanon’s political crisis worsened Sunday with the outgoing prime minister harshly criticizing the party of the country’s president, blaming it for weeks of delay in forming a new Cabinet amid ongoing anti-government protests. – Associated Press 


A rocket hit Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses embassies and government buildings, on Sunday but caused no casualties or major damage, two police sources said. – Reuters   

An improvised explosive device went off in Baghdad’s Tayaran Square, killing two people and injuring 12, Iraqi security sources said late on Friday. – Reuters 

An anti-government protester in Iraq was killed Sunday by a direct hit to the head from a tear gas cannister amid fresh clashes on a strategic Baghdad bridge, security and medical officials said. – Associated Press


Authorities at Libya’s Misrata airport on Sunday seized a Libyan Airlines aircraft operating from Benghazi in the east of the country, the airline’s Benghazi management said. – Reuters  

The U.S. urged Libya’s Russian-backed eastern commander Khalifa Haftar to end his offensive on Tripoli and said it would support the internationally-backed government against any effort by Moscow to exploit the months-long conflict in the OPEC member. – Bloomberg 

Heba Saleh writes: Yet neither side appears to be winning and it is the city’s 3m civilians who are increasingly being caught in the crossfire — killed or maimed in indiscriminate drone attacks, air raids and artillery barrages. All the while, western powers have been accused of being too weak in their response to Gen Haftar’s aggression, despite it targeting the internationally recognised Tripoli-based administration. But this week there were signs of a shift in Washington as the US for the first time explicitly called on the LNA to end its offensive. – Financial Times

Korean Peninsula

The United States and South Korea have postponed joint air drills that were scheduled this month in an attempt to save a faltering dialogue process with North Korea, officials announced Sunday. – Washington Post 

South Korean and U.S. officials resumed talks on Monday to narrow a $4 billion gap in how much they want Seoul to pay for the cost of hosting the American military amid public protests of “highway robbery” against sharply increased U.S. demands. – Reuters  

North Korean media reported on Monday that leader Kim Jong Un supervised air force drills for the second time in three days, even as the United States and South Korea decided to postpone their joint air drills to ease denuclearisation talks with North Korea. – Reuters 

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui traveled to Russia on Monday, the Russian embassy in Pyongyang said, in what Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported could be a visit to discuss efforts to negotiate an agreement with the United States. – Reuters

President Donald Trump addressed Kim Jong Un on Twitter, saying that Democrat Joe Biden isn’t a “rabid dog” as recently dubbed by state media in Pyongyang, but urging North Korea to “act quickly” to sign a nuclear deal with the U.S. – Bloomberg

North Korea has ruled out any denuclearization talks with the U.S. unless Washington lifts its “hostile policies” against the regime, according to the Asian nation’s state-run media. – Bloomberg 


The directive was among 403 pages of internal documents that have been shared with The New York Times in one of the most significant leaks of government papers from inside China’s ruling Communist Party in decades. They provide an unprecedented inside view of the continuing clampdown in Xinjiang, in which the authorities have corralled as many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others into internment camps and prisons over the past three years. – New York Times 

A trove of leaked Chinese government documents reveals details of its clampdown on Uighurs and other Muslims in the country’s western Xinjiang region under President Xi Jinping, the New York Times reported. – Reuters 

China on Monday called on the U.S. military to stop flexing its muscles in the South China Sea and to avoid adding “new uncertainties” over Taiwan, during high-level talks that underscored tension between the world’s two largest economies. – Reuters  

China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier is on its way to the South China Sea for tests and to take part in exercises, the Chinese navy said on Monday, after sailing through the Taiwan Strait in a mission denounced by Taipei as intimidation. – Reuters 

Top Chinese and US trade negotiators held “constructive” discussions over the phone on a preliminary trade deal between the two countries, China’s commerce ministry announced in a statement on Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

China has suspended a joint human rights programme with Australia and blocked two parliamentarians from visiting the country as diplomatic ties between the two nations continue to flounder. – Financial Times

South Asia

The Afghan government said Saturday it was reassessing its decision to free three imprisoned senior Taliban fighters, following a failed prisoner swap this week aimed at helping resuscitate negotiations on a political settlement of the 18-year Afghan war. – Wall Street Journal  

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had guided the successful military campaign to end the island nation’s three-decade civil war, scooped the votes of the country’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority. The previous Rajapaksa presidency—of his brother Mahinda, from 2005 to 2015—brought Sri Lanka close to Beijing, as the country signed up for billions of dollars of infrastructure projects to be built by China. – Wall Street Journal 

Myanmar’s government rejected the International Criminal Court’s decision to allow prosecutors to open an investigation into crimes committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority. – Associated Press


A standoff at a Hong Kong university between protesters and the police entered a second day on Monday with riot officers lobbing tear gas and firing rubber bullets at some students trying to flee the besieged campus, while others stayed bunkered inside with homemade weapons. – New York Times

The United States condemned the “unjustified use of force” in Hong Kong and called on Beijing to protect Hong Kong’s freedom, a senior official in President Donald Trump’s administration said Sunday, as protesters battled Hong Kong police who had trapped them inside a major university. – Reuters 

China will not tolerate any Taiwan independence incidents, a spokesman for its defense ministry said on Monday, urging the United States to deal appropriately with the issue. – Reuters   

Voters in the Marshall Islands went to the polls on Monday in a general election that will determine who will lead the Pacific island country’s negotiations with the United States on the renewal of a regional security pact. – Reuters  

Two German citizens have been detained in Hong Kong and are receiving consular support, a source at the German foreign ministry said on Friday. – Reuters  

Georgia’s failure to pass a planned electoral reform is disappointing, a European rights body and the U.S. embassy said on Friday, urging lawmakers in the former Soviet state to approve the measure in time for next year’s election. – Reuters 

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong urged Germany Sunday to stop military training assistance to China after its troops appeared in the protest-hit Asian financial hub, a German daily reported. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: The bill before Congress, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which accuses the Chinese government of creating more chaos and warns of new sanctions, has the support of both parties, and should be brought to a vote without further delay. – New York Times 

Don Weinland and George Hammond write: But as unrest engulfs the Asian financial hub, Jardine Matheson is among the territory’s largest and most exposed conglomerates. It has been one of the biggest winners from an economic boom in Hong Kong, but one that has also seen inequality spiral and the property market become increasingly unaffordable for many.[…] With the Hong Kong government on Friday forecasting the first recession for the city in a decade, Jardine Matheson faces further tests. – Financial Times 


Russia will return three captured naval ships to Ukraine on Monday and is moving them to a handover location agreed with Kiev, Crimea’s border guard service was cited as saying by Russian news agencies on Sunday. – Reuters   

The head of Russian Helicopters said on Sunday that India was delaying the signing of a firm agreement for purchasing 200 helicopters despite providing all information. – Reuters 

Questions about the British government’s failure to release a report on Russia’s interference in the country’s politics continued to dog Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday as critics said leaks from the document raised concerns about the security of next month’s election. – Associated Press

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday threatened to pull out of signing an integration deal with Russia next month if Moscow failed to resolve their dispute over energy subsidies. – Reuters  

The British government will publish a parliamentary report examining alleged Russian meddling in British politics after the country’s Dec. 12 election, security minister Brandon Lewis said on Sunday. – Reuters 

Russia freed two Lithuanians and a Norwegian on Friday in return for two Russian spies held in Lithuania, in a Cold War-style spy swap that brought several high profile espionage cases to a close. – Reuters 

Daniel F. Runde writes: CMKI is not only a way to help countries push back against the Russia challenge but also is a way to help enable more integration with the West. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, most people in this region support the shift from one-party rule and a state-controlled economy to a multiparty system and a market economy. Interestingly, on the other hand, more than 60 percent of Russians surveyed characterize the end of the Soviet Union as a great misfortune. Over the next several administrations, CMKI is going to be the significant soft-power approach for this part of the world. – The Hill 


European leaders will meet with the presidents of Ukraine and Russia next month in an effort to advance rocky negotiations to end the conflict in Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal  

Croatian police fired on a group of illegal migrants trying to reach neighboring Slovenia late on Saturday, leaving one man critically injured, officials in the northern Adriatic town of Rijeka said. – Reuters 

France wants to change the rules for countries to join the EU club. In a two-and-a-half page “non-paper” shared with other EU countries, along with an annex listing new stages, Paris calls for replacing the current accession process, which divides the EU acquis — the body of rights and obligations that includes the EU treaties, as well other rules and laws — into 35 chapters. – Politico

Cyprus on Friday accused Turkey of violating international law by launching operations off the island in search of oil and gas. – Reuters 

Nato foreign ministers will this week meet to thrash out an agenda for the alliance’s upcoming 70th birthday summit, as member states seek to fend off potential clashes and quell fears that the gathering could “go off the rails”. – Financial Times 

Russia’s top EU envoy has applauded Emmanuel Macron’s opposition to enlargement of the union, in a sign of how the Kremlin has seized on the French president’s “disruptive diplomacy” to highlight divisions among European allies. – Financial Times 

A bomb squad was called in to investigate a suspicious package found near a synagogue in Delft, Netherlands on Sunday, hours before a musical act from Israel was scheduled to perform. According to local media outlets, police closed off nearby streets until they could ascertain the package was not threatening. – Algemeiner 

Forbes reported that the former officer who was interrogated by Cyprus police is Colonel Tal Dilian, a former commander of the Military Intelligence Directorate’s Technology Unit. – Arutz Sheva 

Brooke Goldstein and Yaakov Berg write: The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) just issued a ruling discriminating against Jewish businesses in Israel. […] Unless the EU amends the underlying trade regulations, European countries that have the unenviable task of enforcing this decision will now be faced with two choices: equal treatment under the law, or overt antisemitism. – Washington Examiner 

Aula Dobriansky and Paul Saunders write: The United States needs to do more than sanction Russia and sell arms to Ukraine. A successful policy must also include incentives for Moscow to acquiesce in a satisfactory resolution and steady pressure on Kyiv to fight corruption and improve other governance practices. Ukraine is now at a critical juncture, and the United States cannot accept paralysis as policy. If Zelensky fails, the costs to Ukraine and to broader American interests in Europe could be high. – The Hill 


British lawmaker Peter Hain will tell an inquiry on Monday that corruption under South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma was enabled by international banks, corporations and governments which should now seek to recover the loot they helped launder. – Reuters 

Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 15 people overnight in eastern Congo, local officials said on Saturday, in the latest massacre since the army launched a major offensive against the rebels last month. – Reuters  

At least 20 people were found dead after an attack on a Fulani village in central Mali, where communal violence has surged in recent months, the government said on Friday. – Reuters 

The United States no longer has an adversarial relationship with the Sudanese government and is working with its counterparts on the possibility of removing it from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a senior State Department official said on Friday. – Reuters 

Dozens of soldiers posted to Mali’s remote northern town of Labezanga served as the last line of defense against extremists roaming the surrounding desert. Then one evening earlier this month the military pulled up stakes and left, part of a reorganization following a wave of attacks on other far-flung outposts. – Associated Press

West African states’ failure to coordinate their response to piracy off their coastline is the main reason attacks are persisting, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe said. – Bloomberg 

Latin America

The interim leader of Bolivia took power this week promising to unify a nation in turmoil. But she has since stacked her cabinet with conservative ministers and thrust religion to the forefront of government at the risk of deepening the divides. – New York Times

Bolivia’s exiled leader, Evo Morales, is raising the stakes in one of Latin America’s biggest political crises, saying he might return to his country and try to finish out his term if the legislature decides to reject his resignation. – Washington Post 

Chilean protesters won a landmark victory Friday as lawmakers agreed to hold a referendum on the nation’s dictatorship-era constitution, a move that underscored the growing force of street protests that began nearly a month ago as an outcry over a subway fare hike. – Washington Post 

The first of around 700 Cuban doctors were scheduled to fly home from strife-torn Bolivia on Saturday as officials railed against what they charged was slander and mistreatment by Bolivia’s conservative interim government. – Reuters 

The Trump administration on Saturday imposed U.S. travel sanctions on a second high-level Cuban official as it increased pressure on its old Cold War foe and Havana’s ongoing support of Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro. – Reuters 

The U.S. government said on Saturday that it had no plans to send asylum seekers to remote regions in Guatemala after the Central American country floated the plan during negotiations for a bilateral migration agreement this week. – Reuters


The Navy is already making hard decisions – curtailing training for air wings not imminently deploying, canceling planned ship maintenance availabilities – as the specter of a full-year continuing resolution looms. – USNI News 

President Donald Trump, carrying through on a previous pledge, granted full pardons on Friday to a pair of Army officers convicted of or charged with war crimes — and also promoted a Navy SEAL who was tried and acquitted for similar violations of the laws of armed conflict. – Politico

The Air Force’s leak of Boeing’s proprietary information to competitor Northrop Grumman was not a major factor in the company’s decision to forgo the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent competition, the head of Boeing’s defense business said on Nov. 16. – Defense News

The United States is not currently engaged in discussions with the United Arab Emirates on a potential sale of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 joint strike fighter, the Pentagon’s head of acquisition said Saturday. – Defense News

Officials at the newly re-established U.S. Space Command are structuring the organization to take better advantage of commercial space innovations, said Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting, one of the command’s leaders. – C4ISRNET

As it grapples with the advent of Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), NATO is asking industry how companies can help ensure interoperability among allied fighters, tankers and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms. – Breaking Defense

Long War

A man who was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport after he arrived on a flight from Turkey has been charged with a terrorism offence, British police said on Sunday. – Reuters 

A federal judge on Saturday ordered that a German citizen arrested on her return to the country on suspicion of being a member of Islamic State should remain in custody, prosecutors said. – Reuters 

Ukraine’s security service said on Friday it had detained the deputy of Abu Omar al-Shishani, the man the Pentagon described as Islamic State’s “minister of war”, after he crossed into Ukraine on a fake passport last year. – Reuters 

Turkey sent a U.S. citizen suspected of fighting for Islamic State to the United States by plane on Friday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said, after the man was refused entry to Greece earlier this week. – Reuters 

British jihadis returning home from Syria and Iraq will have their movements restricted and be enrolled in mandatory deradicalisation programmes if they cannot be prosecuted for terrorism offences, say Whitehall officials. – Financial Times