Fdd's overnight brief

November 19, 2018

In The News


New U.S. sanctions on Iranian financial firms, including a bank that until recently handled most payments for Iran’s imports of humanitarian goods, are having a chilling effect on foreign companies that help supply medicine and other medical products, economic analysts say. – Washington Post

Iran will continue to export oil despite U.S. sanctions, which are part of a psychological war doomed to failure, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday. – Reuters

Jeremy Hunt is visiting Iran on Monday, where he will make a personal appeal for the immediate release of the Iranian-British dual-national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on humanitarian grounds. – The Guardian

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency is reporting that the country’s authorities have detained four workers protesting not having been paid their salaries for months in the southwestern province of Khuzestan. – Associated Press

The Trump administration is poised to accuse Iran of violating an international treaty that bans chemical weapons, two U.S. officials said Friday. – Associated Press

Iran is still hopeful that its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers can be saved despite the withdrawal of the United States, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran and Iraq could raise their annual bilateral trade to $20 billion from the current $12 billion, President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday, despite concerns over the impact of renewed U.S. sanctions. – Reuters

Alejo Vidal-Quadras writes: The Guardian’s Nov. 9 piece, “Terrorists, cultists — or champions of Iranian democracy? The wild story of the MEK,” is a disgraceful example of Western media serving the interests of the religious, terrorist dictatorship ruling Iran – The Daily Caller


The U.S.-led coalition denied reports that airstrikes it carried out in a part of eastern Syria held by the Islamic State group killed dozens of civilians, while opposition activists reported clashes Sunday between government forces and IS in nearby districts. – Associated Press

Syrian regime forces retook control of the last southern holdout of the Islamic State group Saturday, as a monitor said air strikes killed dozens in a remaining jihadist pocket in the country’s east. – Agence France-Presse

Hundreds of Islamic State militants withdrew from the heart of a rugged area in southeastern Syria after holding up for over three months against a major campaign by the Syrian army and its allies to crush them, rebels and residents said on Sunday. – Reuters

Russia, Turkey and Iran are set to hold a next round of talks on Syria on November 28 and 29 in the Kazakh capital Astana, according to Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov. – Al Jazeera


Friends and supporters of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi held funeral prayers over an empty marble slab at one of Istanbul’s holiest mosques on Friday, declaring him a martyr and vowing to unmask those behind his murder in the Saudi Consulate 45 days ago. – New York Times

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has cautioned an international energy company against cooperating with the government of Cyprus in its search for gas. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Sunday that the exploratory drilling ExxonMobil has started in the eastern Mediterranean “did not contribute to the region’s stability” and could change “sensitive balances.” – Associated Press

Turkey’s foreign minister said late Saturday that the U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia is a “big mistake” ahead of a discussion with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. – The Hill


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has so far survived corruption investigations and the threat of bribery charges without much damage to his standing. But his government teetered on the edge of collapse on Friday as Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition partners pressed for new elections over his handling of Gaza. – New York Times

Amid flaring tensions along the Israeli-Syrian border, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations on Friday said his country would retake the Golan Heights “by peace or by war,” and Israel’s ambassador vowed to never withdraw from the territory it captured in 1967. – Washington Post

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he would take on the defense minister portfolio, rejecting calls to dissolve his government even as early elections appeared increasingly likely. – Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced calls for snap elections as “irresponsible” in an impassioned televised address on Sunday and vowed to push on despite a coalition crisis threatening to bring down his government. – Agence France-Presse

Loveday Morris and Suzan Haidamous write: Despite the fact that many were born and raised in here in Lebanon, Palestinian residents remain reliant on the UNRWA, an entity that provides aid to millions of Palestinians around the region Now, however, the Trump administration is trying to dismantle that lifeline, leaving many Palestinians fearing for their futures. – Washington Post

David Makovsky writes: Yet the consensus on avoiding war and improving infrastructure could mask a key analytical difference between Netanyahu and the IDF: namely, whether to pursue a major economic shift in Gaza. Netanyahu is more reticent than the generals on this point, with critics arguing that he favors the status quo in order to keep the Palestinian polity weak and divided between Gaza and the West Bank. – Washington Institute

Hassan Mneimneh writes: The Middle East conflict is indeed a struggle between Israel as an actual powerful thriving state and Palestine as a putative one, still lacking many fundamentals for an actual emergence ― both competing for overlapping if not identical real estate. Undoubtedly, Israel has here a distinct advantage, both in its own capacity and in the external support it is provided, in particular from the United States. – Washington Institute

Geoffrey Aronson writes: Every year international organizations turn their attention to the Gaza Strip as part of the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly. For more than a decade, reports have chronicled Gaza’s manufactured descent into hopelessness and deprivation with growing urgency. The latest World Bank report on Palestine charges that Gaza’s race to the bottom is accelerating. – Middle East Institute

Saudi Arabia

The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to American officials. – New York Times

President Trump on Saturday said he had spoken with CIA Director Gina Haspel on the agency’s finding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and that there will be a “very full report” on the matter by Tuesday. – Washington Post

Turkish officials said they have more audio evidence proving that Jamal Khashoggi’s death was the result of a planned execution, challenging Saudi Arabia’s claim that there was no top-down order to kill the dissident reporter and extending a weekslong crisis that has put the kingdom under international spotlight. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman received Iraq’s president in Riyadh on Sunday, a day after the Iraqi official visited the kingdom’s rival, Iran. Barham Salih’s back-to-back visits to Iran and Saudi Arabia reflect the delicate balance Iraq seeks to maintain in a region where its two powerful neighbors are battling for supremacy. – Associated Press

The killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have taken his dismembered body out of Turkey in luggage, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying by broadcaster CNN Turk on Sunday. – Reuters

US Vice President Mike Pence has said Washington is “not going to stand for” the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, as Turkey suggested that the Saudi journalist’s body was possibly carried out of Turkey in diplomatic bags. – CNN

Michael R. Gordon writes: The Central Intelligence Agency assessment linking Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is the most direct challenge the Trump administration has faced on its policy toward Riyadh. – Wall Street Journal

Simeon Kerr, Anjli Raval and Andrew England write: Nevertheless, the alleged involvement of the man known as Prince Mohammed’s “enforcer” has made it harder for Riyadh to distance the crown prince from the operation — and for the kingdom’s western allies to accept Saudi Arabia’s account that the killing was the result of a rogue operation. – Financial Times


Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a leader of the Houthi movement, announced on Sunday that he is ready to institute a ceasefire, so long as the Saudi-led coalition battling his militia in Yemen is prepared to do the same. – CNN

The U.N. envoy for Yemen announced Friday the country’s internationally recognized government and rival Houthi Shiite rebels have agreed to attend talks aimed at ending their three-year war, which has created the globe’s worst humanitarian crisis by pushing the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine. – Associated Press

Kamran Bokhari writes: Yet while the Yemen war is a human catastrophe, it is often misunderstood as merely a civil war, or an exercise in Saudi adventurism. It fact, Yemen is the latest theater of the decades-old conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has been intensifying since Iraq fell into the Iranian orbit in the wake of the 2003 regime change in Baghdad. – Wall Street Journal

Middle East & North Africa

The families of three Army Special Forces soldiers who were fatally shot by a Jordanian base guard in 2016 said on Friday that they had sued the kingdom over false accusations that the Green Berets provoked the killings — accounts disputed by a video of the attack. – New York Times

Iraqi officials said five people were killed in a car bomb blast in the city of Tikrit on Sunday, the latest security breach to rattle the country in recent weeks. – Associated Press

Hundreds of Basra residents mourned a Muslim cleric on Sunday who police said was killed outside his home after he suggested that protesters should take up arms over poor public services in the city. – Associated Press

An Egyptian man accused of supporting the Islamic State was sentenced to death on Saturday in the fatal stabbing of an 82-year-old Christian doctor in Cairo. – Associated Press

Egyptian authorities have arrested at least 40 human rights advocates, lawyers and political activists within the last 30 days and held them in “undisclosed locations”, Human Rights Watch has said. – Al Jazeera

Korean Peninsula

The North Korean soldier who defected to the South in a hail of bullets last year is a general’s son but says most Northerners of his age have no loyalty to Kim Jong Un, according to a Japanese newspaper. – Agence France-Presse

North Korea’s claim last week that it had tested an unidentified “ultramodern tactical weapon” highlighted its desire to upgrade its conventional arms and reassure its military even as talks are under way to end its nuclear program, analysts said. – Reuters

Chinese leader Xi Jinping intends to visit North Korea next year after receiving an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, South Korea said on Nov. 17, which would make Xi the first Chinese leader to do so since 2005. – Reuters

Tom O’Connor writes: South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal politician also not shy to express his newfound affection for North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un. As the contemporary courses taken by Seoul and Tokyo diverge, an old wound from their painful history was recently reopened by South Korea’s highest judiciary. – Newsweek


President Xi Jinping of China and Vice President Mike Pence pushed back against criticism of each of their countries’ trade practices in speeches on Saturday at an Asia-Pacific trade summit meeting in Papua New Guinea, while seeking to assure allies of their commitment to the region. – New York Times

An economic summit of world leaders ended in acrimony on Sunday, as a fight over Chinese trade practices cast doubt over the ability of Washington and Beijing to resolve their trade battle soon. – Wall Street Journal

Vice President Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered dueling speeches Saturday that offered a window into how the two governments are seeking a truce over tariffs yet remain fundamentally at odds over economics, diplomacy, and the race for global influence and primacy. – Washington Post

Interpol gathered police chiefs from around the world in Dubai on Sunday to select a new president, months after the global crime-fighting agency’s former leader was abruptly arrested by China on corruption charges. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump said Friday that China was ready to make a deal to defuse trade tensions, so he might not have to punish the country with more import tariffs. – Agence France-Presse

A city in China’s far-western Xinjiang region has ordered people who are “poisoned by extremism, terrorism and separatism”, in contact with overseas terror groups or act in a conservative Islamic manner, to turn themselves in to authorities. – Reuters

The facial recognition cameras that track Muslims coming in and out of hundreds mosques in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang owe a debt to American innovation: their computer chips were designed in Silicon Valley. – Financial Times

By turning reefs and atolls in the disputed South China Sea into fortified artificial islands, complete with anti-aircraft Surface-to-Air Missiles, China has transformed “what was a great wall of sand just three years ago [into] a great wall of SAMs,” the US commander in the Pacific said here today. – Breaking Defense

Phillip P. Pan writes: During this time, eight American presidents assumed, or hoped, that China would eventually bend to what were considered the established rules of modernization: Prosperity would fuel popular demands for political freedom and bring China into the fold of democratic nations. Or the Chinese economy would falter under the weight of authoritarian rule and bureaucratic rot. But neither happened. – New York Times

John Lee writes: With the presidents of the United States and Russia staying home, it seemed Chinese President Xi Jinping would dominate this weekend at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and increase his country’s influence in the Pacific. […] But nevertheless, Xi left PNG dissatisfied and disgruntled. – CNN

South Asia

The Taliban have held three days of talks with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in the Gulf state of Qatar, where the Afghan insurgent group has a political office, a Taliban official and another individual close to the group said Sunday. – Associated Press

Zalmay Khalilzad, in Kabul to lead talks between the United States, the Taliban and the Afghan government, told reporters he hopes “a peace deal is reached before April 20 next year”, when Afghanistan is planning to hold a presidential election. – Reuters

Three people were killed and over a dozen injured on Sunday when two men on a motorbike targeted a prayer hall with a grenade in northern India, police said. – Associated Press


When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan traveled to Darwin, Australia, on Friday and joined his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, to lay wreaths at a memorial commemorating the 250 people killed by Japanese bombs there during World War II, it was more than a moment of reconciliation between a wartime aggressor and its victims. – New York Times

No other leader’s presence is as visible at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit as that of China President Xi Jinping, whose face adorns billboards across the city. China has pulled out all stops here to cast itself as the beneficent power that can help take this small, underdeveloped country of eight million people on the path to greatness. – Wall Street Journal

Three leading Hong Kong democracy campaigners pleaded not guilty on Monday to public nuisance charges over their involvement in massive rallies calling for political reform, as room for opposition in the semi-autonomous city shrinks under an assertive China. – Agence France-Presse

Two years after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced a divorce with old ally the United States in return for bumper business ties with China, he doesn’t have much to show for it. – Reuters

Cambodia has reiterated it intends to end the work of the U.N.-backed tribunal that last week convicted the last two surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. – Associated Press

For the first time in its 25-year history, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit ended Sunday with its leaders failing to agree on a formal joint statement. All 21 APEC leaders at the annual meeting in Papua New Guinea were in agreement except China, a source within the meeting told CNN. – CNN

Benny Tai Yiu-Tang writes: The onslaught against free speech extends beyond candidates for political office — and doesn’t seem to require making any offending statement at all. In September, the city’s secretary for security repurposed a law aimed at combating organized crime syndicates to ban the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, claiming that the party’s activities were a threat to national security. – New York Times


Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S. Vice President Mike Pence Russia had nothing to do with meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, Interfax reported on Monday, during discussions about an upcoming meeting between Putin and President Donald Trump. – Reuters

Russia said Sunday that upcoming talks about resolving a dispute with Japan over a group of islands claimed by Tokyo would not necessarily result in Moscow relinquishing them. – Agence France-Presse

Vietnam and Russia on Monday agreed to nearly triple bilateral trade to $10 billion by 2020 from $3.55 billion last year, while expanding energy ties. Russia is Vietnam’s biggest weapons supplier and Russian companies are involved in several Vietnamese energy projects. – Reuters

Russian prosecutors have announced a new criminal case against Kremlin critic Bill Browder and say he might be behind the death of his former employee in a Russian prison. – Associated Press


As the British government convulses over Theresa May’s Brexit deal, its negotiating partners in Europe are watching with bewilderment and anxiety, tempered by a flickering hope that the U.K. Parliament might yet decide the pain of Brexit isn’t worth it. – Wall Street Journal

The leaders of France and Germany pledged on Sunday to strengthen the European Union and work toward the creation of a European army, in a show of unity on a controversial initiative that has been criticized by President Donald Trump. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Navy expects one of its officers to be questioned as part of an investigation into the collision of a Norwegian warship and a commercial oil tanker this month in one of the Scandinavian nation’s fjords. – Washington Post

The German government said it is considering whether to allow the deportation of some Syrian asylum seekers back to their home country in the latest sign that ruling conservatives are rethinking Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pro-immigration policies. – Wall Street Journal

European governments get their own say on Brexit this week as they debate future ties with London in the run-up to Sunday’s summit to sign Britain’s divorce papers. – Agence France-Presse

The U.S. and Ukraine are in “close discussion” for Washington to supply another tranche of lethal weapons for Kiev’s fight in eastern Ukraine, where “Russians keep bringing new military technology,” Ukraine’s foreign minister said Saturday. – Defense News

Some 900,000 people have difficulty accessing food, and thousands require financial assistance as the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists drags on for a fifth year, according to planning figures that the United Nations will issue by the end of 2018. – The Telegraph

The ongoing barrage of Hamas rockets on didn’t stop a group of 10 Spanish lawmakers, policy-shapers, and journalists currently in Israel from continuing their fact-finding mission about the threats that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement poses to both Israelis and Palestinians alike. – Algemeiner

Elisabeth Braw writes: For decades, Europe’s nuclear umbrella has been provided by the U.S. Even if France were prepared to extend its nuclear deterrent to other nations, no European ally would want to forgo U.S. protection. Europe’s militaries simply don’t have enough of the large weapons systems necessary to credibly deter Russia or China. – Wall Street Journal

Dan Hannan writes: No French politician ever lost votes by bashing the Americans. And let’s be honest, no American politician ever lost votes by bashing the French. Au contraire, as we might say. […] So, on one level, the spat between President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron is nothing new. Both men might reasonably expect to profit domestically by insulting each other — Macron with a certain sneaky elegance, Trump with his trademark bluster. – Washington Examiner


A commander in a Central African Republic militia who is known as “Rambo” and is wanted on suspicion of war crimes, including murder, deportation and torture of Muslims, has been handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the tribunal said. – Reuters

More than 40 people were killed and dozens wounded in Central African Republic in an attack on a Catholic mission sheltering 20,000 refugees, a regional lawmaker said. – Reuters

Congo’s army spokesman says rebels have burned homes and a car in a neighborhood in the east of the country where U.N. peacekeeping forces have a base. – Associated Press

Cyber Security

The alliance between Democrats and Silicon Valley has buckled and bent this year amid revelations that platforms like Facebook and Twitter allowed hateful speech, Russian propaganda and conservative-leaning “fake news” to flourish. – New York Times

An absence of political leadership and resources is threatening to undermine the UK’s response to cyber attacks against critical infrastructure like hospitals, transport networks and energy plants, a committee of peers and MPs has warned. – Financial Times

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs expressed frustration Saturday over the refusal of some tech giants to work with the US military. “I have a hard time with companies that are working very hard to engage in the market inside China,” said Gen. Joe Dunford at the Halifax Security Forum, “then don’t want to work with the U.S. military.” – Breaking Defense

While NATO won’t conduct offensive cyber operations as an alliance, it will coordinate cyber attacks any of its member nations launch on their own as sovereign states, NATO officials say. It’s a subtle distinction, but a fraught one, and one that officers of the alliance’s brand-new Cyber Operations Center labored mightily to explain. – Breaking Defense


After several years of increasing spending and virtually unprecedented shipbuilding budgets, the U.S. Navy’s party could be coming to a screeching halt in the 2020 budget, according to analysts and insiders who spoke to Defense News. – Defense News

The U.S. military needs Congress to provide sustained defense spending to maintain its eroding military edge against Russia and China — but also needs to start innovating, its top uniformed officer said Saturday. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford’s remarks […] came days after a National Defense Strategy Commission report concluded the U.S. would, “struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.” – Defense News

The B-21 Raider, the Air Force’s next stealth bomber, has its first homes. The Air Force on Friday announced it has chosen Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma to maintain and sustain the B-21, and Edwards Air Force Base in California to handle testing and evaluation of the advanced long-range strike bomber. – Defense News

A independent review of the 2018 National Defense Strategy by a 12-member bipartisan commission warns that the military might of the United States has degraded and could lose a fight against a rival power. – Navy Times

Hal Brands writes: In recent years, we have seen the renewal of a phenomenon that seemed to have passed into history with the end of the Cold War: fierce and potentially violent competition between the most powerful countries on the globe. Yet as dangerous as that competition is in its own right, it is also worsening prospects for solving many of the world’s other problems, from migration to economic crises to climate change. – Bloomberg

Trump Administration

A top White House official responsible for American policy toward Saudi Arabia resigned on Friday evening, a move that may suggest fractures inside the Trump administration over the response to the brutal killing of the dissident Jamal Khashoggi. – New York Times

President Trump derided retired Adm. William H. McRaven as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and an “Obama backer” and suggested that the venerated former head of U.S. Special Operations Command should have apprehended Osama bin Laden faster. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump said he probably wouldn’t agree to a sit-down interview with investigators probing Russian election interference, saying his written responses to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s questions would probably be “the end.” – Wall Street Journal

Although Mr. Bolton has scored key policy victories during his short White House tenure, his consolidation of authority has irked other administration officials, who say he and his National Security Council aren’t serving as honest brokers in coordinating the administration’s national security policies. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump on Friday said he intends to nominate Andrew R. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, to be the permanent administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. – New York Times

President Donald Trump is planning to make several key staffing changes as he prepares to deal with newly empowered Democrats and with the looming outcome of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. – Agence France-Presse