Fdd's overnight brief

November 2, 2018

In The News


The Trump administration has intervened in recent weeks in two Middle East disputes that have hobbled regional oil production, aiming to boost global supplies as Iranian oil sanctions take effect, according to officials familiar with the efforts. – Wall Street Journal

Democrats at home and allies abroad have slammed President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran as recklessly dangerous. But some prominent Republicans are making the case that Trump’s policy is actually too soft. – Politico

Jolted by fresh allegations of Iranian plots on their doorsteps, European governments are discussing their first targeted sanctions against Tehran in years as they strain to uphold the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. government has agreed to let eight countries, including close allies South Korea and Japan, as well as India, keep buying Iranian oil after it reimposes sanctions on Tehran from next week, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing a U.S. official. – Reuters

Norway summoned the Iranian ambassador on Thursday over a suspected assassination plot against an Iranian Arab opposition figure in Denmark involving a Norwegian citizen of Iranian background. – Reuters

On the heels of explosive revelations that Iranian operatives – allegedly under direct orders from Tehran – plotted to carry out deadly attacks on dissidents across Europe, U.S. intelligence is on heightened alert of similar Iran-orchestrated operations, according to several analysts and insiders. – Fox News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling Iran the “most potent force of militant Islam,” says he has warned Europe of possible Iranian attacks on its soil. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Simon Henderson writes: Although the scene is set for at least an initial American victory on constraining Iran’s oil exports, the advantage needs to be sustained over several weeks and perhaps months if it is to force concessions from Tehran. […]In the end, Tehran’s willingness to change its behavior and negotiate on nuclear, missile, and regional issues likely depends on a range of sustained pressures. Oil is the most obvious pressure point—but also the most likely to produce unintended consequences elsewhere. – Washington Institute


Iran’s ally Hezbollah is paying former U.S.-backed rebels to switch sides and join a growing force in southern Syria, deepening its presence near Israel’s border after appearing to withdraw to avoid Israeli airstrikes, according to activists and a former rebel commander. – Wall Street Journal

Turkish and U.S. troops began joint patrols in northern Syria on Thursday aimed at averting clashes between Turkey and Washington’s Kurdish allies, but Turkey pressed on with a new threatened offensive nearby to crush the Kurds. – Reuters

Russia accused rebels in Syria’s Idlib Province of trying to wreck a Russian-Turkish initiative to create a demilitarized zone in the insurgent-held region, the Interfax news agency reported on Thursday. – Reuters


President Trump spoke with his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Thursday, in a sign of easing tensions between the two countries after the release of an American pastor from Turkey last month. – Wall Street Journal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should resist any temptation to leave NATO in pursuit of Russian friendship, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday. – Washington Examiner

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the new Istanbul Airport, a major public works project that is the culmination of Erdogan’s 15-year building spree. – Business Insider


President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has reiterated that he plans to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, joining the United States and Guatemala. – The Guardian

Palestinian columnist for the Qatari daily Al-Watan, wrote that the way to attain freedom is through armed struggle against Israel. In the column, headed “Open the Weapons Depos,” he criticized Palestinian President Mahmoud ‘Abbas and his associates for abandoning the armed struggle and therefore failing to realize the Palestinian dream. He called on Fatah to take up arms, and on Hamas to expand its struggle against Israel to the West Bank and the Palestinian diaspora. – Middle East Media Research Institute

An Israeli official on Friday called the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul “despicable” but said that cementing ties with Gulf states in the struggle against Iran was Israel’s overriding concern. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is suspending its future work with a nonprofit chaired by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, reflecting the unease of Western entities in dealing with the kingdom as it struggles to explain the killing of a dissident journalist. – Wall Street Journal

A month after the killing of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, the growing international consensus that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind it has done almost nothing to weaken his grip on power over the kingdom. – New York Times

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a dangerous Islamist days after his disappearance in a phone call with President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton, according to people familiar with the discussion. – Washington Post

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday it would be a “handful more weeks” before the United States had enough evidence to impose sanctions in response to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a rare meeting with American evangelical Christians on Thursday, as the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom seeks to open up more to the world and repair an image of religious intolerance. – Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached out in recent days to senior members of the Trump administration and asked that the United States support the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman despite the controversy surrounding his involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: E.U. leaders ought to punish Tehran. Yet Mr. Bolton’s words raise the question of how Saudi Arabia ought to be judged in light of what it now acknowledges was the premeditated murder of Mr. Khashoggi inside its own consulate in Istanbul. – Washington Post

Adam Taylor writes: Saudi Arabia’s reputation in the United States has been clearly damaged. Numerous American companies and government officials pulled out of a recent investment conference in Riyadh. U.S. lawmakers have suggested some form of targeted sanctions against Saudi officials, and there is growing opposition in Congress to U.S. support for the Saudi intervention in Yemen. […]So far, though, there has been little practical change. – Washington Post

Karen E. Young writes: It is possible to have good bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia that focus on our shared interests in global growth; in a stable and prosperous Middle East that sees opportunity for its youth population; for governments that can have the resources and access to finance to make choices about policy that are based not on fear, but on optimism. It is also possible to be optimistic about the Middle East without kowtowing to brutality. We just have to figure out what we stand for. – American Enterprise Institute


Yemen’s internationally recognized government on Thursday welcomed new U.S.-led peace efforts, while analysts cautioned that previous diplomatic failures point to the challenges facing any renewed bid to end the three-year war. – Wall Street Journal

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it attacked Sanaa International Airport and an adjoining airbase being used by Houthi insurgents, as the two warring sides also clashed further west in the country’s main port city. – Reuters

The United States is calling for a cease-fire in the catastrophic Yemen civil war that has killed more than 10,000 civilians and caused the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. – New York Post

Middle East & North Africa

Egyptian security forces have detained the daughter of former presidential candidate and senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater, family members and two security sources said on Thursday. – Reuters

Morocco’s most influential rights group AMDH deplored on Thursday what it said was a surge in political and arbitrary detentions of human rights campaigners, journalists and social activists. – Reuters

Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci write: All of the European women we talked to said they had completely renounced ISIS and asked us to intercede with their countries — even if to be put in rehabilitation or serve prison sentences at home for the crime they may have committed in joining the ISIS. They all expressed the naivete of having believed ISIS’s lies. Western countries must consider the need to repatriate at least the children in these camps, if not also their mothers. – Washington Examiner

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday acquitted a man who refused to serve in the military because of his religious beliefs, a ruling expected to affect the fate of the more than 900 conscientious objectors who are currently on trial for refusing mandatory service in the country’s armed forces. – New York Times

U.S. and South Korean defense chiefs have agreed on a set of measures to transform their military alliance that has been led by U.S. commanders over the past 65 years. The agreement is meant to bring about a combined defense structure in which South Korea takes on more responsibility for its defense. – Defense News

Erin Dunne writes: Looking to secure North Korean denuclearization, the Trump administration may cancel a major joint military exercise with South Korea set for next summer. […]With a decision on the exercise expected by Dec. 1, the U.S. must not hastily make concessions, such as canceling more military exercises or even scheduling another meeting with President Trump without a clear commitment to denuclearization from Kim Jong Un. – Washington Examiner


The Justice Department on Thursday unveiled a broad new initiative to combat what it says is mounting criminal economic activity by China, announcing the plan as U.S. officials unsealed charges against several individuals and Chinese and Taiwanese companies for trade-secret theft. – Washington Post

President Trump said he had a “very good conversation” with President Xi Jinping of China that signaled progress in the nations’ trade dispute, hours before federal prosecutors unsealed charges against a Chinese technology firm for allegedly stealing trade secrets. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese authorities aggressively expanded the scale of internment camps in Xinjiang this year, according to a new study, even as China’s program of mass detentions of Muslims in the region started to draw international scrutiny. – Wall Street Journal

China must accelerate the development of new-generation artificial intelligence as a “strategic issue,” President Xi Jinping told top Communist Party officials this week, in his latest exhortation to give China control of new technologies and lessen its dependence on the United States. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump wants to reach an agreement on trade with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 nations summit in Argentina later this month and has asked key U.S. officials to begin drafting potential terms, according to four people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Editorial: The Trump Administration’s China trade strategy has employed blunderbuss tariffs that hurt the U.S. and China. But the policy took a better turn this week with strong but targeted actions to punish alleged theft of U.S. technology. […]The actions send a message that the U.S. wants to punish theft and predatory behavior, not free trade and honest commerce. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: China’s Belt and Road needn’t pose a threat and shouldn’t be opposed on principle. Quite the opposite: If China’s investment and expertise succeed in boosting development in poor or unstable regions, the U.S. and other developed nations could benefit too. That’s why Washington’s best course would be to work on strengthening the rules for global trade — so that the goods and services flowing through this new infrastructure are guided by market forces, not political directives. – Bloomberg

South Asia

Suspected Indian militants shot dead five Bengali-speaking Hindu men in a sensitive border state late on Thursday, police said, as tension grows over a controversial citizenship test to identify illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. – Reuters

Pakistan’s ultra-Islamist party blocked roads in major cities for a third day on Friday in protest against the acquittal of a Christian woman on death row for blasphemy allegations. – Reuters

In his first interview since taking command of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in September, Army Gen. Austin Miller’s thoughts seem to mirror the pessimism felt by the American people as the war in Afghanistan treads past the 17-year mark. – Military Times


Australia will redevelop a South Pacific naval base, used by the U.S. as a World War II launchpad, at a time when China’s regional presence is becoming more visible. – Wall Street Journal

Two senior Goldman Sachs GS 0.71% bankers paid bribes and stole and laundered money from a Malaysian sovereign-wealth fund, U.S. prosecutors allege, putting the bank at the center of one of the biggest financial frauds in history. – Wall Street Journal

Hope and anxiety hang over Asia — and north Asia in particular — ahead of Tuesday’s U.S. midterm election. President Donald Trump has shaken up Asia, as he has much of the world. Now Beijing, Seoul and other Asian capitals are waiting to see if the Democrats wrest control of at least one house of Congress from the Republicans — and whether that would significantly alter U.S. foreign policy and trade initiatives. – Associated Press

The Navy is still committed to resuming rotational deployments of the Littoral Combat Ship to Southeast Asia, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said, though he declined to specify when the deployments would resume. – USNI News

The European Union will consider stripping Sri Lanka of its duty-free access if it backs off commitments on rights, the EU ambassador said, amid worries stoked by the president’s replacing of the elected premier by a wartime nationalist. – Reuters


The bitter relations between Moscow and Kiev continued their downward spiral on Thursday, as the Russian government imposed economic sanctions against a broad cross-section of Ukraine’s political and business elite. – New York Times

Germany and France condemned the downing over separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine of a drone operated by monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and blamed Moscow and the separatists it backs for the incident. – Reuters

The Russian media is obsessed with the American civil war. No, not the one that erupted in 1861 over the secession of the South—the civil war that’s coming with the next U.S. presidential election. More than 30 articles were published in the past few days on some of the country’s most popular news sites ahead of a hotly contested congressional election in the United States next week, all suggesting that Americans might turn their many guns against each other. – Foreign Policy


The invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is a major point of contention as the U.K. tries to separate from the European Union by a March 29, 2019 deadline. The withdrawal requires agreement about how to avoid having a physical border between the Republic and the North. – Wall Street Journal

European nations are not moving as fast as needed to resolve long-standing logistical issues that could tie up efforts to meet invading Russian forces, according to a top NATO general. – Defense News

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will visit Ukraine, Poland and other eastern European countries next week as the Trump administration seeks to offer them alternatives to buying coal and gas from Russia. – Reuters

The Americas

The Trump administration unveiled new sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela, part of an effort to target what White House national-security adviser John Bolton called a “troika of tyranny” that includes Nicaragua. – Wall Street Journal

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces a dilemma as an election approaches – how to credibly clamp down on Saudi Arabia over its human rights record while sparing a $13 billion weapons deal with Riyadh. – Reuters

The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted its 27th annual resolution calling for an end to the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba after a failed bid by Washington to amend the text to push Cuba to improve its human rights record. – Reuters

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel has arrived in Russia for talks expected to focus on strengthening economic ties between the two countries. – Al Jazeera

The White House will no longer appease “dictators and despots” in Latin America, National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a Miami speech that welcomed new right-leaning leaders and put three leftist governments on notice. – McClatchy

Chile will join China’s Belt and Road initiative, Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero said on Thursday, in a move to deepen economic and political cooperation with the Asian powerhouse in a zone of strong U.S. influence. – Reuters

Cyber Security

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was notified his social media accounts had been hacked, his office said on Thursday, amid U.S. government warnings of attempts to interfere in next week’s congressional elections. – Reuters

A senior Democratic U.S. senator on Thursday unveiled draft legislation that would allow hefty fines and as much as 20-year prison terms for executives who violate privacy and cybersecurity standards. – Reuters

Silicon Valley technology giants such as Facebook and Google have grown so dominant they may need to be broken up, unless challengers or changes in taste reduce their clout, the inventor of the World Wide Web told Reuters. – Reuters

Justin Lynch writes: The flurry of cyber strategies from the White House and the Pentagon will require a new set of tools and tactics, government officials and experts said during the CyberCon conference hosted by Fifth Domain Nov. 1. – Fifth Domain

Kathy Gilsinan writes: As more countries, and organizations, gain access to destructive online tools, the nightmare scenario of entire cities suddenly going dark, or rogue actors gaining control of weapons systems, doesn’t seem far-fetched. And the chaos and possible destruction that could result is just the sort of outcome a terrorist might seek to inflict. – The Atlantic

Trump Administration

President Trump is expected to nominate Heather Nauert as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a senior administration official said. – Wall Street Journal

Nearly half of Americans believe that the Russian government will help Republicans if it tries to influence Tuesday’s midterm elections, and 4 in 10 Americans would be “much more likely” to vote if they learned that a foreign government was interfering in the election, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. – Politico

Josh Rogin writes: Bolton’s “Troika of Tyranny” label won’t solve anything by itself. But if it’s followed up with a real strategy, it could be the beginning of what’s needed to prevent Latin America’s failing states from dragging the rest of the hemisphere down with them. – Washington Post

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs writes: Whether it’s with trade, arms control agreements and treaties, sanctions, or military investments and operations, one primary principle propels the Trump foreign policy agenda forward: the unapologetic assertion and strengthening of American sovereignty. […]President Trump is leading a foreign policy that is energetic, decisive, and even disruptive. But disruption was overdue after decades of foreign policies that were more idealistic and often weakened American strength, influence, and prosperity. – Hudson Institute