Fdd's overnight brief

November 20, 2019

In The News


Tehran has moved to quell violent unrest sparked by a fuel-price increase by handing out cash stipends to the poor and orchestrating pro-government demonstrations to marshal support for a policy intended to boost the sanctions-hit economy. – Wall Street Journal 

Hundreds of leaked intelligence reports shed light on a shadow war for regional influence — and the battles within the Islamic Republic’s own spy divisions. – New York Times  

Days of protests over rising fuel prices and a subsequent government crackdown have killed at least 106 people across Iran, Amnesty International said Tuesday, adding that the real figure may be much higher. – Associated Press

France lamented on Tuesday a U.S. decision to end a sanctions waiver related to Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility, but also said it feared Tehran’s latest violations of a 2015 deal could lead to serious nuclear proliferation. – Reuters  

Iran will likely buy new advanced fighter jets and tanks next year when a U.N. Security Council arms embargo is scheduled to be lifted, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Tuesday as the Defense Intelligence Agency released a new assessment of Iran’s military capabilities. – Associated Press

The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog says Iran has breached another limit in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers by stockpiling more heavy water than the accord allowed. – Associated Press

The United Nations voiced alarm Tuesday at reports dozens may have been killed in Iranian demonstrations, as the Islamic republic said it would unblock the internet only once calm has been restored. – Agence France-Presse  

Senate Republicans and Democrats stopped short Tuesday of calling for action in support of protesters in Iran, saying protests in Hong Kong, sanctions on Turkey and monitoring the situation in Iraq and Lebanon are jockeying for attention. – The Hill  

The ongoing widespread unrest in Iran since November 15, shows that protests have become more frequent and more intense. While large protests were happening with an interval of ten years before, now they are happening every two years. – Radio Farda 

Mahsa Alimardani writes: Iran’s turn to a national internet and online platforms created and patrolled by the organs of the state, while removing access to the internet is frightening. If continued, it would push the country toward greater authoritarianism and diminish the few freedoms its citizens had. – New York Times  

Ray Takeyh writes: The Iranian government might gain control of the streets once again, as has happened in the past. But the latest demonstrations reveal an uncomfortable truth for thew  regime: that the Islamic Republic is increasingly a government without supporters. – Politico


Israel’s military said it struck dozens of targets in Syria after four rockets were fired toward the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal 

Two civilians were killed and a number of people were injured in an Israeli attack on the Syrian capital of Damascus, Syrian state media said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria following Donald Trump’s order for U.S. forces to pull back aided Islamic State and damaged ties with Kurdish-led militias, according to a new assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency. – Bloomberg  

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The rockets fired from Syria just before five in the morning yesterday followed almost two years of escalation on the Syrian front, including actual and attempted drone and rocket attacks. They began in the context of deepening Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and have continued as the Syrian regime re-conquered southern Syria from the Syrian rebels in 2018 – and as tensions between Israel and Iran have grown. They represent Iran’s attempt to create a corridor of power across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, and to threaten Israel from areas near the Golan. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Although analysts and intelligence officials fear a resurgence, the reality may be that ISIS is on the back foot in a variety of locations. Lacking its leader, killed by the US raid in October, and lacking some of the other senior commanders, it local affiliates are struggling. Each affiliate needs to fight its own private war relying more on locals than the 50,000 foreign fighters who once flocked to join. Nevertheless people are still swearing allegiance to the group. – Jerusalem Post 

Mariana Dahan writes: Critics may object that de facto identification would imply an open-borders policy, validating fears of miserable migrants invading wealthy Europe. But studies show that orderly and well-managed immigration can actually help host countries increase their wealth, by harnessing the productivity gains from the new workforce. Issuing blue passports to distressed refugees will help migrants better integrate with the host community by following legal pathways. – Bloomberg

Jessica Trisko Darden writes: The leader of ISIS is dead. Russia now controls a former US airbase in northern Syria. Turkey is deporting ISIS members back to their European homes. The United States has seemingly given up the game in Syria and, as its troops leave, its money should follow. Continuing to provide US foreign assistance in Syria now only helps Assad and his backers in Russia and Iran, harming the very people it’s intended to help — innocent Syrians. – American Enterprise Institute


More than 120 journalists are still being held in Turkey’s jails, a global record, and the situation of the media in the country has not improved since the lifting of a two-year state of emergency last year, a global press watchdog said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Turkey is aware that the U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia will not end immediately, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, but added that Ankara’s battle against the militia it considers a terrorist group will continue. – Reuters 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he told Donald Trump during their White House meeting that Turkey wouldn’t halt its deployment of a Russian air-defense system, as he downplayed differences between the NATO allies over the deal. – Bloomberg

The EU, the U.S., and Russia have all reacted to Turkish drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, but the strongest reactions have come from the EU, of which Cyprus is a member, in the form of the sanctions. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Israeli settler groups and right-wing politicians urged their government to begin annexing the West Bank, emboldened by the Trump administration’s announcement that it doesn’t consider settlements to be illegal under international law. – Wall Street Journal

The United States faced stiff international and Palestinian criticism Tuesday over its decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements illegal, while the Jewish state’s premier cheered on the “historic” move. – Agence France-Presse

The United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday that Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory remain in breach of international law, rejecting the Trump administration’s position accepting them. – Reuters

France on Tuesday said it “regretted” the United States’ announcement that it no longer considers Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria to be contrary to international law. – Arutz Sheva

Canada on Tuesday changed course and voted in favor of a UN resolution in support of Palestinian Arabs’ right to self-determination, the CBC reports. – Arutz Sheva  

A Palestinian man from the West Bank was arrested early Tuesday for allegedly making deaths threats on the Facebook page of settler leader Yossi Dagan, chairman of the Samaria Regional Council. – Times of Israel   

Israeli intelligence must work to disrupt Iranian influence and its natural advantages in Iraq that could endanger Israeli security and Western interests, former Mossad chief Danny Yatom told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post  

An effort to get all 28 European Union member states to issue a joint statement condemning the US decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements as illegal is being blocked by Hungary, according to a diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the matter. – Times of Israel   

We are dismayed by the UN’s continued and blatant bias against Israel as evidenced by the submission last week of more than a dozen resolutions concerning the Jewish State, eight of which were passed. These resolutions are antithetical to the UN’s purpose as an international body meant to treat all nations equally. – Conference of Presidents 

Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group on Tuesday condemned the US announcement that it no longer necessarily views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. – Times of Israel   

A majority of the House of Representatives lawmakers – over 240 from both parties – sent a letter to the United Nations N Secretary-General on Monday urging him to enforce Security Council resolution 1701. […]The letter calls on Guterres to lead an international effort to limit Hezbollah’s capabilities, “and to avoid the devastating but avoidable outcome of which you have previously warned. – Jerusalem Post  

Zev Chafets writes: Under the circumstances, Palestinian leaders have a hard choice to make. They can wait and pray for the demise of the Trump administration and hope Pompeo’s stance will be reversed. Or they can end their diplomatic boycott, come to the table and extract substantial American economic aid, influence over the settlement map and limited autonomy. They may not like it, but for now, U.S. policy gives Israel the right to choose what parts of the West Bank it wants to keep. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

South Korea said Yemeni Houthi rebels have released three ships they seized earlier this week that included two vessels from South Korea and one from Saudi Arabia. – Bloomberg

The U.S. aircraft carrier strike group Abraham Lincoln sailed through the vital Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, U.S. officials told Reuters, amid simmering tensions between Iran and the United States. – Reuters

The Emirati Ministry of Defence will buy two more GlobalEye airborne early warning planes from Swedish aerospace firm Saab, bringing the country’s total number of aircraft to five, officials announced on Tuesday at Dubai Airshow. – Defense News

Hanin Ghaddar writes: This type of government is what the protestors are demanding; it is also a requirement for outside financial assistance to Lebanon. No other outcome would generate confidence at home or internationally. Yet it is still unclear who will form the new government, and none of the names proposed so far are suitable given that current authorities are still influenced by Hezbollah. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Squeezed between a growing North Korean threat and a shaky alliance with the United States, South Korea must decide this week whether its national pride and deep frustrations with Japan are worth killing a major symbol of their security cooperation with Washington. – Associated Press

U.S. and South Korean officials on Tuesday publicly acknowledged the allies remain far apart in negotiations for increasing South Korea’s contributions to the costs for maintaining the American military presence on its soil. – Associated Press

Japan’s reluctance to disclose information about the release of radioactive water from its damaged Fukushima nuclear plant is hampering neighbouring countries’ efforts to minimise the impact, the head of South Korea’s nuclear safety agency said on Wednesday. – Reuters


Oil prices tumbled Tuesday as lingering questions over the US-China trade talks weighed on sentiment on a mixed day for global equity markets. – Agence France-Presse

China and Saudi Arabia have begun a three-week joint naval exercise, Chinese state media said on Tuesday evening. – Reuters

The ongoing U.S.-China trade war may be prematurely pushing the world’s second largest economy toward greater self-sufficiency, but that could prove a win for the country as it seeks to make inroads into some of the world’s biggest untapped markets. – CNBC

The FBI wished it had taken swifter action as Beijing recruited U.S.-based researchers to transfer intellectual property from American laboratories, a senior official at the agency said on Tuesday during Senate testimony. – Reuters


Two Western hostages, one American and one Australian, were freed by the Taliban after more than three years in captivity in a prisoner exchange that could spur resumption of negotiations to end the 18-year Afghan war. – Wall Street Journal

Two American service members were killed Wednesday when their helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan while supporting combat operations, according to the U.S. military. – Washington Post  

Security forces have “obliterated” Islamic State (IS) militants in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday, hours after a prisoner swap with Taliban insurgents raised hopes of a lull in violence in the country. – Reuters


A former employee of Britain’s Hong Kong consulate claimed Chinese secret police beat him, deprived him of sleep and chained him spread-eagled as they pressed him for information about activists leading the pro-democracy protests that have swept the city since June. – Wall Street Journal

The Senate unanimously passed legislation that would re-examine U.S. support for the Hong Kong government as clashes between police and protesters seeking to counter Beijing’s control over the largely self-governing territory grow more violent. – Wall Street Journal

Criticism from China’s rubber-stamp parliament of a Hong Kong court decision is raising concerns that Beijing may move to flex its legal muscles and overrule the verdict. – Associated Press

China on Wednesday condemned a U.S. Senate measure on Hong Kong, vowing to take the steps necessary to safeguard its sovereignty and security. – Reuters 

Pope Francis arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday to begin a tour of Thailand and Japan, beginning a mission to boost the morale of those countries’ tiny minority Catholic communities and speak about issues of concern including human trafficking and peacemaking. – Associated Press 

Editorial: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam now faces a choice. She can heed the Hong Kong court and seek anew a political resolution to this crisis instead of resorting to ever-more-oppressive policies. A start would be to allow permits for more peaceful protests, while ending violent police tactics such as the use of live ammunition. Or she can accede to Beijing’s encroachments, and be remembered as the politician who killed Hong Kong. – Wall Street Journal


A Russian lawyer for Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine held in Moscow on spying charges, urged the United States and other countries on Tuesday to push for a prisoner swap with Moscow that could get his client released. – Reuters

Israel’s National Security Adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, met on Tuesday in Moscow with the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, Nikolai Patrushev. – Arutz Sheva

On October 3, speaking before a Valdai Club conference of foreign-policy experts in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed that Russia is helping China develop a missile warning system: “We are now helping our Chinese partners to create a missile-warning system, a missile-attack warning system,” Putin said. […]Baklitsky assessed that Russian technical assistance to China in creating a missile attack warning system will not affect Russia-China relations, but it will directly impact US-Russia relations. – Middle East Media Research Institute


An international network of financial watchdogs has suspended the Vatican’s access to its information, dealing a major blow to the Vatican’s financial credibility under Pope Francis. – Wall Street Journal

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that he will travel to Paris next week for talks with President Emmanuel Macron after the French leader lamented the “brain death” of the world’s biggest military alliance. – Associated Press

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization plans to widen its remit to include outer space as the alliance anticipates new security threats. – Bloomberg

Bosnia named a Serb economist as prime minister on Tuesday after a compromise between its Serb, Croat and Muslim co-presidents on submitting annual reform plans to NATO ended a 13-month deadlock between opponents and supporters of integration with the West. – Reuters

A retired Israeli soldier who helped thousands of Syrians receive treatment in Israel was met with protests during a talk at Kings College London on Tuesday, the UK-based Jewish News reports. – Arutz Sheva

Hal Brands writes: As the history of the Cold War reveals, “the wisdom of crowds” applies in geopolitics as in other matters. The views of allies can provide a second opinion, and a diversity of perspectives, that leads to a better-rounded approach. […]With luck, the U.S. and its friends might one day find themselves in just the sort of tiff that is happening right now, an argument over whose policies deserve the credit for winning a great struggle against the autocracies of the 21st century. – Bloomberg


A Somali intelligence official says a U.S. drone strike has killed a senior officer with the al-Shabab extremist group. – Associated Press

Burkina Faso’s government said the Malian army had no authorisation to cross into its territory to kill three people during a spate of ethnic violence last week. – Reuters

China accused Zimbabwe on Tuesday of understating its financial help to the southern African nation, after budget figures released last week showed that major ally Beijing ranked poorly on the list of Harare’s foreign donors. – Reuters

The Americas

Evo Morales, the exiled former president of Bolivia, said he is willing to sit out the country’s next presidential election if he can finish the last few months of his term and, together with the opposition, name a new electoral authority to oversee a fresh vote to choose a new leader. – Wall Street Journal

Argentine President-elect Alberto Fernandez on Tuesday told International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva that he has a plan to grow the economy and tackle the nation’s debt after his predecessor agreed to a $56 billion credit line from the fund. – Bloomberg

The Trump administration can’t enforce an asylum ban on a group of Central American refugees who were turned away from the U.S. border before July 16, a federal judge ruled. – Bloomberg

Brett D. Schaefer writes: The U.S. is correct to insist, as it has for decades, that no one nation should pay more than 25 percent of the U.N. However, until the other member states agree to adjust the peacekeeping scale of assessment, the financial strain will continue. In short, the U.N. financial predicament is real, but the reasons are multiple as are the solutions. – Fox News


A United Nations General Assembly committee voted Monday to advance a Russian-drafted resolution, paving the way for a global cybercrime treaty over the opposition of the United States and Western allies. – Washington Post 

The European Union is poised to say potential 5G suppliers will be evaluated based on their home country’s laws, a stance that could exclude Chinese businesses from some lucrative contracts for the advanced telecommunications networks. – Bloomberg

A bipartisan group of senators called on the White House to name a 5G coordinator to tackle what lawmakers described as an “unprecedented security challenge” presented by the new technology. – C4ISRNET

Deployed inside the sprawling communist-era army command headquarters in Montenegro’s capital, an elite team of U.S. military cyber experts are plotting strategy in a fight against potential Russian and other cyberattacks ahead of the 2020 American and Montenegrin elections. – Associated Press


The Pentagon on Friday announced that it had failed its financial audit for the second year in a row, although the department showed it is making progress. – Defense One

The Air Force has awarded Lockheed Martin $3.3 billion contract to support a suite of secure satellite communications systems over the next decade – C4ISRNET

In a report to be unveiled Nov. 21, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) finds that budgetary increases in the technologies are unlikely to yield significant improvements against Russia and China. – C4ISRNET

Long War

Turkey will have repatriated most of its Islamic State detainees to their home countries by the end of the year, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Tuesday, a week after Turkish authorities began the repatriation programme. – Reuters

German special police forces arrested a Syrian man in a raid on his apartment Tuesday after receiving intelligence from American officials that he was planning an extremist attack, authorities said. – Associated Press

A 20-year-old U.S. college student was arrested Monday for allegedly writing computer code to help the Islamic State spread propaganda online, according to the FBI. – USA Today

Trump Administration

It all came from the United States, over the course of five years and part of about $4 billion in military and security assistance designed to counter the Moscow-backed separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. […]This was the sort of aid that President Trump froze over the summer as he sought to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing investigations of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter — although no known evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens has emerged. – Washington Post

Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment inquiry, is likely to be unpredictable when he faces questions about his evolving accounts of the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine and a newly revealed summertime phone call with President Donald Trump. – Associated Press

Senior U.S. officials told impeachment investigators in Congress on Tuesday they were concerned by President Donald Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate a political rival, with one White House official calling it a “shock.” – Reuters

Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter Tuesday night to House investigators offering his own analysis of his September visit to Ukraine. – Politico

Former Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker will tell members of the House intelligence committee on Tuesday he did not know that his efforts to help the Ukranian government navigate its relationship with the White House were part of a campaign to dig up dirt on the Biden family. – Defense One