Fdd's overnight brief

November 26, 2019

In The News


Thousands of Iranians staged pro-establishment rallies in Tehran and other cities in a show of support after the country’s leaders suppressed nationwide protests that erupted this month over a sudden hike in gasoline prices. – Wall Street Journal

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatened the U.S. and its allies Monday as he addressed a pro-government demonstration attended by tens of thousands of people denouncing last week’s violent protests over a fuel price hike. – Associated Press

Four months before a swarm of drones and missiles crippled the world’s biggest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia, Iranian security officials gathered at a heavily fortified compound in Tehran. […]The main topic that day in May: How to punish the United States for pulling out of a landmark nuclear treaty and re-imposing economic sanctions on Iran, moves that have hit the Islamic Republic hard.- Reuters

Ilhan Omar was recruited by a foreign government, received funding from a foreign government, and passed sensitive information through intermediates to Iran, a Florida court has been told. – Jerusalem Post

An Iranian man who ran an opposition social media site was gunned down earlier this month in Istanbul, Turkish media reported on Monday. – Agence France-Presse

Bobby Ghosh writes: The best the Trump administration may be able to do is tighten the sanctions that bar the Iranian regime from many financial transactions — and hope that arms manufacturers won’t do business with a regime that can’t actually pay. […]Might Russian and Chinese arms manufacturers be more willing to take the risk? Trump and Pompeo can do little more than keep their fingers tightly crossed. – Bloomberg

Amin Mohseni-Cheraghlou writes: The three “I”s of inequitable, ineffective, and inefficient energy pricing policies in Iran can only be resolved through gradual price liberalization programs, with the resulting revenues channeled toward increasing and improving physical and social capital, enhancing social welfare programs, and addressing growing levels of poverty and inequality in Iran. – Middle East Institute


United States troops have resumed large-scale counterterrorism missions against the Islamic State in northern Syria, military officials say, nearly two months after President Trump’s abrupt order to withdraw American troops opened the way for a bloody Turkish cross-border offensive. – New York Times

The head of the global chemical weapons organization on Monday defended the agency’s conclusion that poison was used in a high profile attack in Syria last year, after leaked documents suggested two former employees doubted some of its findings. – Reuters

As President Bashar al-Assad tightens his grip on the remains of the opposition in the north-west, a handful of tour companies and travel bloggers catering to English-language customers have started running bespoke trips to the country to “mingle with locals while also passing destroyed villages”, visit archeological sites “shrouded in a coat of destruction” and “experience the famous cosmopolitan nightlife that has returned to the centre of Damascus”. – The Guardian

Jonathan Spyer writes: It may be a long time before displaced people from Umm Kaif, Ras al-Ain, Tal Tamr and the other border towns can return to their homes. Normal life remains a distant dream here. Syria’s civil war, now in its ninth year, is far from over. – Wall Street Journal


Russia plans to sign a new contract with Turkey to supply its S-400 surface-to-air missile systems in the first half of 2020, the head of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, Alexander Mikheev, said, according to RIA Novosti news agency. – Reuters

Turkey is fully abiding by the agreements it reached with Russia and the United States regarding northeast Syria and is not resuming its military offensive, a security source said on Monday. – Reuters

President Donald Trump told the Treasury Department and Justice Department to look into the impact of U.S. sanctions on a Turkish state-owned bank after being lobbied by Turkey’s president, a Treasury official acknowledged in a letter last week to a top Democratic senator. – Bloomberg


Israel’s attorney general said Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not required to leave office following his indictment on corruption charges, giving a small boost to the embattled leader. – Associated Press

The Arab League on Monday formally rejected a decision by the United States to no longer consider settlements in Israeli-occupied territory illegal, saying the move was a threat to peace and a flagrant violation of international law. – Reuters

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday called on Arab states to end their boycott of Israel and instead engage with the Jewish state. “It’s time for Arab countries to abandon boycotts and engage #Israel,” Pompeo tweeted. “#MiddleEast divisions = instability.” – Times of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces was reportedly bolstering its forces in the West Bank and on the Gaza Strip border on Tuesday, as Palestinians planned a “day of rage” to protest the Trump administration’s declaration it does not view settlements as illegal. – Times of Israel

Editorial: Unlike a great many other injustices that take place in Israel every day under the auspices of protecting its occupation project, in this case, Shakir isn’t leaving as a victim.  […]Thus the party most badly hurt by this affair will be Israel. Shakir’s reports on what is happening in the territories will continue to be distributed by his organization, just as HRW still reports on other countries that have also deported its representatives in the past, like North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan and Iran. Shakir will become a living witness to the fact that Israel has joined this undistinguished club of countries that fight human rights organizations, and living proof of Israel’s repeated efforts to hide and whitewash its policy of occupation. – Ha’aretz

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi authorities have arrested several high-profile people in recent days, extending an effort to sideline Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s perceived opponents, despite a push to repair the kingdom’s international image to attract investment. – Wall Street Journal

The Netherlands will contribute a ship to a French-led naval mission in the Strait of Hormuz for a six-month period starting in January, Dutch news agency ANP said on Monday, citing government sources. – Reuters

Qatar and Kuwait have told the United States that they will join a U.S.-led naval coalition in the Gulf which was established in response to a series of attacks on oil tankers, a U.S. military official said on Monday. – Reuters

Omani Foreign Minister Yousef Bin Alawi said he is optimistic that an agreement between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels could be reached to end the four-year-war in Yemen. – Bloomberg

Rauf Mammadov writes: These projects, plus a number of pipelines built in the past 20 years, have transformed countries that once were just links in the Russian economy’s value chain into vital, stand-alone economic players with growing international profiles. Their role as a transportation corridor from east to west and north to south means that with more investment — including Gulf money — the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus stand to prosper even further. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The Swedish Prosecution Office said on Monday it had launched a preliminary investigation into suspected crimes against humanity by an Iraqi minister. – Reuters

U.S. officials met on Sunday with eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar as Washington presses him to end his offensive on the capital, the U.S. State Department said on Monday. – Reuters

Jon B. Alterman writes: Without question, part of the reason the United States has been fighting without winning in the Middle East is a consequence of its decision to fight in the first place. Fighting has the attraction of being immediate and decisive, and the United States has the ability to overmatch any potential adversary in virtually any theater. Yet, military instruments are a poor pathway toward achieving long-term goals. The United States should not mimic the Chinese approach to the Middle East. At the same time, it should learn from it. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Korean Peninsula

Nuclear disarmament has been a key theme of the pope’s trip to Japan, a country not only haunted by the memory of the two attacks that ended World War Two but also alarmed by the nuclear program and missile tests of nearby North Korea. – Reuters

David Axe writes: North Korea presents an immediate threat and has recently begun conducting increasingly worrisome missile launches, among other shows of force. This has already prompted Japanese authorities to make a number of defense-related investments, including the acquisition of Aegis Ashore missile defense sites equipped with Lockheed Martin’s new AN/SPY-7(V)1 Solid State Radar. North Korean belligerence has also been a factor in the decision to integrate the F-35B onto the Izumo-class ships. – The National Interest

Richard L. Armitage and Victor Cha write: The collision of all these events could cause Trump to do the unthinkable by withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea. […]That would be a U.S. foreign policy disaster, with shock waves ranging from Japan to NATO. It would make the abandonment of the Kurds look like a harbinger of U.S. isolationism, and it would represent the beginning of the United States ceding global-power status to China. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


After bloody race riots rocked China’s far west a decade ago, the ruling Communist Party turned to a rare figure in their ranks to restore order: a Han Chinese official fluent in Uighur, the language of the local Turkic Muslim minority. – Associated Press

China’s foreign ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad on Monday to protest against the passing in the U.S. Congress of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, saying it amounted to interference in an internal Chinese matter. – Reuters

A California man accused of spying for China’s security service pleaded guilty to a U.S. criminal charge in a case touted by prosecutors as a “rare glimpse” into how Beijing gathers intelligence in America. – Bloomberg

Anna Fifield writes: If Chinese leader Xi Jinping receives a morning briefing, Monday’s must have been a doozy. Nothing but bad news. There was a bombshell from Australia: […]Then there was a new trove of documents belying the Chinese Communist Party’s claim that mass internment camps in Xinjiang were not reeducation facilities for Muslims […]And the most domestically seismic news of all: poll results showing that pro-democracy candidates had won a stunning victory in Hong Kong […]But the weekend’s triple whammy has reignited speculation about internal pressures in the ranks of China’s leadership, especially because it comes amid a trade war with the United States that appears unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. – Washington Post

John Mitchell writes: It took 463 days of tariffs, several hundred presidential tweets on China, Americans paying $38 billion more in tariffs, and the trade deficit widening for the United States to show interest in a “phase one” trade deal with China. […]Although it looks like we’re headed in the right direction, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has revealed through a regulatory notice that it might keep tariffs in place for three more years. So are tariffs on or off? No one really knows, and the mixed signals are damaging to global trade. – Washington Examiner

Desmond Lachman writes: All of this is not to say that the Trump administration is mistaken to exert pressure on China to level the trade playing field and to have China desist from intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer. Rather, it is to say that in formulating its international economic policy, the administration should not exaggerate China’s long-run economic challenge to the United States. – The Bulwark


In the run-up to local elections in Hong Kong on Sunday, Beijing and its allies in the city were portraying the vote as a way to hear the voice of a silent majority after nearly six months of increasingly violent antigovernment protests. Now, that majority has spoken — and it has come out overwhelmingly against Beijing and its allies. – New York Times

The Chinese government, still coming to terms with a stunning electoral victory for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, is directing its ire at a popular foe: the United States. – New York Times

Taiwan has detained two executives of a Hong Kong-based company accused of acting as a front for Chinese intelligence agencies working to undercut democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the official news agency there reported on Tuesday. – New York Times

The Philippine military said Monday it rescued a British national and his Filipino wife who had been kidnapped by local militants linked to the Islamic State. – Washington Post

Chinese state media outlets have attempted to downplay the results of Hong Kong’s district elections, which saw the pro-democracy camp score a landslide victory. – BBC

Hong Kong’s deeply unpopular leader Carrie Lam acknowledged Tuesday that public dissatisfaction with her government fuelled a landslide win by pro-democracy candidates in local elections, but offered no new concessions to resolve months of violent protests. – Agence France-Presse

Tightening control over efforts to manage the upheaval in Hong Kong, the Chinese leadership has set up a crisis command center on the mainland side of the border and is considering replacing its official liaison to the restive semi-autonomous city, people familiar with the matter said. – Reuters

A senator in the Philippines urged lawmakers on Tuesday to investigate China’s access to its power grid, warning of a security threat and possible sabotage due to its stake in the nation’s only transmission firm. – Reuters

Up to 20,000 opposition supporters rallied in Georgia on Monday, stepping up pressure on the increasingly unpopular ruling party, despite a police crackdown last week and the arrest of protesters. Waving Georgian and European Union flags, and chanting “Change!” and “Resign!” protesters marched on the capital Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare before gathering outside the parliament building. – Agence France-Presse

Adam Taylor writes: Singapore invoked its “fake news” law for the first time Monday, making a citizen amend a Nov. 13 post that the government said used “false and misleading statements” to smear reputations. But the first use of the law did not focus on misinformation sown by a foreign state or that aimed to provoke sectarianism in Singapore’s multiethnic state, two stated aims of the “fake news” law. Instead, the legislation was used in response to a Facebook post from an opposition politician that accused the government of responsibility for a failing investment in Turkish restaurant chain Salt Bae. The move is likely to cause consternation among rights groups, which have already argued that anti-misinformation laws run the risk of hindering freedom of speech. – Washington Post

Joseph Bosco writes: The course of action Trump chooses will have broad implications for the future of U.S.-China relations, and for the security and confidence of Taiwan, which Beijing also claims as part of China under the one country, two systems formula. […]If President Trump joins with a virtually unanimous Congress in standing with Hong Kong, it will send a powerful message to America’s adversaries that domestic political rancor will not tie America’s hands in the global struggle between freedom and tyranny. – The Hill 


Vladimir Putin has had a good year, and it just keeps getting better. He now is collecting his winnings on multiple fronts. Even Mr. Putin must be amazed at how well he is achieving his goal of sowing discord within the U.S. political system. – Wall Street Journal

Today, Russian state and society have embarked on a major experiment—jump-starting their hi-tech innovation culture. Equally important in the near future will be the development of the hi-tech private sector in Russia that is independent of state support, despite some of the difficulties it is encountering along the way. – Defense One

Ben Fishman writes: Exposing and isolating Russia in its attempts to tilt the balance of power in Libya may be the best way to stop its attempts to increase its influence in North Africa. As the Trump administration itself acknowledges, that goal is profoundly in the U.S. strategic interest. – Bloomberg


The alliance between the United States and Germany is one of Washington’s most historically important and stable, […]But with just weeks to go before a potentially contentious meeting of NATO leaders in London, a new poll suggests that the two largest nations in the alliance (in terms of economy and population) have very different views of their relationship — and, in particular, that Americans are overlooking considerable doubts among Germans. – Washington Post

The 29 members of the Brexit Party in the European Union’s legislative body successfully campaigned for seats they say they did not want, in an organization they do not respect, in a political and economic union they intend to leave. – Washington Post

Britain’s most senior Jewish religious leader stepped into Britain’s election campaign Monday, saying the country’s main opposition leader has allowed the “poison” of anti-Semitism to take root in his party. – Associated Press

There are two NATOs. There’s the slick military machine that plans, trains and coordinates to adapt to new security threats to Europe and North America. And there’s the political alliance that depends on the unity and resolve of leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. – Politico

The Conservative Party in Britain, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, will ban local councils from boycotting products from foreign countries, including Israel. – Times of Israel

Rivarol focuses on antisemitism, Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories. A major claim it repeats is that France’s Jews encourage Muslim immigration to France in order to weaken this country and Europe, but that some of them pretend to oppose this immigration in order to fan the flames of Islamophobia, which helps Israel. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Edward Lucas writes: That recalls Rick Blaine in Casablanca, fending off pleas for help with “I stick my neck out for nobody. The problems of this world are not in my department.” President Vučić may not care about the outside world, but outside countries like Russia do not respond by maintaining a respectful distance. They treat Serbia as a geopolitical plaything. The spy bust was a chance to exit from that predicament, not to underline it. – Center for European Policy Analysis


A collision of two helicopters killed 13 French soldiers during a night operation in Mali, French authorities announced Tuesday. The deaths, which happened Monday night, took place during a broader military operation against Islamist radicals in the Sahel region, according to a statement from the Élysée Palace, the official seat of the French presidency. – Washington Post

Fears of censorship and an authoritarian crackdown on dissent have erupted on Twitter after Nigerian lawmakers proposed legislation that would hit Internet users in Africa’s largest economy with steep fines or jail time for spreading what authorities decide is fake news. – Washington Post

The World Health Organization says Ebola responders are on lockdown in the eastern Congo city of Beni after angry residents attacked a United Nations base to protest repeated rebel assaults. – Associated Press

The United States has recalled its ambassador from South Sudan after the leaders of formerly warring factions failed to agree on a unity government, the U.S. State Department said on Monday. – Reuters


The top U.S. military officer voiced support Monday for Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper’s decision to allow a Navy SEAL to remain in the elite service, part of a high-profile case that involved an intervention by President Trump and triggered the resignation of the Navy’s top civilian. – Washington Post

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will break ground on its new campus in St. Louis Nov. 26, putting it on schedule to be open and operational by 2025. – C4ISRNET

For six years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency worked on a program known as Plan X to help commanders plan and conduct cyber operations. The goal was for leaders to see the cyber environment just as they would the physical world. – Fifth Domain

President Donald Trump at the White House Monday honored the military dog who was injured during the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in October. – BuzzFeed

Editorial: A generation of officers had to rebuild the war-fighting culture after Vietnam, which they did with great success, and the military is a rare institution that Americans say they still trust. As Commander in Chief, Mr. Trump will undermine the officers under his command if he runs roughshod over their effort to maintain good order and discipline. – Wall Street Journal

Justin Sherman writes: As the world becomes increasingly software-driven, and as the global digital supply chain becomes more interconnected, the U.S. needs an established and repeatable process to handle and communicate supply chain security risks. For the case of Huawei’s 5G technology and American messaging and policy around it may not exactly be a precedent the U.S. wants to set. – C4ISRNET

Long War

A Florida man was arrested after allegedly trying to recruit ISIS to attack the deans of colleges he formerly attended. […]The FBI began tracking Rashid in April 2018 after his public Facebook posts indicated support for a “violent overthrow of democracy” and institution of Islamic law, according to court documents cited in the release. – The Hill

European police agencies have knocked out several internet servers used by Islamic State in a significant blow to the armed group’s ability to spread propaganda online, the Europol police agency said on Monday. – Reuters

Haroro J. Ingram and Craig Whiteside write: As journalist Murtaza Hussain recently wrote about the death of al-Baghdadi, “the muted response to the death of Baghdadi should give a hint to the level of public fatigue after nearly two decades of fighting, even among Americans who have generally not lived through the violence directly – War on the Rocks

Trump Administration

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, facing criticism from Republicans for not embracing a renegotiated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, said Monday she is awaiting final written commitments from the Trump administration. – Wall Street Journal

The White House’s chief of operations Daniel Walsh is leaving the Trump administration after being one of the few officials to stick around since President Trump’s inauguration. Walsh, whose title was deputy chief of staff, is expected to exit and join the private sector, the White House announced Monday. – Washington Examiner

The Supreme Court granted President Trump’s request that a temporary hold be placed on the House Oversight Committee’s access to his financial records. – Washington Examiner

A federal judge on Monday ordered the Pentagon and the White House Office of Management and Budget to release documents related to the delay in military aid to Ukraine. – Huffington Post

President Trump has put his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of overseeing the construction of the border wall, The Washington Post reported Monday. – The Hill