Fdd's overnight brief

November 27, 2019

In The News


The authorities in Iran strengthened their reprisals on Tuesday over the protests that engulfed the country last week, arresting “six main elements” accused of rioting in Tehran and penalizing Iranian journalists overseas who publicized the mayhem. – New York Times  

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks in Tehran with a Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the group’s founders, the official IRNA news agency reported on Wednesday. – Reuters 

It was the fear of such footage reaching the outside world that prompted the authorities in Iran to shut down access to the internet for more than eight days earlier this month, as protests against a sharp rise in the price of petrol spread across the country. – BBC 

Officials from China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain will meet with Iran in Vienna on Dec. 6 to discuss how to uphold the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, the European Union said in a statement on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The United States will keep sanctioning Iranian officials responsible for human rights abuses, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, saying the United States had received nearly 20,000 messages from Iranians about such abuses. – Reuters 

Amos Harel and Yaniv Kubovich write: Less than two weeks after Iran’s protest wave began, Western and Israeli intelligence agencies believe that the regime in Tehran is on the verge of containing it. The violence, which is thought to have taken around 300 lives, is considered the strongest uprising in Iran since the Islamic Revolution brought the current regime to power in 1979. Israeli intelligence officials believe that the authorities have combined brutality and sophistication to stifle the unrest. – Haaretz 

Farzin Nadimi writes: As seen in the Iranian-attributed rocket attack against north Israel on November 20, the regime seems to be hardening its resolve to hit back at those countries it believes are threatening its regional ambitions and hold on power. September’s highly successful, largely unanswered attack on Saudi Aramco facilities gave the IRGC and conservative leadership a similar jolt of confidence. Accordingly, one can expect Tehran to embark on its next significant regional adventure soon. And given the serious challenges it faces at home, the regime may be less concerned about avoiding direct confrontation with the United States or Israel this time around. – Washington Institute


Qatar could support Turkey’s plans to settle more than a million Syrian refugees in northeast Syria after its offensive against Kurdish militia in the region, broadcaster NTV quoted President Tayyip Erdogan as saying on Tuesday. – Reuters 

A car bomb went off in a Turkish-controlled area of northeastern Syria on Tuesday, killing at least 17 people, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said. – Associated Press 

Jomana Qaddour writes: Further, it is incumbent upon the guarantors of the UN peace process, including the United States, Russia, Turkey, and the European Union, to push forth now in parallel with the other baskets prioritized by the UN, including: accountable governance, UN-supervised elections, and combatting terrorism. […]And it is in theory that goal — of ending the Syrian conflict once and for all — that the international community, as well as the constitutional committee, is there to achieve. – Middle East Institute


Turkey’s decision to move forward with deployment of a Russian-made air defense system has sparked new urgency in the the U.S. Senate to punish the NATO ally. – Bloomberg 

Turkey was able to circumvent a US export ban on killer drones with the help of a missile component first developed in the UK, allowing Ankara to become an emerging power in the lethal technology, which experts warn is dangerously proliferating. – The Guardian  

Turkish media broadcasts showed US-made F-16 fighter jets flying over Ankara Monday to test what appeared to be functioning Russian-made radars that are part of Turkey’s newly acquired S-400 missile defense systems. – Al-Monitor

Turkey will not integrate Russian S-400 missile systems into the NATO security or air defense systems, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told a forum, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Tuesday. – Reuters 


Thousands of people rallied in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday in what was intended to be a show of strength for the Israeli leader as he battles a corruption indictment and a possible rebellion within his own party. – Associated Press 

Israel struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip after rocket fire towards southern communities on Tuesday night from the coastal enclave. – Jerusalem Post 

Thousands of Palestinian protesters took part in a “day of rage” across the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, with some groups clashing with Israeli forces to protest the U.S. announcement that it no longer believes Israeli settlements violate international law. – Associated Press 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Israel has been monitoring Iranian entrenchment in Syria, weapons transfers that move to Iraq and also to Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Iranian-backed groups in Gaza. […]For two years more than one thousand airstrikes have hit Iranian targets in Syria, dozens of rockets and drones have been used from Syria against Israel, drones have targeted Hezbollah in Lebanon, anti-tank missiles have been fired by Hezbollah and more than two thousand rockets have been fired from Gaza, all without a major war breaking out. Yet, both Iran and Israel assess that they are heading towards a larger conflagration. – The National Interest


Three simultaneous explosions rocked Baghdad late Tuesday, killing five people and wounding more than a dozen, Iraqi officials said, in the first apparent coordinated attack since anti-government protests erupted nearly two months ago. – Associated Press 

The top U.S. general, Mark Milley, arrived in Iraq on Tuesday amid a spate of anti-government protests in the Middle East and questions about how they could impact Iranian influence in the region. – Reuters 

A Marine who was killed in Iraq over the summer died during a combat operation from enemy actions, not friendly fire, according to military officials. – Fox News

Arabian Peninsula

The Saudi-led military coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels said it will release 200 Houthi prisoners as momentum grows behind efforts to end their more than four-year war. – Bloomberg  

The State Department is looking into reports that U.S.-made weapons sent to Yemen have fallen into the hands of those against the U.S.-backed and internationally recognized government, according to a letter released Tuesday by presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). – The Hill 

The roughly 5,000 crew members of the USS Abraham Lincoln arrived at the U.S. naval base in Bahrain on Tuesday, after spending more than six months in the Arabian Sea on a deployment shaped by tensions with Iran. – Stars and Stripes 

David Ignatius writes: The poisons stewing in the Persian Gulf are as dangerous as ever, and the risk of war remains. But it’s been more than two months since Iran’s devastating strike on the Abqaiq refinery. The Saudis haven’t retaliated or even publicly blamed Iran. What’s in the wind instead is a diplomatic process that’s already delivering some progress on Yemen and could expand — but not without a clearer signal of what the United States wants. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

The use of lethal drones was once an area dominated by the US, but has spread rapidly, drawing in new conflicts and causing more civilian casualties as warfare is revolutionised. The principal battleground is Libya, where both sides in the ongoing civil war are trying to gain air superiority with cheap Chinese-made craft run by the United Arab Emirates on one side, and equally inexpensive Turkish-made drones on the other. – The Guardian  

Russia has deployed military forces to Libya that are “de-stabilizing” the North African country, a top State Department official warned Tuesday. – CNN 

Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri said on Tuesday he did not want to be prime minister of a new government, putting the onus on adversaries including the Iran-backed group Hezbollah to find an alternative who can steer the country out of crisis. – Reuters 

The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres has called on the Lebanese government to disarm the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, with a new UN report confirming Israeli claims that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) force in southern Lebanon is unable to operate in Hezbollah-controlled areas. – Arutz Sheva 

Editorial: The U.S. government ought to be foremost among those standing up for Mada Masr. Sadly, the journalists can expect little from President Trump, who has described Mr. Sissi as his “favorite dictator.” But Congress, which must sign off on the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives annually, has leverage. – Washington Post 

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s military fired warning shots toward a North Korean merchant boat with engine trouble that violated their sea border on Wednesday, South Korean officials said. – Reuters 

It’s been about two years since Kim Jong Un launched a missile capable of hitting the entire U.S., declared his nuclear weapons program “complete” and halted all ICBM tests. In that time, the North Korean leader has also become an even bigger threat to America. – Bloomberg 

Joshua Eisenman and Kelli Kennedy writes: The problem with U.S. strategy toward North Korea is that it continues to rely on China. […]In short, China is doing everything possible to frustrate both UN sanctions and American diplomacy toward North Korea; yet there remains a bizarre and baseless Washington consensus that Beijing, if properly incentivized, will help resolve the long-running nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. – The Hill 

Victor Cha, Eric Falcon and Bryce Pedersen write: Online attention to South Korean security issues, meanwhile, has remained relatively muted. Washington’s $5-billion demand comes at a time when South Koreans are on edge about the economy: The export-dependent country has been hard hit by the U.S.-China trade war, and its third-quarter growth slowed more than expected. – Beyond Parallel


China offered its most positive message in recent weeks that trade talks with the U.S. were going smoothly after a phone call Tuesday between the countries’ top negotiators, raising the prospects for a limited deal sought by both nations. – Wall Street Journal 

Spying, meddling and even torture allegations are riling China’s relations with some of the world’s top democracies just as Beijing seeks to convince nations that its 5G technology can be trusted. In Australia, it was reported Sunday that China offered a Melbourne-based car dealer a bribe to run as a parliamentary candidate before he was found dead in March. – Bloomberg

Oil prices rose on Tuesday after news that U.S. and Chinese officials discussed trade, while predictions for a weekly draw on U.S. crude stockpiles lent some support as well. – Reuters 

Brian Chappatta writes: For those reasons, it’s questionable to conclude that the U.S. and China are truly in the “foothills of a cold war” that could morph into something worse than World War I, as Henry Kissinger described it earlier this month. For as far apart as the countries may seem on a range of issues, from trade to intellectual property and human rights, they’re pretty much as close as ever in the financial markets. It’s never a bad idea to follow the money. – Bloomberg

South Asia

The detention of a civil-society activist by Afghan intelligence officials is drawing criticism from the country’s president and the U.S. ambassador, a rare public rebuke of Kabul’s main spy agency. – Washington Post  

The remaining 200 or so soldiers from a Wisconsin Army National Guard’s Red Arrow infantry group have returned home from Afghanistan. – Associated Press 

India has awarded a $3.12 billion contract for local production of 464 T-90S main battle tanks after paying a technology transfer fee to Russia. – Defense News 


China broke a period of relative silence after a decisive loss by Beijing’s allies in Hong Kong’s local elections, blaming the result on foreign interference and offering few signs the landslide victory by pro-democracy candidates is prompting any change in its Hong Kong strategy. – Wall Street Journal  

China’s Communist Party admonished the Reuters news agency Tuesday over what the party called a “false report” about a move to replace the head of the government’s Hong Kong liaison office for failing to foresee the resounding defeat of the pro-Beijing establishment in local elections last weekend. – Washington Post

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday stopped just short of endorsing legislation that would punish violent crackdowns against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, a plan that could imperil trade with both the Hong Kong government and China. – New York Times    

Myanmar’s military began a rare court martial of soldiers on Tuesday following a probe into alleged atrocities during a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, a spokesman said, as the country prepares to face genocide charges at an international court in the Hague. – Reuters 

Ani Chkhikvadze writes: Georgia stands at a critical juncture of its democratic development. It is not just the future of a small post-Soviet country that is at stake. The fate of Georgia — a staunch U.S. ally — is intertwined with the larger question of whether the West can successfully restrain Russia’s regional influence. It is critical that Georgia’s Western partners maintain the pressure on Ivanishvili. They must not allow yet another front-line state, instrumental in thwarting Moscow revisionist ambitions in the region, to fall into the Kremlin’s hands. – Washington Post 

Eli Lake writes: Xi needs a trade deal as much as Trump does. The American president should seize this opportunity to show China and the world that even a divided Washington can show solidarity with Hong Kong. – Bloomberg


The Russian military says it has shown its latest hypersonic weapon to U.S. inspectors. The Defense Ministry said Tuesday that it demonstrated the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle to a team of U.S. inspectors this week as part of transparency measures under the New Start nuclear arms treaty with the U.S. – Associated Press 

British ground forces would be “comprehensively outgunned” in a conflict with Russia in Eastern Europe, according to a defence think-tank. […]The research comes ahead of a meeting of Nato leaders in London next week to mark the 70th anniversary of the alliance. – BBC 

Moldova’s new prime minister on Tuesday raised the possibility of a “pause” in its cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, a day after he said his ex-Soviet republic was negotiating a $500 million loan with Russia. – Reuters 


Russia may be the focus of Macron’s recent initiatives, but the heart of his project is European power. With China growing more assertive and the U.S. more unreliable, Macron is demanding the EU put in place mechanisms to wield its power as a more cohesive geopolitical player. Bloomberg 

The Czech Republic’s top intelligence agency warned that China increased its efforts to recruit agents and destabilize state institutions last year as it and Russia continued to threaten the nation’s security. – Bloomberg 

Jeremy Corbyn was asked four times to apologize for his handling of anti-Semitism in Labour Party ranks, but declined to do so. – Politico 

Spanish military-electronics specialist Indra has claimed the lead in a program meant to equip future European military aircraft with new electronic-warfare capabilities, according to a company announcement. The project, named Airborne Electronic Attack, falls under the European Union’s latest batch of so-called PESCO initiatives, which are meant to foster collaboration among member nations in key military areas. – Defense News  

France and Germany put aside bilateral tensions on Tuesday to call for an overhaul of the EU, which has been buffeted over the past decade by a euro zone debt crisis, an influx of migrants and refugees, rising eurosceptic populism and Brexit. – Reuters 

France urged the United States on Tuesday to drop reservations toward an OECD reform of decades-old international tax rules and proposed setting a minimum corporate tax rate of 12.5%. – Reuters 

William A. Galston writes: The creation of the state of Israel has provided a new focal point for the ancient charge of Jewish disloyalty. Throughout the European countries surveyed, remarkably high shares of the population agree that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the countries in which they live.” […]The resurgence of anti-Semitism suggests that old battles must be fought anew, with all the vigor defenders of liberal democracy can command, if we are to avoid regressing to dark times. – Wall Street Journal

Dalibor Rohac writes: Moving beyond the report itself, any build-up of Europe’s defense capabilities cannot be conducted separately from a broader discussion of the nature of threats that the West is currently facing — which go far beyond conventional forms of warfare and encompass phenomena such as disinformation campaigns and efforts to use dirty money to directly or indirectly co-opt Western political elites. – American Enterprise Institute 


A new report says South Sudan’s National Security Service has recruited a force of 10,000 fighters in President Salva Kiir’s ethnic stronghold, in apparent breach of the terms of the country’s peace deal. – Associated Press 

France has had a major military presence in Mali since 2013, when it launched an intervention against Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists who had overrun the country’s north. […]But the intervention failed to restore peace to Mali. – Agence France-Presse 

 Samuel Ramani writes: Through a synthesis of targeted diplomatic outreach, economic and security incentives, and soft-power-building efforts, Russia has preserved its leverage in Sudan during a year of severe political turmoil. Due to Sudan’s strategic location on the Red Sea and long history of aligning with Russia on diplomatic crises ranging from the annexation of Crimea to the Syrian civil war, Russia has a vested interest in the country’s political future and will try to shape the course of its transition to democracy in the months to come. – Middle East Institute 

Latin America

Mexico’s government expressed alarm Tuesday after President Trump said he was planning to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, a move that officials here fear could complicate security cooperation and trade between the neighbors. – Washington Post 

Chile’s national police committed “serious human rights violations” as weeks of violent demonstrations across the South American country claimed 25 lives, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday in a report calling for reform of the force. – Agence France Presse  

A man whose U.S. private jet firm allegedly provided travel services to Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, whom Washington accuses of drug trafficking, pled guilty to sanctions violations on Tuesday, prosecutors said. – Reuters  

Cuba’s foreign minister on Tuesday charged the United States with violating the historic 2015 agreement reestablishing diplomatic relations after decades by interfering in the country’s internal affairs. – Reuters 

The Trump administration on Tuesday blacklisted a Cuban company it accused of helping a Cuban state-run oil firm evade Venezuela-related sanctions, the latest in a series of actions targeting Havana for its support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. – Reuters 

Steven Levitsky and María Victoria Murillo write: The lessons extend to the international community. If foreign governments choose sides in the region’s conflicts, tolerating coups that favor their ideological allies rather than consistently defending democracy, it will encourage a return to the violence and instability that Latin Americans struggled so hard to end. – New York Times 


Critical pieces of China’s cutting-edge surveillance state share a connection. They came from America. […]The U.S. connections came under scrutiny in October, when the Trump administration added eight Chinese surveillance companies to an export blacklist, as part of a wider push to keep American technology out of China’s hands. – Wall Street Journal 

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and other Republican election groups criticized tech giant Google on Tuesday for making it harder for political advertisers to target specific types of people. The GOP groups said the changes will lead directly to suppressing voter turnout and would “disproportionately” hurt Republican candidates. – Associated Press 

The entirety of the internet is an infinite attack surface. Figuring out how to secure the information and communications transported through the cyber domain is a daunting task, and it’s one that the Pentagon’s Protecting Critical Technology Task Force is exploring all options to meet. Including, even, a reduction in transparency and a return to security through obscurity. – Fifth Domain 

The computerization of weapon systems in the Air Force brings many advantages — but it also means they’re increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks. – Air Force Times  

The Army provided new details about its nearly $1 billion cyber training contract that will serve as the cornerstone of the Department of Defense’s much needed cyber training platform. – Fifth Domain  

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Nov. 21 directing the Department of Homeland Security to assist state and local governments with cybersecurity. – Fifth Domain


Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would have the power to unwind business deals that threaten the country’s telecommunications infrastructure under a federal proposal released Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States on Tuesday set out a procedure to protect its telecommunications networks and their supply chains from national security threats, saying it would consider whether to bar transactions on a case-by-case basis. – Reuters 

Sebastien Roblin writes: There’s an invisible battle that the U.S. is losing to Russia right now, and like so much of our current domestic political turmoil, it both centers on and transcends Ukraine. […]Selling the importance of electronic warfare can seem abstract when compared to obviously deadly weapons such as stealth fighters or tanks. But today’s network-centric warfare is less about hitting the enemy harder than it can hit you, and more about locating the enemy first while making it hard for it to do the same. – NBC

Long War

United Nations investigators have so far identified 160 Islamic State militants accused of massacres of Yazidis in northern Iraq in 2014 and are building legal cases against them, the head of the team told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday. – Reuters 

A Malaysian minister warned on Wednesday that the Islamic State militant group may shift its base of operations to Southeast Asia after the death of its leader, according to a media report. – Reuters 

A Bangladesh court on Wednesday handed death sentences to seven members of an Islamist militant group for plotting an attack on a cafe in 2016 that killed 22 people, mostly foreigners, in the south Asian nation’s worst such incident. – Reuters 

Dutch prosecutors said on Tuesday they had arrested two men on suspicion of preparing an Islamist militant attack with “bomb vests or one or more car bombs” in the Netherlands. – Reuters 

Trump Administration

A White House budget official said he warned his superiors that a hold on security assistance for Ukraine could be illegal, and he waited months for an explanation for the delay he described as unusual, according to transcripts released Tuesday. – Bloomberg 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday suggested that Ukraine should be investigated over allegations that it interfered in the 2016 election, a debunked theory advanced by President Donald Trump that witnesses told the congressional impeachment inquiry was spread by Russian spy agencies. – Reuters 

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota-5th) was recruited by a foreign government, received funding from a foreign government, and passed sensitive information through intermediaries to Iran, a Florida court has been told, as The Jerusalem Post confirmed. – Jerusalem Post