Fdd's overnight brief

November 28, 2018

In The News


Iran is determined to fight against US President Donald Trump’s anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, parliament speaker Ali Larijani said Tuesday, according to the semi-official news agency ISNA. – Agence France-Presse

The European Union’s top diplomat on Tuesday reiterated the bloc’s resolve to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran after meeting the head of Islamic Republic’s atomic energy agency. – Reuters

Some countries are trying to harm Iran by manipulating the oil market, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Wednesday, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency. – Reuters

A Sunni cleric has been shot and killed in Iran”s northern Golestan Province, Iranian media report. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Free Liberty

Mona Alami writes: Hezbollah’s increased demands should not be interpreted as merely a local bargaining ploy, but rather as a direct response to the larger international escalation against Tehran and the Lebanese militant group. Hezbollah’s fresh stance demonstrates how the growing Iranian–American face-off across the region may play out on Lebanese soil. – Washington Institute


Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ordered U.S. troops to set up observation posts in northern Syria with a dual purpose — to warn Turkey of threats and to stop the Turkish military from attacking U.S.-backed opposition forces. – Military.com

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out Tuesday against the U.S. troop presence in eastern Syria, charging that American plans to set up observation posts along the Turkish-Syrian border are meant to aid terrorist elements in the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). – Military.com

The Pentagon cautioned Russia on Tuesday not to tamper with the site of an alleged gas attack in Syria’s Aleppo and allow investigators to inspect the site. The global chemical weapons agency, known as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has said it will investigate the alleged gas attack in Aleppo on Saturday that reportedly sickened up to 100 people. – Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed there is no Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in neighboring Syria, just as the U.S. military sent troops to his country’s border as part of a stated mission to defeat the jihadis. During a parliamentary meeting Tuesday with members of his ruling Justice and Development Party, Erdogan said that “there is no Daesh in Syria, there are only a small number of gangs who are kept in reserve, trained and equipped, allowed to mix in this country and the region under the guise of Daesh.” – Newsweek

Adam Taylor writes: By refocusing its efforts on Iran before the Islamic State is fully defeated, the United States runs the risk of setting itself two contradictory standards for victory. If that happens, the United States is likely to suffer at least one loss — and its quiet war in Syria may only get bigger. – Washington Post


The United States has spoken with Israel about possibly presenting a long-awaited Middle East peace plan at the start of next year, which could avoid interfering with the country’s election, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon said on Tuesday. – Reuters

“We have reached a point where we don’t have to stay in the Middle East. One reason to stay is Israel,” US president Donald Trump said on Tuesday evening in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post. – Jerusalem Post

Roie Yellinek writes: The United States, and more specifically, the long-standing U.S.-Israel strategic partnership, is the key element shaping Sino-Israeli ties. […]For their part, American officials should endeavor to convey their concerns about pending agreements with Chinese entities before such deals are executed and encourage Israel to introduce safeguards that will not only ensure its continued prosperity but the security of its critical infrastructure, national assets, and defense systems. – Middle East Institute

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to restore his image on his first trip abroad since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, visiting Arab allies before a multinational summit where he is likely to face tough questions about the murder. – Wall Street Journal

White House national security adviser John Bolton on Tuesday defended his decision not to listen to the tape of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, telling reporters at the White House, “I don’t speak Arabic.” – Washington Post

Argentine law makes it unusually easy to bring international human rights cases, even if they’re unrelated to Argentina[…]. Under the law’s broad interpretation of universal jurisdiction, there are some crimes so heinous that they are considered an affront to humanity and should be subject to prosecution. It could make for some awkwardness at the upcoming Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected to attend. – Washington Post

Senators who have grown increasingly uneasy with the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi are set to grill top administration officials Wednesday at a closed-door briefing that could determine how far Congress goes in punishing the longtime Middle East ally. – Associated Press

Republican Sen. Bob Corker has renewed demands for CIA Director Gina Haspel to brief senators this week about the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, warning that the administration has not yet secured his vote against a resolution to end U.S. involvement in Yemen. – Defense News

Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Argentina this week, according to two people familiar with the plans. – Bloomberg

Editorial: President Trump’s craven abdication in the case of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi obligates other Americans, including Congress and the business and nonprofit worlds, to defend the country’s fundamental values. […]A failure to do so would cause profound damage to vital U.S. interests, including the long-term relationship with Saudi Arabia. – Washington Post

David Ignatius writes: The brutal paranoia of MBS’s royal court in Riyadh recalls Baghdad in the days of Saddam Hussein. The spotlight cast by Khashoggi’s killing gives Saudi Arabia, and the United States, a last chance to check a slide toward Hussein-like despotism from overwhelming the region. The House of Saud rules with a sometimes bloody hand. The United States, as the kingdom’s key ally, has an obligation to calm this family feud before it does any more damage to Saudi Arabia and the world. – Washington Post

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo writes: The Trump administration’s effort to rebuild the U.S.-Saudi Arabia partnership isn’t popular in the salons of Washington, where politicians of both parties have long used the kingdom’s human-rights record to call for the alliance’s downgrading. The October murder of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies. – Wall Street Journal


Three years into a brutal war in Yemen, the Senate is weighing whether to end American support for the conflict — a decision that could roil the United States’ alliance with Saudi Arabia and threaten the heart of President Trump’s Middle East strategy. – New York Times

Operations at the Yemeni port of Hodeida, a vital lifeline for the embattled country, have fallen by nearly 50 percent over the past two weeks, the UN said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis will brief the Senate Wednesday on Saudi Arabia and Yemen, amid increasingly vocal calls in Congress for the U.S. to penalize Saudi Arabia for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and to halt its support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. – ABC News

A British push for the U.N. Security Council to take action on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis has slowed because several members, including the United States, are wary of impeding United Nations efforts to convene peace talks, diplomats said. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

The United States’ often-fraught relations with NATO ally Turkey, which have enjoyed a relative upswing in the wake of American cleric Andrew Brunson’s release from a Turkish prison last month, face another possible nose-dive in the near future. – Washington Post

The U.S. State Department Tuesday announced it has cleared the potential sale of ten AH-64E Apache helicopters for Egypt, with an estimated price tag of $1 billion. – Defense News

President Donald Trump suggested the US military’s presence in the Middle East is tied to the region’s oil, an assessment that reportedly earned him a strong rebuke from his national security advisers last year when he mentioned it on a different occasion. – Business Insider

Two Turkish companies have consecutively reported significant progress toward building indigenous engines that would power locally made drones and armored vehicles. – Defense News

Korean Peninsula

Reviews of confidential U.N. documents and interviews with U.S. officials uncovered dozens of ships and companies that international authorities link to illegal North Korean trade. The behavior of the vessels and changes in their ownership reveal an expanding toolbox of strategies designed to keep North Korea’s shipping, and economy, afloat. – Wall Street Journal

Sung-Yoon Lee writes: Until the United States has maximized the single most powerful tool it has — sustained enforcement of targeted financial sanctions — future nuclear negotiations will only provide Pyongyang the cover it seeks under which to perfect its nuclear posture. Pyongyang will build more bombs, and they likely will continue to pay — until the day the payment becomes incalculable. – The Hill

Joseph V. Micallef writes: North Korea continues, successfully, to play for time. Perhaps it hopes that regime change in Washington will change U.S. policy. Barring any improvement in Washington’s leverage or a broader agreement with China that resolves the North Korean issue, the U.S. will find itself with no choice but to accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.  – Military.com


The Group of 20 leaders’ summit in Buenos Aires begins on Friday. The gathering will include a face-to-face meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The outcome will be closely watched by investors across asset classes—particularly in Asia, where trade tensions and tariffs have already been felt keenly. Softening economic data, in both developed and emerging markets, has added a wild card to already unsettled markets. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump is projecting a steely facade as he prepares for a critical meeting on trade this weekend with President Xi Jinping of China. But behind his tough talk and threats of higher tariffs is a creeping anxiety about the costs of a prolonged trade war on the financial markets and the broader economy. – New York Times

China will retaliate “in proportion” if the United States sanctions its top official in the restive region of Xinjiang over alleged human rights abuses, China’s ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday, adding that Beijing’s policies in the region are to “re-educate” terrorists. – Reuters

President Trump is risking “a repetition” of the great military and economic catastrophes of the 20th century, a top Chinese diplomat warned Tuesday. – Washington Examiner

The White House warned Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday against trying to wait out President Donald Trump in the ongoing trade dispute between their countries. – PBS

Yi-Zheng Lian writes: If Taiwan falls and is absorbed into China, Hong Kong — which is already fast losing the autonomy that Beijing promised it during the handover in 1997 — could be next.  […]The domino theory didn’t materialize, partly because of those democracies’ vigilance. They would do well to stay on their guard today or else they may finally see the theory realized — by China, starting with Taiwan. – New York Times


American forces experienced the worst loss of life so far this year in Afghanistan when three soldiers were killed in a Taliban bombing on Tuesday. Three more soldiers and an American contractor were wounded. – New York Times

A rash of American combat deaths in Afghanistan is putting a spotlight on a stalemated 17-year war that is testing President Donald Trump’s commitment to pursuing peace with the Taliban. – Associated Press

With a devastating drought worsening an already horrendous humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, parents are increasingly compelled to “sell” young daughters into marriage to pay off debt or buy food, the UN said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

“The thing’s gone on long enough,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week of the war in Afghanistan as he pressed for peace talks with the Taliban. – Military.com


New Zealand has blocked Huawei from building its next-generation mobile data network, joining the United States and other developed countries that see the Chinese telecom equipment company as a security threat. – New York Times

A human rights lawyer who represented the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden when he fled to Hong Kong says pressure from the local authorities, the bar association and legal aid groups have made it impossible for him to keep working in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. – New York Times

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet on the sidelines of a G20 meeting this week, aiming to build on a thaw in ties after a military standoff on their disputed border last year, officials said. – Reuters

Georgians started to vote for president on Wednesday in an election runoff that pits a candidate backed by the ruling party who favours a policy balancing ties with Moscow and the West against a rival who advocates a stronger pro-Western line. – Reuters

Matthew P. Goodman writes: Pence’s thinly veiled criticisms of China and implication that U.S. partners face a choice between one or the other superpower make many in the region deeply uncomfortable. Meanwhile, China continues to step up its economic diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region. […]If, as the vice president implied on his trip, the United States and China are in strategic economic competition in the Indo-Pacific region, Washington will need to run even faster. – Center for Strategic and International Affairs


The U.S. remains on a path to withdraw from a landmark nuclear-arms-control agreement with Russia, citing alleged violations by Moscow, but continues to consult with its allies on the decision, the Trump administration’s top intelligence official said. – Wall Street Journal

After Russian President Vladimir Putin inaugurated a bridge between Russia and Crimea with great fanfare in May, Moscow quietly opened a new front in its efforts to choke neighboring Ukraine’s economy and deter it from integrating with the West. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump threatened Tuesday to cancel his scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at a global summit later this week because of Russia’s maritime clash with Ukraine, saying “I don’t like that aggression.” – Washington Post

Russia shrugged off Western condemnation of its capture of three Ukrainian naval ships and their crews, moving ahead Tuesday with court proceedings against some of the 24 detained sailors. Ukraine, meanwhile, prepared to impose martial law in 10 of the country’s 27 regions after the country’s leaders warned of the threat of a Russian attack. – Washington Post

Ukrainians were thrown into confusion on Tuesday over their country’s martial law emergency[…]. Here are some of the main questions surrounding what led to the martial-law decree, the latest chapter in a sudden escalation of a nearly 5-year-old conflict between Russia and Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 people. – New York Times

A court in Russian-annexed Crimea on Tuesday ordered three Ukrainian sailors to be held in custody for two months after a weekend confrontation at sea with Russian border guards. – Agence France-Presse

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Tuesday further Western sanctions against Moscow over its latest dispute with Ukraine would not solve any problems, and he warned against using the crisis to escalate political tensions. – Reuters

These alleged Russian cybercriminals trafficked in fake views. The cyber swindlers duped U.S. companies out of tens of millions of dollars with sophisticated digital advertising scams, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. – NBC News

An attorney for alleged Russian agent Maria Butina says he wants his client transferred to the jail’s general population because she has been segregated and effectively solitary confinement since her arrest in July. – NBC News

Noah Rothman writes: It is not in Russia’s interest to spark a broader armed conflict in Europe. Moscow is not well-positioned to draw such a conflict to a quick and decisive conclusion, but that doesn’t mean actions like these won’t one day result in a major confrontation. […]NATO’s footprint in Europe is insufficient to deter Moscow from risking a change to the status quo and daring the West to respond. – Commentary Magazine

Eli Lake writes: Unfortunately, the U.S. response to Russia’s latest aggression has been muted. […]The outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, did call out Russia’s actions, but it’s not enough. Russia’s firing on Ukrainian vessels is its most significant act of international aggression since the 2014 stealth invasion of Ukraine. Denunciation is no substitute for deterrence. The price Putin pays must be steeper than he expects. – Bloomberg

Paul Gregory writes: Putin’s Sunday provocation in the Sea of Azov is likely his first salvo in a campaign designed to raise the Russian people’s outrage against the “belligerent” Ukrainians, who, he’ll allege, followed orders from the CIA to violate Russian sovereignty in the waters off Crimea. – The Hill


Sometimes, even in the best of relationships, perceptions fail to align: One side senses that all is going swimmingly. The other is miserable. So it is, apparently, with the United States and Germany. Ask the average American, and the German-U. S. partnership is hale and hearty. The average German has the opposite view, seeing a friendship gone sour. – Washington Post

The United Kingdom’s security relationship with the United States will remain “exceptional, uniquely wide and deep” even as the U.K. prepares to depart from the European Union next year, Britain’s top envoy to the United States said. – USNI News

Slovenia on Tuesday became the only NATO country whose army is headed by a woman with the appointment of Major General Alenka Ermenc as chief of staff. – Agence France-Presse

The U.S. ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, said that Britain’s exit from the European Union is for the British people to decide, but the United States remains keen to work out a trade deal with the UK – Reuters

US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Tuesday that he is heading to Europe to explain to allies Washington’s decision to pull out of a major nuclear weapons treaty because of Russian violations. – Agence France-Presse

North America

The new North American Free Trade Agreement, which binds Canada, the United States and Mexico, will be signed on the margins of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires this weekend, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

President Trump on Tuesday floated a potential backup plan to secure the border if he does not receive the $5 billion he requested from Congress for his border wall, a sign he might not force a government shutdown over the contentious issue. – The Hill

Top leaders at Customs and Border Protection in San Diego said Sunday’s incident involving the use of tear gas to repel groups of migrants trying to storm the border in Tijuana is under internal review. – USA Today

Latin America

The Trump administration imposed financial sanctions on Nicaragua’s vice president, Rosario Murillo, and a top aide on Tuesday, ratcheting up pressure on the Sandinista government to end its brutal crackdown on a popular uprising. – New York Times

Venezuela’s former national treasurer, who received over $1 billion in bribes as part of illicit foreign currency operations, was sentenced by a U.S. judge on Tuesday to 10 years in prison, court records showed. – Reuters

Argentina and China are aiming to close a deal within days for the construction of the South American nation’s fourth nuclear power plant, a multi-billion dollar project that would cement Beijing’s deepening influence in a key regional U.S. ally. – Reuters

As Argentina hosts Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders of G20 industrialized nations this week, its reliance on China as a customer for its commodities and a major lender to its troubled economy has never been greater. Here are four ways China has emerged as an economic force in Argentina: – Reuters

Cyber Security

This past summer, the Internal Revenue Service issued a request for information to learn more about how artificial intelligence can improve cyber security. […]The agency wanted to know how to create a system that continuously learns its environment, triages alerts, identifies previously unknown trends and analyzes data to provide actionable context for officials. – Fifth Domain

Department of Defense officials say new authorities and policies have allowed cyber operators to move faster and execute new operations in recent months. – Fifth Domain

Following intense focus on building its cyber force for the last several years, the Army now wants to ensure every level of battlefield leadership has electronic warfare capabilities at their disposal. – C4ISRNET

AI is one of four top priorities for Dana Deasy, the department’s CIO, who is heading up the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, or JAIC. The JAIC, as described, will advance the ability to organize AI capability delivery and technology understanding within the DoD, as well as help attract and cultivate much needed talent in the AI space. – C4ISRNET

Michael P. Ferguson writes: While AI will certainly play an important role in future conflicts, there is risk associated with exaggerating the extent of that role. For one, overemphasizing the potential wonders of synthetic warriors runs the risk of convincing the next generation of real warriors that these machines will fight their battles for them — they won’t. – Washington Examiner

Carl De Groote and Chuck Louisell write: In a more realistic future environment, artificial intelligence is distributed throughout the battlespace, collecting, curating, aggregating, fusing and routing information to create an ever-increasing advantage across various operations and sustainment scenarios for the military. Unlike Skynet, this distributed AI is underpinned by a delegation framework where humans are essential. – C4ISRNET


A recently released report from a congressionally mandated commission is emerging as a tool for defense hawks who hope to increase military budgets in the coming years. The report, put out by the National Defense Strategy Commission on Nov. 14, warned that a “crisis of national security” looms for America, thanks to growing threats from countries like Russia and China and aging American assets. – Defense News

The Navy continues to push for the upcoming Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine program to be funded outside the normal shipbuilding budget, as opportunities exist to reach a 355-ship fleet faster but the $100-billion SSBN program looms over the next 15 years of spending. – USNI News

Todd Harrison writes: If anything, the lesson we should learn from the Air Force’s creation is to not wait for failure in this domain of warfare before acting. […]Just as the Air Force was worth the disruption and additional costs more than 70 years ago, a Space Force is worth the price today. –  The Hill

James Clad writes: U.S. military manufacturing and the military materials supply chain have succumbed to a crippling dependence on overseas imports. […]For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, we find ourselves facing renewed great power competition. Ensuring we are up to the challenge means rebuilding our military industrial base.  – American Foreign Policy Council

Dan Goure writes: The Trump administration’s two-year defense budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 provided some $200 billion in higher funding. This increase came at a critical moment for the U.S. military, in general, and the Army, in particular. Of all the armed services, the Army was most in need of an infusion of resources to improve readiness, jump-start modernization and support the shift from a focus on counterinsurgency operations to preparations for great power competition. – Defense News

Dustin Siggins writes: Republicans and Democrats have for years fought about whether the Pentagon’s budget is too small, too big, or just right. And President Trump has made clear his intention to grow the Pentagon budget, although at times he has shown he recognizes there is a lot of waste at the Department of Defense. However, the Pentagon’s recent announcement that it failed its first-ever audit should bring any growth plans to a screeching halt. – Washington Examiner

Trump Administration

A lawyer for Paul Manafort, the president’s one-time campaign chairman, repeatedly briefed President Trump’s lawyers on his client’s discussions with federal investigators after Mr. Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, according to one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers and two other people familiar with the conversations. – New York Times

An associate of the former Trump campaign adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. released documents on Tuesday showing that as the presidential campaign heated up in the summer of 2016, Mr. Stone tried to dispatch him to find out what information WikiLeaks had that could prove damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. – New York Times

U.S. President Donald Trump will have a packed schedule of bilateral meetings in Buenos Aires this week on the sidelines of the G20 meeting of world leaders, the White House said on Tuesday. – Reuters

President Donald Trump launched a fierce new attack Tuesday against Russia collusion investigator Robert Mueller, pumping up the political tensions as the probe increasingly menaces the White House. – Agence France-Presse