Fdd's overnight brief

November 6, 2018

In The News


Iran’s leaders lashed out at Washington on Monday as the Trump administration raised economic sanctions to their maximum level, saying the latest punitive actions called for countermeasures to pressure the U.S. in return. – Wall Street Journal

Turkey’s top diplomat on Tuesday criticized the U.S. resumption of sanctions on Iran as unilateral, not wise and dangerous, calling for a dialogue and engagement instead. – Associated Press

South Korea’s presidential spokesman says the U.S. has demonstrated the strength of the two countries’ alliance by allowing South Korea to continue importing Iranian crude oil products under reinstated sanctions against Iran. – Associated Press

Iranians already struggling to get by amid spiraling prices fear even more hardship is on the way with Monday’s restoration of crippling U.S. sanctions. – Associated Press

Seven years ago, the Obama administration launched a “virtual U.S. embassy” for Iran, a friendly, engaging online portal that gave Iranians a window on American democracy and information about cultural exchanges. These days, the website sends a different message. – Politico

The United States will exempt China, India and Japan from oil sanctions on Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday, while vowing to be “relentless” in pressuring Tehran. – Agence France-Presse

The SWIFT banking network, the backbone for international monetary transfers, said Monday it has suspended several Iranian banks from its service, after the United States reimposed nuclear sanctions on Tehran. – Agence France-Presse

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged Monday that his country would not buckle under the weight of newly re-imposed U.S. sanctions, calling the penalties on its oil and banking sectors “unfair” and “against the law, U.N. resolutions and international accords.” – Politico

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said he wants to impose sanctions on Iran’s oil gradually, citing concerns about shocking energy markets and causing global price spikes. – Reuters

President Trump will let countries helping to overhaul three Iranian nuclear facilities escape sanctions that have been reimposed as part of the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, the State Department confirmed Monday. – Washington Examiner

Front companies, barter deals, oil transfers on the high seas: These are just some of the methods that Iran could employ to keep its economy limping on after American sanctions targeting the country’s oil industry went into effect at midnight on Monday. – The Atlantic

Michael Rubin writes: The basis of President Trump’s strategy on Iran is to coerce change through economic warfare. There are reasons to agree or disagree with Trump’s pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal, but to argue either that Tehran is impervious to pressure or that trade with Iran provides the best path to moderation are both false. – Washington Examiner

Stephanie Segal writes: The immediate impacts of sanctions on the Iranian economy are apparent–oil production and GDP growth are collapsing, Iran’s currency is weakening, and inflation is picking up. Longer-term impacts remain to be seen, including how partner countries adapt to forceful unilateral action by the United States and the role of the dollar as the world’s preeminent reserve currency. – Center for Strategic & International Studies

Erin Dunne writes: With election fever running its course until tomorrow, the American electorate and lawmakers seem to have little time to think about what the U.S. should do, if anything, following the admitted brutal murder of dissident Saudi journalist and U.S. resident, Jamal Khashoggi, and the subsequent poorly orchestrated cover-up. Now, there is another reason to not hold Saudi Arabia and its crown prince responsible: sanctions on Iran. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: As the U.S. reintroduces oil and multisector trade sanctions on Iran on Monday, President Trump must anticipate Iran’s response. The Islamic revolutionary republic is highly likely to lash out in some violent or destabilizing fashion. […] In turn, Trump must make clear that Iranian or proxy terrorist attacks on the U.S. will meet a firm (and explicitly, military) response. – Washington Examiner


Iran’s telecommunications minister accused Israel on Monday of a new cyber attack on its telecommunications infrastructure, and vowed to respond with legal action. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed on Monday the reimposition of US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil, shipping, insurance and banking sectors that had been lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement signed by the Tehran regime and six world powers. – Algemeiner

The Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday that a demolition order was issued for the home of a Palestinian suspected of carrying out a shooting attack at a West Bank industrial park last month in which two Israelis were killed. – Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the go-ahead Sunday for lawmakers to advance a controversial bill calling for the death penalty for convicted Palestinian killers of Israeli civilians and soldiers, reportedly rejecting the advice of the security establishment. – Times of Israel

Speaking at a Likud party meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the demonstration of strength is the most important thing in Israel’s foreign policy. “‘Occupation’ is bull. There are countries that have conquered and replaced entire populations and the world keeps silent. – YNet

Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that his agency has thwarted 480 Palestinian terror attacks in the last year. The Shin Bet’s efforts, he said, were a major factor in the maintenance of a fragile calm between Israel and the Palestinians. – Jerusalem Post

The Trump Administration has backed an Israeli plan to link Haifa with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, hinting that it was in line with the US peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Jerusalem Post

An attempted terror attack was foiled Tuesday morning, in the Adumim bloc just east of Jerusalem. According to initial reports from the scene, a female terrorist attempted to stab Israelis near a gas station at the entrance to the Israeli town of Kfar Adumim Tuesday morning. – Arutz Sheva

Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman warned Tuesday morning that the relative quiet in the West Bank is “deceiving,” as “Hamas is trying very hard to carry out terror attacks in and from Judea and Samaria.” – YNet

Saudi Arabia

Turkey said agents sent to Istanbul by Saudi Arabia to help investigate Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance worked instead to remove murder evidence—a finding Ankara said reinforced their conclusion that top Saudi officials knew in advance of a plan to kill the journalist. – Wall Street Journal

The Saudi government has come under intense criticism for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and some Saudi social media users have come up with a way to fight back: boycotting Amazon.com. – Washington Post

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday laid the foundation stone for the kingdom’s first nuclear research reactor, state media said, as the kingdom seeks to diversify its energy mix. – Agence France-Presse

Michael Knights writes: The U.S.-Saudi strategic relationship is built on a simple premise: Washington provides physical security for the Saudi state, while Riyadh serves as a cooperative counterterrorism partner and an apolitical, responsive supplier to global energy markets. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

A French judge has issued international arrest warrants for three senior members of the Syrian government, including its security chief, on suspicion they were involved in war crimes, according to a judicial official and a lawyer for the alleged victims. – Wall Street Journal

An American-backed military offensive has stalled against the Islamic State’s last vestige in eastern Syria — in part because of the enemy that the allied fighting force had expected, and other threats that it very much had not. – New York Times

Turkey’s state-run news agency says police detained 24 people as part of an investigation into the Islamic State group’s international financial dealings. – Associated Press

Egypt has postponed a visit by Brazil’s top diplomat, Brazil’s foreign ministry said on Monday, in a move that two diplomatic sources said was due to the President-elect’s vow to relocate the South American country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. – Reuters

The U.N. Security Council on Monday authorized action against illicit oil exports from Libya until February 2020, and it added planning and committing sexual and gender-based violence as reasons for sanctions over objections from Russia and China. – Associated Press

Senior U.S. officials have gone further than ever before in calling for an end to the Saudi-led war in Yemen — a conflict that has pushed 14 million people to the brink of starvation. “Coalition airstrikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last Tuesday. The same day, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said all sides needed to take meaningful steps toward a cease-fire and begin negotiations in the next 30 days. – NBC News

Korean Peninsula

For North Korea experts, virtually every detail in the authoritarian state is a potential window into the political priorities of its elusive leader, Kim Jong-un. A mass gymnastics performance that ended in North Korea on Sunday was no exception: Unlike in previous years, this year’s edition was said to highlight recent changes in Mr. Kim’s posture toward China, South Korea and the United States. – New York Times

The top U.S. military officer said on Monday that the United States would have to start making changes to its military posture on the Korean peninsula over time if talks with North Korea advance. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will hold a new round of talks with a senior North Korean official in New York on Thursday, hoping to open the way for a second summit of the two countries’ leaders and make progress on denuclearization. – Reuters

South Korean and Spanish defense officials are to discuss a possible trade of trainer and transport aircraft, according to arms procurement officials and industry sources in the Asian nation. – Defense News

North Korea displayed what could be the first official portrait of Kim Jong Un on Sunday, signaling a new stage in the young leader’s cult of personality. – Time


The EU business lobby in China has dismissed President Xi Jinping’s latest market-opening pledge as a rehash of earlier unkept promises, saying European companies had become “desensitised” to Chinese vows. – Agence France-Presse

China’s mass detainment of ethnic Uighurs and its crackdown on civil liberties will likely figure high on the agenda Tuesday when countries meet at the UN in Geneva to review Beijing’s rights record. – Agence France-Presse

A top Chinese official’s offer of trade talks with the U.S. on Tuesday did little to assuage concerns that the world’s two largest economies were headed for a confrontation that could disrupt the global order. – Bloomberg

The United States and China will hold a delayed top-level security dialogue on Friday, the latest sign of a thaw in relations, as China’s vice president said Beijing was willing to talk with Washington to resolve their bitter trade dispute. – Reuters

Spending on security-related construction tripled in 2017 in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of detaining as many as one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims, an academic analysis of government expenditure found. – Reuters

Arthur Herman writes: In March 2017, President Xi Jinping of China hosted two important visitors from the Middle East. The first was King Salman of Saudi Arabia, whose country’s oil supplies are crucial to China’s energy and economic outlook. The second was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. […] Nonetheless, Netanyahu’s appearance in Beijing was more than a courtesy call. – Hudson Institute

South Asia

As it pushes to jump-start an Afghan peace process, the U.S. faces a Taliban stronger than any time since an American-led military coalition deposed them 17 years ago, U.S. and Afghan officials, current and former militants and experts say. – Wall Street Journal

Facebook has said it agrees with a report that found it had failed to prevent its platform being used to “incite offline violence” in Myanmar. – BBC News

India said on Monday its first domestically built nuclear-powered submarine had recently completed a “deterrence patrol”, giving it the capability to fire nuclear weapons from land, air and sea in the event of any “misadventure” by enemies. – Reuters

Max Frost writes: On October 31, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi, a 53-year-old Christian woman who had been on death row since 2010 for allegedly committing blasphemy against Islam. Thousands of protestors quickly took to the streets, shutting down Pakistan’s cities […] At first, Prime Minister Imran Khan was defiant. […] Yet on Friday, Khan switched tack and submitted to their demands. In doing so, he has weakened Pakistan’s state and empowered its fundamentalists. – American Enterprise Institute


A Russian jet fighter buzzed an American surveillance plane over the Black Sea on Monday, in an encounter U.S. officials called dangerous and “irresponsible,” and which came as the U.S. and European allies conducted military exercises aimed at sending a signal to Moscow. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump said Monday that he would “probably not” meet with Vladimir Putin on his trip to Paris this weekend, after saying last month that he would likely meet with the Russian leader. – Wall Street Journal

Russian actors believed to be connected to the government have been actively involved in spreading divisive content and promoting extreme themes in the run-up to Tuesday’s U.S. mid-term elections, but they are working harder to hide their tracks, according to government investigators, academics and security firms. – Reuters

Russia has a century-old playbook for “disinformation,” historians and former intelligence officers say, recycling tactics and narratives, and giving clues to detect their next information-warfare attack on our elections. – MSNBC


Europe is distracted by internal discord over immigration and its tense relationship with Russia and the U.S. Seeking to fill the void, China is taking advantage of a historic opportunity to wedge itself into the heart of the West. – Wall Street Journal

Brexit is everywhere. So much so that even U.K. lawmakers who want out of the EU are getting overwhelmed. “It is endless talk about it all the time,” says Ronnie Campbell, a Brexit-supporting Labour Party lawmaker from the north of England. – Wall Street Journal

Eurozone finance ministers urged Italy on Monday to reverse course on its rule-breaking budget amid fears of market turmoil and a return of the debt crisis. – Agence France-Presse

German spy chief Hans-Georg Maassen, who was controversially removed and placed in another role in September, has been fired from his new job. – BBC News

Germany’s foremost Jewish organisation has called for special classes for Muslim immigrants to help stop the spread of anti-Semitism. Its vice-president, Abraham Lehrer, said many migrants were arriving from countries where “anti-Semitism is part of the rationale of the state”. – BBC News

French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that a “nationalist leprosy” risks dragging Europe back to the 1930s. He said the spread of populism was dividing Europe and weakening it against rivals such as China and Russia. – MSNBC

A women’s water polo match between Israel and Spain was left without a venue Monday after the Spanish municipality that was supposed to host the event backed out due to pressure from anti-Israel boycott activists. – Times of Israel


Numerous students were kidnapped from a boarding school early Monday in a part of Cameroon where separatists are waging a violent battle to break away and form their own country. – New York Times

The Prince of Wales has acknowledged Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade but stopped short of giving an official apology, which is likely to disappoint campaigners who have long called on the British Royal Family to do so. – BBC News

A West African military force to fight Islamist militants has only received a quarter of the money pledged at its deployment last year and is in urgent need of financial support, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said. Donors from Saudi Arabia to the U.S. pledged to fund the force known as G5 Sahel when it began deploying last year. – Bloomberg

United States

Nearly 8,000 U.S. troops will be sent to three border states in anticipation of a caravan of migrants and would-be asylum seekers now traveling through Mexico, a U.S. official said, marking another increase in the planned deployment. – Wall Street Journal

US law enforcement and intelligence agencies said on the eve of crucial US midterm voting they had no indication of efforts to disrupt election infrastructure but that Americans should be wary of Russian attempts to spread fake news. – Agence France-Presse

US voters decide Tuesday whether President Donald Trump will keep his Republican majority in Congress or face a hostile Democratic majority after a bitter campaign for midterm elections described by both sides as a battle for America’s soul. – Agence France-Presse

Cyber Security

U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday will determine whether the Republican Party keeps control of Congress for the next two years. While the political battle rages, internet and social-media companies are waging their own war online against trolls, bots, manipulation and misinformation designed to sway the results. There’s also concern about potential voting machine glitches and other disruptions, along with cyber-attacks and misuse of digital ads. – Bloomberg

The Defense Information Systems Agency is looking to improve the cybersecurity posture of the Department of Defense by reducing attack vectors to the network. Adversaries are becoming more sophisticated, with threats becoming more complex and the number of cyberattacks increasing, Vice Adm. Nancy Norton, director of DISA, said Nov. 5 during DISA’s annual Forecast to Industry day in Linthicum, Maryland. – C4ISRNET

But the trolls are also learning from their mistakes and developing new strategies to sidestep Twitter’s rules — sometimes with new technology available on other apps — highlighting the arms race between these groups and social media companies that are developing systems to stop them. – MSNBC

Jonathan Reiber writes: Soon enough the Pentagon may directly target foreign cyberspace infrastructure to blunt incoming attacks. It is the right posture — but it comes with risks. The country must make itself ready for what comes next. – Defense One


President Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to start work on a new, sixth military service dedicated to space, but that seems unlikely if Democrats take the House in midterms on Tuesday. – Defense News

In today’s era of great-power competition, the Department of Defense’s top battlefield IT provider is being forced to look at problems and solutions to support critical missions in ways that weren’t required previously. – C4ISRNET

As voters head to poll stations across the country today, their decisions will have lasting ramifications for the military for years to come. Individual congressional races will decide which voices guide national security debate and how many veterans-turned-lawmakers are participating. Together, the results will determine which party controls the House and Senate, and by extension, how the fiscal 2020 defense budget process unfolds. – Military Times