Fdd's overnight brief

November 7, 2018

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Most Western companies and banks pulled out of Iran ahead of new Trump administration sanctions, fearing a loss of access to the U.S. economy. But the rest of the world may be more difficult for American officials to convince. – Wall Street Journal

Three Iranians traveling with fake Israeli passports were detained in Bulgaria over the weekend, The Sofia Globe reported.  According to the report, the men were detained at the Bulgarian border as they were attempting to cross the Kapitan Andreevo crossing from Turkey, which is the major transit point for entering Europe. – Jerusalem Post

As the U.S. prepared to impose new sanctions against Iran’s energy and banking sectors, senior Trump administration officials faced an internal rebellion from conservatives who accused them of being too weak toward the Islamic Republic. – Bloomberg

Oil prices dipped on Wednesday as high output and U.S. sanction waivers allowing Iran’s biggest buyers to keep taking its crude reinforced the outlook for a well-supplied market. – Reuters

More Iranians are using social media to vent anger at what they see as the corruption and extravagance of a privileged few, while the majority struggles to get by in an economy facing tighter U.S. sanctions. – Reuters

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that U.S. sanctions on Iran were not legitimate, in Moscow’s first official comment since Washington restored sanctions on Tehran. – Reuters

The Trump administration has approved a sanctions exemption for the development of Iran’s Chabahar Port, arguing the exemption will help grow Afghanistan’s economy. – The Hill

Ahmad Majidyar writes: While the new sanctions are even broader in scope than those imposed on Iran during the Obama administration, there is a lack of international support to enforce the U.S. sanctions to their fullest potential. The Islamic Republic will most likely continue to defy U.S. pressure, in the hope that it can weather the impact of sanctions and outlast the Trump presidency. – Middle East Institute

Firas Elias writes: The powerful interconnections between Iran’s different media and intelligence agencies has been weaponized by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei who is engaged in an ongoing publicity war with the outside world: the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance provides the lexicon for speeches and revolutionary discourse, then the media disseminates this material in the form of news and media content, and finally, the Ministry of Intelligence mobilizes the material and social resources in order to bring this effort full circle. – Washington Institute


An American-backed military offensive has stalled against the Islamic State’s last vestige in eastern Syria. – New York Times

U.S. Air Force F-22s recently completed their first “combat surge” in operations over Syria, and in doing so deterred almost 600 Syria, Iranian and Russian combat aircraft in the crowded skies there, the Pentagon said. – Air Force Times

Russia said it deployed its new frigate with long-range Kalibr cruise missiles to the Mediterranean Sea on Monday, a few months after Moscow had reinforced its naval forces off Syrian cost. – Haaretz


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that his country would ignore sanctions the U.S. introduced against Iran this week—a defiant tone that could complicate Ankara’s recent efforts to defuse tension with Washington. – Wall Street Journal

The official overseeing the European Union’s future enlargement says that, in the long term, it would be “more honest” for the bloc to give up talks on membership for Turkey. – Associated Press

Turkey takes a positive view of a U.S. move to offer rewards for information on three members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, adding it expected to see concrete steps in the fight against the militia. – Reuters


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may cancel his trip to Paris, where he planned to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, after the French asked world leaders not to hold meetings on the sidelines of the conference marking 100 years to the end of World War I. – Ynet

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

Clashes broke out in the northern West Bank city of Nablus overnight Tuesday after Israeli security forces entered the city to escort Jewish worshipers to the Joseph’s Tomb holy site, the army said. – Times of Israel


The fight in Yemen has escalated drastically over the past week, exacerbating a dire humanitarian crisis that the United Nations says could spiral into famine — despite, or even because of, a diplomatic push by the United States to get both sides to the peace table. The Saudi-led coalition, which the United States has armed and supported, has launched a punishing wave of airstrikes against the rebel Houthis. – New York Times

Instead of bringing calm to the besieged Yemeni city, calls for a ceasefire in Hodeidah have brought some of the worst violence the vital port has yet faced in the three-year war. – The Guardian

Tore Refslund Hamming writes: The shift in strategic behavior from peaceful co-existence to infighting illustrates the importance of local dynamics to understand inter-group relations in civil wars and insurgencies. Unlike the hostile nature of the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria, their affiliates in Yemen initially both found it more convenient to strike deals to prevent military infighting while challenging one another in their media releases. […]But rest assured, al-Qaeda would be happy to see the Islamic State in Yemen decimated to the brink of extinction and once again hegemonize Yemen’s militant Islamist landscape. – War on the Rocks

Middle East & North Africa

Turkey has “certain evidence” in relation to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi that it has not released to the public, and it will do so once its investigation concludes, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday. – Washington Post

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered on Tuesday a review of a law long criticized by human rights groups that restricts the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). – Reuters

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the army will come to the defense of Gulf Arabs if they face any direct threats, a pro-government newspaper said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Mohamed Chtatou writes: Regardless of the political outlook of Morocco and the greater Arab world, the cultural revolution is here. Moroccan millennials want to create a future of their own liking that responds to their needs rather than the imposed expectations of a religion or a culture. With the internet, these millennials have found a platform to express these needs, and will in all likelihood continue to shape the real world around them. – Washington Institute

Hassan Mneimneh writes: For the critics and opponents of Saudi Arabia, the Khashoggi murder is an additional argument, even if not yet an irrefutable proof, that the Kingdom and its rulers are a malignant or a malevolent agency. For the proponents of a US-Saudi partnership, some action may eventually be warranted, but the thrust ought to be avoiding the degradation of the relationship as a result of one incident, however grave, if no direct link to the country’s top leadership is exposed. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned meeting with his North Korean counterpart in New York has been called off at the last minute, the State Department announced Wednesday, without giving any explanation or new date. – Washington Post

South Korea’s defence ministry on Wednesday broke decades of silence to apologise for martial law troops raping women including teenagers when they crushed a pro-democracy uprising in 1980. – Agence France-Presse

Adam Taylor writes: The larger problem is that both sides are divided not only over what happens next, but also what has happened so far. The Trump administration viewed the Singapore Summit as a triumph of its “maximum pressure” sanctions policy and portrayed North Korean denuclearization as a fait accompli. But North Korea believes it forced Trump into a meeting with the success of its ramped-up nuclear capabilities[…]. With the political test of the midterms over, Trump is likely to turn toward foreign policy again — and any big moves will ultimately come down to his choices. – Washington Post


China’s government delivered a defiant defense of its mass detentions of Muslims at a United Nations human-rights panel in Geneva on Tuesday that turned into a showdown with the U.S. and other critics of the Chinese policy. – Wall Street Journal

China’s President Xi Jinping called on Wednesday for greater global cooperation in developing the internet and make it more “fair and equitable”, as Beijing seeks to bolster its global role in shaping the web. – Reuters

Washington’s decision to cut off U.S. supplies to a Chinese chip-maker spotlights mounting tensions over China’s drive to be a global player in computer chips and the ways in which Taiwan companies are helping it get there. – Reuters

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he will press China to embrace arms controls during upcoming meetings in Beijing, citing the need to regulate robotic and space-based weapons that could soon shift from “science fiction” to reality. – Reuters

President Trump’s trade war with China is hurting the Asian power’s once-burgeoning aviation industry, according to a top official at Airbus. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. on Tuesday called on China to release Muslims detained in internment camps while appearing before a U.N. human rights panel. […]Canada, Japan, Australia and several other countries all also called on China to end the camps. – The Hill

John Lee writes: A better-coordinated effort by the U.S. and allied nations that blends hard power with greater soft power will serve as a more effective strategy to defend freedom of navigation and uphold international law. Conceding China the soft-power advantage in shaping the historical narrative will greatly diminish prospects for an enduring and just peace in the region. – Hudson Institute

Marc Champion writes: The U.S.-China realignment that began with President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to Beijing has been reversed in the most consequential geopolitical shift since the fall of the Berlin Wall. China and Russia are now as close as at any time in their 400 years of shared history. The U.S., meanwhile, has targeted both countries with sanctions and China with a trade war. – Bloomberg

John Lee writes: Protecting the integrity of Australian institutions from foreign manipulation and interference, our opposition to illegal seizure and militarization of maritime territories, and illegal trade practices and intellectual property theft matter as much now as they did before the change in leadership. A diplomatic thaw and the steady flow of ministerial visits to China is welcome — but not at any price. – Hudson Institute


Dozens of soldiers and police officers were killed or captured in nine Taliban attacks that overran security bases and outposts in different parts of Afghanistan during a 24-hour period that ended on Tuesday, officials said. – New York Times

Security problems and a spate of insider attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan will not affect the alliance’s commitment to building Afghan forces capable of making the Taliban accept a negotiated end to the war, NATO’s top official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Travellers run the gauntlet of Taliban checkpoints, fighting, robberies, kidnappings, and pressure-plate bombs targeting government officials and security forces. The stretch of Highway 1 between the Afghan capital and the southeastern city of Ghazni — which the Taliban stormed in August and still threaten — is one of the most treacherous. – Agence France-Presse


Russia has failed to show that it has halted the use of chemical and biological weapons, the State Department notified Congress Tuesday, a determination that paves the way for mandatory sanctions against the Kremlin and entities under its control. – Wall Street Journal

Acclaimed Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov insisted he “never stole anything” as he appeared in court Wednesday on embezzlement charges seen by his supporters as part of a crackdown on artistic independence. – Agence France-Presse

Jonathon Morgan and Ryan Fox write: The consensus among academic researchers and Russia experts in the intelligence community is that Russia does not take a timeout from information battles. It considers itself to be in a constant state of information warfare. Its online influence operations are inexpensive and effective, and afford Russia an asymmetric advantage given the freedoms of expression afforded to Western democracies. – New York Times

Michael Rubin writes: With regard to US-Russian relations and sanctions, there will be no relaxation of current US political antagonism toward Russia regardless of the outcome of the midterm elections and, frankly, for many future elections to come. […]What this means, in effect, is the chance for increasing sanctions remains high no matter what the outcome of the November elections. US-Russian relations will be strained for many years to come. – Valdai Club

Dmitri Trenin writes: The Russian leader’s investment in the U.S. president has little to do with Congress, or with U.S. Russia policy, or whether or not the GOP gets a drubbing in the midterms. To Putin, Trump represents a new departure in U.S. foreign policy. – Politico

Edward Lucas writes: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have all had problems with their banks. […]The biggest beneficiary of all this is Russia. The Kremlin loathes the idea of its former colonies becoming economic or political success stories. So it uses money to attack them. The financial malpractice pays an immediate dividend in terms of successful money-laundering, but also a political one in terms of damaged reputations. Local banks, in short, are a far graver threat to national security than the enemy’s tanks. – European Policy Analysis


French President Emmanuel Macron called for the creation of a “true European army,” issuing a sharp critique of trans-Atlantic security ties days before U.S. President Trump is due to visit France. – Wall Street Journal

The U.K. government is reviewing the makeup of its telecommunications-equipment market—a move that executives say ratchets up scrutiny of China’s Huawei Technologies Co. – Wall Street Journal

The potential release from prison of a notorious Greek terrorist is drawing protests from the U.S., testing the Greek government’s newly close relations with Washington. – Wall Street Journal

A 94-year-old man who served as a guard in Hitler’s SS clutched his cane as a bailiff wheeled him into a courtroom on Tuesday for the start of his trial on charges of assisting in the murder of hundreds of the 60,000 people who perished at the Stutthof concentration camp. – New York Times

The U.K. will remain committed to NATO and to being a high-end defense partner even after it withdraws from the European Union in March, the British defense acquisition chief predicted on Tuesday. – USNI News

Police evacuated two trains in Barcelona’s main station on Wednesday morning and Madrid’s main rail hub, after a possible explosive device was found in a suitcase at the Barcelona station. – The Guardian

Tom Rogan writes: Ceuta offers Russia a perfect location to repair its decrepit Mediterranean fleet and thus maintain regional pressure on NATO. But that Spain would even consider hosting the Russian military is an outrage. […]Spain has the absolute sovereign right to entertain whichever military vessels it wishes. But the U.S. also has the right to respond to allies that prove themselves unreliable and assist in making the ongoing atrocities in Syria possible. – Washington Examiner

Terry Anderson writes: The Russian event, Vostok-18, held in mid-September, involved some 300,000 Russian troops and more than 3,000 Chinese troops — in other words, a very large exercise with clear geopolitical overtones. And so, one should anticipate NATO’s much smaller, but still largest post-Cold War exercise, will have its own political overtones. One of them is the prominent role, performance and lessons-to-be-learned of Germany and the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr. – The Hill

The Americas

On Monday morning in this border town, about a dozen U.S. Army soldiers unfurled reams of razor wire on top of a wrought-iron fence alongside a bridge to Mexico. – Wall Street Journal

Democrats claimed control of the House late Tuesday and picked up some governorships, but Republicans were poised to expand their majority in the Senate, delivering a split verdict in the first national referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency. – Washington Post

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is the early leader for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination, a Reuters/Ipsos Election Day opinion poll found, in a field likely to quickly take shape as candidates seek to challenge Republican President Donald Trump. – Reuters

A viciously antisemitic and racist French website whose traffic has increased markedly throughout 2018 is hiding behind the US Constitution’s First Amendment to promote its hateful agenda, a prominent media think-tank stated this week. – Algemeiner

Marc A. Thiessen writes: We can debate whether sending troops to the border is the right thing to do[…]. But if Trump’s critics want to be taken seriously, they might want to show some intellectual consistency and hold their own side to the same high moral standards they demand of the president. Otherwise, Americans may get the impression that they are simply using accusations of racism and anti-Semitism as a weapon to silence their political opponents. – Washington Post

Ryan C. Berg writes: Cuba’s bilateral meetings with Russia, China, and North Korea, combined with its strategic location 90 miles off the US coast, ought to concern the Trump administration. Díaz-Canel’s diplomatic tour affects everything[…]. The Trump administration must work tirelessly to ensure that greater cooperation between Cuba and its allies doesn’t result in sanctions evasion and weapons proliferation, or in the constitution of a staging ground for cyberattacks and espionage efforts that hurt the US and its allies in the Western Hemisphere. – American Enterprise Institute

Cyber Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it hadn’t observed any successful cyberattacks by foreign adversaries on election systems in the United States during Election Day. – The Hill

Facebook said it blocked 115 accounts for suspected “coordinated inauthentic behavior” linked to foreign groups attempting to interfere in Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections. – Associated Press

U.S. Cyber Command has made it clear that it must undertake traditional and nontraditional partnerships in order to succeed in a highly dynamic environment. In the latest example of fostering greater partnership, Cyber Command has begun to post malware samples as a means of improving global cybersecurity. – Defense News


The U.S. military lists Russia and China as its top priorities for war planning, but the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff maintains that America hasn’t entered into a second cold war. – Military.com

In a first for East Coast-based carrier strike group escorts, warships from the Abraham Lincoln CSG are participating in a surface warfare advanced tactical training (SWATT) exercise in a push to standardize similar training throughout the fleet. – USNI News

Gen. Larry Spencer (ret.) writes: The U.S. Air Force is America’s first-in, last-out force. From space assets to airlift to fighters to bombers to airborne intelligence to command and control to maintaining more than two thirds of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, America’s Air Force cannot afford to come up short. Our nation’s Air Force needs 386 operational squadrons to remain the pre-eminent Air Force in the world. – Defense News

Luke Strange writes: What it all means: after 2021, there is both motive and opportunity for a political reaction to rising deficits at a massively inopportune time for the Department of Defense. […]Absent a big change in the United States’ overall fiscal picture, or in the Pentagon’s plans to modernize for great power competition, defense observers should watch out for trouble coming down the tracks. – Real Clear Defense

Tom Karako writes: But without omnidirectional sensing, U.S. air defenses and their defended assets may also end up dead, suppressed by enemy threats they cannot see. And that’s why air defenders need 360-degree sensor coverage. […]At stake is survivability in a challenging aerial-threat environment. Sacrificing 360-degree coverage for LTAMDS could be a grave mistake. Army leadership shouldn’t make it easier for the enemy to suppress Army air defenders by lowering sensor requirements. – Defense News

Long War

Over 200 mass graves holding as many as 12,000 bodies have been found in areas of Iraq once controlled by the Islamic State, the United Nations said on Tuesday. The findings were highlighted in a joint report released by the United Nations mission to Iraq and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which called the sites a “legacy of terror.” – New York Times

The 28-year-old man accused of detonating a pipe bomb in the New York City subway system last year was convicted Tuesday on all charges, according to multiple reports. – The Hill

French security agents arrested six people Tuesday on suspicion of plotting to attack French President Emmanuel Macron, according to a French judicial official. Prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation of alleged criminal terrorist association, the judicial official said. – Associated Press

Trump Administration

A Russian billionaire who had bought a Florida home from President Trump a decade ago was detained for questioning as part of an investigation examining corruption, according to a new report. – Washington Examiner

President Trump’s administration missed a legal deadline for a second round of sanctions pursuant to Russia’s use of a chemical weapon in a high-profile assassination attempt this year, a top Republican complained Tuesday. – Washington Examiner

Two individuals associated with Roger Stone reportedly testified recently before a grand jury hearing about their ties to the longtime GOP strategist, part of the federal investigation examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. – The Hill