Fdd's overnight brief

November 7, 2019

In The News


Iran has issued a warning to international shipping authorities that commercial routes in the Red Sea are unsafe, saying three of its tankers have been attacked off Saudi Arabia’s coast in the past six months. – Wall Street Journal

French President Emmanuel Macron, a staunch supporter of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, slammed Tehran’s decision to resume uranium enrichment at an underground nuclear facility, saying the move raised the risk of the multilateral accord collapsing. – Wall Street Journal

Iran announced Wednesday another step towards reducing its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal, sparking concern by some of the remaining parties to the troubled agreement. – Agence France-Presse

Iran prevented an inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency from entering the Natanz nuclear facility because of a concern she might be carrying “suspicious material,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said on Wednesday, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. – Reuters

One of the nine top Iranian officials targeted by new US sanctions on Monday is wanted by the Argentine authorities for his alleged involvement in the 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in downtown Buenos Aires. – Algemeiner 

The Iranian nuclear standoff continued to heat-up on Thursday with a special IAEA meeting called to discuss two new Iranian violations of the 2015 nuclear deal and a letter from Iran complaining that not one, but three of its oil tankers have been attacked in the Red Sea. – Jerusalem Post 

Editorial: One risk is that the mercurial Mr. Trump loses patience with his own strategy and tries to cut a deal favorable to Tehran ahead of his re-election campaign. That’s why you can expect more Iranian threats to break out of the deal and perhaps more attacks on U.S. allies in the Middle East. The best response is for Europe and the U.S. to reforge a common front toward Iran that shows it will have to return to the negotiating table to have any hope of sanctions being eased. – Wall Street Journal

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA says Iran could start injecting uranium hexaflouride into centrifuges at Fordow. Iran already had 5,000 kg. of low enriched uranium in 2012. Iran’s focus on details and numbers is all about pressuring the West and being overly transparent. It intends to walk its way towards a nuclear weapon with the cameras rolling, not hiding in mountains. This way, it thinks it will show that it had a right to weapons and highly enriched uranium in the first place, which was the message of the regime before the JCPOA. The deal only kept Iran from developing weapons or stockpiling enriched uranium for 15 years. And the clock it ticking. – Jerusalem Post


Israel is assisting Syrian Kurds battered by a month-old Turkish incursion, seeing them as a counterweight to Iranian influence and advocating for them in talks with the United States, the deputy Israeli foreign minister said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have resumed operations alongside the global coalition fighting Islamic State, a sign that ties between the U.S. and the Kurds are mending after Turkey sent forces across the border to establish a safe zone in northeastern Syria. – Bloomberg

A brother of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi travelled several times to Istanbul, Europe’s largest city, from northern Syria in the months before the terrorist chief’s death, Iraqi intelligence officials said. – The National


Turkey’s president says members of slain Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s “inner circle” are trying to enter Turkey from Syria. – Washington Post

Turkey has captured a wife of the slain leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Republican and Democratic U.S. senators asked President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday to let them know – and to respond with touch sanctions – if reports are true that Turkey is violating a ceasefire agreement in Syria. – Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will soon be visiting the White House after weeks of tense relations between the two counties. President Trump said Wednesday that he had a phone call with the Turkish leader and confirmed that Erdoğan would follow through with a planned visit to Washington, D.C., next Wednesday. – Washington Examiner 

A key Senate panel won’t take up bipartisan legislation sanctioning Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria until after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan completes his upcoming visit to the United States, according to senators and aides. – Politico 

The European Union is preparing to pay Turkey tens of millions to help bolster its coast guard, a senior EU official said Wednesday, as increasing numbers of migrants and refugees are leaving Turkey in hopes of finding sanctuary or jobs in Europe. – Associated Press


The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees has resigned amid an internal probe into alleged mismanagement and ethical abuses at the organization, the United Nations said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse 

The IDF mapped the house of Kassem Shabli, one of the terrorists who carried out an attack near the West Bank town of Dolev in August, in which 17-year-old Rina Shnerb was murdered. – Jerusalem Post 

Almost a year and a half after Israel first fired a David’s Sling interceptor missile and watched as it crashed in Syria, Chinese media reported that the advanced missile is now in the hands of the Russians who are reportedly working to reverse engineer it. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested that Washington allow the transfer of 12 million dollars to Palestinian security forces, but US President Donald Trump denied the request, Channel 13 reported. – Jerusalem Post


Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as prime minister last week, had a positive meeting with leading politician Gebran Bassil on Wednesday and all ideas were discussed for getting the country out of economic crisis, a source close to Hariri said. – Reuters

The World Bank said on Wednesday it stood ready to back a new Lebanese government, warning the country had no time to waste to tackle an emerging economic crisis worsening by the day. – Reuters

Dan Azzi writes: At the root of the economic grievances fueling Lebanon’s mass protests lies what looks like a regulated Ponzi scheme. The problem will not be solved by a change of government—even with a cabinet of experts—or by injections of capital from friendly Arab states: it will require tougher measures, including a compulsory haircut for many of the country’s richest citizens. – Bloomberg


Anti-government protesters in Iraq stormed a bridge Wednesday in central Baghdad, where security forces pushed them back with batons and tear gas, wounding dozens. A medic was killed while aiding demonstrators. – Associated Press

The anti-government protests that have convulsed Iraq in the past month are fueled by economic grievances and are mainly directed at Iraq’s own political leaders. But they have also exposed long-simmering resentment at Iran’s influence in the country, with protesters targeting Shiite political parties and militias with close ties to Tehran. – Associated Press

Dozens of anti-government protesters blocked the entrance to Iraq’s port of Umm Qasr on Thursday just hours after operations had resumed, port officials said. – Reuters

Anna Borshcevskaya writes: When Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov toured Iraq last month—his first visit in five years—he came armed with an entourage of energy representatives and a bevy of ideas for increasing Russian investments in Iraq. His trip is a signal that the United States will face heightening competition for influence there from Moscow. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Jordanian police were searching for a motive Wednesday after a man, reportedly from a nearby Palestinian refugee camp, carried out a knife attack at a popular archaeological site, injuring eight people and terrifying tourists. Authorities said the attacker was arrested at the scene. – Washington Post 

The Justice Department has charged two former Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia by accessing the company’s information on dissidents who use the platform, marking the first time federal prosecutors have publicly accused the kingdom of running agents in the United States. – Washington Post

A U.S.-led coalition created to secure sea lines vital to oil shipping in the Middle East formally launched its operations at a ceremony in Bahrain on Thursday. – Bloomberg 

The United Arab Emirates has launched a government-owned company meant to position the country as a global player in advanced technology that can address the threat of hybrid warfare and streamline the local defense industry. – Defense News

The Al Jazeera Media Network is asking Facebook Inc. to remove accounts it says are part of a foreign-influence campaign run by by the United Arab Emirates. – Bloomberg

Birol Baskan writes: It is hard to believe, however, that the Qatari leadership would have encouraged Al Jazeera English to cover Turkey’s military operation in such a fashion. While the Qatari leadership has certain redlines and Al Jazeera English is mindful not to cross them, Turkey’s extreme sensibilities are not yet among them. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korea deported two North Koreans on Thursday after finding they had killed 16 fellow fishermen on a boat and fled to South Korea across the sea border over the weekend. – Associated Press

The United States was very encouraged by a recent meeting between the leaders of South Korea and Japan, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Wednesday, amid heightened tensions that could undercut three-way security cooperation on North Korea. – Reuters

If North Korea and Japan went to war, more South Koreans would back their immediate neighbor, a new poll by a state-sponsored think tank in Seoul showed. – Newsweek

Melissa Chan writes: Speak to German officials from that time, and they will offer many lessons learned—but their wisdom has worth mostly for one place: the world’s last remaining Cold War divide, the Korean peninsula. […]Every expert and official I contacted believes that German-style reunification—essentially an absorption of North Korea on South Korea’s terms—is the only possible scenario to consider, and that’s only if events play out fairly peacefully. Seoul has flown German bureaucrats from that era over to pick their brains for insight. And if Germany is any indication, the process would take far longer, and cost far more, than anyone might imagine. – The Atlantic


China sentenced nine fentanyl traffickers to prison in an apparent demonstration that it is serious about holding up its part of a bargain with Washington. – Wall Street Journal

China’s Commerce Ministry said Thursday that U.S. and Chinese negotiators have agreed in principle to roll back tariffs in simultaneous stages if their trade talks advance. – Washington Post

Amid news that thousands of banned Chinese-made surveillance devices are in use across American government installations, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is asking the Pentagon what Chinese gear is at U.S. military facilities. – Defense News 

An article published in the Chinese bi-monthly magazine Modern Ships illustrating how a Xian H-6N strategic bomber would carry an air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) may indicate that this capability is in the final stages of development, or may even have entered service. – Jane’s 360 

Joseph Bosco writes: Speaking the truth about America’s commitment to universal human values is our greatest strength, as President Ronald Reagan proved in the Cold War. It was instrumental in bringing down the “Evil Empire” of the Soviet Union. Now it is time for President Trump to follow that example against the emerging Chinese communist empire and its willing ally in North Korea. – The Hill 

South Asia

Particularly in remote places like Badakhshan, where the central government in Kabul is a distant idea, switching sides between the Taliban, other insurgent groups, and the security forces is a frequent event. Old local rivalries keep playing out across new allegiances. Lapis lazuli and gold mines, coupled with drug-smuggling, add to the complexity. – New York Times 

Security agencies in India are on alert for possible terrorist attacks on the country’s Jewish community or visiting Israeli tourists. – Algemeiner 

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government stripped disputed Indian Kashmir of its semi-autonomous powers in August and placed the Muslim-majority region under a massive security lockdown, life has been a struggle for ordinary Kashmiris. – Associated Press


Beijing urged Hong Kong’s embattled leader on Wednesday to support a push to impose national security measures in the territory, which has been hit by months of antigovernment protests. The trouble is that what China’s ruling Communist Party has proposed is not clear and could be hard to enforce. – New York Times 

This week, though, regional governments have banded together to use ASEAN’s principles to justify a startling act: turning away Cambodian opposition politicians who are trying to return home to confront Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, Asia’s longest-serving authoritarian leader. – New York Times

Malaysia has rejected a U.S. plan to host an Asia-Pacific trade summit in January, after Chile scrapped the November meeting over violent anti-government protests. – Associated Press

Cambodia’s government has sent troops to its border and called on neighboring countries to arrest exiled dissidents after accusing them of plotting a coup, a move that could prompt the European Union to pull trade privileges that are keeping the country’s biggest industry afloat. – Bloomberg

Pacific Islands nations claim President Donald Trump’s decision to formally withdraw from the Paris climate accord will “undermine American influence and credibility” in the region, which is increasingly coming under the sway of China. – Bloomberg

The Philippines will resume stamping Chinese passports featuring a map of the heavily disputed nine-dash line within the South China Sea, the country’s Bureau of Immigration said. – Bloomberg


Russia will deliver a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system to Serbia even though the U.S. has warned of possible sanctions against the Balkan country in the event of such purchases. – Associated Press

Russia is succeeding in imposing a highly effective internet censorship regime across thousands of disparate, privately owned providers in an effort also aimed at making government snooping pervasive, according to a study released Wednesday. – Associated Press

The rising tension is unsettling many Norwegians, not least in the town of Kirkenes, which for three decades has been trying to foster cooperation with Russia. – Reuters

The Army National Guard has cast Hollywood in the role of prop masters staging a more realistic training scenario for American troops who might go up against Russian armor. – Washington Examiner 

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his country’s recent military achievements, including the development of state-of-the-art weapons that the U.S. military told Newsweek it now must match. – Newsweek

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Putin’s propaganda machine sees the Russian language as a tool for communication with this so-called Russian world, understood as a diaspora — the Russian-speaking populations of post-Soviet countries cut off from Russia by the Soviet Union’s collapse. The official term is “compatriots living abroad.”  – Bloomberg

Hal Brands writes: Yet a series of reports by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation shows that the possibility of nuclear escalation in a conflict between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Russia over the Baltic region is higher than one might imagine. The best way of averting it? Invest more in the alliance’s conventional defense. – Bloomberg


President Emmanuel Macron of France tried to seize control of the issue of immigration on Wednesday, as his government announced steps to make the country less attractive to migrants while cracking open the door to skilled foreign workers. – New York Times 

An 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor who is a senator-for-life in Italy unwittingly provoked one of the country’s most intense confrontations with anti-Semitism since the end of its Fascist dictatorship during World War II. – Associated Press

President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China this week suggests that the United States risks being sidelined on the global stage under President Donald Trump. One moment spoke volumes: Chinese President Xi Jinping sampling French wines, which Trump’s administration recently slapped with heavy new tariffs. – Associated Press

Britain has put on hold a Spanish request to extradite Catalan separatist Clara Ponsati over her role in a failed independence bid and demanded more information, according to British documents published by Spanish authorities. – Reuters

Top UK Jewish groups are demanding the Labour party expel a far-left member after he was prevented from running for a seat in the upcoming parliamentary elections. – Algemeiner  

A pilot accidentally triggered a hijacking/hostage taking alarm in a plane’s cockpit, causing a major security lockdown on Wednesday at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, one of Europe’s busiest. – Reuters

Julien Guyon writes: There are better ways to deal with highly complex and controversial issues in a democracy. The House of Commons, like many legislatures, votes on binary choices: aye or no. This system usually works, and ensures that new bills can pass into law only if they’re backed by a majority. But it may also lead to gridlock, as with Brexit. Faced with an extraordinary situation and a hard deadline, Parliament should adopt alternative voting rules — ones that, by their nature, would force compromise. – Bloomberg


Gunmen in Burkina Faso killed at least 37 people on Wednesday in an attack on a convoy carrying employees, suppliers and contractors of a Canadian mining company, one of the deadliest episodes in a recent tide of violence that has gripped the West African nation. – New York Times 

The foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed on Wednesday to work toward resolving their dispute over the filling and operation of a massive dam project in Ethiopia by Jan. 15, 2020, the U.S. Treasury said. – Reuters

The U.N. Security Council called on South Sudan’s warring parties Wednesday to publicly reaffirm their commitment to fully implement a peace deal signed over a year ago that calls for a coalition government to be formed on Nov. 12. – Associated Press

The Americas

Mexican authorities investigating the killing of nine U.S. citizens on a road in northwestern Mexico said that a shootout between two rival drug gangs earlier that day might have prompted the attack. – Wall Street Journal

The Havana International Trade Fair is where Cuba puts the best face on its struggling economy. One dark spot this year was the American section, where the U.S. presence has shrunk from dozens of companies during the Obama administration to a handful today. Some say they may not last another year of Trump administration sanctions. – Associated Press

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) doubled down on comments he had made earlier in the week about cartel violence in Mexico, declaring on Fox News that the U.S. “may have to take matters into our own hands.” – The Hill

A top Canadian Jewish group is calling on the leader of a major political party to disavow comments made by a member in support of a Palestinian terrorist. – Algemeiner 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday cited “positive momentum” in the U.S. process to ratify a new North American trade deal, which has been in limbo for months amid concerns over labor standards. – Reuters

Editorial: But if Mexico can’t control its territory, the U.S. will have to do more to protect Americans in both countries from the cartels. The Drug Enforcement Administration should be able to find out the identities and locations of those who ordered or carried out Monday’s murders, and ensuring their demise would be a signal that U.S. justice has a long reach. A U.S. military operation can’t be ruled out. – Wall Street Journal


Democratic Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth introduced a bill that would block members of the United States military from being deported. – Washington Examiner 

The Navy had previously meant to replace its legacy mine countermeasures triad of helicopters, wooden-hull ships and divers with a Littoral Combat Ship mission package that could mostly do it all with unmanned systems – but unexpected success with a separate family of systems is leading to a new triad of capabilities for fleet commanders to employ. – USNI News 

The submarine community wants to preserve its ability to operate as a silent service under the seas while also contributing to the wider fleet and joint fight, the commander of the Submarine Force said today. – USNI News 

Dozens of space companies descended on San Francisco, California Nov. 5 for a unique opportunity: the chance to walk away with a same day contract with the Air Force. – C4ISRNET 

Military leaders are reluctant to treat the electromagnetic spectrum as a separate domain of warfare as they do with air, land, sea, space and cyber, even as the service increasingly recognize the importance of superiority in this area. – C4ISRNET 

Defense budgeting will see a major shakeup in coming months as the head of the House Appropriations Committee’s panel on military spending announced he will not seek re-election next year. – Defense News 

An ongoing diplomatic battle between Canada and Saudi Arabia is hitting American defense firm General Dynamics hard, to the tune of about $1.5 billion in missing payments for land vehicles sold to the kingdom. – Defense News 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Wednesday urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action to secure the United States’ fifth-generation wireless networks, or 5G, against cyber threats. – The Hill

Trump Administration

President Trump wanted Attorney General William P. Barr to hold a news conference declaring that the commander in chief had broken no laws during a phone call in which he pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, though Barr ultimately declined to do so, people familiar with the matter said. – Washington Post 

The top American diplomat in Ukraine identified Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, as the instigator behind the drive to get Ukraine’s president to announce investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals, telling impeachment investigators last month that Mr. Giuliani was acting on behalf of the president. – New York Times 

Through weeks of impeachment hearings and investigation, the Oval Office has emerged as such a sought-after destination that Ukraine’s new president was hell-bent on getting there and the White House unafraid to dangle it as leverage. – Associated Press

The first open impeachment hearings into US President Donald Trump will begin next week, the congressman leading the probe said Wednesday, as the investigation heads into a highly anticipated public phase. – Agence France-Presse 

The White House is expected to recruit two advisers to take a more aggressive posture in defending President Donald Trump in the congressional impeachment inquiry over his dealings with Ukraine, a senior administration official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, told lawmakers he believed the push to investigate Ukrainian energy company Burisma and its ties to Hunter Biden was motivated by a desire to attack Hunter’s father, former Vice President Joe Biden. – Reuters

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton is known as a political bomb thrower, and if he appears before the closed-door House impeachment panel on Thursday, he could be an unpredictable, explosive witness. – USA Today