Fdd's overnight brief

November 9, 2018

In The News


Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a notorious anti-Semite who recently compared Jewish people to termites and led a “Death to America” chant in Iran, continued his lifelong knack for repugnant remarks by warning President Trump on Thursday not to pull “the trigger of war in the Middle East at the insistence of Israel.” – Fox News

Iran is likely to ride out the storm from U.S. oil sanctions, suffering recession but no economic meltdown, thanks to rising crude prices and deepening divisions between the United States and other major powers, officials and analysts say. – Reuters

Widely regarded as a cult, the MEK was once designated as a terrorist organisation by the US and UK, but its opposition to the Iranian government has now earned it the support of powerful hawks in the Trump administration, including national security adviser John Bolton and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. – The Guardian

A conservative former MP and a member of the Islamic Republic’s influential Expediency Discernment Council (EDC) says that he’s optimistic over the ratification of four bills regarding the international conventions against money laundering and financing terrorism. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Bulgarian border guards at the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint have detained three Iranian men who attempted to enter the country from Turkey using fake Israeli passports, the local daily Sofia Globe reported November 2. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Despite President Trump’s repeated claims that the Islamic State has been defeated, the militant group remains a deadly threat to minority populations in Syria, causing concern among U.S. lawmakers that recent atrocities are being overlooked. – Washington Post

Syrian troops have liberated 19 women and children hostages held by the Islamic State group since July in a military operation in the country’s center, ending a months-long crisis that has stunned Syria’s Druze religious minority, state media reported Thursday. An opposition war monitor said the release was part of an exchange. – Associated Press

Syrian government forces clashed with rebels in Hama province on Friday in some of the heaviest fighting in the country’s northwest in a year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. – Reuters

Jordan said on Thursday it was in talks with Washington and Moscow to empty a desert camp used by 50,000 displaced Syrians, a move aimed at defusing security tensions near a potential military flashpoint on its northeast border with Syria. – Reuters


Turkey gave a guarded welcome on Wednesday to a U.S. decision to offer millions of dollars to help capture three top Kurdish PKK militants but said Washington must also break its alliance with Kurdish militias in northern Syria. – Reuters

Turkey has been granted a waiver of around 25 percent on U.S. oil sanctions against Iran, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said on Friday, amounting to around three million tonnes of oil annually. – Reuters

A Turkish journalist was handed a suspended sentence of two years and five months in prison on Thursday for insulting Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, a court ruling seen by Reuters showed. – Reuters



Israel and Gulf Arab states should cooperate on aviation security and other civilian areas such as transportation, commercial aviation and tourism, Israel’s intelligence minister told Reuters on Thursday after a visit to Oman. – Reuters

David Pollock writes: For U.S. policymakers, the implications of these findings are clear. Pressing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to come back to the table, let alone to make concessions, would have precious little popular resonance in the West Bank and could even backfire. But apprehension over an explosion of mass anger in that territory is probably also misguided. Instead, popular attitudes are surprisingly more receptive to practical U.S. economic interventions in Gaza; perhaps this is where the most urgent U.S. efforts should be concentrated. – Washington Institute

Samuel Tadros writes: Many Middle Eastern Christians were never comfortable with the Arab/Islamic nature of the conflict with Israel, for the simple reason that they don’t consider themselves Arabs, let alone Muslims, and it has not escaped their attention that an Arab/Islamic identity has often been forced upon them. The rise in our time of Islamism, and the threat it poses for the future of Christians in the Middle East, has led many to see Israel as the proverbial enemy of their enemy. – Hudson Institute

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s top government-funded think tank is studying the possible effects on oil markets of a breakup of OPEC, a remarkable research effort for a country that has dominated the oil cartel for nearly 60 years. The effort coincides with new pressures on the Saudi government, including from the U.S., where President Trump has accused the cartel of pushing up oil prices – Wall Street Journal

Saudi authorities used acid and other chemicals to dispose of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s body, a source at the Turkish attorney general’s office has told Al Jazeera. – Al Jazeera

President Donald Trump’s strategy to contain Iranian power in the Middle East by forging Arab allies into a U.S.-backed security alliance was in trouble even before the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Now, three U.S. sources said, the plan faces fresh complications. – Reuters

Gary Schmitt writes: In extreme cases like those of Khashoggi and Mr. Skripal, Western democracies should say enough is enough, and impose sanctions that raise the price of such killings. The cost must be high enough to make dictators think twice before authorizing bloody crimes in free countries. – Wall Street Journal

Boris Johnson writes: It is vital that the long-term strategic partners of Saudi Arabia — both Britain and the United States — are frank in the way that friends are entitled to be frank. The war in Yemen is turning out to be bad for Saudi Arabia — and, alas, is boosting, not reversing, Iranian influence. The murder of Khashoggi has been terrible for Saudi Arabia — and if there is one way to boost Iran, and all regional critics of the Saudi regime, it would be to hush it all up. – Washington Post


The Trump administration is considering designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels a terrorist organization, people familiar with the discussions said, as part of a campaign to end that country’s civil war and put pressure on the Houthis’ ally Iran. – Washington Post

Plans for talks aimed at halting the conflict in Yemen has faltered again, as the U.N. said its special envoy would convene negotiations by the end of the year—and not within the one-month time frame he previously outlined. – Wall Street Journal

Aid groups warned of the plight of civilians in Yemen’s contested Hodeida where casualties are mounting as a Saudi-led coalition is fighting to take the port city from the country’s Shiite rebels. – Associated Press

The United Nation’s envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is no longer aiming to convene the country’s warring parties for peace talks this month and will instead try to bring them together by the end of the year, according to a UN spokesperson. – Al Jazeera

Dozens of combatants were killed as pro-government forces closed in on rebel forces in the heart of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah on Thursday, hospital sources said. – Al Jazeera

Middle East & North Africa

Conflict-wracked Libya is caught in a destructive cycle “fueled by personal ambition and the nation’s stolen wealth” — and the way forward begins with a National Conference in early 2019, the U.N. envoy said Thursday. – Associated Press

An Egyptian court has convicted 65 suspected militants of setting up a terrorist group and declaring allegiance to the extremist Islamic State group, sentencing 18 of them to life in prison. – Associated Press

More than a year after Mosul was liberated from Islamic State, a bomb exploded next to a restaurant in western Mosul on Thursday evening. It killed several and injured a dozen, according to local reports and the defense ministry in Iraq. It is the second attack in a week in the area and shows that terrorists are increasingly attempting to infiltrate urban areas of Iraq. – Jerusalem Post

The Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah said on Thursday it was up to Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri to resolve a row over Sunni representation that has obstructed the formation of a new government. – Reuters

Ziv Bar’el writes: But Hezbollah is showing no signs of giving in. Increasing its political power in Lebanon is now much more vital to preserve Iran’s power in the country, ensuring Lebanon’s continued cooperation with Syria and blocking the American influence in Lebanon. – Haaretz

Korean Peninsula

A Democratic senator has urged President Trump to allow American humanitarian aid workers into North Korea, despite a recent ban on travel to what officials consider a hostile nuclear state but also one of the world’s poorest nations. – New York Times

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Thursday that North Korea canceled this week’s talks between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a senior North Korean official, but a meeting between the two nations’ leaders is still on for after Jan. 1. – Associated Press

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Thursday that Russia wants to lift banking restrictions on North Korea put in place to try to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but the United States would not let that happen. – Reuters

The United States has blocked an attempt by Russia to ease UN sanctions on North Korea in what it claimed was an effort to deliver humanitarian aid to the impoverished nation.- Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

South Korean President Moon Jae-in must choose between a domestic backlash or a diplomatic one in handling a court ruling holding Japanese firms liable for wartime forced labor claims. – Bloomberg


China’s exports surged anew last month on the back of resilient demand, defying many economists’ expectations for a slowdown from the trade fight with the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

China has violated an accord it signed with the U.S. three years ago pledging not to engage in hacking for the purpose of economic espionage, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

The ships came within 45 yards of each other, marking the closest call yet as the United States Navy contests China’s military buildup in the South China Sea. The Sept. 30 encounter signaled what American commanders fear is a perilous new phase in confrontations in the disputed waterway, which are unfolding without even a Cold War-style agreement on basic rules of conduct aimed at preventing escalation. – New York Times

Every year at the World Internet Conference, held since 2014 in the photogenic canal town of Wuzhen near Shanghai, companies and government officials have convened to send a message: China is a high-tech force to be reckoned with. – New York Times

Vietnam strongly protested China’s launch of weather stations in the disputed Spratly islands, saying Thursday they seriously violate Vietnam’s sovereignty and complicate the situation in the South China Sea. – Associated Press

Even as the United States and China butt heads over trade, their top diplomats and defense chiefs will be meeting in Washington Friday, looking to tamp down tensions on other issues that have put a chill on relations between the two world powers. – Associated Press

Interpol’s secretary general said Thursday that the international police organization’s rules forbid him from probing into the fate of the Chinese government official who served as Interpol president for almost two years before he vanished during a trip to China. – Associated Press

China is unleashing stealth drones and pilotless aircraft fitted with AK-47 rifles onto world markets, racing to catch up to US technology and adding to a fleet that has already seen combat action in the Middle East. – Agence France-Presse

Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet was denied entry into Hong Kong on Thursday, weeks after the local authorities declined to extend his work visa, the newspaper said. – Bloomberg

Worried that weak ties between major militaries can lead to misunderstandings that snowball into conflict amid tense relations, U.S. officials said Mattis is attempting to forge a relationship with Chinese military leaders. – Reuters

Claude Barfield writes: At the upcoming G20 meeting with President Xi, President Trump should set out US evidence for Chinese economic espionage and demand that Xi reaffirm China’s 2015 commitment to desist from government-sponsored economic espionage. Given the duplicitous track record thus far, the president should also warn Xi that in the future Chinese companies that benefit from IP theft will be banned from the US market. – American Enterprise Institute


Sitting between Afghan envoys and their fierce rivals from the Taliban movement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday promised to work for a united and peaceful Afghanistan, showcasing his country’s return to the diplomatic forefront of the 17-year war. – Washington Post

Officials in Afghanistan say Taliban attacks have killed at least 10 soldiers and seven police officers as U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad opens a tour of the region to push for peace negotiations with the militants. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, will visit Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar from Nov. 8 to 20 to push for peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, the State Department said on Thursday. – Reuters


The release from prison of a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy against Islam, and unconfirmed reports that she was then secretly airlifted abroad, are roiling Pakistani Muslims and intensifying fears in the country’s minority Christian community. – Washington Post

Australia said it would establish a development fund and offer Pacific island nations more than $2 billion for infrastructure projects while bolstering military cooperation, as U.S. allies take a more assertive stance against China in the region. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump this week nominated a Republican lawyer to become the United States ambassador to Australia, filling the long vacant post with a Washington insider who helped the president select his 2016 running mate. – New York Times

A suspected Islamic militant’s frenzied attack on a police station in the Indonesian capital was thwarted by an officer who shot the man in the hand, police said Friday. – Associated Press

One person was killed and two others were injured in a rush hour stabbing rampage in downtown Melbourne Friday, that saw police shoot a knife-wielding suspect near a burning vehicle. – Agence France-Presse

Josh Rogin writes: More than a dozen Pacific nations will convene in the capital of Papua New Guinea next week, where Vice President Pence will lay out the next phase of the Trump administration’s ever evolving Asia strategy. His task is to convince the countries of Southeast Asia that the United States and its allies can offer them better options than capitulation to Chinese economic regional dominance. – Washington Post


McDonald’s Corp. became a leading ambassador of American culture after opening its first restaurant here in the twilight of the Soviet Union. Now, as Russia-U.S. tensions rise and pro-Kremlin politicians call repeatedly to close the U.S. chain, management is taking a new tack: Go Russian. – Wall Street Journal

Alarmed at what they see as disintegrating curbs on nuclear weapons, a bipartisan array of American nonproliferation experts has urged President Trump to salvage a Cold War-era treaty with Russia that he has vowed to scrap. – New York Times

The breakaway region of Donbas in eastern Ukraine will hold elections on Sunday, the same day as the World War I Armistice event in Paris. Separatists backed by Russia are seeking to legitimize—and normalize—their control of two self-declared republics, Donetsk and Luhansk, after four years of fighting. The U.S. has called the votes “phony.” Russia has called them a necessity. – Bloomberg

The U.S. imposed sanctions Thursday on three men and nine entities, including a luxury hotel on the Black Sea, as it seeks to increase pressure on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and human rights abuses in Ukraine. – Associated Press

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, warned on Thursday against rising tensions between Russia and the United States and said there should be no return to the Cold War. – Reuters


Battles that have riven national politics across the European Union are hitting the continental stage as campaigning for the bloc’s legislature threatens the once-dominant center-right’s commanding position overseeing the bloc. – Wall Street Journal

A man has been arrested in north-eastern Spain on suspicion of plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. – BBC News

The Norwegian frigate KNM Helge Instad is in danger of sinking after being rammed by an oil tanker while returning from the NATO Trident Juncture exercise, according to The Associated Press. Images posted by AP show the ship lying on its side in a small cove. – Defense News

The European Union wants a customs border in the Irish sea, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, a letter from Theresa May seen by the London Times newspaper suggested. – Reuters

Anti-Semitic acts in France rose by 69 percent in the first nine months of 2018, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Friday, the 80th anniversary of the infamous “Kristallnacht” of Nazi attacks against Jews. – Agence France-Presse


Somali pirates kidnapped and held Michael Scott Moore, a journalist, hostage for two-and-a-half terrifying years until a ransom payment secured his release in September 2014[…]. In the summer, the Somali was taken into custody by United States authorities and jailed in New York City, court records show. A federal indictment made public Wednesday charged the man, Mohamed Tahlil Mohamed, 38, with kidnapping, hostage taking, conspiracy and other counts. – New York Times

Tanzania released two staff members of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Thursday, a day after they were detained and their passports seized, the South African Foreign Ministry said. – Reuters

While Washington was transfixed with the U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday, senior State Department officials quietly met with Sudan’s top diplomat to finalize a plan that would enable the East African country to shed its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. – Foreign Policy

Cyber Security

An unprecedented federal and state collaboration to defend election systems against Russian interference ended with no obvious voting system compromises, although it’s not entirely clear why. – Associated Press

Facebook took down more than 12 million pieces of terrorist content on its social network between April and September, the company disclosed on Thursday. Facebook defines terrorist content as posts that praise, endorse or represent ISIS, al-Qaeda and their affiliate groups. – CNBC

Cat Zakrzewski writes: When Democrats take control of the House in January, they’ll have more power to shape the agenda in Washington. While cybersecurity is not always the flashiest talking point during an election, lawmakers positioning themselves for potential committee chairmanships in the next Congress are planning to dig deep on cybersecurity issues in the new year. – Washington Post


Combined weapon sales from American companies for fiscal 2018 were up 13 percent over fiscal 2017 figures, netting American firms $192.3 billion, according to new numbers released Thursday by the State Department. – Defense News

The American defense industry is warning that defense cuts proposed by the Trump administration could undermine the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize the military and address threats from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and transnational terrorism. – Defense News

As part of a broader push from the Trump administration to sell more weapons abroad, the U.S. State Department is planning to increase the size of its staff who handles arms transfers, roll out new changes to its International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR, restricted list and create new methods of financing foreign arms procurement, among other changes. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force has conducted a test launch of an unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. – Associated Press

The Navy has no wiggle room when it comes to a planned October 2020 start of construction on the first new ballistic missile submarine, so the Columbia-class program office has cranked up its interaction with and oversight of vendors big and small within the program. – USNI News

The Navy is spending money on shipbuilding, but the industrial base is feeling pressure to upgrade its equipment and invest in training workers to land lucrative contracts. – USNI News

The U.S. Navy submarine force is creating an aggressor squadron as one initiative to ensure all subs are combat-ready as the service trains to take on China and Russia, the commander of Naval Submarine Forces said on Wednesday. – USNI News

Trump Administration

Now that the midterm elections are over, the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will no longer be constrained by the long-standing tradition of going dormant in the weeks before voters go to the ballot boxes. – Washington Post

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team defended the validity of his appointment in court Thursday amid uncertainty about the future of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. – Washington Post

Protesters nationwide are staging massive rallies from New York to Los Angeles to support special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation, which they fear may be ended due to the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  – USA Today

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been exploring potential roles with Fox News, the energy industry or other businesses amid growing signs that he will leave President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as he faces investigations into his ethics, according to people knowledgeable about the discussions. – Politico

Kathy Gilsinan writes: While the courts have weighed in on military detentions of American suspects accused of affiliation with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, it remains a matter of debate whether those precedents apply to the war on isis. The fact that the Doe case was settled without going forward means that question remains open, and it affects much more than the fate of just one man. – The Atlantic