Fdd's overnight brief

October 10, 2019

In The News


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called on the European Union to condemn Iran and hold Tehran accountable after he said oil from Iranian tanker Adrian Darya had been offloaded in Syria. – Reuters

Either all Gulf countries enjoy security, “or they will all be deprived of it,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday in an opinion piece in the Kuwaiti Al Rai newspaper. – Reuters

Despite having nuclear technology, Iran has never pursued building or using nuclear weapons, which its religion forbids, the country’s highest political authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Islamic Republic President Hassan Rouhani has warned the country’s powerful Guardian Council (GC) to avoid stricter vetting of candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections next February. – Radio Farda

Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani has cancelled his scheduled trip to Turkey, Iranian state TV reported, after Ankara launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Iranian military has provided a look at the air defences it has deployed on Kharg Island and at Asaluyeh: two of the most important sites in the Islamic republic’s oil and gas export network. – Jane’s 360

Iran launched unannounced drills Wednesday near its border with Turkey as the Islamic Republic warned its neighbor not to move forward with its military operation in northern Syria and Russia criticized the United States for setting up a potentially deadly scenario in the region. – Newsweek

Iran has released Russian journalist Yulia Yuzik after detaining her for a week, according to the Russian Embassy in Tehran. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A human rights organisation has received more than £1 million in charity cash despite being run by self-declared Islamist revolutionaries closely aligned to Iran who say that the West is “the enemy” and Britain a “Stasi state”. – The Telegraph


Fighting lit up the sky early Thursday as Turkish troops pressed their air and ground offensive against United States-allied Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. At least 16 Kurds were reported to have been killed, one monitoring group said. – New York Times

The Turkish military began an offensive in Syria to seize territory held by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, opening a new front in the war-ravaged country and drawing a renewed defense by President Trump of his decision to shift U.S. troops out of the area, effectively enabling the start of the assault. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. military forces have assumed custody of two Islamic State prisoners being held in a battlefield prison in northeastern Syria to ensure they remain securely held as a Turkish invasion upset the region’s security, military officials said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump on Wednesday called a Turkish incursion into Syria “a bad idea” but reiterated his opposition to “endless, senseless wars,” striking a far milder tone than outraged members of Congress, foreign allies and officials in his own administration, who said the offensive must be stopped. – New York Times

Turkey’s Defense Ministry says Turkish ground troops are continuing their advance against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. A ministry statement early on Thursday did not provide further detail on the offensive but shared a brief video of commandos in action. – Associated Press 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he’s worried Turkey’s campaign in Syria will lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State group. He told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday that he was “deeply concerned” about Turkey’s actions and has expressed to the Turkish and U.S. governments his concerns about the safety of civilians and the Kurdish people. – Associated Press

The United States has not given Turkey a green light to invade Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, but added that Ankara had “legitimate security concerns” and that President Donald Trump made a decision to move American soldiers out of harm’s way. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday rejected criticism from fellow Republicans over his decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, and dismissed worries that captured Islamic State fighters might escape in the chaos of a Turkish attack. – Reuters

As Turkey launches offensive operations into northeastern Syria against once American-backed Syrian militias, the danger facing U.S. forces in the region have heightened. This is because all U.S. operations against the Islamic State militant group in Syria have halted, Newsweek has learned. – Newsweek

U.S. Republicans condemned President Donald Trump’s Syria policy on Wednesday after Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters, a rare break from the White House that had some calling for “devastating” sanctions against the NATO ally. – Reuters

David Ignatius writes: By acquiescing to Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria on Wednesday, President Trump has opened the door to what could become a genuine nightmare for the United States and its allies: the revival of the deadly terrorist organization that called itself the Islamic State. – Washington Post

Hemin Kobane writes: Not that long ago, the people of northeastern Syria were greeting U.S. troops as our saviors, as the torchbearers of freedom. […]Now those same Syrian children may face death amid the chaos of a new conflict. This week, as we now know, President Trump spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. […]Now, as a result of this fateful decision, the Kurds of Syria will see the United States as a collaborator of Erdogan, the dictator who wishes to destroy everything we have built. – Washington Post

Neville Teller writes: At al-Hol, ISIS is master-minding its resurgence while the rest of the world turns a blind eye. With only a few exceptions, the governments concerned have dumped the problem into the lap of the Kurds. While finding minimal resources to ease the humanitarian problems of housing 70,000 women and children, they persistently ignore the equally pressing security issues that are fomenting inside the camp. On both humanitarian and security grounds al-Hol is a problem demanding the world’s immediate attention. – Jerusalem Post

Jason Baker writes: This is no way to treat a longtime ally and strategic partner. The Kurds have proved time and again their capability as a disciplined, effective fighting force and their commitment to the kind of stable, moderate governance that is sorely lacking in the region. Previous U.S. presidents have recognized this and committed themselves to standing side by side with the Kurds. The administration’s plan of abandoning them now would not just be a reversal of long-established policy, it also would be a betrayal of one of America’s few reliable regional partners. – USA Today


The dispute between Turkey and the Kurds has deep roots in regional power dynamics that have created a tangled web of interests. Further complicating the picture is the fact that the United States is an ally of both Turkey and the S.D.F., as the militia is known. – New York Times

Turkey will seek a new way for Britain to deal with its Islamic State (IS) militants and dependants held in Syria if they fall under Turkish control, the ambassador to London has said. – Sky News (UK)

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham plans to introduce a package of “devastating” sanctions to hit Turkey over its military operation in northeast Syria, expressing concerns over the fate of Kurds in the area after US President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw troops on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post

Adam Taylor writes: It remains to be seen how the Turkish government would respond to economic pressure. Erdogan has shown himself repeatedly willing to ignore U.S. interests; his allies view Syria’s Kurds as an existential threat. “Like the United States, Turkey does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” Turkey’s communications director Fahrettin Altun wrote in an op-ed for The Post. “But when monsters attempt to knock down our doors and harm our citizens, we have to respond.” – Washington Post

Elizabeth Tsurkov writes: The United States has been humbled by its experience in Iraq. But the trauma from a misguided war of choice should not lead it to resort to myopic, short-term policies, which at times produce great violence and suffering, as the looming Turkish invasion shows. – Haaretz


In the week since three men were killed in a midday shootout in an Arab town in northern Israel, the country has seen mass protests, complaints of police negligence and a public debate about violence in Arab communities that has veered into racist generalizations. – Associated Press

Israeli police entered the Gate of Mercy (Bab al-Rahma) on the Temple Mount and arrested five young men and removed wooden partitions on Thursday, according to the Palestinian Safa news agency. – Jerusalem Post

Convoys of vehicles departed from Arab-Israeli towns to head to Jerusalem to protest in front of the government precinct against a recent uptick in violence in the Arab-Israeli sector on Thursday morning. – Jerusalem Post

The Israel Defense Forces, Border Guards, police and Shabak Israel Security Agency arrested eight people, Wednesday evening in the Palestinian Authority-assigned areas of Judea and Samaria, who were wanted on suspicion of involvement in terror and violent disorders directed at Israelis. – Arutz Sheva

Quin Hillyer writes: A bit beneath the radar, the abandonment of the Kurds also puts Israel at somewhat greater risk. Kurdish patrols throughout eastern Syria had effectively made it more difficult for Iran to send aid through Shi’ite areas of Iraq to the Hezbollah terrorists making mischief for Israel from the area of the Golan Heights. Now, with Kurds fighting for their own lives in northeast Syria, a corridor opens for Iranian-Hezbollah threats to Israel. In sum, not a single discernible American interest was secured by Trump’s decision. The bloodbath that already has begun will be Trump’s fault. – Washington Examiner

Middle East & North Africa

Turkey’s military offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria opens an uncertain new chapter in Washington’s Middle East policy as President Trump willingly cedes influence to Ankara and other regional players. – Wall Street Journal

Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party won the most seats in parliamentary elections but will still face an uphill task of cobbling together a governing coalition in a deeply polarized nation that’s fed up with politicians. – Bloomberg

Houthi military expert Lieutenant-General Abed Al-Thour said in a September 26, 2019 interview on Al-Masirah TV (Houthis – Yemen) that the Houthis will use their air force and missile forces to strike the UAE if it does not stop fighting in Yemen. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Rauf Mammadov writes: President Vladimir Putin heads to Riyadh in mid-October to try to pry loose multi-billion-dollar investments that Saudi Arabia has pledged to Russia but failed to deliver on. Putin also hopes to persuade the kingdom to increase two-way trade. A lot is riding on the visit for the Saudis. If it fails to deliver the concrete results Putin wants, Russia might pull out of the OPEC+ cartel that has kept global oil prices high over the past two years. Moscow could also cozy up closer to the Saudis’ arch-enemy, Iran. […]If they end up on opposite sides of one or more prickly regional issues, the rapprochement they have achieved could quickly vanish. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea on Thursday called outside condemnation of its weapons launches a “grave provocation” and threatened again to resume nuclear and long-range missile tests. – Associated Press

North Korea said on Thursday its patience has limits and it could reverse steps to build trust with the United States, as it criticized a U.N. Security Council call for it to cease its weapons programs and denounced a U.S. missile test. – Reuters

A North Korean cargo ship seized by U.S. authorities in May has been sold and is now undertow from American Samoa, the Coast Guard announced The 17,061-ton, single-hull bulk carrier M/V Wise Honest was sold on orders of a U.S. federal judge to compensate the families of victims of the North Korean regime – Otto Warmbier and Kim Dong-shik. – USNI News


Senior U.S. and Chinese officials will square off for trade talks Thursday at a pivotal moment in the countries’ relationship, with higher tariffs looming if negotiators fail to break a five-month stalemate. – Wall Street Journal 

The White House has signed off on special licenses for some U.S. companies to do some business with Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co., according to a person familiar with the process. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a television interview on Wednesday that China’s treatment of Muslims, including the Uighurs, in western China was an “enormous human rights violation” and Washington will continue to raise the issue. – Reuters

Tariffs are forcing China to pay attention to U.S. concerns, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in Sydney on Thursday. Ross said the United States would have preferred not to implement tariffs against Chinese goods more than a year ago, but added that it has forced Beijing into action. The trade war has weighed on global growth and roiled financial markets. – Reuters

Surprised and upset by the U.S. blacklisting of Chinese companies, China has lowered expectations for significant progress from this week’s trade talks with the United States, Chinese government officials told Reuters, even as President Donald Trump on Wednesday expressed fresh optimism. – Reuters

The White House is looking at rolling out a previously agreed currency pact with China as part of an early harvest deal that could also see a tariff increase next week suspended, according to people familiar with the discussions. – Bloomberg

Even in death there is no respite for the Uighurs, one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, according to a new investigation that has revealed China is destroying burial grounds where generations of families have been interred. – Telegraph

Javier C. Hernández writes: People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, was taking aim at Apple, accusing it of serving as an “escort” for “rioters” in Hong Kong by providing an app that allows protesters to track police movements. [….]On Wednesday, Apple responded by removing the app — known as HKmap.life — from the iPhone store.[…]Analysts say the increasingly tough tone of the Chinese media is part of Beijing’s efforts to inflame nationalism at home and intimidate multinational companies into toeing the party line. As China and the United States struggle to reach a trade deal, the war of words also reflects a broader geopolitical struggle. – New York Times

Mark Gongloff writes: A day before trade talks in Washington, even as Trump keeps escalating hostilities, China has hinted it’s open to a small trade deal giving Trump a bit of what he wants if he calls off new tariffs due later this month and in December. He should leap on this opportunity, Bloomberg’s editorial board writes. His China-hawk advisers might grumble, but it’s probably impossible for Trump to get a comprehensive trade deal with China any time soon, and he’s going about it all wrong anyway. – Bloomberg

South Asia

U.S. airstrikes in May on suspected Taliban drug facilities killed 30 civilians, the United Nations said Wednesday in a detailed report on the incident. The U.S. military disputed the claims, arguing that all those killed in the strikes were combatants. – Washington Post

Chinese President Xi Jinping has offered his support to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on the issue of Kashmir and boosted military ties between the two just days before a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. – Newsweek

Mihir Sharma writes: India’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping will meet in the southern Indian city of Chennai this week, for the second in a series of “informal” summits. [….]While the two giant neighbors have dialed down the public rhetoric considerably since the standoff over Doklam, their relationship has if anything grown even more fraught. […]The Chennai summit may end quietly, or even with apparent bonhomie. India and China may swap concessions of one sort or another. With every passing year, however, the contradictions at the heart of their relationship grow ever harder for their leaders to ignore. – Bloomberg


Apple removed an app late Wednesday that enabled protesters in Hong Kong to track police, a day after facing intense criticism from Chinese state media for it, plunging the technology giant deeper into the complicated politics of a country that is fundamental to its business. – New York Times

Hong Kong’s metro rail system will shut early again on Thursday to allow time to repair damaged facilities, its operator said as the city braced for more anti-government demonstrations after a string of violent protests in the Asian financial hub. – Reuters

Taiwan’s president rejected on Thursday a “one country, two systems” formula that Beijing has suggested could be used to unify the island and the mainland, saying such an arrangement had set Hong Kong “on the edge of disorder”. – Reuters

A man wielding a knife attacked Indonesia’s chief security minister Wiranto on Thursday, during a visit to the town of Pandeglang in Banten province on the island of Java, images from police and television showed. – Reuters

Michael Sobolik writes: Washington would do well to examine additional political, economic and strategic levers at its disposal to help shape the scope and limit the severity of Beijing’s response when it inevitably comes. And it would do even better to clearly communicate to the Party that a clampdown on Hong Kong will inevitably come at a high cost. – National Interest


A German man suspected of killing two people near a synagogue in the country’s east and streaming the assault online was arrested on Wednesday after what authorities said appeared to be an anti-Semitic attack by a far-right extremist. – Wall Street Journal

The European Union is working on a new approach for flagging countries with weak anti-money-laundering laws after the bloc’s previous attempt to create a blacklist failed earlier this year. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union’s entanglement in President Trump’s impeachment inquiry complicates work for an outspoken diplomat at a critical moment, with new EU leadership taking office, Brexit tensions rising and the threat of U.S. car tariffs looming. – Wall Street Journal

American diplomats who had pushed for the Trump administration to restore security funding to Ukraine were advised by the White House to play down the release of the money when it was finally approved, documents show. – New York Times

On Wednesday, a heavily armed man with a head-mounted camera live-streamed his shooting rampage in Halle, Germany, on Twitch for more than 35 minutes. Two people were killed and two others injured in the attack, which took place outside a synagogue and in a kebab shop. Twitch said on Twitter that only five people had watched the live stream of the shooting. But 2,200 people viewed a recording of the attack, which stayed up for 30 minutes before it was flagged and removed. – New York Times

Despite having only days to bridge wide divisions over Brexit, the European Union maintained a semblance of hope Wednesday that the acrimonious fight over Britain’s departure from the bloc could somehow still be settled amicably. – Associated Press

Jewish leaders demanded action from Germany Thursday to protect the community and face down resurgent right-wing extremism, as a deadly anti-Semitic gun attack on the holy day of Yom Kippur underscored the rising threat of neo-Nazi violence. – Agence France-Presse

European taxpayers will not subsidize Turkey’s plan to attack the Kurdish fighters that helped destroy the Islamic State and resettle the territory they hold with Syrian refugees. – Washington Examiner

Rachel Donadio writes: In comparison to the murderous years of 2015 and 2016, when terrorists killed more than 200 people in Paris and Nice and wounded hundreds of others, last week’s attack at the French capital’s police headquarters, in which four people died, was almost modest, if grim. The assault lasted all of seven minutes. The city wasn’t put on lockdown. And yet it may turn out to be France’s most dangerous attack yet, because it struck the heart of the French state. – The Atlantic

North America

President Trump’s decision to suddenly withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria has angered evangelical Christian leaders and Republican hawks, cleaving his political coalition at the very moment he is trying to fortify his standing to survive the intensifying impeachment inquiry in Congress. – Washington Post

President Trump said Wednesday that it would be “easy” for the United States to form new alliances if Syrian Kurds leave the fight against the Islamic State to fend off a Turkish attack, noting that “they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us in Normandy” and were only interested in fighting for “their land.” – Washington Post

A counterterrorism analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency has been charged with leaking top-secret details about foreign countries’ weapons systems to two journalists, including a reporter with whom he apparently was romantically involved, federal authorities said Wednesday. – Washington Post

President Trump is barreling toward a showdown with Congress over his decision to pull back U.S. troops in northern Syria despite widespread opposition. The announcement, which caught leadership and traditional GOP allies flatfooted, sparked a wave of condemnation, with Republicans calling it a “disaster in the making,” a “catastrophic mistake” and a “terrible decision.”  – The Hill 


Later this month, USS Gerald Ford (CVN-78) will depart Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding, cross the James River and report pier-side to Naval Station Norfolk, Va. The carrier will then begin preparation for an anticipated deployment in 2021. – USNI News

The Dutch government on Tuesday announced plans to purchase nine more of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jets, a move that would bring the country’s inventory to 46. – Defense News

The US European Command and Department of the Army on 7 October announced that exercise ‘Defender-Europe 20’ will see the largest US troop deployment from the United States to Europe in 25 years. – Jane’s 360

The US Army has installed 62 Mounted Assured Precision Navigation & Timing System (MAPS) anti-jam GPS devices in Stryker Light Armored Vehicles in Germany, the US Army News Service reported on 7 October. – Jane’s 360

The Z-20 tactical helicopter is the first Chinese-produced rotorcraft to incorporate fly-by-wire flight controls, according to a 7 October report in the state-owned Global Times newspaper, citing an interview with Z-20 pilot Song Xinning broadcast by state television CCTV. – Jane’s 360

Trump Administration

Congressional investigators expect that Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, will appear as planned for a Friday deposition in the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry, despite the White House’s emphatic pledge not to cooperate with Democrats’ efforts to investigate President Trump, according to congressional officials involved with the process. – Washington Post

President Trump said he would participate in the House impeachment probe if the investigation was authorized by a House vote and if Democrats commit to following rules he views as fair, a sign of potential cooperation a day after the White House said the inquiry was unconstitutional. – Wall Street Journal

Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday that he has no problem with the White House releasing transcripts of his conversations with the Ukrainian president, a move he said White House lawyers are considering even as the administration has refused to turn over other documents requested by House Democrats as part of their impeachment inquiry. – USA Today

President Donald Trump pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was a client of Rudy Giuliani, according to three people familiar with the 2017 meeting in the Oval Office. Tillerson refused, arguing it would constitute interference in an ongoing investigation of the trader, Reza Zarrab, according to the people. – Bloomberg

The House Democrats are requesting testimony from President Trump’s former Russia adviser. Democratic committee chairmen Adam Schiff (Calif.), Eliot Engel (N.Y.) and Elijah Cummings (Md.) sent a letter to Fiona Hill asking her to testify on Oct. 14. She would testify in front of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees, a letter released by Axios said. – The Hill