Fdd's overnight brief

October 11, 2018

In The News


Belgium has charged an Iranian diplomat and three other individuals with planning to bomb a meeting of an exiled Iranian opposition group in France in June, Belgian prosecutors said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the German ambassador over a German court decision to hand over an Iranian diplomat wanted in Belgium, the state-run IRNA news agency reported on Wednesday. – Associated Press

A plot by Iranian officials to bomb a dissident rally in the heart of Paris “lays bare Iran’s continued support of terrorism throughout Europe,” and justifies the Trump administration’s broad reimposition of sanctions on the state, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Tomato paste is not the most obvious economic indicator, but in Iran, where it is a staple that some people have started panic-buying, it says a lot about the impact of renewed U.S. sanctions. – Reuters

Michael Singh writes: But in reality, the concerns it has articulated regarding Iranian policies are widely shared in the United States and abroad, and U.S. allies are eager for American leadership on thorny regional issues such as Syria and Yemen. […]if he can rally his allies rather than alienate them, and if his offer to Tehran of a diplomatic offramp is genuine, he can ensure that Iran pays a price for challenging U.S. interests – Washington Institute


Syrian rebel fighters have pulled the last of their heavy weapons from front-line positions in Idlib Province, meeting the deadline for a truce negotiated by Russia and Turkey — and possibly sparing the civilian population from a bloody government offensive. – New York Times

A planned buffer zone in northwest Syria has been cleared of heavy armaments ahead of time but a new deadline loomed Wednesday for the tougher task of Turkey convincing jihadists to pull out their fighters. – Agence France-Presse

The United States said Wednesday it will refuse any post-war reconstruction assistance to Syria if Iran is present, expanding the rationale for US involvement in the conflict. – Agence France-Presse

The deal between Turkey and the United States regarding the northern Syrian town of Manbij is delayed “but not completely dead”, President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying by Hurriyet newspaper on Thursday. – Reuters

Aldar Khalil writes: While Erdogan has recently been promoting an ostensibly clear position for the future of Northern Syria, those who monitor his internal, regional, and international positions on the Syrian crisis over the past years will find a broader range of acceptable actions based on self-interest. The international actors of Europe and the United States must not take these claims at face value[…]. – Washington Institute

Uri Halperin writes: With Iran’s intentions diametrically opposed to those of other regional actors, the question of which vision for the region will win out is undecided. Thus, it is the influence of international forces—namely Russia and the United States—that holds the key to the future of Syria and the extent of Iran’s role in it. – Washington Institute


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the release of U.S. evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson by a Turkish court at his next hearing on Friday would be an important step and the right thing for Turkey to do. – Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told the foreign ministers of Greece and Cyprus last month that he is deeply pessimistic about Turkey’s future as a democracy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said he believes its economy is destined for further decline. – Times of Israel

The outcome of a Turkish court drama on Friday could make a decision on interest rates two weeks later a foregone conclusion. A ruling by a court in Izmir to let American pastor Andrew Brunson walk free would go a long way toward defusing the worst diplomatic crisis in decades between the U.S. and its NATO ally. – Bloomberg


Haley’s announcement at a news conference with President Trump, which was aired live in Israel on Tuesday, immediately drew an outpouring of appreciation for the former South Carolina governor, who has long been viewed here as a savior of sorts at an institution accused of harboring a long-term bias against the Jewish state. – Washington Post

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top ministers are squabbling, a deadline looms for contentious legislation that may bring down his government and a corruption indictment could be just around the corner. – Associated Press

The Israeli military said it activated the Iron Dome missile defense system after misidentifying a rocket launch from the Gaza Strip. Rocket sirens sounded in the Israeli communities of Shaar Hanegev and Sdot Negev. – Haaretz

Security activity is taking place this morning, Thursday, in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip, as a result of which several roads were closed to vehicular traffic. – Arutz Sheva

The Supreme Court will hear on Thursday the appeal of terrorist Nur al-Din Abu Khashiyeh, who claims through his attorney that the punishment imposed on him is too severe. Abu Khashiyeh was sentenced to life in prison in 2016 for murdering IDF soldier Almog Shiloni at the Haganah train station in Tel Aviv in 2014. – Arutz Sheva

Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon slammed the resolutions passed on Wednesday by members of UNESCO’s Executive Board, according to which the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem are “an integral part of the Occupied Palestinian territory.” – Arutz Sheva

Israeli forces on Thursday arrested the sister of the Palestinian terrorist who shot dead two Israelis in the West Bank earlier this week, as part of the manhunt for the suspect, the Shin Bet security service said. – Times of Israel

Palestinian representatives on Wednesday vowed not to stay silent as they closed their mission in Washington on orders of US President Donald Trump. – Agence France-Presse

Saudi Arabia

For President Trump, who has made Saudi Arabia the fulcrum of his Middle East policy, the possible murder of a Saudi journalist in Turkey is a looming diplomatic crisis. For Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, it is a personal reckoning. – New York Times

A Turkish newspaper close to the government has published a list of 15 men it says formed a hit squad of Saudi government agents the Turks suspect of killing and dismembering a prominent critic inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. – New York Times

Top Senate lawmakers wrote to President Trump Wednesday, calling on him to consider sanctioning Saudi Arabia, including its highest-ranking officials, over missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a critic of the government and has not been seen since entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2. – Washington Examiner

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he has talked to officials in Saudi Arabia at the highest levels about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and wants the United States to get to the bottom of the matter. – Reuters

Canada made mistakes in its dealings with Saudi Arabia which helped spark a diplomatic dispute, the former Canadian ambassador to Riyadh said in frank remarks on Wednesday. – Reuters

Editorial: When Turkish authorities first told reporters last Saturday that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, they offered few details and no evidence to back up the sensational claim. To the credit of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that has now changed. – Washington Post

Elliott Abrams: The alleged killing of Khashoggi is a death blow to all those hopes and expectations, unless the Saudis can somehow explain what happened and accept full responsibility. First, this is not the only recent event that raises questions about decision-making in Riyadh. This year, the planned initial public offering of shares in the state oil company Aramco appeared and disappeared like a desert mirage, suggesting that the crown prince’s economic plans may not have been realistic. – Washington Post

Rand Paul writes: This week, I intend to introduce another measure to cut all funding, training, advising, and any other coordination to and with the military of Saudi Arabia until the journalist Jamal Khashoggi is returned alive. This oppressive regime must be held accountable for its actions. The United States has no business supporting it, either directly or indirectly. – The Atlantic

Middle East

U.S. lawmakers from both parties are challenging the Trump administration’s support for Gulf allies battling Iran-aligned fighters in Yemen, putting new pressure on the U.S. president to scale back ties with Saudi Arabia during an especially sensitive time. – Wall Street Journal

Renad Mansour writes: For the first time in its history, the Iraqi parliament voted freely for the country’s next president, with Barham Salih winning by a landslide vote of 219 to 22 over his competitor last week. In the past, the parliamentary vote served mainly as a rubber stamp. Though elements of the old backroom politics remain, this vote marks a departure. – Washington Post

Michael Knights writes: If the U.S. government has broader concerns about the cost-effectiveness of its presence in Basra, that issue should be separated from how it reacts to Iranian-backed intimidation. A lighter or otherwise altered footprint may be justified, but this is not the time to withdraw. – Washington Institute

Hanar Marouf writes: The fight against IS has indisputably demonstrated female fighters’ exceptional combat skills and leadership. […]Yet with the fight against IS approaching its end, the future of female Peshmerga fighters and women’s representation in Kurdistan remains unknown. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday South Korea will not lift sanctions on Pyongyang without U.S. approval, after the South Korean foreign minister softened earlier comments that some of its unilateral sanctions were under review. – Reuters

South Korea on Thursday walked back on a proposal to lift some of its unilateral sanctions against North Korea following President Donald Trump’s blunt retort that Seoul could “do nothing” without Washington’s approval. – Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday he had made “real progress” on his recent trip to North Korea and can now see a path toward the U.S. goal of eliminating the Asian nation’s nuclear weapons. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Ultimately, however, Pompeo’s anger is necessary for a far simpler and more alarming reason. Because South Korea’s decisions here only reflect its broader appeasement strategy. President Moon Jae-in’s administration has decided that it is best to give North Korea just about whatever it wants. And while that strategy is ultimately likely to backfire on Seoul, as it always has before, America’s harder-edged negotiating strategy now lacks a South Korean partner. – Washington Examiner


A Chinese intelligence official was arrested in Belgium and extradited to the United States to face espionage charges, Justice Department officials said on Wednesday, a major escalation of the Trump administration’s effort to crack down on Chinese spying. – New York Times

Stocks suffered their steepest drop in eight months on Wednesday, as rising interest rates gnawed at investors and as previously high-flying technology shares tumbled in the face of growing tensions with China. – New York Times

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen praised the island as a beacon of democracy and urged China to avoid conflict, in a speech Beijing criticized. – Wall Street Journal

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said a bailout deal with Pakistan would require “absolute transparency” of its debts, many of which come from China’s landmark Belt and Road initiative. – Wall Street Journal

China is undertaking unprecedented repression of its ethnic minorities including Muslim Uighurs, with authoritarian tactics potentially constituting “crimes against humanity” as human rights conditions deteriorate, a damning US congressional report released Wednesday concluded. – Agence France-Presse

A top adviser to the Chinese government warned Wednesday that the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and Beijing could lead to a ‘world recession’ by damaging supply chains from other countries. – Washington Examiner

FBI Director Christopher Wray has warned that China presents a “very significant threat” to the United States and its interests while testifying before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday. – Newsweek

Chinese military experts said on Tuesday that the H-20 nuclear stealth bomber will soon make its maiden flight. – Business Insider

Editorial: What Mr. Meng did to join the lengthening list of officials purged by Mr. Xi may never be fully known outside the Communist hierarchy. What is known, and deeply troubling, is how brazenly China is prepared to wage its internal power struggles without any regard for procedures, appearances or international norms. – New York Times

Ishaan Tharoor writes: The Trump administration is throwing down the gauntlet in front of China. It has already launched the first major salvos of a trade war. It approved a $330 million arms sale to Taiwan last month. And now its top officials are taking part in a rhetorical offensive against Beijing that shows few signs of abating. – Washington Post

Mihir Sharma writes: Pakistan’s problem isn’t only poor macroeconomic stewardship, however. It’s the deals the preceding administration struck with China. […]As a consequence, more countries that China sought to bring within its own sphere of influence are likely to be pushed away — and to turn again to the West for help. – Bloomberg


The number of Afghans killed or wounded by air strikes rose 39 percent in the first nine months of 2018, the UN said Wednesday, as the overall number of civilian casualties remained at “extreme levels”. – Agence France-Presse

Beaten by the inhospitable conditions, many families in rural areas decided to travel hundreds of kilometres in the back of rented trucks through districts contested by Taliban fighters and government forces to reach the city of Herat. – Agence France-Presse

Cambodia’s foreign ministry on Thursday said a decision by the European Union to ramp up trade pressure on Cambodia over human rights concerns was an “extreme injustice”, adding it risked destroying decades of development progress in the country. – Reuters


Mr. Glushkov’s death has sent a strong message to Russia’s émigré community. He was part of a trio of once-powerful Russians who, after amassing fortunes during Russian privatizations, helped build the political system that brought Mr. Putin to the presidency. After falling out of favor, the trio fled to England and tried to mount opposition to their former protégé, only to see their efforts disrupted by untimely deaths and costly litigation. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. President Donald Trump may meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki next spring, the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat said in its online edition on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources. – Reuters

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Putin doesn’t mind pushing Russia toward greater economic isolation if an increasingly toxic climate for Russians in the West leads to repatriation of capital exported from Russia since the early 1990s. – Bloomberg


NATO member Romania voiced concern on Wednesday over increased Russian military activity in the Black Sea which it borders and said strengthening European defense would be a major theme when it assumes the rotating European Union presidency in January. – Reuters

British troops disembarked in the Netherlands on Wednesday en route to Norway to test NATO’s ability to move personnel and armor quickly across Europe, an exercise officers said showed London’s commitment to European security after Brexit. – Reuters

NATO has attempted to assuage Russian fears about the U.S.-led military alliance’s largest drills in two decades, set to launch later this month as both factions witness a historic escalation in defense maneuvers. – Newsweek

The Americas

The United States joined the chorus of complaint from the international community over Alban’s death — and pointed the finger of blame at Maduro. “The United States condemns the Maduro regime’s involvement in the death of Venezuelan opposition councilman Fernando Alban,” the White House said in a statement. – Agence France-Presse

Rep. Ken Buck writes: Guatemala is a strategic partner for the U.S. From military and intelligence cooperation to free and fair trade deals, we should work to strengthen ties with this Central American nation so they can withstand the pressure of Russia and China and avoid the trap that their Marxist neighbors are falling into. – Washington Examiner

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Wednesday said he was prepared to consider an appeal by his Bolivian counterpart for fresh dialogue over a long-running border dispute but added Bolivia must first drop its demand for access to the sea through Chilean territory. – Reuters

Cyber Security

Authorized hackers were quickly able to seize control of weapons systems being acquired by the American military in a test of the Pentagon’s digital vulnerabilities, according to a new and blistering government review. – New York Times

Erin Dunne writes: The Government Accountability Office released a new report on Tuesday that shows worrying cybersecurity flaws in U.S. weapons systems. Worse, the GAO report found that the Department of Defense knew about the vulnerabilities but didn’t take them seriously, leaving even systems still under development open to attack. That puts Americans at risk and is unacceptable. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: The Chinese threat is vested in a long-term strategic effort and no amount of complaining is going to make it go away. We must thus build up our defenses and respond with greater attention to the threat we face. – Washington Examiner


The national security threats against the United States have changed dramatically even in the past two years, according to senior Trump administration officials. Whereas homeland security and federal investigators used to focus on fighting terrorism abroad, FBI and Department of Homeland Security leaders told the Senate Wednesday that the fight has come home because the threats are now stateside as well as in cyberspace. – Washington Examiner

The director of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) Technical Center outlined the organization’s broad technological priorities during an Oct. 10 appearance at the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Conference in Washington, D.C. – Defense News

In the event of a major war with China or Russia, the U.S. Navy, almost half the size it was during the height of the Cold War, is going to be busy with combat operations. It may be too busy, in fact, to always escort the massive sealift effort it would take to transport what the Navy estimates will be roughly 90 percent of the Marine Corps and Army gear the force would need to sustain a major conflict. – Defense News

The Army decided earlier this year to drastically accelerate its plans to get the Patriot medium-range air-and-missile defense system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to communicate. – Defense News

Edwin J. Feulner writes: Our military serves us well. It’s time for us to return the favor. Let’s ensure they have the funding they need to keep us and our allies safe — not only today, but well into the future. – Heritage Foundation

Long War

FBI Director Christopher Wray made a stunning disclosure to the Senate Homeland Security Committee: The bureau is investigating 5,000 terrorism cases around the world. – Washington Examiner

A New York man faces charges Wednesday over building a 200-pound bomb, which authorities said he planned to use to blow himself up in Washington on Election Day, according to the Associated Press. – Washington Examiner

The Muslim owner of the limousine company involved in an upstate New York crash that left 20 people dead helped uncover planned terror attacks on two synagogues while working undercover for the FBI. – Times of Israel

Four FBI agents “intentionally” forwarded “sensitive, non-public” intelligence on the Manchester arena bombing that killed 22 people and injured 59 others, violating government computer rules and behavior, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday. – The Daily Beast

A former Islamic State (IS) member accused of plotting to blow up an Etihad flight departing Sydney using a bomb concealed in a meat grinder and a Barbie doll has been given the death penalty. – Business Insider

Trump Administration

Treasury officials Wednesday issued new rules requiring all foreign investors in certain deals involving critical U.S. technology to submit to national-security reviews or face fines as high as the value of their proposed transactions. – Wall Street Journal

As tanks, artillery and combat troops streamed from Russia into Ukraine in 2014, the United States government dispatched a multiagency team of technical experts to Kiev[…]. Now, four years later, those relationships are attracting new scrutiny as Mr. Bryan awaits a Senate confirmation vote to become President Trump’s homeland security under secretary for science and technology. – New York Times

A California man who pleaded guilty to providing stolen bank-account information to Russian nationals was sentenced Wednesday to six months in prison and six months of home detention, the longest prison term to date stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump talked recently with Jeff Sessions’s own chief of staff about replacing Sessions as attorney general, according to people briefed on the conversation, signaling that the president remains keenly interested in ousting his top law enforcement official. – Washington Post

President Trump spoke with Dina Powell on Wednesday about replacing Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and has told some advisers that the former White House aide is his preferred choice for the job, according to White House officials and other people familiar with the matter. – Washington Post

After Mueller was appointed in May 2017, McCabe was summoned for a meeting that included the special counsel and Rosenstein, current and former officials said to The Post. During this tense meeting, Rosenstein and McCabe reportedly cited several reasons why the other ought to recuse himself from the Russia probe. – Business Insider