Fdd's overnight brief

October 12, 2018

In The News


Weeks before it is to reimpose another round of punishing sanctions on Iran, the Trump administration warned the world’s banks on Thursday that Tehran might try to use duplicitous means to soften the sanctions’ bite and continue to fund terrorism. – New York Times

An increase in crude oil production in September by OPEC and its ally Russia more than made up for declining Iranian output, the oil-cartel said Thursday, as it vowed to keep filling the gap created by impending U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered officials to urgently find solutions to ease an economic crisis spurred by the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Thursday. – Reuters

Serbia has scrapped visa-free entry for Iranians little more than year after it was introduced out of concern that some Iranians were using the system as an avenue to permanently relocate to Europe. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

On October 6, 2018, an article titled “Macron’s Anti-Iran Mission” by Mohammad Ghaderi […]. According to Ghaderi, in August 2017 French President Emmanuel Macron had reached a secret agreement with U.S. President Donald Trump on “changing the content of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” – Middle Eastern Research Institute

Editorial: Those goals are laudable, to be sure. But none is realistic without help from America’s allies. Europe could help by accepting that the nuclear deal is dead and working more constructively on an alternative. A concerted global effort to turn the screws on Iran would be prudent and justified. It might even succeed in changing the regime’s brutal behavior. – Bloomberg


Russia is urging Germany and France to break ranks with their American ally and help rebuild Syria so that refugees can go home, a senior adviser to the Russian government said. – Bloomberg

The United States’ top diplomat has officially announced the expansion of the country’s mission in Syria, where Washington has long been accused of pursuing interests outside of its stated goal of defeating the Islamic State militant group. – Newsweek

Thousands of Syrians stranded on Jordan’s border with Syria are running out of food as routes leading to their camp are closed by the Syrian army and Jordan is blocking aid deliveries, relief workers and refugees said on Thursday. – Reuters

US F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets just completed their first “combat surge” in operations over Syria, and in doing so deterred almost 600 enemy aircraft in the crowded skies there that see Syria, Iranian, and Russian combat aircraft on a regular basis, the Pentagon said. – Business Insider

Syrian Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State terror group hold around 900 of the organization’s foreign jihadists, a spokesman said on Thursday, a sharp increase from a previous figure. – Agence France-Presse


The U.S. and Turkey are expected to begin mending a rupture in relations with the likely release on Friday of North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson from detention and house arrest in Turkey, where he has faced terrorism charges, people familiar with the matter said. – Wall Street Journal

The State Department said Thursday that it could not confirm reports that it has reached an agreement under which Turkey would release pastor Andrew Brunson. – Washington Examiner

Turkey’s foreign minister says his country will reopen its consulates in the Iraqi cities of Basra and Mosul and pursue deeper economic and commercial ties with its neighbor. – Associated Press


Hamas repeated its call to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday to lift the sanctions he imposed last year on the Gaza Strip. – Jerusalem Post

The US Navy warship USS Ross’s port of call in Ashdod is a clear signal that Washington backs Israel’s military efforts to prevent Iranian intervention in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, broadly hinting that this was a message to Russia as well. – Jerusalem Post

The Israel Defense Forces arrested “several new suspects” overnight Thursday-Friday as part of the ongoing manhunt for Ashraf Na’alowa, the suspected terrorist who shot and killed two Israelis on Sunday and remains on the run. – Times of Israel

One quarter of the Arab population in Judea and Samaria are potential future terrorists, an IDF commander responsible for security in the Judea region said Thursday. – Arutz Sheva

The Border Police, IDF and Shin Bet, arrested overnight Friday the terrorist who carried out a stabbing attack outside the Samaria Territorial Brigade base in the West Bank on Thursday, in which an IDF reservist was moderately wounded and a civilian woman lightly hurt. – Ynet

The IDF neutralized a Hamas terror tunnel on Thursday that infiltrated 200 meters into Israel from the Khan Younis area in the central Gaza Strip, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said. – Ynet


Egypt is waging a hidden war in the Sinai Peninsula, uprooting thousands of people as the Arab World’s largest land army attempts to strike a decisive blow against Islamic State’s deadly local affiliate. – Wall Street Journal

An Egyptian military court handed down death sentences on Thursday to 17 people convicted in a series of fatal attacks on Christians that started in December 2016 and left more than 80 people dead and 150 wounded. Egyptian state media said the defendants were accused of belonging to the Islamic State and of plotting attacks against Christian churches and a police checkpoint. – New York Times

An American citizen accused of joining the Islamic State was detained by Egyptian authorities and held in secret for four months in a prison where he was allegedly tortured and raped, Human Rights Watch said Thursday. – Washington Post

Saudi Arabia

The Turkish government has what it describes as audio and video recordings purporting to show that Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and has shared the evidence with U.S. officials, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal

Since Turkish officials blamed Saudi Arabia for the Oct. 2 disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, foreign investors have begun re-examining their relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and their participation in his plans to overhaul his country’s economy. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump, for a second day, expressed concern over what Turkey says is Saudi Arabia’s role the disappearance and likely killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Mr. Trump said he wouldn’t favor a halt in arms sales to Saudi Arabia should a probe implicate Riyadh, although he would be open to other actions. – Wall Street Journal

Riyadh’s silence since shrugging off as “baseless” reports of a state-sponsored killing of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi is a risky strategy amid increasing pressure from key allies such as the US, analysts said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

President Donald Trump said Thursday that US investigators were working with both Ankara and Riyadh to probe the suspicious disappearance in Turkey of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Agence France-Presse

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has suspended a $1 billion investment project with Saudi Arabia due to the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. – New York Post

Editorial: President Trump must not allow his sovereignty-oriented “America First” foreign policy turn into a blank check for further Saudi abuses. Not only will it stain the nation’s reputation, but it will also — perhaps more importantly in the short run — damage his own credibility if he lets this kidnapping and apparent murder pass with nothing more than a shrug. – Washington Examiner

F. Gregory Gause III writes: Whatever occurred, it’s also clear that the Khashoggi affair is just the latest sign of Saudi Arabia’s growing recklessness under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Yet more chaos is the last thing the Middle East needs, and it hardly serves America’s objectives in the region. – New York Times

Stephanie Flanders writes: Though he may have set out to transform his country, he’s done nothing to change the country’s utter dependence on the U.S. Trump has so far given the prince a long rein—both at home and abroad. The Khashoggi case may test that forbearance. If MBS loses the confidence of global business, he’s also going to fail in his historic bid to wean Saudi Arabia off oil. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: Yet, the operative point here is that, the obvious moral issues aside, neither the GID or the GRU needed to do what they did[…]. Instead, their egos made themselves vulnerable to breaking the number one rule of intelligence operations — not getting caught. – Washington Examiner

Middle East & North Africa

Amphibious warship USS Essex (LHD-2) is now in the Persian Gulf, bringing for the first time a squadron of Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters through the Strait of Hormuz. – USNI News

Nearly defeated on the battlefields of its would-be caliphate, analysts say the Islamic State group has reverted to what it was before its spectacular conquests in 2014 — a shadowy insurgent network that targets civilian populations with guerrilla-style attacks and exploits state weaknesses to incite sectarian strife. – Associated Press

Gregory D, Johnsen writes: Over the past 10 years, AQAP has become one of al-Qaeda’s most worrisome affiliates, carrying out attacks at home and abroad, from seizing territory in Yemen to putting bombs on planes bound for the United States. […]The group might look and sound more dangerous than ever, but it is actually a much different organization today than it was a decade ago. – War on the Rocks

Korean Peninsula

U.S. officials are preventing American aid workers from making humanitarian trips to North Korea, according to people familiar with the matter, inhibiting the flow of food and medical assistance to the isolated country ahead of a new round of diplomacy over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. – Wall Street Journal

The standoff shows how North Korea has turned the deal Mr. Trump signed with its leader, Mr. Kim, into one of its most effective cudgels in talks with Washington over denuclearization, ceaselessly flaunting it to force American concessions. – New York Times

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un means to abolish all nuclear weapons, materials and facilities to achieve “complete” denuclearization, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Friday. – Reuters

David Albright and Andrea Stricker write: With six underground nuclear tests and likely sophisticated nuclear weapon calculational and simulation capabilities, North Korea has many possibilities to qualitatively and significantly improve its nuclear arsenal. – Institute for Science and International Security


U.S. officials Thursday imposed new restrictions on nuclear exports to China after concluding that Beijing was seeking to illicitly acquire the technology to bolster its military and to undermine U.S. industry. – Wall Street Journal

With U.S. markets tanking and the trade battle with China intensifying, the White House decided to move ahead with plans for President Trump to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a multilateral summit in November to see if the two leaders can find a way out of the mess, according to officials in both nations. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump said Thursday that he was certain that China would strike a deal with the US on trade, contending that his policies had pushed Beijing into a corner by weakening its economy. – Washington Examiner

The five nations in the world’s leading intelligence-sharing network have been exchanging classified information on China’s foreign activities with other like-minded countries since the start of the year, seven officials in four capitals said. – Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit China from Oct. 25-27, China’s foreign ministry said on Friday, amid intensifying U.S. trade pressure on Beijing and Tokyo. – Reuters

Indonesian President Joko Widodo took aim Friday at sparring for dominance between big economies like the U.S. and China, saying trade wars are an invitation to destruction and are pointless in a “sinking world.” – Associated Press

Malaysia has freed 11 ethnic Uighurs detained last year after they broke out of prison in Thailand and crossed the border, despite a request from Beijing for the men to be returned to China. – Al Jazeera

Fareed Zakaria writes: The Trump administration’s most significant and lasting decisions will be about U.S. policy toward China. Far more consequential than even the Supreme Court’s composition or immigration policy is whether the 21st century will be marked by conflict or cooperation between the two most prosperous and powerful countries on the planet. – Washington Post

Josh Rogin writes: By escalating against China, the United States certainly risks disruptions and unintended consequences that could have repercussions against it if the strategy is not managed carefully. But that risk must be balanced against the cost of allowing Chinese practices to go unchecked. – Washington Post

Tom Rogan writes: The detention of a Chinese spy in Belgium, and his transfer to U.S. custody this week, is a landmark victory for the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community. Still, that spy won’t likely spend long in U.S. prison. He’ll probably be traded for U.S. spies in Chinese custody. – Washington Examiner

Kevin P. Gallagher writes: China’s overseas loans may be the newest point of contention for the U.S.-China relationship. While China should be lauded for financing infrastructure without attaching the Western-style conditions that have brought more harm than good, Chinese lenders need to be cautious. – NPR

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian writes: These days, Beijing seems far less concerned about the opinion of the liberal West than it once was[…]. It’s likely that as China promotes its authoritarian system around the world, one will increasingly see the party justify and even tout its realpolitik approach to international power. A liberal world order built on human rights and rule of law will need to find an effective response—and soon. – The Atlantic

South Asia

Indian forces on Thursday killed a Kashmir militant leader who became a folk hero in the troubled territory after giving up geology research at an Indian university to become a militant, officials said. – Agence France-Presse

Afghan civilians continue to be killed in record numbers by anti-government armed groups this year, the United Nations said, noting that the deaths have been the highest since 2014. – Al Jazeera

At least 15 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed in a Taliban assault in the northern province of Kunduz, reports say, as the militants escalate their offensive ahead of this month’s general elections. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Hussain Haqqani writes: The entrenched establishment that brought Khan to office had hoped that a new government, led by a fresh face, would be enough to convince the world that a new Pakistan had been born […]. But a new prime minister and a recycled foreign minister do not change harsh realities. – Hudson Institute


Germany slashed its economic growth forecast, invoking a shortage of skilled workers at home and global trade tensions aboard, a fresh sign that the European powerhouse is increasingly vulnerable to U.S.-China trade disputes. – Wall Street Journal

The foremost leader in Orthodox Christianity said he would grant Ukraine a self-governing church independent of Russia, handing the former Soviet republic a significant victory in its efforts to reduce the Kremlin’s influence there. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. special envoy for Ukraine has said that elections planned by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine are illegitimate and urged Moscow not to endorse them. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Julianne Smith writes: In her final term in office, Ms. Merkel needs to summon the courage to work with Mr. Macron to lift the European Union out of its existential crisis by making good on some of the French president’s proposals. The future of Europe depends on it. – New York Times

Michael Kofman writes: A permanent U.S. base in Poland will not deter Russia any better, and it will probably do more harm to NATO than good[…]. The United States does need more forces in Europe with capabilities relevant to deterring Russia, but an armored division in Poland is not the right answer. – War on the Rocks

Przemysław Osiewicz writes: Another wave of migration in 2019 will not only cause problems for the EU, but also for its allies. Any tensions between the EU and Turkey over a potential increase in migrants would certainly affect NATO as well as the U.S.’s Middle East strategy. – Middle East Institute

Gabby Deutch writes: At the core of this issue is a fundamental question of both religious and territorial identity, as Russian actions in eastern Ukraine aimed to undermine the country’s very independence. […]Russia-Ukraine tensions will likely deteriorate even further. It boils down to whether Russia can continue to be, as Putin portrays it, the standard-bearer of the Orthodox tradition, even with far fewer adherents and far less territory than it previously enjoyed. – The Atlantic


An alarming increase in deadly jihadist attacks has led to expanded French military action in Burkina Faso, a marked shift after years of reticence by the west African nation to call in help from its former colonial master. – Agence France-Presse

Masked gunmen have kidnapped a man described as Africa’s youngest billionaire from a gymnasium in Tanzania’s economic capital Dar es Salaam, officials said. – Al Jazeera

Dozens of Ethiopian soldiers marched on the prime minister’s office to demand better pay, triggering an internet blackout in Addis Ababa that was lifted Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

The Americas

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the Trump administration of seeking to assassinate him as relations strain between the ideologically opposed nations. – Al Jazeera

The University of Michigan is being applauded by Jewish students and advocacy groups, after it announced “serious consequences” for instructors who withhold letters of recommendation due to their personal views. – Algemeiner

Mexico laments trade protections announced earlier in the day by Canada covering some steel products and will take action to protect its own exporters in the short term, according to a statement from Mexico’s economy ministry on Thursday. – Reuters

Cyber Security

Top Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee pressed Google’s chief executive officer on Thursday to produce an internal memo that suggested the tech giant keep private its discovery that vulnerabilities in a social networking platform had exposed user information. – Washington Examiner

The country’s election infrastructure is in better shape heading into next month’s election than it has been for any previous event in modern history, according to the government official overseeing preparations. – Washington Examiner

Democratic and Republican secretaries of state from New Mexico and Colorado on Thursday heaped praise on the Trump administration for helping to secure their election infrastructure ahead of the midterm elections next month. – Washington Examiner

WikiLeaks should not be punished for publishing Democratic Party emails stolen by a group linked to Russian intelligence ahead of the 2016 election, according to President Trump’s campaign. – Washington Examiner

WikiLeaks has published the exact location of over 100 of Amazon’s data centers for the first time on Thursday. Previously, only the general area of these data centers was known for security reasons. – Business Insider


With Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis issuing new guidance demanding readiness for tactical air assets increase in just one year, the Pentagon is openly acknowledging that older planes will have to be retired and cannibalized for parts to make it happen. – Defense News

The Pentagon announced Thursday it is grounding its entire fleet of F-35s, just days after the first crash of an F-35B led investigators to suspect there is a widespread problem with the advanced fighter’s fuel tubes. – Defense News

The Navy is beginning the formal operational testing of its first stealth aircraft to determine how well the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter performs against stated goals and requirements, the admiral heading the integration office of F-35C said Wednesday. – USNI News

GAO’s prior work has highlighted that the Air Force faces management and readiness challenges in four interrelated areas[…]. Looking to the future, the Air Force will have to balance the rebuilding of its existing force with its desire to grow and modernize. –  USNI News

Mark Helprin writes: Our military deficiencies remain largely unaddressed, but rather than seeking remedy we are adjusting doctrine to accommodate them. […]the only way to prevent this is with a massive, properly directed, long-overdue infusion of funds that will allow us to avoid the knife edge of risk upon which otherwise we will soon be dancing. – Wall Street Journal

Erin Dunne writes: In the long run, the Russian rocket failure might signal that that the U.S., if Boeing and SpaceX deliver on their promises, is well-positioned to dominate the industry. For now, though, it is a troubling reminder that the U.S. is dependent on Moscow for access to the International Space Station while domestic projects continue to drag on. – Washington Examiner

Trump Administration

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

Former White House aide Dina Powell is no longer in the running to succeed Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a senior White House official and a person familiar with the matter said Thursday. – Washington Post

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed legislation that would ban foreign nationals who try to interfere with U.S. elections. – Washington Examiner