Fdd's overnight brief

October 15, 2018

In The News


The foiled plot has sparked growing anxiety in France, Germany and several other countries, including the United States and Israel, that Iran is planning audacious terrorist attacks and has stepped up its intelligence operations around the world. – Washington Post

The United States is seeking “regime change” in Iran, President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday, adding that the current U.S. administration is the most hostile that the Islamic Republic has faced in its four decades. – Reuters

Iran has arrested a member of its military in connection with a gun attack on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz last month which killed 25 people, semi-official Fars News agency reported on Sunday. – Reuters


A deadline passed Monday without jihadists leaving a planned buffer zone around Syria’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib as set out under a Russian-Turkish deal. The radical fighters were supposed to withdraw from the buffer as a final condition to implementing a Russian-Turkish deal to stave off a regime offensive on the northwestern region of Idlib. – Agence France-Presse

The leader of Crimea, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, is to visit Syria on Monday, the pro-government newspaper al-Watan said. – Reuters

Brothers Abu Eliyas and Abu Yousef have fought at opposite ends of the insurgency against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. […]Their parallel journeys through the civil war that began in Syria in 2011 illustrate the complexities of sorting insurgents deemed “radical” from more moderate rebels. – Reuters

Syrian state terrestrial TV station resumed broadcasting to the eastern city of Deir el-Zour and surrounding areas for the first time in seven years, pro-state TV reported Sunday, the latest in government efforts to restore normal life to areas it has recaptured from armed groups. – Associated Press

Jordan and Syria have agreed to reopen a vital border crossing between the two countries, three years after the commercial lifeline fell to rebel groups and traffic was halted. Israel also said on Sunday that the Quneitra crossing with Syria will reopen on Monday to U.N. observers, four years after it was closed because of the fighting. – Associated Press


American pastor Andrew Brunson flew out of Turkey late Friday after a Turkish court convicted him of aiding terrorism but sentenced him only to time served. His release came one day after U.S. officials said a deal had been reached with Turkey’s government to secure his freedom. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump thanked Turkey on Saturday for freeing U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson after two years in custody and said it would help improve strained relations, but he denied cutting a deal with Ankara. – Reuters

President Trump reportedly advocated for a plan to pull all U.S. diplomats from Turkey due to his frustration with the country’s refusal to release American pastor Andrew Brunson. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: This was a hard line to take with a NATO ally. But Mr. Brunson never should have been arrested. Swept up in 2016 after a failed Turkish coup, he was essentially Mr. Erdogan’s hostage. […]Credit to the White House for knowing when to ease up. After showing his seriousness, Mr. Trump softened his tone as Friday’s court date approached, giving Mr. Erdogan room to back down. Now the task is patching up relations with Turkey. – Wall Street Journal


An Israeli-run factory in the West Bank asks its Jewish employees on military reserve duty not to drop by in uniform so the Palestinian workers won’t feel occupied, according to one Israeli manager. – New York Times

Seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on Friday during stormy protests along the fence dividing Israel and Hamas-run Gaza, according to Gaza health officials. Four of them were shot dead after they crossed into Israeli territory and approached an army snipers’ post, the Israeli military and a witness said. – New York Times

Two New Zealand pro-Palestinian activists have raised NZ$14,000 ($9,108.40) as of Sunday for charity after being fined by an Israeli court for their alleged role in persuading pop star Lorde to cancel a concert in Tel Aviv last year. – Reuters


Egypt is only accepting Chinese investments in projects that are mutually beneficial, its investment minister said on Sunday, amid growing scepticism in some countries about risks tied to ‘Belt and Road’ investments. – Reuters

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that his country was eager to work with Egypt to boost airline security, three years after a bomb attack downed a Russian plane, killing more than 200 holidaymakers. – Reuters

A court in Egypt on Sunday sentenced three people to death for their involvement in the killing of 10 policemen and for belonging to an extremist group, a judicial source said. The defendants were found guilty by a Cairo criminal court of being involved in the killing of 10 policemen, including an officer, between August 2013 and May 2014. They were also convicted for belonging to the Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Shariah. – Agence France-Presse

Saudi Arabia

The disappearance of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi is opening a rift between Washington and Saudi Arabia as the kingdom blasted President Trump on Sunday for promising “severe punishment” if the royal court was responsible. – New York Times

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are increasingly focused on Washington as the decisive factor in their escalating standoff over the disappearance of a Saudi dissident, according to people representing both sides of the dispute. – New York Times

JP Morgan & Chase Co (JPM.N) Chief Executive Jamie Dimon and Ford Motor Co (F.N) Chairman Bill Ford canceled plans to attend a Saudi investor conference, the companies said on Sunday, the latest such high-profile announcements after the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia on Sunday warned against threats to punish it over last week’s disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as European leaders piled on pressure and two more U.S. executives scrapped plans to attend a Saudi investor conference. – Reuters

Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said the United States must confront Saudi Arabia or risk losing credibility on human rights, if allegations are proven true that the Saudi government orchestrated the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday the United States would be “punishing” itself by halting military sales to Saudi Arabia even if it is proven that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul. – Reuters

A top state-linked Saudi media figure has warned that imposing US sanctions on Riyadh in response to the Khashoggi crisis could lead to Russia opening a military base in the kingdom. – Washington Examiner

Even as Congress inches toward cutting off arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Riyadh’s grinding war in Yemen, the United States is preparing to ship $14.5 billion worth of arms to the increasingly embattled kingdom. – Breaking Defense

Editorial: Some of the most difficult foreign-policy decisions for any President are how to deal with authoritarian governments that offend American values but are important to U.S. interests. MBS seemed like a good bet as he pursued a more modern Saudi Arabia, but that has to be reconsidered if he is the architect of the Khashoggi disappearance. – Wall Street Journal

Karen Elliot House writes: It seems clear that Mohammed bin Salman, accustomed to issuing orders on every aspect of Saudi life without question or contradiction, wanted to silence Mr. Khashoggi. […]While the crown prince doesn’t care about media or even congressional criticism, he must care about any U.S. action that significantly alters the fundamental U.S.-Saudi relationship – Wall Street Journal

Michael Rubin writes: Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for the murder of Khashoggi. But to suggest that Saudi malfeasance somehow makes Iran clean by comparison is ludicrous. It behooves Washington not to choose sides in a battle between sectarian extremists and, instead, simply oppose extremism no matter who its sponsor is. – Washington Examiner


Air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi group in Yemen killed at least 10 civilians in Hodeidah province on Saturday, medics and Houthi media said. – Reuters

The United Nations and humanitarian workers on Sunday condemned an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemen’s Shiite rebels that reportedly killed at least 15 civilians near the port city of Hodeida. – Associated Press

Friends of the spokesman for Yemen’s Bahai religious minority say he has been detained by Houthi militias who control the country’s north. Two friends of Abdullah Yahia al-Ayolofi said Friday that unidentified men snatched al-Ayolofi from a market in a district called al-Jarraf in Sanaa on Thursday. His whereabouts remain unknown, they said. – Associated Press

Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday that if journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudis, the US should distance itself from the Middle Eastern kingdom and cut ties to the war in Yemen. – CNN

Korean Peninsula

North and South Korea agreed on Monday to begin reconnecting rail and road links, another step in an improving relationship that has raised U.S. concern about the possible undermining of its bid to press the North to give up its nuclear program. – Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is sincere and really means to abandon nuclear weapons, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told a French newspaper, adding that the international community needed to reward him for that. – Reuters

North Korea can’t afford to recant its commitment to the U.S. to denuclearize, according to South Korean President Moon Jae-in. – Washington Examiner

President Donald Trump says he “trusts” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, despite the fact that “nobody really knows” if the regime is actively building up its weapons arsenal. – Business Insider

The South Korean military has decided to buy ship-based SM-3 interceptors to thwart potential ballistic missile attacks from North Korea, a top commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff revealed Oct. 12. – Defense News


The Trump administration is moving deliberately to counter what the White House views as years of unbridled Chinese aggression, taking aim at military, political and economic targets in Beijing and signaling a new and potentially much colder era in U.S.-China relations. – Wall Street Journal

China put further pressure on exiled businessman and government critic Guo Wengui, with a court slapping an $8.7 billion fine on his company and punishing several associates who were involved in the takeover of a securities firm. – Wall Street Journal

Her warning is one piece of a trail of evidence, often found on obscure government websites, that unmasks the origin of China’s most sweeping internment drive since the Mao era — and establishes how President Xi Jinping and other senior leaders played a decisive role in its rapid expansion. – New York Times

China accused the United States on Sunday of going on the offensive by sending U.S. Navy vessels into the South China Sea and described U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as interference in Chinese internal affairs. – Reuters

Twenty-one months after President Donald Trump took office, China still does not know which of his top advisers has the most influence over the president’s handling of increasingly fraught trade tensions with Beijing, Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States, said Sunday. – Politico

With China and the United States opening the door to a meeting next month between Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, hopes are rising for a potential easing of tensions in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies. – Associated Press

Zachary Karabell writes: Though Donald Trump defends his deployment of tariffs as a radical shake-up of world trade, he is using a dusty playbook. While the president certainly has the legal authority to impose duties, the statutes on which his administration relies are perilously out of date. They are based an economic order that no longer exists. – Wall Street Journal

Mike Gonzalez writes: The Trump administration’s recent course correction in the strategic relationship with China—a considerable hardening unveiled last Thursday by Vice President Mike Pence—is a necessary response to Beijing’s bad behavior across several political and security issues. An example of this behavior occurred just last week, when China gave one more sign that it scoffs at international norms by expelling a British journalist from Hong Kong. – Heritage Foundation


The Trump administration’s special adviser on Afghan peace met last week with Taliban representatives in Qatar for talks that included “working toward finding a peaceful resolution” to the war, a spokesman for the insurgent group said Saturday. – Washington Post

Taliban leaders will continue to have discussions with the newly appointed U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, the group said on Saturday, a move that could accelerate diplomatic engagement between the warring sides. – Reuters

Taliban militants killed at least 22 security forces, including a district police chief, in separate attacks on security checkpoints in two Afghan provinces, officials said on Sunday, ahead of parliamentary elections set for this week. – Reuters

A motorcycle rigged with explosives detonated at an election rally in northeastern Afghanistan on Saturday killing at least 14 people, including civilians and security forces, officials said. – Associated Press


The Philippines has won another term on the United Nations Human Rights Council, a move condemned by international groups and officials as “unconscionable” but praised by Philippine officials as a “vindication” for a nation maligned around the world for President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war. – New York Times

Australia’s foreign minister said on Monday her country’s alliance with the United States had never been more vital in an era of escalating challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. – Associated Press

By making a rare second trip this year to Vietnam, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is signaling how intensively the Trump administration is trying to counter China’s military assertiveness by cozying up to smaller nations in the region that share American wariness about Chinese intentions. – Associated Press

India’s decision to buy Russian anti-aircraft weapons threatens to jeopardize a landmark defense cooperation agreement with the United States, senior Republican senators warned this week. – Washington Examiner


President Trump said he believes that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin “probably” has been involved in assassinations and poisonings, but he appeared to dismiss the gravity of those actions, noting that they have not taken place in the United States. – Washington Post

When Russian president Vladimir Putin celebrated the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, he claimed the disputed peninsula was “spiritually” inseparable from Moscow. But Mr Putin’s military intervention is now threatening to undermine the “Russian world” beyond Moscow’s borders that he sought to promote. – Financial Times

A researcher for Amnesty International has described how he was abducted in southern Russia by men who drove him to a field where they held a gun to his head, made him take off his clothes, beat him, and tried to blackmail him. – Reuters


A flurry of diplomatic activity on Sunday failed to produce a breakthrough in talks between Britain and the European Union, leaving prospects for a deal finely balanced at the start of a crucial week in talks about the country’s exit from the bloc. – New York Times

A British man arrested this summer on suspicion of sending racist letters across England urging a “Punish a Muslim Day” and offering points for acts of violence has pleaded guilty to soliciting murder and 13 other offenses. – New York Times

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt will urge the European Union on Monday to agree a Brexit deal to ensure the region can tackle global threats such as cyber attacks, migration and terrorism. – Reuters

Last-ditch talks between London and Brussels’ chief Brexit negotiators failed to agree a draft divorce settlement on Sunday, still blocked on the issue of the Northern Irish border just days before a make-or-break European Union summit. – Agence France-Presse

Britain is putting pressure on the EU to name the targets of new chemical weapons sanctions due to be agreed as part of the bloc’s escalating response to alleged malicious Russian activity in Europe. Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s foreign secretary, will also call for talks on cyber-related EU countermeasures to be stepped up when the bloc’s foreign ministers gather in Luxembourg on Monday. – Financial Times


The number of people killed in twin suicide bomb attacks on two restaurants in Somalia’s southern city of Baidoa has risen to 20 and another 40 people were injured, a local hospital official said on Sunday. – Reuters

Islamic State in Nigeria might kill healthcare workers it has held hostage since March within 24 hours, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Sunday, calling for mercy and urging Nigeria’s government to intervene. – Reuters

Somalia on Sunday marked the first anniversary of one of the world’s deadliest attacks since 9/11, a truck bombing in the heart of Mogadishu that killed well over 500 people, while the man accused of orchestrating the blast was executed by a firing squad. – Associated Press


Harris Corp. and L3 Technologies Inc. said Sunday they will combine in the largest-ever defense industry merger, as the Pentagon expands budgets with an eye toward increased investment by contractors and quicker weapons development. – Wall Street Journal

While the Pentagon has a weapons portfolio of roughly $1.66 trillion, the GAO found that “nearly all” American missiles, jets, ships and lethal equipment under development are vulnerable cyberattacks. Testing showed that hackers could infiltrate weapons systems in development with “relatively simple tools and techniques”[…]. – Fifth Domain

The Pentagon on Friday said there has been a cyber breach of Defense Department travel records that compromised the personal information and credit card data of U.S. military and civilian personnel. – Associated Press

James Jay Carafano writes: America’s competitors can count. They see that our armed forces are too small and ill-prepared to take on two regional powers simultaneously. They know that if America doesn’t rebuild soon, they can soon match us in their part of the world. That’s a dangerous situation — with consequences far more costly than paying for an adequate national defense. – Heritage Foundation

Todd Harrison writes: Only a Department of the Space Force can fully integrate all the existing space organizations and personnel in the services and intelligence agencies into one unified chain of command with one person, the Secretary of the Space Force, in charge of national security space. – Breaking Defense

Trump Administration

President Trump said that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis could be considering whether to step down from his post and that he sees the Pentagon chief as “sort of a Democrat,” a veiled critique of one of his most popular cabinet secretaries. – Wall Street Journal

Pat Cipollone, a veteran Washington lawyer, is likely to be named the next White House counsel, succeeding Don McGahn, who has held the role since President Trump took office last year, according to two White House officials. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump is giving serious consideration to Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, as the nation’s next ambassador to the United Nations, according to people familiar with his thinking. – Wall Street Journal

Jonah Goldberg writes: Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley surprised virtually everybody this week when she announced she’d be resigning from her post at the end of the year. […]The timing and manner of her decision was near perfect. Once again, she’s not only leaving on a high note, she’s leaving as the only prominent Republican around today who can simultaneously unite the party and also appeal to non-Republicans. – American Enterprise Institute

Daniel F. Runde and Romina Bandura write: The new U.S. development finance institution (DFI) will help developing countries prosper while advancing U.S. foreign policy goals and enhancing U.S. national security interests. Now that the BUILD Act is law, it is time to revisit why the legislation matters and what it implies for agencies such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). – Center for Strategic and International Studies