Fdd's overnight brief

October 16, 2018

In The News


Iran dismissed reports on Monday of a suicide bomb threat at its embassy in Ankara, Iranian state television said, after a Turkish newspaper reported a planned attack on the building. – Reuters

Fourteen Iranian border guards were kidnapped on the border with Pakistan on Tuesday, an official was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. – Reuters

Former officials and experts are urging the Trump administration to fully enforce a powerful set of sanctions against Iran’s financial institutions this November—or suffer the consequences of a weakened pressure campaign against Tehran. – The Weekly Standard

Oil prices rose on Tuesday on signs Iranian oil exports this month have fallen from September ahead of U.S. sanctions against Tehran that are set to start in November. […]The sanctions on Iran’s petroleum sector will go into effect on Nov. 4. – Reuters

The United States still aims to cut Iran‘s oil sales to zero and does not expect restored oil sanctions against Tehran to have a negative impact on a market that is well-supplied and balanced, a senior US official said on Monday. – Reuters

Eugene M. Chudnovsky writes: The secrecy surrounding detention of the environmentalists leaves little doubt about its relation to military programs. […]The first indictments issued to the environmentalists this month open the way for trials by the Revolutionary Court — an arm of the IRGC — presided over by one of its “hanging judges.” This will be another shameful page in the history of the country known as the Cradle of Civilization. – Washington Examiner


A plan to avert an offensive by the Assad government against the last major rebel-held area in Syria stumbled Monday when the main extremist group failed to leave a proposed buffer zone as part of a deal to demilitarize the region. – Wall Street Journal

Syria and Jordan reopened a border crossing between the two countries on Monday, more than three years after the vital commercial gateway linking several Middle East economies was closed due to the Syrian war. – Wall Street Journal

Militants in Syria indicated tepid support for a demilitarized zone in the country’s final opposition stronghold, even as they appeared to defy an internationally brokered deadline Monday for their withdrawal. – Washington Post

Syria’s foreign minister said on Monday that Syrian forces stand ready to fight jihadists around the northwestern region of Idlib if a Russian-Turkish deal is not implemented there the same day, in keeping with a critical deadline. – Reuters

France seized part of a severance payment to the former co-chairman of LafargeHolcim as part of an investigation into whether the cement maker paid off Islamic State and other militants in Syria, said a source close to the case. – Reuters

Nawal al-Maghafi writes: After seven devastating years of civil war in Syria, which have left more than 350,000 people dead, President Bashar al-Assad appears close to victory against the forces trying to overthrow him. So how has Mr Assad got so close to winning this bloody, brutal war? A joint investigation by BBC Panorama and BBC Arabic shows for the first time the extent to which chemical weapons have been crucial to his war-winning strategy. – BBC News


Australia will consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says. If acted upon, the move would follow a recent policy shift by the US that has drawn criticism internationally. – BBC News

Israel and the US sent a secret military delegation to Ukraine to test the Russian-made S-300 missile defense system, which Moscow recently provided to Syria, Hadashot TV news reported Monday, citing Syrian and Russian news outlets. – Times of Israel

An IDF aircraft opened fire at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning, the army said. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the airstrike. The incident came amid a marked uptick in suspected incendiary balloon attacks from Gaza. – Times of Israel

The international association of Israel studies scholars is calling on Israel to allow Lara Alqasem, the American student detained at Ben Gurion Airport, to enter the country. – Times of Israel

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian who tried to stab one of them in the occupied West Bank on Monday, the military said. The incident occurred at a bus stop along a main highway near the large Jewish settlement of Ariel. – Reuters

Facebook’s Israel office has removed thousands of fake accounts ahead of the October 30 municipal election at the request of the National Cyber Directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office, the directorate’s guidance manager Erez Tidhar told the Knesset Science Committee on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, under mounting pressure, weighed a new public response to confront accusations its agents killed a dissident Saudi journalist, as President Trump dispatched his top diplomat to the kingdom and investigators searched the presumed crime scene in Istanbul for clues. – Wall Street Journal

The disappearance of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi has set off a diplomatic feud between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, a bipartisan uproar in the United States Congress, tremors of uncertainty in Wall Street and Silicon Valley about how to deal with Saudi Arabia, and a noisy spat between the White House and its closest Arab ally. […]The complex, confusing case raises a range of important questions, some with ready answers and some without. – New York Times

Trump dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet King Salman over the case that has strained the Americans’ relationship with the Saudis, carefully cultivated by the U.S. president. – Reuters

“Rogue killers” could be to blame for the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, US President Donald Trump has said, as his Secretary of State headed to Riyadh in an attempt to find out what happened. – Agence France-Presse

The suspected death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has inflamed simmering calls on Capitol Hill for the U.S. to reject arms sales to Riyadh, but it’s far from clear that lawmakers will curtail billions of dollars in approved deals already slated for the kingdom. – Defense One

Editorial: The reality is that Saudi Arabia, which, as Mr. Trump himself has crudely pointed out, would not survive without U.S. security support, has everything to lose from a break in relations, while the United States no longer needs the kingdom as much as it once did. […] Whatever the outcome of the Khashoggi case, a fundamental reshaping of the relationship — mandated by Congress, if necessary — is imperative. – Washington Post

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen writes: Why has Khashoggi’s disappearance galvanized opinion so quickly and in such contrast to the much slower buildup of opposition to MBS’s many other mistimed ventures, which include, of course, more than 10,000 war dead in Yemen? Whoever made the decision to abduct or eliminate Khashoggi appears to have miscalculated or completely failed to anticipate the human-impact factor that is sweeping away Beltway goodwill toward Saudi Arabia and inflicting enormous reputational damage on the kingdom. – Washington Post

David A. Andelman writes: Whether MbS is actually the individual able to take up the challenge of reforming Saudi Arabia and leading it is becoming increasingly questionable. […]For now, Riyadh has tied itself to one individual, its crown prince, who seems to be on the verge of tarnishing this carefully crafted image. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Learning from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s playbook for domestic dissidents such as Boris Nemtsov, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman al Saud apparently suggested to President Trump on Monday that an unauthorized team of Saudi operatives may have been responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey, earlier this month. We can say that because Trump told reporters on Monday that “rogue killers” seem to be the most likely culprits. Such an insinuation is utterly absurd for three reasons. – Washington Examiner

Simon Henderson writes: President Trump has dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh, presumably with a list of policy recommendations. The odds of the Saudi side accepting any of them are debatable. It seems that we may be saying goodbye to at least the gloss, if not the substance, of the prince’s Vision 2030 plans for economic transformation of the kingdom. – The Hill

Jonathan S. Tobin writes: But while the Saudis need to be reminded that the West won’t tolerate their agents kidnapping and murdering their opponents on foreign soil, the idea that the United States or Israel should discard the kingdom isn’t sensible. As long as the Iranians — who are just as bad if not worse on human rights — pose a deadly threat to the world, America and Israel will need to work with the Saudis. – Algemeiner

Gulf States

A British academic has been charged with spying in the United Arab Emirates, the country’s authorities said, five months after he was arrested at the end of a study trip. – The Guardian

A Qatari human rights group is demanding Saudi Arabia disclose the whereabouts of four Qatari citizens who were forcibly disappeared in the neighbouring kingdom in separate cases since May last year. – Al Jazeera

Bahrain’s foreign minister called for a boycott of the ride-hailing company Uber Technologies [UBER.UL] after its chief executive officer said he will not attend a business conference in the kingdom’s ally Saudi Arabia. – Reuters

A court in Bahrain has sentenced seven people to prison, stripping six of their nationality after finding the group guilty of attacking an oil pipeline last year. – Al Jazeera

Michael Rubin writes: They may face similar threats and act in coordination with each other, but they are not the same. Anger at Saudi Arabia may be real and it is essential to hold Saudi to account but, at the same time, it is important to reduce the collateral diplomatic damage to other regional allies who, regardless of what happens in Riyadh, face very real threats. – Washington Examiner

Middle East & North Africa

Turkey has dismissed 259 local officials for suspected links to terrorist groups or unsuitable behavior, the government said on Monday, a move the pro-Kurdish opposition said was aimed at helping the ruling AK Party ahead of 2019 polls. – Reuters

Kamel Daoud writes: Audin has finally been recognized as a victim of torture, and his death as a crime. That’s a very good thing. But if colonizers need to emerge from the colonial past with honor, the decolonized must get beyond the past, and take responsibility for their present, with sincerity. – New York Times

Michael Rubin writes: It is long past time the U.S. political debate moved on to address the reality and potential of Iraq today rather than continuing to treat it merely as a political football in the American context or a diplomatic and military game board on which to confront Iran. – Washington Examiner

Anthony H Cordesman writes: The U.S. needs to make critical and time-sensitive decisions regarding the future of its wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen – as well as in its broader struggle with terrorism and extremism, and its dealings with Iran. The U.S. is now trapped in four “failed state” wars where there are no clear prospects for lasting “victory” […]. – Center for Strategic & International Studies

Korean Peninsula

He was welcomed as a hero in South Korea in 1967 after he escaped over the border under a hail of bullets and with the help of American soldiers. Two years later, he was caught trying to leave the South on a fake passport and charged with spying for the North. Enraged South Koreans burned him in effigy, and he was swiftly convicted and hanged. – New York Times

North and South Korea agreed on Monday to press ahead with plans to establish road and rail links, pledging to hold a groundbreaking ceremony on the project in late November or early December. – Washington Post

North Korea, South Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC) held their first three-way talks on Tuesday to discuss demilitarizing the border as the two Koreas push for peace, Seoul’s defense ministry said. – Reuters

France is ready to help in North Korea’s denuclearization efforts, but Pyongyang must first show some detailed commitments and real desire to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic arsenal, President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday. – Reuters

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s top envoy for North Korea will travel to Moscow for meetings this week about the denuclearization process, officials with both sides confirmed Monday. – Washington Examiner


It seemed to be a lighthearted moment. But the police in China saw it differently. The woman, Yang Kaili, 20, a Chinese live-streaming star with tens of millions of followers, was detained for five days for singing the national anthem in a “disrespectful” manner while broadcasting live. – New York Times

Secretary of Defense James Mattis played down tensions with Beijing, saying the U.S. was “not out to contain China” and was cooperating whenever possible, but that there would be times they would “step on each other’s toes.” – Bloomberg

Vocational training is being used “to the greatest extent” in China’s far-western Xinjiang region to ensure militant activities are “eliminated before they occur,” a senior Communist Party official said. – Reuters

South Asia

The Facebook posts were not from everyday internet users. Instead, they were from Myanmar military personnel who turned the social network into a tool for ethnic cleansing, according to former military officials, researchers and civilian officials in the country. – New York Times

India and China launched a program on Monday to train Afghan diplomats and China’s ambassador said it would likely be followed by joint programs in other fields to help war-torn Afghanistan. – Reuters

From a university student to a middle-aged housewife, Afghans planning to vote in the October 20 parliamentary election say they are willing to risk their lives for democracy. Nearly nine million people have registered to vote, but far fewer are expected to turn out on polling day due to threats of violence and expectations for massive fraud. – Agence France-Presse

Facebook has removed nearly two dozen more accounts and pages linked to Myanmar’s military, which the U.N. is investigating for possible charges of genocide during its campaign of violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority. – Time

Tanvi Madan writes: The objective for the United States and India is not to get on the same page on Russia, which is unlikely in the short term, but to get past their differences on Russia to cooperate in the Indo-Pacific. This will require defusing the CAATSA issue by striking a deal. It will also mean ensuring that similar obstacles do not arise in the future by better assessing and discussing how planned actions vis-à-vis Russia will affect their other interests ahead of time — and not after the fact. – War on the Rocks


President Trump said in an interview that aired Sunday that Russian leader Vladimir Putin has “probably” been involved in assassinations and poisonings. However, speaking to reporters on Monday, a spokesman for Putin played down Trump’s comments and suggested that the U.S. leader may have misspoken. – Washington Post

The Russian Orthodox Church on Monday moved to sever all ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate, the Orthodox mother church, to protest its moves toward creating an independent church in Ukraine. – New York Times

A local Jewish leader was hospitalized on Monday after a bomb exploded in his business office in the central Russian city of Kazan. – Algemeiner


Many people thought Bavaria’s election would be a backlash against the hundreds of thousands of migrants Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed into Germany three years ago. It turned out to be a backlash against Ms. Merkel herself. – New York Times

The European Union on Sunday gave its backing to under-fire United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov, who has been sharply criticized in recent days by the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership for his efforts broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. – Times of Israel

A massive march, with an estimated turnout of over 200,000 people held in the heart of Germany’s capital city on Saturday to protest right-wing extremism, featured speakers who urged the obliteration of the Jewish state and support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. – Jerusalem Post

The moods in Britain and the European Union swung between hope and gloom on Monday over an intractable dispute about the Irish border — shifts that came only two days ahead of a summit once seen as the last moment to reach a deal on Britain’s divorce from the bloc. – Associated Press

Germany’s dominant Christian Social Union party thought it would outsmart the far-right in Sunday’s regional election by copying its nativist rhetoric and hard line on immigration. Instead it got hammered. The party’s heavy losses are the latest sign that establishment parties set themselves up for defeat if they let the far-right frame the political debate, and fail to provide a vision of their own. – Huffington Post


European foreign ministers agreed Monday to expand the bloc’s support for security and armed forces in the Central African Republic, part of an effort to counter what diplomats fear is a growing Russian role there. – Wall Street Journal

Niger, a poverty-stricken nation perched on the southern belt of the Sahara, is rapidly being transformed into one of the world’s most strategic security hubs. Its capital has become ground zero for a multibillion-dollar Western project to halt the migrant trail from West Africa toward the Mediterranean and combat the expansion of jihadist activity across the Sahel, the semiarid region south of the Sahara. – Wall Street Journal

Today, many younger Kenyans say that racism is a phenomenon they largely know indirectly, through history lessons and foreign news. But episodes involving discriminatory behavior by the region’s growing Chinese work force have unsettled many Kenyans, particularly at a time when their government seeks closer ties with China. – New York Times

The second of three aid workers kidnapped in Nigeria by Islamist militants has been executed, government officials said Monday night. – New York Times

A year after their father was among nearly 600 Somalis killed in a fireball, the 32 children of Abdullah Mohamud plunged into poverty by his death are among the thousands still suffering the aftershocks what may be history’s deadliest suicide bombing. – Reuters

Cyber Security

Facebook Inc will ban false information about voting requirements and fact-check fake reports of violence or long lines at polling stations ahead of next month’s U.S. midterm elections, company executives told Reuters, the latest effort to reduce voter manipulation on its service. – Reuters

U.S. consumers should be able to easily move data like photographs and contacts from one social media application to another, potentially opening up a path for new tech entrants to compete with companies like Facebook, a lawmaker set to take a lead on antitrust issues said. – Reuters

A European Union sanctions plan to punish computer hackers is not directed at Russia or any one single country, Lithuania’s foreign minister said on Monday, as Italy came under pressure from a group of EU members states to back the proposal. – Reuters

Modernizing the Social Security number system could help tackle one of the most daunting challenges in online security: authenticating the identity of who — or what — is actually trying to access services or buy products. – Washington Examiner

Various data on up to 35 million U.S. voters as many as 19 states is for sale online, according to a new report from a pair of cyber security research firms. But the Department of Homeland Security says that’s nothing new: much of the data is either public or available for purchase from state and local governments. – Defense One

Editorial: A chillier relationship with Europe and increasing hostilities with China spur on the trend toward Balkanization — and vice versa, creating a feedback loop. If things continue along this path, the next decade may see the internet relegated to little more than just another front on the new cold war. – New York Times

Regina Rini writes: Technology spawned the problem of fake news, and it’s tempting to think that technology can solve it, that we only need to find the right algorithm and code the problem away. […]In the end, the solution for fake news won’t be just clever programming: it will also involve each of us taking up our responsibilities as digital citizens and putting our epistemic reputations on the line. – New York Times


US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday said he had designated five groups, including Hezbollah and MS-13, as transnational criminal organizations to target with tougher investigations and prosecutions. – Reuters

After being grounded last week, 80 percent of the operational U.S. and international F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter variants are now cleared to resume flight operations, following a fleet-wide fuel line inspection. – USNI News

The U.S. Air Force is not ready to say just how many F-22 Raptors left behind at Tyndall Air Force Base sit damaged or crippled following Hurricane Michael’s catastrophic incursion on the Florida installation. – Military.com

David Barno and Nora Bensahel write: The new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) is a truly terrible idea. The Army decided to overhaul its long-standing PT test in order to improve individual fitness for combat and reduce musculoskeletal injuries, which are certainly legitimate objectives. But the new test will create far more problems than it solves, and could actually increase some types of injuries. […]This all sounds very logical in principle. In practice, however, the test has five very serious problems. – War on the Rocks

Long War

Germany has deported a Moroccan associate of the Sept. 11 hijackers after he served most of a 15-year jail term for helping organise the 2001 attacks on U.S. targets, authorities said on Monday. – Reuters

A teenage girl was injured and a woman was taken hostage on Monday at a train station in Germany in what police say may have been a foiled terrorist attack. – MSNBC

The war in Iraq continues to bring together strange partners, and the latest odd couple may be the oddest of all. Particularly in Iraqi territory near Kurdish-held lands, the Popular Mobilization Forces—or the PMF, a collection of mostly Shiite militias—have started to join forces with some ex-Islamic State fighters. The idea of these former foes partnering may seem strange, but there are real benefits for both sides. – Foreign Policy

When Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi vanished after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week it prompted Turkish officials and media to claim he may have been killed and even dismembered by a squad of assassins on the premises. The macabre mystery stirred memories of instances when diplomatic missions turned into places of terror. […] Here are just some of many examples. – Associated Press

Trump Administration

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis played down suggestions that he was in danger of losing his job, as he made a case for leaving the American military out of politics and asserting that the country’s sharp divisions have no place among either the men and women who serve or the officers who lead them. – New York Times

Not long after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis took over at the Pentagon, he set out to transform the U.S. military into a better-equipped, deadlier force that would waste less money, deepen alliances around the world, and evolve to counter Russia and China. But President Trump soon began throwing curveballs his way. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump’s campaign organization spent $1.6 million on legal expenses between the start of July and the end of September, the most it has spent on legal fees in any quarter, according to a new filing with the Federal Election Commission. – Politico

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said President Donald Trump has assured him of his full support, one day after Trump appeared to cast doubt over the Pentagon chief’s fate. – Agence France-Presse