Fdd's overnight brief

October 19, 2018

In The News


U.S. sanctions intended to squeeze an Iranian paramilitary force may have unintended consequences for humanitarian efforts in the country because of its targeting of a bank, lawyers and analysts say. – Wall Street Journal

The Azerbaijani coast guard says it has rescued several Iranian sailors who showed symptoms of chemical poisoning after receiving a distress signal on the Caspian Sea. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has told his Iranian counterpart that security forces are searching for 14 Iranian border guards who Tehran says were abducted by militants this week. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called out the Iranian regime on Thursday over its use of child soldiers. – Algemeiner

According to the Navy, Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles are increasingly active over the gulf, operating in what officials have described as unsafe ways. Marine Corps and Navy officials said US ships in the Persian Gulf are now regularly overflown by Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles, USNI News reported earlier this week. – Business Insider

Amir Basiri writes: It would obviously be a correct decision for the Treasury Department to sanction the Iranian regime from SWIFT, depriving terror groups such as Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah of any funds, and sending a telling message globally — especially to Tehran and those considering doing business with the mullahs’ regime. – Washington Examiner

Joshua Block writes: There is a lot that we don’t know about Iran’s nuclear program. There is a lot we will be unable to know because the deal has too many holes, and the IAEA is unable — or unwilling — to address them. – The Hill


Dr. Albezem was sitting in a conference room with Mr. Trump at an Indiana fundraiser days earlier when she made a passionate appeal for action to stop a looming assault by the Syrian regime on the country’s last major rebel sanctuary. It worked. Mr. Trump tweeted a warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, then mobilized his cabinet to pressure Syria and its patrons, Russia and Iran, actions that helped avert the deadly assault, at least temporarily. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Islamic State militants in Syria have recently seized some 700 people as hostages and are carrying out executions. – Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin says any talks about the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria would be contingent on providing security guarantees for Syria. – Associated Press

The Iranian Quds Force organizes, equips and finances the 50,000 Shia militia in Syria that provides the ground troops for the Russian and Iranian effort to prop up the Bashar al Assad regime, a retired senior Israeli Defense Force general said on Wednesday. – USNI News

The leaders of France, Germany, Turkey and Russia will meet on Oct 27 in Istanbul to discuss the war in Syria and identify ways of avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe in the country’s Idlib region, the French presidency said on Friday. – Reuters

Maysam Behravesh writes: Yet, it can’t be denied that the Assad regime was the actor that benefited the most from the emergence of groups like ISIL in Syria. Arguably their existence made Assad’s irreversible victory in the country’s 8-year civil war possible. – Al Jazeera


In a move likely to further strain relations between the United States and the Palestinian Authority, the State Department announced Thursday that it will merge the diplomatic mission serving Palestinians with the U.S. Embassy in Israel. – Washington Post

A team of Egyptian mediators on Thursday shuttled between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers in a stepped-up effort to forge a cease-fire between the two enemies. – Associated Press

A team of Egyptian mediators on Thursday shuttled between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers in a stepped-up effort to forge a cease-fire between the two enemies. – Ynet

Despite the official call of the “March of Return” campaign’s organizing committee to attend the weekly Gaza border riots, Hamas is expected to tone down the display of violence in comparison to last week’s demonstrations, according to Palestinian sources. – Ynet

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon excoriated Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in a speech to the Security Council on Thursday. – Algemeiner

The political-security cabinet decided during the long meeting last night to adopt the line led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and to support a military response only on the basis of developments on the ground and not on a proactive basis. – Arutz Sheva

Saudi Arabia

President Trump said Thursday that a prominent Saudi journalist is likely dead and his Treasury secretary called off plans to attend a Saudi investment conference next week, amid strains over how to react to the suspected death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Wall Street Journal

Just over two weeks since the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, it is already clear that the fallout has profoundly reshaped the balance of power in the Middle East and impaired U.S. leverage in the region. – Wall Street Journal

Almost six months ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set out to revive the State Department’s “swagger.” But his rebranding efforts may have been undercut by his emergency visit to Saudi ­Arabia this week to discuss the disappearance and possible death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Washington Post

The rulers of Saudi Arabia are considering blaming a top intelligence official close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, three people with knowledge of the Saudi plans said Thursday. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia’s alleged involvement in the disappearance of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi could place Riyadh’s longstanding rival Iran at an advantage. – CNBC

Leading human rights and journalists’ organizations urged Turkey on Thursday to ask the United Nations to launch an investigation into the disappearance and “possible extrajudicial execution” of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Associated Press

Editorial: With Thursday’s announcement by Secretary Mnuchin, the Administration is moving toward firmer footing. […]The burden now is on the Saudi government, most pointedly the Crown Prince, to recognize there is no way forward other than a full public accounting, and soon. As for the U.S., Trump officials need to speak to American values as well as American interests. – Wall Street Journal

David Ignatius writes: The bottom line: Saudi Arabia is at an existential tipping point. The United States urgently needs to understand how the kingdom got into this grisly mess, and where it’s going. – Washington Post

Marc A. Thiessen writes: Upon taking office, Trump made Saudi Arabia his first foreign trip and put his new administration’s reputation and prestige behind the crown prince and his reforms. The crown prince, or MBS, as he is widely known, has possibly repaid those efforts by brutally killing a permanent U.S. resident. His betrayal has now put Trump in an impossible bind. The president must now find a way to reconcile three sets of irreconcilable facts. – Washington Post

Fareed Zakaria writes: The United States’ Middle East policy should be based on its interests and values in the region, and these will never be perfectly aligned with any one country. […]All of this requires nuance, sophistication and ceaseless high-quality diplomacy. This is the price of being the leader of the free world, a job that we appear of late to have vacated. – Washington Post

Michael Hirsh and Lara Seligman write: After weeks of siding with the Saudi royals—and sending his secretary of state to grip-and-grin with the king—U.S. President Donald Trump finally bowed to public outrage on Thursday[…]. Washington officials and analysts say that Trump’s response is only the start of a fierce war of wills between Washington and Riyadh that could roil relations for months or even years. – Foreign Policy

Frida Ghitis writes: In the end, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. will find a way to salvage the relationship. Turkey knows it. Erdogan knows that is a key objective in Washington’s response. […]In the midst of this gruesome moment of high-stakes global intrigue and maneuvering, Turkey is positioned to emerge as one of the big winners from what remains, unquestionably, a great tragedy and an appalling misdeed. – Politico

Elise Carlson-Rainer writes: Has the Trump administration’s early reaction and warning to Saudi Arabia represented non-committal rhetoric, or does it signal a policy shift[…]? While it remains to be seen whether the administration’s rhetoric will be matched with actions, Trump’s statements are a jolt to international standards and diplomatic norms regarding bilateral relations and human rights between the United States and Saudi Arabia. – The Hill

Jonathan Schanzer: Together, these two moves represent the most practical ways to move forward without triggering a full cutoff of political or economic relations. Of course, it won’t satisfy those seeking justice for Jamal Khashoggi. But it would demonstrate America’s commitment to human rights while preserving an alliance America still needs. – New York Post 

Middle East & North Africa

An American-Egyptian man was abducted for four months and tortured by members of the Egyptian National Security Agency, a relative of his alleged. – ABC News

Soner Cagaptay writes: Turkey’s release of American pastor Andrew Brunson from jail is a huge step forward for the U.S.-Turkey relationship. […]With Trump ending his freeze of U.S-Turkish ties, U.S. government officials and their Turkish counterparts can now tackle various issues that divide the two countries. Yet while Brunson’s release is a good step toward normal relations, there is plenty more to do. – Time

Bernard-Henri Lévy writes: ISIS, in its abysmal stupidity, had not understood that in its midst, converted into a cache for rockets and ammunition, stood a synagogue on par with those found in Kurdish Iraq. […]It also shows that what goes for hearts also goes for places: To survive, they sometimes have to borrow an identity, to pretend. – Wall Street Journal

Korean Peninsula

Friction is growing between South Korea and the U.S. over how best to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program, with Washington maintaining pressure and Seoul seeking to ease sanctions and reduce the North’s isolation. – Wall Street Journal

Pope Francis received an invitation on Thursday to visit North Korea, a message relayed to him in a private audience at the Vatican with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. – New York Times

South Korea’s indigenous close-in weapon system, currently in the final development phase, will be unable to thwart incoming missiles based on test evaluations, according to military and industry sources. – Defense News

A date for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is being discussed, Russian state news agency RIA cited Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov as saying on Friday. – Reuters

As President Donald Trump continues to ramp up trade pressure on China, Beijing may be “less motivated to cooperate” with the U.S. over sanctions against North Korea, an expert told CNBC Wednesday. – CNBC


Defense Secretary Jim Mattis tried to lower the temperature on the array of hostilities between Washington and Beijing on Thursday, saying it is up to the militaries of the two competing global superpowers to act as a stabilizing force amid rising political tensions. – New York Times

The U.S. Treasury again passed up a formal opportunity to designate China a “currency manipulator,” but singled out the nation’s currency practices as a source of “particular concern.” – Wall Street Journal

Ms. Abbas, 50, is among a growing number of Uighur Americans who have had family members detained by the Chinese police and placed in the anti-Islam camp system that is spread across the northwest region of Xinjiang. Chinese officials describe the internment as “transformation through education” and “vocational education.” – New York Times

An outspoken former detainee in China’s internment camps for Muslims said Thursday his application for a visa to visit the United States was rejected despite an invitation to speak at Congress about his ordeal. – Associated Press

The Trump administration has threatened to pull out of the Universal Postal Union, the United Nations-run regulatory agency for international mail, on the grounds that it benefits China at the expense of the U.S. But a major obstacle to Trump carrying out the threat is that the administration would then need to negotiate 191 separate bilateral deals with constituent nations to replace it. – Washington Examiner

Military ties between the world’s two largest economies could remain at a deadlock until both parties make progress on thorny political and economic issues, strategists predict. – CNBC

China and Southeast Asian states will hold their first joint maritime exercises next week, officials said Friday, in a move aimed at easing tensions but which may spark US alarm. – Agence France-Presse

China’s efforts to make inroads in eastern Europe are being hindered by what nations see as failed promises on money materializing and the strings attached to investments. – Bloomberg

Two US bombers tore through the hotly-contested South China Sea Tuesday, an apparent power play signaling US determination to continue to fly and sail wherever international law allows ahead of a key meeting between US and Chinese defense chiefs Thursday. – Business Insider

Stephanie Segal writes: Prior to its release, analysts had speculated Treasury might use the occasion to label China a currency manipulator[…]. While Treasury did neither this round, the report provides a harsh appraisal of China’s “economic model,” warns that it is following the renminbi’s (RMB) recent depreciation closely, and indicates it will be monitoring for “symmetrical” intervention, heightening U.S. rhetorical pressure on Beijing. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


A gunman wearing an Afghan army uniform opened fire Thursday on participants in a meeting with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, killing three senior provincial officials and wounding at least three Americans. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the target of the attack claimed by the Taliban, escaped unharmed. – Washington Post

The Afghan government on Friday delayed legislative elections by one week in Kandahar province after the provincial police chief and intelligence chief were assassinated by a Taliban gunman, leaving a dangerous security vacuum in the region that is home to the insurgents. – Washington Post

When Afghans cast ballots Saturday in parliamentary elections viewed as a crucial test run for the presidential vote, it will be a shrinking number of voters that braves the tide of Taliban and Islamic State violence. – Wall Street Journal

Afghanistan is holding parliamentary elections on Saturday despite deep security concerns and ongoing fighting in as many as 20 out of the country’s 34 provinces. The vote comes amid a particularly vicious campaign by the Taliban and the Islamic State group, which have been staging near-daily attacks. – Associated Press

Thomas Joscelyn writes: The United States is no longer trying to defeat the Taliban. Instead, the Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, wants out. The Taliban knows this and is more than happy to dictate the terms of America’s withdrawal. That’s what is now being negotiated. The jihadists also know that wars end in victory or defeat—and their victory is at hand. – The Weekly Standard


Japan acquiesced to direct, two-way trade talks with the United States, dropping its two-year insistence on trying instead to hammer out a pact that included multiple countries. It gave crucial momentum to Mr. Trump’s campaign to redraw trade pacts with longstanding allies like Japan, Canada, Mexico and the European Union, even as he widens a trade war with China. – New York Times

European leaders sought to build support from Asia Thursday in defence of free trade and the fight against climate change, to counter the growing protectionism of President Donald Trump’s America. – Agence France-Presse

Sadanand Dhume writes: Her international profile increases the odds that Ms. Bibi will be acquitted and find a new home in the West. Though this would be welcome, it won’t signal deeper change. […]It may be too late for Pakistan to roll back the madness it has unleashed. But the rest of us can learn a simple lesson: surrendering to Islamists is never a good idea. – Wall Street Journal

Wes Martin writes: Left unchecked, Pashinyan may undermine democracy in Armenia and further destabilize the Caucasus region. There is too much at stake for the European Union and the United States to remain silent and trust Pashinyan’s words. – The National Interest


President Vladimir Putin hailed new missiles in Russia’s military arsenals but emphasized Thursday that the country would only use its nuclear weapons in response to an incoming missile attack. – Associated Press

Russia’s top diplomat said in an interview published Thursday that he hopes NATO can avoid a large, global war, but said he’s worried that NATO has left Russia out of these sorts of discussions. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, says he does not expect progress anytime soon toward ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine because Russia appears to be waiting for possible changes coming out of the Ukrainian elections. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


British defense procurement officials are facing fresh questions about their plan to buy Boeing Wedgetail E-7 airborne early warning aircraft for the Royal Air Force without holding a competition. – Defense News

A court in Finland has sentenced the founder of an anti-immigrant, pro-Russia website to 22 months in prison on charges of defamation and negligence. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The city council of Brighton and Hove in England passed a resolution on Thursday adopting an internationally-recognized definition of antisemitism, drawing praise from leaders of the local Jewish community. – Algemeiner

United States

A former Navy sailor arrested earlier this month faces charges related to ricin-related threats mailed to President Trump and other top administration officials. – Washington Examiner

Politicians, Jewish leaders and opinion-formers on social media on Thursday joined the growing outcry calling on Twitter to suspend the account of Louis Farrakhan — the antisemitic leader of the Nation of Islam (NoI) sect — over a tweet that degradingly compared Jews with “termites.” – Algemeiner

A federal judge in Minnesota sentenced former FBI agent Terry Albury to 48 months in prison on Thursday for leaking classified information to a journalist, according to the U.S. Justice Department. – Reuters

Latin America

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that he had warned President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama about doing business with China, criticizing Chinese state-owned enterprises that engage in “predatory economic activity.” – New York Times

President Trump on Thursday threatened to deploy the military and close the southern border if Mexico doesn’t stop an “onslaught” of Latin American migrants passing through its country from reaching the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

Spanish police have arrested a former Venezuelan official and an exiled opposition leader’s relative and seized more than 115 properties in a money-laundering investigation into a ring that allegedly bought real estate in Spain with illicit funds from Venezuela. – Associated Press

US President Donald Trump’s threats against a caravan of thousands of Honduran migrants headed to the United States will not deter people from fleeing the Central American country, activists say, adding they would welcome a cut in US military and security aid to Honduran security forces. – Al Jazeera

Human rights organization Amnesty International said on Thursday it had documented at least six “possible extrajudicial executions” in Nicaragua during a government crackdown on protests against President Daniel Ortega. – Reuters

Cyber Security

The president of Australia’s top lawyers’ group told a parliamentary inquiry that proposed cybersecurity laws to force global technology companies such as Facebook and Google to help police by unscrambling encrypted messages sent by extremists and other criminals would significantly limit individuals’ privacy and freedom. – Associated Press

A top Homeland Security Department official said Thursday his staff is “working around the clock” to prepare for America’s enemies launching cyberattacks during the home stretch of the midterm elections. […]For hackers, he said, 2018 was just the “warm-up” for the “big game” in 2020 when President Trump will be running to be re-elected to the White House for a second term. – Washington Examiner

Facebook’s former chief of security warned that the United States is not equipped to handle potential cyber interference in the 2018 midterm elections. – Washington Examiner

Super Micro Computer Inc. said in a letter to two U.S. senators that it has seen no evidence of any tampering with its hardware components after a Bloomberg Businessweek report described how China’s intelligence services used subcontractors to plant malicious chips in the company’s server motherboards. – Bloomberg

The freshly launched unit at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters in California is the nerve center for the fight against misinformation and manipulation of the largest social network by foreign actors trying to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere. – Times of Israel

Following the September part-one release of one of the most-anticipated IT programs in the military, the Navy issued part two of the request for proposals on the Next Generation Enterprise Network Re-Complete (NGEN-R) Service Management, Integration and Transport (SMIT) Oct. 18. – Defense News


Once a key link between the White House and America’s secret nuclear strike force, a Navy captain now faces court-martial for allegedly steering defense contracts to a company she founded. – Defense News

The Department of Defense (DoD) submitted the Navy’s 2019 shipbuilding plan, which covers fiscal years 2019 to 2048, to the Congress in February 2018. The average annual cost of carrying out that plan over the next 30 years would be about $28.9 billion in 2018 dollars, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. – USNI News

Kris Osborn writes: Air Force experts and researchers now argue that, when it comes to the prospect of major power warfare, the service will need higher-tech, more flexible and more powerful bombs to destroy well fortified Russian and Chinese facilities. – The National Interest

Long War

A radical Islamist preacher convicted in 2016 of inspiring support for  the Islamic State and described by a British prison official as “genuinely dangerous” to public safety was released from jail on Friday under strict controls on his travels and use of the internet. – New York Times

An indictment was filed on Thursday with the Magistrate’s Court in Tel Aviv against Jaffa residents Abd al-Malik Asfur and Adam Abu Shehadeh, who left for Turkey to join the Islamic State group (ISIS) and the Jabhat al-Nusra organization affiliated with al-Qaeda in Syria. – Ynet

The United States on Thursday offered a $5 million reward to find Al-Qaeda leader Khalid Batarfi, who urged worldwide attacks on Jews and Americans after Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. – Agence France-Presse

Trump Administration

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats called on media outlets to “step up” and combat efforts by foreign adversaries to spread propaganda in news reports. – Washington Examiner

Special counsel Robert Mueller has assembled a list of figures cooperating with his Russia investigation that could provide him with substantial insight into the workings of the Trump campaign. – The Hill

Victoria Holt and Mark P. Lagon write: Yet before she departs, Haley’s diplomatic chops will be tested by whether she can deliver on her promise to cut the U.S. share of U.N. peacekeeping costs and stop the growing U.S. arrears. […]Haley is a prodigious political talent. She should get help from the administration, Congress, and outside advocates to lead a campaign to deliver for the United States in the next few months. – Foreign Policy

Jack Caporal and William Alan Reinsch write: On October 16, the Trump administration formally notified Congress that it intends to negotiate trade agreements with Japan, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. The formal notifications carry significance even though negotiations with each of the three governments had already been announced, albeit less formally. By notifying Congress, the administration has bound itself to the procedures laid out in the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) law.  – Center for Strategic and International Studies