Fdd's overnight brief

October 2, 2019

In The News


The brother of President Hassan Rouhani of Iran was sentenced to five years in prison on corruption charges, the state news media reported on Tuesday, and four people were sentenced in another case on charges of spying for the United States and Britain, with one person facing the death penalty. – New York Times 

Before leaving New York last week, French President Emmanuel Macron made a failed last-minute push to get U.S. President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to speak on the sidelines of the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders, according to several sources familiar with the situation. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to discuss Iran’s nuclear deal and situation in the Strait of Hormuz with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at their bilateral meeting in Armenia on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. – Reuters

The international community must confront America’s hostile approach, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday as tensions have spiked between the Islamic Republic and the United States. – Reuters

Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, said on Tuesday he welcomed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s willingness to resolve issues with Iran through talks. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia has given a green light to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to arrange a meeting with Iran as a first step towards de-escalating tensions in the region, Middle East Eye can reveal. – Middle East Eye

President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran supports a plan by European countries to bolster a nuclear deal that Tehran reached with the West in 2015 and from which the United States withdrew last year. – Associated Press

Victor Davis Hanson writes: The best thing that America can do for the world is to ratchet up the sanctions; reply only if directly attacked by Iran; sit back and remain patient; and allow aggrieved allies, friends, and neutrals to go ahead and respond to Iran if they wish — and to pump as much gas and oil as it can. – National Review


Turkey has no choice but to act alone given too little progress has been made with the United States forming a “safe zone” in northeastern Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday in his most direct indication of a cross-border offensive. – Reuters

After years of leading the fight against the jihadists, Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of suspected foreign IS members in detention and camps: men and women, but also some 8,000 children — more than half of whom are under the age of five. – Agence France-Presse

Foreign Islamic State fighters held in overcrowded prisons and lawless refugee camps in north-east Syria – including about 60 Britons – should be put on trial there as part of an international effort to de-radicalise the region, according to senior local officials. – The Guardian


Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, gave a rare interview Tuesday in which he claimed that Israel missed a chance to assassinate him and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. – Arutz Sheva

Palestinians protested in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank on Tuesday after a detainee suspected of killing an Israeli teenager in a bomb attack was hospitalized during interrogation by Israeli forces. – Reuters

Border Police forces in the area of Jerusalem’s Abu Dis arrested two Palestinian suspects transporting thousands of Israeli shekels which were suspected to be used for terrorist activities, according to a police spokesperson. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian ruling Fatah faction has dismissed as “futile” a new initiative aimed at resolving its dispute with Hamas. – Jerusalem Post

A Rosh Hashanah holiday weekend full of political turmoil climaxed Tuesday night when Blue and White leader Benny Gantz canceled a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set before the holiday that was expected to be a last-ditch attempt to form a unity government led by Netanyahu. – Jerusalem Post


Hundreds of Iraqi protesters were wounded Tuesday when security forces fired bullets and tear gas at crowds of anti-government protesters, officials said. – Washington Post

A commander of a group within the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces militia tweeted that Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s claim that Israel was behind recent attacks on PMF positions was a “green light to retaliate against Israel.” – Jerusalem Post

Robert S. Ford and Randa Slim write: The United States should be thinking about working on the margins with like-minded Iraqis to help the wobbly political system gradually extend its roots and its stability. An unstable Iraqi political system won’t reduce Iranian influence and it won’t benefit stability in the Middle East or international energy markets. Iraqi instability won’t diminish extremism in the region either. There are some positive indications and some negative ones in the evolution of Iraq’s politics. Iraq’s success is not assured even with our attention and help going forward. But Iraqis tell us that without that attention and help, however, their fledgling efforts at good governance, reconstruction, and peaceful relations with all the neighbors would fare far worse. – The National Interest

Saudi Arabia

Oil has erased all of the rally that followed recent disruptions to Saudi Arabian output, indicating how a darkening outlook for global growth continues to tamp down fuel prices. – Wall Street Journal

The gruesome killing of the Saudi journalist, a contributor to The Washington Post and a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, sent shock waves through capitals in the Middle East, Europe and North America where the young Saudi prince was carefully cultivating an image of a modern reformer. […]Now, 12 months after Khashoggi’s murder, the urgency of the matter has largely faded and a number of major questions still linger about the killing and the response to it. – Washington Post

Iran’s statement that Saudi Arabia sent messages to its president through other countries was “not accurate”, Adel al-Jubeir, the kingdom’s minister of state for foreign affairs, has said. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is trying to repair damage to his image done by Jamal Khashoggi’s murder by insisting “layers and layers” of hierarchy separated him from the Saudi agents who killed the journalist, the U.N. investigator told Reuters. – Reuters

The commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command visited Riyadh over the weekend to discuss with the head of Saudi Arabia’s naval forces reinforcing defenses against Iranian threats, the command said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Global outrage over Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder has dissipated a year after the killing, but justice remains elusive with opaque trial proceedings and the government cracking down on dissent. – Agence France-Presse

Hatice Cengiz writes: One year on, I am still asking the same questions. I still have the same concerns. As Jamal’s former employer, the Washington Post, puts it: “Democracy dies in darkness.” And if we, as an international community bound by a shared commitment to the most basic human values, choose to neglect or ignore or indeed deny this injustice, then further injustices will surely follow. If we choose darkness over light, lies over truth, political expedience over moral strength, then that darkness will deepen and swell, and come to cloud the crimes not only of the Saudi regime, but of tyrants and criminals the world over. – The Guardian

Matthew Petti writes: Something is rotten in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Prince Mohammad bin Salman, also known as MbS, was once the promising young face of the Arab monarchy. Now he’s racking up foreign-policy defeats abroad—and facing disturbing murmurs at home. – The National Interest


The Yemeni fighters could be heard in the video chanting “Death to America, Death to Israel” from a barren desert ridge after firing on a distant Saudi military vehicle. – Bloomberg

The leader of Yemen’s Houthi rebels has met with U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths in the capital Sanaa to discuss reviving peace talks to end the country’s four-year-old stalemated war. – Associated Press

Editorial: The Saudi-led coalition’s role in Yemen’s civil war has shone a spotlight on the more aggressive foreign policies being pursued by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. […]Trade in arms will continue, as will the need to use exports to bolster domestic manufacturing. But greater oversight of how those arms are used is needed, and public and investor scrutiny is here to stay. In the long term, governments will come under increased pressure to rethink their approach to arms exports. Companies will have to be ready to respond. – Financial Times

Ibrahim Jalal writes: A coalition withdrawal or a mutual cessation of hostilities should be an integral part of a broader political settlement whose implementation is internationally monitored and includes clear national reconciliation and transitional justice measures. Without addressing the roots of the conflict in an inclusive manner and without an awareness of the growing imbalance of power in favor of militias and terrorist groups, there cannot be a credible resolution to the war; instead, there will likely be a further localization of conflict dynamics, exacerbating security issues for both Yemen and the Gulf. To look forward we must also look backward. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Foreign powers have funneled military support to both sides of Libya’s civil war—but not enough to give either a decisive advantage. – Wall Street Journal

Egypt has hardened its rhetoric on Ethiopia’s Nile dam in an apparent attempt to force the East African nation to make concessions to Cairo. – The National

Just days after hundreds of people marched through Cairo and other cities calling for the Egyptian president to step down, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi settled into a chair alongside his US counterpart Donald Trump and addressed briefly the rare explosion of public anger against his rule. – Financial Times

Cyprus’ president says more offshore drilling in search for gas deposits will carry on as planned despite Turkey’s “threats and unlawful actions” inside waters where the east Mediterranean island nation has exclusive economic rights. – Associated Press

Korean Peninsula

North Korea and the United States will resume negotiations Saturday, marking the first official talks between the two sides since President Trump met Kim Jong Un in June, the North Korean government announced Tuesday. But North Korea followed up that announcement by launching at least one ballistic missile from the sea off its eastern coast on Wednesday morning. – Washington Post

North Korea said it would resume working-level talks with the U.S. on Saturday, reviving a denuclearization process that has been stalled since a February summit in Vietnam ended without a deal. – Wall Street Journal

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday strongly condemned North Korea’s latest launch of ballistic missiles and said it was a violation of United Nations resolutions. – Reuters

One North Korean missile appears to have fallen into Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on Wednesday morning, Japan’s top government spokesman said, adding there were no reports so far of any impact on aircraft or ships in the vicinity. – Reuters

Sebastien Roblin writes: Hopefully, the infiltration tunnels will remain merely another footnote in the conflict between the two Koreas that will never be used in an actual conflict. Nonetheless, they remain a testament to the great lengths North Korea has undertaken to undermine the defenses of its southern neighbor, and the sense of paranoia and uncertainty that can inspire in civilian and military leaders alike. – The National Interest


The Chinese Communist Party flaunted an astonishing array of new weapons systems, many of them nuclear, in a highly choreographed military parade Tuesday in front of thousands of carefully selected citizens. – Washington Post

President Trump on Tuesday congratulated China on the 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule, a message posted hours after a protester in Hong Kong was shot by authorities in an escalation of force aimed at tamping down mass pro-democracy demonstrations. – Washington Post

Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over a grandiose military parade marking the 70th anniversary of Communist rule, a projection of strength as the country wrestles with a challenge from President Trump, while Hong Kong braced for another round of anti-Beijing protests. – Wall Street Journal

The House impeachment investigation could put new pressure on President Trump to seek a limited trade deal with China as a means of shoring up political support ahead of what could be the defining fight of his administration, according to close observers in both Washington and Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. prosecutors say Hao Zhang is a professor-spy who conspired with a colleague from the University of Southern California to steal and sell American secrets to the Chinese government and military through a shell company in the Cayman Islands. – Bloomberg

Since the release of the National Defense Strategy in early 2018, top Pentagon officials have stressed that the department needs to keep its focus on the long-term challenge from China. Now, with the creation of a new office focused solely on China, officials in the department hope to take a major step forward in that effort. – Defense News

Henry Olsen writes: History has many examples of economically growing authoritarian states that seek global power commensurate with their economic strength. Those conflicts tend not to end well. Better take note and prepare now, or the Chinese Communist Party may insist the West kowtow before it at its 100-year anniversary. – Washington Post

James A. Millward writes: Such policies undercut the P.R.C.’s legacy of administrative flexibility and relative ethnic tolerance, as well as expose it to international criticism, exacerbating tensions while undermining the party’s legitimacy. […]Mr. Xi’s vain dream of political and cultural homogeneity not only runs counter to Chinese traditional approaches to diversity. His assimilationism also incites the very instability the C.C.P. has long hoped to avoid. – New York Times

Joseph Bosco writes: China may have made itself an economic and military power by its proclivity to “lie, cheat and steal” its way, as Ronald Reagan said of the Soviet Union. But the Chinese people have demonstrated that, having endured a century of humiliation at the hands of the West, they do not wish to suffer a new century of shame imposed by their own leaders.  They know that before China can achieve world greatness based on respect rather than fear, they will have to aspire to a minimal level of normal decency in the way it behaves in the international community and toward the Chinese people. – The Hill

Andrew S. Erickson writes: A new U.S. posture involving some mobile conventional IRBMs on Guam, and some capability to deploy them on relatively short notice to other locations, will offer a reasonably useful if relatively limited set of options. It will complicate Chinese military planning and have deterrent effect. With an increasingly assertive Beijing bullying its neighbors and pressuring the U.S. and its allies to yield to unilateral demands, resetting the military missile calculus will be a victory in itself. And, as China’s 70th anniversary military parade just made it unmistakably clear, the time to act is now. – The National Interest

Bradley Thayer and Lianchao Han write: Thus, the world should also use the occasion to reflect on the CCP’s rule.  As it does so, it must j’accuse, and present the crimes of Xi Jinping and the CCP. […]It is lamentable that after seventy years, China is not only as dangerous to international stability as it was when Mao created it.  Still, it is more dreadful to realize that within a far shorter period of time, China’s economic, military, and political power will present an existential challenge to the free world and western civilization. It is unclear whether the world is ready to meet that challenge. – The National Interest

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: This report is a major update to an experimental net assessment that addresses China’s emergence as a global superpower, and its competition with the United States. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Taliban killed at least 11 police officers in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province before burning their headquarters, officials said on Tuesday. – Reuters

An Afghan Taliban delegation will visit Pakistan on Wednesday, the insurgent group said, the latest stop on a tour of regional powers after an Afghanistan peace process broke down. – Reuters

Any peace in Afghanistan must be negotiated for Afghans by their elected leaders, the country’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, says. – NPR


China’s authoritarian president used the 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule on Tuesday to pledge that nothing would stop his nation’s ascent. But the message was marred by some of the worst anti-government violence to convulse Hong Kong, including the first police shooting of a protester. – New York Times

Hong Kong anti-government protesters are increasingly focusing their anger on mainland Chinese businesses and those with pro-Beijing links, daubing graffiti on store fronts and vandalizing outlets in the heart of the financial center. – Reuters

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres always calls for protests to be peaceful and for security services to exercise restraint, a U.N. spokesman said when asked about anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong on Tuesday. – Reuters

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Tuesday that the use of live ammunition by Hong Kong police was disproportionate, after a teenage demonstrator was shot. – Reuters

Thailand’s prime minister said on Tuesday Islamic State (IS) had no links to his country, after Egypt arrested a Thai student over suspected ties to the Middle East-based militant group. – Reuters

Singapore’s new law to combat “fake news” came into effect Wednesday despite criticism from tech giants and activists, who labelled the tough rules a “chilling” attempt to stifle dissent. – Agence France-Presse

Jillian Kay Melchior writes: The greatest threat to their success may be the prospect of a U.S.-China trade deal. If Mr. Trump succeeds in striking one, he may be less eager to take Beijing to task over Hong Kong. The risk for protesters is that the world will lose interest in the confrontation, emboldening Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

Jerome Taylor writes: The one thing Beijing won’t do is give in. That is not how the Chinese Communist Party operates, especially not under Xi Jinping. But equally, the largely leaderless Hong Kong protesters are in no mood to leave the streets either. Unlike 2014’s Umbrella protests, where mainstream opinion quickly tired of the disruption, this year’s protests have an acutely more existential feel and huge crowds of moderates still keep coming out to show support for the radicals. […]Whatever happens in the short term, the fallout will reverberate for years to come. – Agence France-Presse

Hal Brands writes: Singapore is, after all, a police state, albeit a comparatively benign one. Other key partners, such as Vietnam, are deeply authoritarian. These countries may not be interested in making the world safe for democracy. But they do value self-determination — the idea that they should be able to work out their own destinies free of coercion and intimidation. That’s the sort of message that can be broadly effective in the Asia-Pacific, because it’s a concept that both liberal and friendly illiberal regimes can get behind. – Bloomberg

Matthew P. Goodman writes: With the baseball playoffs getting underway in both countries, it seems apt to score the Trump-Abe deal using a metaphor from the game that has linked the United States and Japan for nearly 150 years. Having achieved his strategic objectives in the negotiations, Prime Minister Abe can be fairly credited with a single and a run batted in. Trump got on base, too, but “hit by pitch” is arguably the appropriate entry in the scorecard. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Ukraine on Tuesday signed much-anticipated accords with separatists from the country’s east, Russia and European monitors that agree a local election can be held in separatist-controlled territory, paving the way for peace talks with Moscow. – Associated Press

Australia’s prime minister on Wednesday played down the significance of a call from Donald Trump as “brief and uneventful”, despite mounting controversy over a politically fraught offer to help the US president. Scott Morrison said Trump had simply asked him to establish “a point of contact” within Australia’s government for an investigation that the US president hopes will discredit findings that Russia helped his 2016 election campaign. – Agence France-Presse

Tom Rogan writes: In the West, Russia operates organizations and supports individuals who can advance Vladimir Putin’s interests. […]Why does all this matter? Well, because what we see in Cobb is a Russian influence operation at its best. One man has weaved a Kremlin web that begins with a seemingly harmless organization, charts its course with profits from Russian investments, and ends up with direct advocacy for Putin’s foreign policy. – Washington Examiner


Prime Minister Boris Johnson will on Wednesday unveil his final Brexit offer to the European Union and make clear that if Brussels does not engage with the proposal, Britain will not negotiate further and will leave on Oct. 31. – Reuters

Ukraine has agreed to buy 150 Javelin anti-tank missiles, in a deal worth $39 million, a U.S. congressional aide said on Tuesday, referring to a purchase that is separate from U.S. aid at the center of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. – Reuters

The European Union warned Washington on Tuesday that the bloc would retaliate if the US slaps tariffs on EU exports as a 15-year long Airbus-Boeing row nears its climax. – Agence France-Presse

Authorities in Ukraine on Tuesday opened an investigation into a former government prosecutor who is indirectly connected to allegations that have prompted Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. to launch an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. – USA Today

The head of Naval Forces Europe is making a pitch for more ships to provide presence, training and crisis response capability in his area of the world, even as tensions are rising globally. – USNI News


Twenty-five Malian soldiers have been killed and 60 are missing after suspected jihadists attacked two army camps in central Mali on Monday, the government said in a statement. – Reuters

Kenyan police shot dead three men suspected of planning militant attacks in the coastal city of Mombasa on Tuesday, ahead of national day celebrations to be hosted in the city this month, according to a senior official. – Reuters

Cameras picked up the two white trucks carrying bombs and fighters through the bush towards Somalia’s most secure military base, home to U.S. special forces, foreign trainers and the Somali special forces they mentor. – Reuters

A U.S. service member was injured in a pair of targeted attacks by a terror group in Somalia this week. – Military.com


Disinformation, now known as fake news, has tainted public discourse for centuries, even millennia. It’s been amplified in our digital age as a weapon of fearmongers, mob-baiters and election-meddlers to widen social fissures, subvert democracy and boost authoritarian regimes. Companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google are under pressure to take action. – Bloomberg

Cyber-attackers spent months targeting personal information of students and employees at one of Australia’s most prestigious universities, a report into a 2018 breach released on Wednesday said, although the identities of the culprits remain unknown. – Reuters

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company would sue the federal government if Sen. Elizabeth Warren becomes president and moves to break up the social media giant. – Washington Examiner

Jacquelyn Schneider writes: The mounting evidence that Iran was behind the September cruise missile and drone strikes on two Saudi oil facilities has left Saudi Arabia, the European Union and the United States looking for options to “deter Iran” without igniting an all-out war in the region. […]But retaliatory cyberattacks may have complicated consequences. Successful retaliatory strikes need to do two things. First, they send a credible signal to the target that attacks of this kind will not be tolerated. Second, they need to limit the risk of escalation through spiraling retaliation and counter-retaliations. Can cyber-operations do this? Research suggests that this is difficult, but maybe not for the reasons you’d expect. – Washington Post

Sam Bocetta writes: The attack, in fact, can be seen as a real-world spillover of a cyberwar that has been going on for decades. The recent US cyberattack on Iran, and Trump’s accusations of “treason” against the NYT over releasing details of US attacks on Russia, are just two examples of the kind of attacks that will become more common in the next decade. […]The critical factor will be whether Israel can maintain its technological dominance over Iran, and other Middle Eastern states. For that reason, the recent opening up of the rules on the import and marketing of cyberweapons is to be welcomed. – Times of Israel 


The Department of Homeland Security is beginning to address white supremacist terrorism as a primary security threat, breaking with a decade of flagging attention after bigoted mass shooters from New Zealand to Texas took the lives of nearly 100 people in the last six months. – New York Times

Northrop Grumman is on the verge of launching a new satellite servicing vehicle that could extend the life of satellites by years, and the Pentagon is interested in becoming a customer. – C4ISRNET

The B-52 Stratofortress bomber will not be short-changed by the latest spending bill that President Donald Trump signed Friday in order to avoid a government shutdown. – Military.com

Linden Blue writes: A recent escalation of aggressive acts in the Middle East underline the need for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. Early warning and the ability to track adversary action is often still missing. Enduring threats continue to take the U.S. and its partners in the region by surprise. […]We must strive to keep that ISR cost-effective, manpower-efficient, and accessible to and interoperable with our allies. It will remain our strongest method of deterrence in the counterinsurgency and gray zone conflicts against state and nonstate adversaries alike, whether they are near-peer or not. – C4ISRNET

Trump Administration

Regardless of impeachment, for now, at least, many analysts and media commentators abroad say they assume that Mr. Trump will remain president. But some wondered if this was perhaps ‘‘the deal too many,’’ as the headline on the cover of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel read, showing Mr. Trump on the phone. – New York Times

Donald Trump’s criticism of his Ukraine envoy, deployment of Rudy Giuliani to dig up dirt on a rival and a move to suspend crucial military aid left U.S. diplomats normally in charge of carrying out American foreign policy forced to contain the damage left in the president’s wake. – Bloomberg