Fdd's overnight brief

October 25, 2018

In The News


As Iran braces for U.S. sanctions that target its financial lifeline—oil sales—it is resorting to a series of extraordinary steps to try to insulate the country’s increasingly restive working class from the likely economic fallout. – Wall Street Journal

A new European Union mechanism to facilitate payments for Iranian exports should be legally in place by Nov. 4, when the next phase of U.S. sanctions hit, but will not be operational until early next year, three diplomats said. – Reuters

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday accused the U.S. Treasury of announcing new sanctions on Iran to “deflect” attention from the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. – Reuters

Iran may benefit from assumptions that it is shipping less oil on the eve of US sanctions that begin on November 4. According to a team that tracks crude oil tankers, ships departing from Iran have been “cloaking” their movements by turning off their AIS transponders that publicly geolocate vessels. – Jerusalem Post

Danny Danon writes: With more consequential U.S. sanctions approaching, now is the time to support the Iranian people’s demand for change and increase the pressure on their rulers. The world may soon have the opportunity to free itself of this evil regime, and I call on my colleagues at the U.N. to join the U.S. and Israel in standing against its regional adventurism and global terrorism. – Wall Street Journal

Mehdi Khalaji writes: At their core, the document’s prescriptions reveal Khamenei’s two-pronged vision for achieving regional, even global, supremacy: first, total Islamization of all facets of life, which means continuing to resist Western notions of international order, politics, and culture; second, the use of advanced scientific achievements to become technologically self-reliant. – Washington Institute


Syrian state media and a war monitor say an airstrike on a pocket held by the Islamic State group in the country’s east has killed several people. State news agency SANA said Wednesday’s airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition killed several people without giving a breakdown. – Associated Press

France is seeking to repatriate some of the 150 children of French jihadists identified as being in Syria, as Western nations grapple with how to handle citizens who left to join extremists. – Agence France-Presse

Russia is demanding Israel give it more advanced notice before carrying out airstrikes on targets in Syria, Israeli television reported Wednesday, as newly published satellite photographs purported to show the deployment of four advanced Russian anti-aircraft batteries near a suspected Syrian chemical weapons site. – Times of Israel

Following the downing of a Russian military plane off the coast of Syria last month, the Kremlin has sought to limit the Israeli Air Force’s freedom of action in the region[…]. – Algemeiner


US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman called himself an “unapologetic right-wing defender of Israel” Wednesday during a speech to North American Jewish leaders. – Times of Israel

Israel’s air force on Wednesday struck a position in the Gaza Strip used to launch incendiary balloons into Israeli territory, the military said. – Agence France-Presse

Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired a single missile into Israel from the Gaza Strip late Wednesday night, the army said, with the projectile apparently falling in an open field despite after a failed interception attempt. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. – Times of Israel

Israeli aircraft bombed several targets in the Gaza Strip early Thursday, the army said, after a single rocket was fired into Israel, ending a week-long stretch of relative calm in the Gaza Strip. – Times of Israel

A scuffle between Israeli police and Coptic priests at a major Christian holy site in Jerusalem on Wednesday drew condemnation from the Egyptian government and churches in the Holy Land. – Times of Israel

A top Palestine Liberation Organization body will be reviewing agreements that the Palestinians had concluded with Israel, and could decide to abrogate many of them, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a television interview. – Times of Israel

The head of the Azerbaijani military, Col. Gen. Najmeddin Sadikhov, met at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday with his Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. – Algemeiner

Saudi Arabia

Iran broke its silence over the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, blasting Saudi Arabia and suggesting U.S. support for Riyadh had emboldened operatives in the country to undertake the crime. – Wall Street Journal

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing hideous and struck a conciliatory tone with Turkey, in his most forceful bid to move beyond the crisis and mend strained relationships with the U.S. and Ankara. – Wall Street Journal

The May 2017 trip was a major foreign-policy gamble with roots in the previous year’s presidential transition. It arose from a hope that the Trump White House could improve ties with the kingdom and reap considerable rewards. But the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi operatives has made that bet riskier and confronted Mr. Trump with a dilemma – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia’s financial clout among the Arab media has given it an influential tool as it grapples with the international outcry over the death of Saudi writer and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. – Associated Press

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday that would stop most U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Representative James McGovern said on his web site. – Reuters

The killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi has prompted soul-searching in some European countries about their sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, long one of the biggest buyers of sophisticated Western weaponry. – Times of Israel

In contrast to the scathing criticism directed at Saudi Arabia by Western media and by Saudi Arabia’s Arab rivals, headed by Qatar, following the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the kingdom’s Arab allies, as well as Arab bodies and organizations, have come to its defense. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: A total break in relations (between US, KSA) would not serve anyone’s interest. But future cooperation ought to depend on whether there is full accountability for Mr. Khashoggi’s murder — including the identification and punishment of every perpetrator. By pushing for such accountability now, the Saudis’ Washington advocates would best serve the alliance — while helping to preserve their own integrity. – Washington Post

Megan Specia writes: The death of a single man — Mr. Khashoggi — has come to encapsulate a troubling vision of Prince Mohammed’s Saudi Arabia as a nation in which the leader can act with impunity, targeting dissenters and political opponents at will. […]Beyond the geopolitical fallout and the international implications, there is no denying that for many people, Mr. Khashoggi’s death has hit home on an emotional level. – New York Times

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: The U.S. cannot ignore the need to deal with the facts of the Khashoggi murder, but the last few weeks have been a warning of a far broader problem. Key failures include the way that the U.S. government now approaches human rights, and the sloppy, incompetent, and hack-like way in which even some of the best U.S. news media addresses such issues. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Bill Powell writes: Current and former diplomats believe Erdogan seeks nothing less than to see Crown Prince Mohammed sidelined in Riyadh[…]. Diplomats believe Erdogan will now be dictating a lot of terms if the U.S. and Riyadh want to prevent further upheaval in the House of Saud. In diplomacy, a little bit of leverage is a terrible thing to waste. – Newsweek

Faisal Devji writes: The outrage in the West over Mr. Khashoggi’s killing has led to calls among columnists and politicians for yet more intervention in the Middle East by way of sanctions and other threats against Saudi Arabia, as if prompted by the fear of being shut out from its politics. But even this reaction cannot conceal how bereft of ideological features the event is, indicating instead the brutal secularization of politics in a region marked by the desire for hegemony of its three remaining powers — Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. – New York Times

Middle East

Iraq’s new prime minister was sworn in late on Wednesday after lawmakers approved a majority of his cabinet, overcoming the first test of his leadership and giving the country a government five months after elections. – Wall Street Journal

The installation of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems in Turkey will begin in October 2019, state-owned Anadolu news agency on Thursday quoted Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar as saying. – Reuters

Geopolitical storm clouds are no longer gathering over Turkey’s monetary policy. The lira has stabilized and pressure to continue with interest-rate increases has eased since this month’s release of an American pastor facing charges of espionage defused a diplomatic standoff with the U.S. – Bloomberg

A Yemeni hospital official says the death toll from an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition near the flashpoint Red Sea port of Hodeida has climbed to 19. – Associated Press

A United Arab Emirates court has postponed hearing the case of a British academic charged with espionage until Nov. 21 to re-examine the evidence, his wife said on Thursday. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

President Trump has made significant efforts this year to engage North Korea’s mercurial leader, Kim Jong-un, in hopes of halting the country’s nuclear weapons program. His administration’s limit on refugee admissions, analysts say — whether such a consequence was intended or not — has aided the North Korean leader in his attempt to slow the pace of defections from a country seen as one of the most repressive in the world. – New York Times

Sixty-five years after he died in a battle, the dog tag and possibly remains of a South Korean sergeant were finally recovered from a front line where the rival Koreas have only begun clearing mines, Seoul officials said Thursday. – Associated Press

A top North Korean general said Thursday that his country seeks a “stable peace” and wants to turn the Korean Peninsula into “the cradle of peace and prosperity,” furthering a departure from the bellicose language of the past. – Associated Press


The communications breakdown reflects the plight of two countries in the midst of profound internal changes, struggling to resolve a conflict that already is slowing the global economy and could soon worsen. Though Trump repeatedly promised to revolutionize U.S. trade policy, Chinese leaders have been slow to grasp the implications of his presidency and even slower to recognize that their traditional American contacts cannot speak for the disruptive leader in the Oval Office. – Washington Post

As Mr. Abe begins the first state visit to China by a Japanese leader in eight years on Thursday, no one is expecting the Asian powers to become instant partners, or even to manage a major reconciliation. But in the age of Trump, both are looking for a little more normality. – New York Times

The former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe warned Wednesday that it’s very likely the United States will be at war with China in 15 years. – Associated Press

China’s use of internment camps as part of a much maligned counterterrorism strategy is modeled on Western tactics, according to a Beijing-based diplomat. – Washington Examiner

US firms nationwide complain trade disputes with China and others are boosting the prices of key inputs, while they continue to face widespread labor shortages, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Japan’s prime minister arrived in Beijing on Thursday for his first formal bilateral summit with Chinese leaders in seven years as the Asian rivals seek to build on a thaw in ties against a backdrop of trade friction with the United States. – Reuters

China’s army will take action “at any cost” to foil attempts to separate the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, the country’s defense minister said on Thursday. – Reuters

China’s defense ministry said on Thursday that last week’s meeting between Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Singapore was constructive. – Reuters

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is pushing ahead with its ambitious plan to build a modern, capable “blue-water navy” that could dominate China’s neighbors, showcase Beijing’s rising power and one day even threaten the US Navy. – Business Insider

Editorial: Friday’s summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping is the first between the two countries since 2011. It’s an important event. If it does no more than reduce longstanding tensions between the world’s second- and third-largest economies, it will have served a worthy purpose. But there’s good reason for Abe, in particular, to think bigger. – Bloomberg

Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun writes: Francis may have natural sympathy for Communists because for him, they are the persecuted. He doesn’t know them as the persecutors they become once in power, like the Communists in China. – New York Times

Tom Rogan writes: Kennan’s most important lesson, however, is to be clear-eyed about the adversary’s strategic conception of America. In this case, we must recognize China’s binary understanding of global leadership: that it is either Beijing’s way or Washington’s way. […]All of this speaks to a basic, broader truth: Knowledge of history, not international relations theory, remains the most valuable tool of modern statecraft. – Washington Examiner

South Asia

Afghan officials say they have launched an investigation into claims that at least 14 civilians were killed in a military ground operation in eastern Afghanistan. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Western nations, including the United States and European countries, have expressed “serious concerns” to Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan about a crackdown on aid groups, diplomats said. – Reuters

William Mahoney writes: If Antonio Guterres thinks it is his job to criticize the United States for the death penalty, then he should be consistent and criticize Pakistan for the same. It is disillusioning, to say the least, that the U.N. will readily speak up in defense of a woman’s religious right to cover her face, but remain utterly silent when a woman’s very life hangs in the balance because of her own faith. If the U.N. does not stand for Asia Bibi, then what on earth does it stand for? – Washington Examiner


The former chief of one of Malaysia’s intelligence agencies was charged with criminal breach of trust for misusing $12 million in government funds. Hasanah Hamid, who pleaded not guilty Thursday and was expected to be freed on bail, is best known for writing to the Central Intelligence Agency to ask the U.S. to support former Prime Minister Najib Razak ahead of elections held in May. – Wall Street Journal

U.N. investigators said on Wednesday that Myanmar has continued its campaign of “genocide” against Rohingya Muslims remaining in the country, as the Security Council for the first time ever was briefed by a human-rights envoy on a specific country. – Wall Street Journal

Malaysia’s new leader Mahathir Mohamad met his Thai counterpart on Wednesday in his first visit to his northern neighbour, pledging his help to bring peace in Thailand’s violence-scarred south. – Agence France-Presse


President Vladimir V. Putin warned on Wednesday that if the United States deploys new intermediate-range missiles in Europe after withdrawing from a nuclear treaty prohibiting these weapons, European nations will be at risk of “a possible counterstrike.” – New York Times

Russia’s state security agency is opposing a high-level deal for the U.S. OneWeb satellite startup to bring Internet access to remote parts of the country because it says the project could be used to gather intelligence and damage national security. – Reuters

The United States has yet to decide if it will impose new sanctions on Russia, U.S. President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Wednesday, saying it was in the process of making a decision. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Bolton wasn’t cowed. He simply laughed at Putin’s inane joke. And when his time to talk arrived, he merely noted that dialogue was positive because “despite our differences which exist because of our different national interests,”[…]. This was exactly the right statement: one that acknowledged the fundamental divergences in U.S. and Russian interests, and from that basis, sought a more honest relationship. – Washington Examiner


U.S. Admiral James Foggo has spent months planning for NATO’s largest exercise since the Cold War. His first target: getting all 50,000 troops in place by the time drills start on Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

President Emmanuel Macron’s government is considering giving parents a secular alternative to that intertwining of Arabic and Islam by prodding more of France’s public schools to offer children as young as age 6 Arabic lessons—without religious content. – Wall Street Journal

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that allies blame Russia for violating an important Cold War-era missile treaty but he does not expect them to deploy more nuclear warheads in Europe in response. – Associated Press

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday that EU sanctions against Russia had to come to an end, but declined to say if his government was ready to veto any further rollover of the economic curbs. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte pledged Wednesday to boost economic ties between their countries despite European Union sanctions against Russia. They also agreed to pool efforts to help settle the political crisis in Libya. – Associated Press

Iceland may not have a navy, but the strategically located small nation is punching above its weight in terms of sea control and maritime safety in the increasingly important North Atlantic region, the head of U.S. naval forces in Europe said. – USNI News

President Trump’s steel tariffs have caused a drop in U.S. imports, which could give the Trump administration leverage in its upcoming trade talks with the European Union. – Washington Examiner

United States

A series of bombs in manila envelopes with similar address labels were sent to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats, setting off a nationwide manhunt for the terrorist behind what officials believe was a targeted attack. – Wall Street Journal

All federal facilities are on heightened alert for suspicious activity and have enhanced security procedures following a set of bomb scares across the country Wednesday, said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. – Washington Examiner

The string of suspicious packages and mail bombs sent within the past few days to various politicians and CNN are the “highest priority” for the FBI, the federal law enforcement agency’s head said Wednesday. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: Close to an election there are also attempts to blame the devices on intemperate political rhetoric, especially from Donald Trump. We doubt this[…]If we want to make America less vulnerable to violence, we’d do better to look past the political rhetoric and insist on exacting a higher price from those who choose violence. – Wall Street Journal

Latin America

The Chinese government is trying to make peace with Brazil’s leading presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, whose China-bashing threatens to chill a profitable trading relationship that has benefited both countries. – Reuters

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Wednesday the United States was on a path of confrontation amid signs Washington will further tighten decades-old sanctions on the Communist-run island. – Reuters

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel will visit Russia and Communist-run allies China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos in early November on his first tour abroad, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday called U.S. Vice President Mike Pence “crazy” and “extremist” for accusing his government of financing a caravan of migrants heading toward the U.S. border with Mexico. – Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been illegally exporting tons of his country’s gold to Turkey in a bid to rescue a collapsing economy once bolstered by his country’s vast oil reserves, a top U.S. official said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Otto Reich writes: The liberation of Grenada—the first time American military force was used to roll back a communist government—transfigured the posture of the U.S. following the “malaise” of the Carter years. It demonstrated Reagan’s resolve to reclaim the U.S. role as the world’s premier defender of freedom. Yet many Americans fail to appreciate that there was nothing inevitable about the collapse of Berlin Wall or the demise of international communism. – Wall Street Journal


Defense-industry executives are girding for a cost fight with Boeing Co.’s resurgent military and space unit. – Wall Street Journal

The head of Apple on Wednesday endorsed tough privacy laws for both Europe and the U.S. and renewed the technology giant’s commitment to protecting personal data, which he warned was being “weaponized” against users. – Associated Press

The Department of the Navy released a new Business Operations Plan Wednesday, designed to align the department with the National Defense Strategy and to set the tone for how the Navy and Marine Corps function for the next four years. – USNI News

General Dynamics officials expect to sign the contract to build the first of the Navy’s next-generation ballistic missile submarine – the Columbia-class – at the end of 2019 but are already preparing the shipyard for this program. – USNI News

The U.S. Navy is pushing to deploy its new over-the-horizon anti-ship missile by late next year, months ahead of its original target date, according to industry executives familiar with the initiative.- Defense News

Lockheed Martin is planning to shift from its littoral combat ship’s water-jet propulsion to a propulsion system that the U.S. Navy is more familiar with for its future frigate offering, Lockheed’s vice president for small combatants and ship systems told reporters at the 2018 Euronaval show. – Defense News

Erin Dunne writes: For the U.S. to remain competitive, dominating the oceans with aircraft carriers is no longer enough. The Army Applications Lab is clearly meant to address those concerns and capitalize on American ingenuity to do so. – Washington Examiner

Trump Administration

American spy agencies, the officials said, had learned that China and Russia were eavesdropping on the president’s cellphone calls from human sources inside foreign governments and intercepting communications between foreign officials. – New York Times

George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser who triggered the Russia investigation, will make his first appearance before congressional investigators Thursday. – Associated Press

The top Democrats on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees want a briefing from the Trump administration on its plans to withdraw from a Reagan-era nuclear arms control treaty. – Washington Examiner

Nikita Vladimirov writes: For far too long, Washington has allowed Moscow to get away with ignoring its INF obligations while letting Beijing avoid the treaty altogether. International agreements only work if nations decide to follow them — and when repeated requests to abide by the INF treaty fail to yield a result, scrapping the pact becomes the only prudent option. – Washington Examiner

Ian Williams writes: For INF, there is still time to garner greater support among the allies and coordinate a cohesive strategy for NATO post-INF Treaty. Despite these near-term challenges, walking away from the treaty now will, in the long run, enable the United States to more affordably strengthen the defense of its allies and overseas forces and demonstrate its seriousness in fulfilling its arms control obligations. – Center for Strategic and International Studies