Fdd's overnight brief

October 25, 2019

In The News


Two of the U.S. Senate’s staunchest opponents of the Iran nuclear deal drafted legislation that would bar President Donald Trump from renewing waivers allowing the Islamic Republic to maintain a limited civil nuclear program. – Bloomberg

Two young Iranian chess champions have refused to play against Israelis at the 2019 World Youth and Junior Chess Championships, according to Iranian semi-official Mehr news agency. – Jerusalem Post

Iran’s three previous deadlines for the US to remove the sanctions against it and three recent minor violations of the deal have failed to pressure the US, Israel, the Saudis and most of the West into submitting to its positions. The Islamic Republic wants the deal to remain as is. – Jerusalem Post

US President Donald Trump’s recent threat of a possible military attack on Iran is nothing but a “bluff,” Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said on Thursday. – Arutz Sheva

Amos Harel writes: There’s a reason the Shi’ite organization dispatched motorcycle convoys across Beirut this week, as a threatening gesture addressed at demonstrators. Continued protests in Lebanon and Iraq could act as a restraining factor when the Iranians consider whether to foment a military conflict with Israel. – Haaretz


President Trump on Thursday vowed that the United States would prevent the Islamic State from regaining control of oil fields in eastern Syria, emphasizing his interest in the energy assets there despite his steps to curtail the U.S. military mission in the country. – Washington Post

The White House is considering options for leaving about 500 U.S. troops in northeast Syria and for sending dozens of battle tanks and other equipment, officials said Thursday, the latest in an array of scenarios following President Trump’s decision this month to remove all troops there. – Wall Street Journal

Russian aircraft carried out strikes on the last rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria early Thursday, according to a monitoring group and rescue workers, raising fears of an all-out Syrian regime offensive to retake the area following a Moscow-brokered border deal with Turkey. – Wall Street Journal

Turkish forces and Turkish-backed militias appeared to have clashed with the Syrian army and the Kurdish-led militia in northeastern Syria on Thursday, raising the temperature in a volatile area where the Syrian government, Turkish forces, Kurdish-led fighters and Russia are maneuvering for position after the abrupt pullout of American troops. – New York Times

Around 300 more Russian military police from the southern Russian region of Chechnya have arrived in Syria, the defense ministry said on Friday, Interfax news agency reported. – Reuters

Turkey is forcibly sending Syrian refugees to an area of Syria near the border where it aims to set up a “safe zone” even though the conflict there has not ended, Amnesty International said in a report published on Friday. – Reuters

David Ignatius writes: Russia has dreamed for centuries of having the influence in the Middle East that it’s now gaining. This is part of the original “Great Game,” after all. How bizarre that in the end, what Russia has so desperately wanted, Trump is giving them for free. – Washington Post

Siobhán O’Grady writes: Still, when the White House suddenly abandoned years of U.S. policy this month, European allies were left racing to figure out what to do next. […]Europe’s geographical proximity to Syria is in fact adding to Europeans’ anxieties. Many suspected fighters and their families being held in prisons and detention centers in Kurdish-controlled areas are European citizens, spreading concerns that if they were to escape, they could end up back in Europe without a proper vetting process. European countries are also eager to avoid more mass displacement in Syria that could lead to another major refugee crisis in Europe. – Washington Post

Aamer Madhani and Robert Burns write: President Donald Trump declared success in Syria and created a bumper-sticker moment to illustrate his campaign promise to put a stop to American involvement in “endless wars.” But with his abrupt withdrawal from what he called “bloodstained sand,” the Republican president ceded American influence over a huge swath of the region to rivals and may have spun the Middle East into a new season of uncertainty. – Associated Press

Jon Lerner writes: In 1928, the United States and other leading countries signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which officially outlawed war. It was that generation’s attempt to end “endless wars.” Eleven years later, the same countries were immersed in the largest war the world has ever known. In fact, no period in human history has been without wars. No one has ever figured out a way to permanently end them. The best we can do is prepare for them robustly, prevent them as aggressively as possible, and win them when we must. – National Review


Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged the U.S.’s allies in NATO to respond to Turkey’s incursion into Syria, even as fissures widen in the security bloc’s approach to the crisis and over the Trump administration’s policy shifts. – Wall Street Journal

The Turkish and Syrian ambassadors at the U.N. are clashing at their first Security Council encounter since Turkey launched a cross-border offensive earlier this month. – Associated Press

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) sought to clarify comments he made Wednesday about getting U.S. troops “out of harm’s way” if Turkey was attempting to “ethnically cleanse” the Kurds. – The Hill

NATO member Turkey has sent hundreds of far-right extremists that it recruited under the banner of the Syrian National Army to fight in Syria. – Jerusalem Post

NATO members should continue helping Turkey deploy air defense equipment on the border with Syria, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday. – Defense News

A number of Turkey’s NATO allies have suspended arms sales to the country in condemnation of its military incursion into Syria, but analysts and officials are shrugging off the embargo, saying it will have a minimal impact on the military’s operational capabilities. – Defense News

Michael A. Reynolds writes: The mutual willingness of Washington and Ankara to rebuild their ties will be the key determinant of the future of the Turkish-Russian relationship. Turkey, Russia, and even the United States in the coming years will all be vulnerable to domestic turbulence and each inevitably will encounter crises in their foreign relations. Many things can change. As this piece goes to press and U.S.-Turkish relations continue to deteriorate, however, one can only expect that the trajectory of Turkish-Russian relations will continue in a positive direction. – Texas National Security Review


The IDF released its new five-year plan of operations on Thursday, with its chief of staff warning, “The situation is fragile in the north and south — and may deteriorate into a confrontation.” – Algemeiner

On Simchat Torah night, worshipers emerging from the Hurva Synagogue on Hayehudim Street in Jerusalem’s Old City were attacked by Arabs. Rioters shoved Border Police officers on the scene, and attacked and beat worshipers. – Arutz Sheva

The Palestinian Authority’s official Wafa News Agency reported that “Israeli occupation forces forfeited a mosque on Thursday evening in al-Isawiya town in the occupied city of al-Quds (Jerusalem). – Arutz Sheva

Palestinians in Yatma woke up Friday morning to find their northern West Bank village targeted by vandals in the second apparent hate crime in the area in three days. – Times of Israel

Israel’s northern border – in particular Iranian-led activity – is the main security challenge the country faces, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said Thursday. – Ynet


The Saudi-backed Yemeni government signed a power-sharing deal with a local group seeking a separate state in the south, an agreement designed to keep the country from fracturing and pave the way for broader talks to end its five-year-old war, people familiar with the talks said. – Wall Street Journal

Yemeni officials say Saudi Arabia is increasing its military presence in southern Yemen, airlifting in additional troops, armored vehicles, tanks and other military equipment. – Associated Press

Asher Orkaby writes: September’s attack on Abqaiq’s oil production facilities was a wakeup call to the Saudi oil ministry. The perpetrator of the attack, whether the Houthis or Iran, is irrelevant. Saudi Arabia entered this conflict in Yemen in pursuit of an alternative to the Strait of Hormuz and unintentionally created a new security threat to oil facilities. If the al-Mahra oil pipeline is to become a reality, Saudi security forces will inherit hundreds of miles of potential drone targets running through potentially hostile foreign territory.  – The National Interest

Saudi Arabia

This week’s bulletin from the Saudi government congratulated the new Japanese emperor, condemned a truck bombing in Afghanistan and noted discussions with Brazil over intellectual property rights. Conspicuous by its absence was a country where Saudi Arabia has wielded influence for decades and where protests against the political establishment have turned into the stirrings of another Middle East revolution. – Bloomberg

Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and an influential royal family member, told U.S. lawmakers to get off their “high moralistic horses” as ties between the historical allies remain frayed a year after the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi. – Bloomberg

A privately owned, unidentified Challenger 604 jet departed from Ben-Gurion International Airport, landing first in the Jordanian capital of Amman and then in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh on Tuesday evening, causing many to question which Israeli decided to pay the Saudis a visit. […]Maariv reporter Yossi Melman posited in a tweet that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Mossad chief Yossi Cohen may have been on the flight. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Iraqi protesters took to the streets early Friday to resume antigovernment demonstrations that were suspended two weeks ago, after shootings by the security forces killed nearly 150 protesters nationwide, shocking the country and deepening disappointment with the government. – New York Times

Twenty-five years ago, on October 26, 1994, Israel and Jordan ended decades of enmity and bloody wars when they signed a “Treaty of Peace” in the Arava Valley on the Israeli side of the border. – Times of Israel

Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty on October 26, 2019, the Jordanian press published several articles on this topic. All of these articles attacked Israel’s policy towards Jordan and the Palestinians since the signing of the treaty, and expressed pessimism regarding its future. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Anchal Vohra writes: Protesters in both Lebanon and Iraq hope that a new breed of politicians will eventually emerge. For now, however, the very act of protest offers a sense of possibility. “It’s very beautiful,” said Azab, “when you feel that you managed to defeat all your fears and say what you want out loud.” – Foreign Policy

Joseph Haboush writes: But the U.S. must be careful not to try to persuade Lebanon to give up its rights in exchange for eased sanctions or economic aid, similar to the offer it made to the Palestinians in the economic part of the so-called deal of the century. Rightly or wrongly, Lebanese officials will not agree to such a move and this would draw another country in the region even further away from the U.S. and closer to Iran or even Russia. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

Japan and South Korea held their first leader-level talks in more than a year but showed no sign of progress in resolving disputes that have sent ties between the two U.S. allies into free fall, including accusations of military threats against each other. – Wall Street Journal

North Korea has proposed that Seoul discuss the removal of its facilities from the North’s resort of Mount Kumgang, a key symbol of cooperation that Pyongyang recently criticized as “shabby” and “capitalist,” the South’s officials said on Friday. – Reuters

South Korea will no longer seek special treatment reserved for developing countries by the World Trade Organization in future negotiations given its enhanced global economic status, its finance minister said on Friday. – Reuters


American companies cheered when the U.S. and China called a cease-fire in their trade war this month, but as both sides work toward drafting an initial deal some worry that a more meaningful, long-term pact may never be reached. – Wall Street Journal

Jailed Uighur activist Ilham Tohti was awarded the European Parliament’s annual human-rights prize on Thursday, a signal of growing concern in Western countries about China’s treatment of the mainly Muslim minority group. – Wall Street Journal

Vice President Mike Pence criticized American companies on Thursday for trying to silence speech that expresses support for democratic, liberal values in order to maintain access to the Chinese market, saying the corporations should adhere to American principles while doing business with China. – New York Times

This increasingly aggressive and sometimes intrusive use of high-end technology in education is pivotal to Beijing’s goal to make the AI industry a fresh driver of economic expansion. Virtually unobstructed access to a potential sample pool of around 200 million students allows Chinese scientists and researchers to amass an unrivaled database, which is indispensable to develop advanced algorithms. That provides a key advantage for China in an ongoing race with the U.S. for global dominance in the field. – Wall Street Journal

China on Friday said it is extremely indignant about a speech by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence that accused China of curtailing the “rights and liberties” of people Hong Kong and resolutely opposes his comments. – Reuters

Top U.S. and Chinese trade officials will discuss plans on Friday for China to buy more U.S. farm products, but in return, Beijing will request cancellation of some planned and existing U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, people briefed on the talks told Reuters. – Reuters

The U.S. is rejecting Chinese accusations of using the withholding of visas as a weapon following the reported inability of a top Chinese space program official to obtain permission to travel to a major conference in Washington. – Associated Press

Josh Rogin writes: It would be a hugely welcome development if our national security and tech sectors could realize that rising to the Chinese challenge is more important for their survival than fighting each other. The Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese corporate sector are laser-focused on their objective — to dominate the next generation of technology and dictate the standards for its use. – Washington Post

South Asia

Suspected militants shot and killed two drivers and set fire to their apple trucks in Indian Kashmir on Thursday, a senior police official said. – Reuters

India and Pakistan signed an agreement on Thursday allowing Indian pilgrims to cross the border to a Sikh shrine in Pakistan, rare cooperation between the nuclear-armed rivals at a time of tension and clashes elsewhere on their frontier. – Reuters

A top U.S. official has called for patience as Afghanistan attempts to finalize counting of its September 28 election results following last weekend’s delay. Alice Wells, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said on October 24 after a visit to Kabul that all major candidates had vowed to accept the results. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Vice President Mike Pence took on Nike Inc. and the National Basketball Association, accusing them of being complicit in China’s efforts to curtail democracy in Hong Kong. – Wall Street Journal

One of China’s most well-known women’s rights activists has been detained, her friends said, the latest example of mainland authorities targeting supporters of Hong Kong’s protests. – Wall Street Journal

A Chinese company’s agreement to lease an entire island in the South Pacific has been ruled illegal by the attorney general of the Solomon Islands, reversing or at least delaying a major push into a location long prized for its strategic value. – New York Times

Jillian Kay Melchior writes: When China parades armored vehicles and holds military drills on the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border, it’s as much a message to mainlanders as to protesters. Beijing is communicating it has the means to answer unrest with violence. And brute force isn’t the only means of social control […]Hong Kongers know that unless they fight back, their lives will get significantly worse. Beijing wants mainlanders to know they have more to lose than their chains. – Wall Street Journal

Joshua Nezam writes: Proponents of deploying INF-prohibited medium- and intermediate-range theater-based missiles in the Pacific focus on the need to address the growing imbalance of conventional capabilities between China and the United States and its allies. However, deploying new, previously banned missiles may complicate Washington’s ability to accomplish its two major foreign policy objectives in Asia: balancing China and curtailing the threat of North Korea’s nuclear programs. – War on the Rocks


An American accused of spying in Russia will spend the rest of the year in a Moscow prison, a judge ruled on Thursday, in a brief court session where the defendant said he had been assaulted by guards and denied medical care. – New York Times

Her conclusion — that relentless repression by Russia’s security forces is radicalizing Russian youth — now has the journalist, Svetlana Prokopyeva, facing up to seven years in jail for “publicly inciting terrorism.” […]Yet, the case rolls on, adding a Kafkaesque twist to the increasingly assertive actions of a security apparatus seemingly bent on proving the Kremlin’s harshest critics right when they say that Russia has taken a dangerous turn as President Vladimir V. Putin serves out what is supposed to be his final term. – New York Times

Russia said on Thursday a division of its S-400 missile defense system would take part in a military drill in Serbia, underlining Moscow’s wish to keep a traditional ally on side even as Belgrade pursues links with NATO and the European Union. – Reuters

An official Russian commission has recommended a presidential pardon for a Norwegian serving a 14-year sentence for espionage. – Associated Press


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has finally abandoned his promise of an October Brexit and pinned his hopes on a December election. Two days after lawmakers stymied Johnson’s latest attempt to pass his European Union divorce deal, he said Thursday that the only way to break Britain’s Brexit impasse was a general election. Johnson said he would ask lawmakers to vote Monday on a motion calling a national poll for Dec. 12. – Associated Press

The European Union will discuss on Friday the length of another delay to Brexit after Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanded an election to break the paralysis that has gripped British politics for over three years. – Reuters

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg has awarded 3,600 euros to Nelya Shtepa, the former mayor of the Ukrainian city of Slovyansk in the Donetsk region whom Kyiv accuses of fomenting separatism. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

U.S. senators and the country’s top envoy to the Western Balkans have criticized the European Union for failing to start membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia, saying it opens the door for greater Russian influence. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Yiannis Baboulias writes: The question was always what Europe would do to prepare for the next inevitable wave of migrants with the time that the deal had bought. Unfortunately, it made barely any progress toward equitable and humane solutions. Europe’s deliberate choice to keep refugees in hellish conditions on Greek islands has made it subject to perpetual potential blackmail by Erdogan’s government. Despite threats of sanctions by the EU in the face of his brutal invasion of Syria, Erdogan can feel confident that little will be done in response. – Foreign Policy 


Russian state atomic company Rosatom has signed a deal with Rwanda to build a center of nuclear science and technologies, the Russian company said on Thursday, as it seeks to expand in Africa. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to expand Moscow’s clout in Africa by touting military aid and economic projects Thursday at the first-ever Russia-Africa summit. He even offered to help mediate a growing water dispute between two of the continent’s largest powers, Egypt and Ethiopia. – Associated Press

Zimbabweans will stay home Friday after their government declared a public holiday, saying people should demonstrate against U.S. sanctions rather than work. – Bloomberg

Jon Temin, Alexander Noyes, and Mark Bellamy write: Zimbabwe would benefit from a clear path toward winding down the sanctions regimes. Fortunately, the country’s existing constitution, revamped in 2013, provides a useful roadmap with an array of reforms. Simply aligning the country’s laws with the constitution would be a significant step in the right direction. […]Instead, the region’s leaders are using their joint advocacy to make an argument with no merit and join Zimbabwe in chasing a false enemy. – Washington Post

The Americas

Up to 19 students from an exclusive private school in Vancouver, British Columbia, faced strong disciplinary action — including expulsion — after they were recently discovered making Nazi salutes on campus and mocking the Holocaust on a private online messaging channel, among other racist and antisemitic offenses. – Algemeiner

The UN high commission on human rights is sending a team to Chile to investigate allegations of human rights abuses against demonstrators, amid a swell of furious street protests over inequality, falling wages and the rising cost of education and healthcare. – The Guardian

Mexico’s president on Thursday accused a senior U.S. diplomat of lacking respect for Mexican sovereignty after he questioned the Mexican government’s strategy for quelling drug cartel violence. – Reuters

Chile, grappling with violent protests that rocked the capital Santiago for days, will not let the riots derail plans to host two major global meetings in coming months, Foreign Minister Teodoro Ribera said on Thursday. He said that there was “no chance” of calling off the Nov. 16-17 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit or the United Nations climate change conference COP25 in December. – Reuters 

The European Union said on Thursday it would extend for four years funding to support implementation of Colombia’s peace accord with former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, including an initial contribution of 33.5 million euros ($37 million). – Reuters

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is slated to meet Chinese leaders including Xi Jinping in Beijing, as the Latin American leader looks to balance his tilt toward the U.S. – Bloomberg


Two senior members of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), asked U.S. intelligence officials late Wednesday to determine whether the Chinese-owned social-networking app TikTok poses “national security risks.” – Washington Post

A coordinated cyberespionage campaign using phishing to harvest passwords from mobile phones and computers has targeted U.N. relief agencies, the International Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations groups for the past 10 months, a cybersecurity firm reported. – Associated Press

Efforts by Russian influence campaigns to stay undetected on social media ahead of next year’s U.S. elections are undermining their ability to gain followers and spread divisive political messages, a senior Facebook (FB.O) executive told Reuters. – Reuters 

Moscow on Thursday dismissed media reports that Russian hackers piggybacked on an Iranian cyber-espionage operation to attack government and industry organizations in dozens of countries as an “unsavoury” interpretation of a security report. – Reuters

TikTok, one of the fastest-growing social media apps in the world, on Thursday denied allegations from top lawmakers that it operates at the behest of the Chinese government. – The Hill  

The U.S. government’s actions to disrupt Russia’s attempted cyber incursions into the 2018 midterm elections took place in part in a newly constructed Joint Operations Center (JOC) on the National Security Agency’s expanding Fort Meade campus in Maryland. Efforts to protect the 2020 elections are expected to follow a similar drill. – CBS News

Facebook’s libra may not be approved, but the chances of a different digital global currency being created are now higher, the president of a European think tank told CNBC this week. – CNBC

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was blunt: the service is struggling to beat back threats to cybersecurity and the supply chain. “We are woefully behind,” Spencer said Oct. 23 at the Brookings Institution. – Fifth Domain

Democratic Senators are asking the U.S Federal Trade Commission to probe Amazon.com Inc on concerns that the company ignored security warnings prior to the Capital One hack, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. – Reuters


A military satellite that will provide secure communications to the polar regions is now operational, the Air Force announced Oct. 22. – C4ISRNET

The Pentagon’s secret intelligence fund dropped in fiscal year 2019, the first time in three years that the black budget did not increase year over year. – Defense News

House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith on Thursday said he plans to take on what he called the Air Force’s “troubling” procurement process for its Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, and that he favors a lower number of modernized ICBMs instead of the new program. – Defense News

Raj Agrawal and Christopher Fernengel write: With a charge to organize, train, and equip forces to assure unfettered access to, deter aggression in, and project power from the space domain, America’s future space force can draw upon the U.S. Air Force’s decades of experience in air and space operations. However, the fielding of new weapons alone will not be enough to overcome systemic hurdles in today’s space operations mindset. – War on the Rocks

Long War

A lack of evidence as to what the women did under the ISIS regime can make it difficult to verify some of their claims. […]The Australian government cites multiple reasons for not repatriating the women. It has maintained that it would not put other lives in harm’s way to extract them from the Al-Hol camp, and following the pullout of U.S. troops from the region, these dangers have only escalated. – New York Times

A British man who trained to fight with Kurdish units against Islamic State has been found guilty of a terrorism offence in a retrial at the Old Bailey. – The Guardian

Political scientists from Penn State have been digging into far-right content on YouTube to determine how people become radicalized, and their findings suggest that perhaps the algorithm isn’t completely to blame. – Business Insider

Swiss prosecutors have indicted two men accused of recruiting people for the Islamic State group. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Now, the US has decided that Turkey is not responsible. But the US faces a problem. Because Washington didn’t want responsibility for the ISIS fighters that its anti-ISIS coalition helped capture, the US foisted them onto the SDF and has told it to hold them. […]The US needs the SDF as a substate contractor to detain the ISIS members because if the US were to secure them, then it would be legally responsible for them. As it is, the ISIS members don’t legally exist. They are not prisoners of war, and they are not held by a government. The coalition that is fighting ISIS doesn’t hold any prisoners. This is the legal fiction created so that it appears no one has any responsibility. – Jerusalem Post

Trump Administration

Attorney General William Barr’s expanding review of the Russia probe has evolved into a criminal investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter, giving a federal prosecutor who is leading the inquiry the ability to subpoena witnesses and use a grand jury. – Wall Street Journal

The White House’s trade representative in late August withdrew a recommendation to restore some of Ukraine’s trade privileges after John Bolton, then-national security adviser, warned him that President Trump probably would oppose any action that benefited the government in Kyiv, according to people briefed on the matter. – Washington Post

Conservative groups push back on White House pick for next acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. The groups are skeptical Chad Wolf is tough enough on immigration enforcement, based on his time as former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s chief of staff. White House immigration point person Stephen Miller supports his nomination, and the White House has been calling conservative organizations to reassure them. – Wall Street Journal

Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen warned on Thursday that President Donald Trump’s actions toward Ukraine appear to be a clear “attempt to extort or to bribe” the leaders of the Eastern European country. – Newsweek