Fdd's overnight brief

October 26, 2018

In The News


The Trump administration, days before imposing sanctions aimed at the heart of Iran’s economy, is wrestling with a decision critical to its pressure campaign: How hard to push European allies to cut off the country from the global banking system. – Wall Street Journal

China is cutting some of its oil trade with Iran after vowing for months to resist U.S. sanctions on the exports, providing Washington with an unexpected boost to its efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic. – Wall Street Journal

Iraq will prioritise its own interests and independence when it comes to helping the United States enforce sanctions against Iran, new Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Thursday. – Reuters

U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton has vowed that President Donald Trump’s administration will “squeeze Iran” with maximum economic pressure in response to Tehran’s “malign” behavior in the Middle East and around the world. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

The head of Russia’s state-controlled oil giant Rosneft is warning that U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela will trigger “major imbalances in the oil market.” – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Human Rights Watch has called on Iran to immediately release eight environmental activists who’ve been detained since January unless authorities “can produce evidence to justify the charges against them and guarantee a fair trial.” – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Amnesty International is warning that a defender of Iranian women’s rights who has been jailed in Tehran is in poor health due to a hunger strike and should be released immediately. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Hezbollah’s calls for donations have intensified in past months as the group and its main backer Iran come under increasing financial pressure under sanctions from the Trump administration. – Associated Press

Jason Rezaian writes: We desperately need to put an end to the era of unchecked extremism in the Middle East, which has its roots in Tehran and Riyadh. We should adopt a realistic and rational approach, free of double standards, that holds both capitals accountable for the chaos they sow, while incentivizing them to act like responsible global powers. – Washington Post

Raphael G. Bouchnik-Chen and Dany Shoham write: Contrary to naïve conventional wisdom in Europe, President Rouhani’s smile is just a façade. The decision-maker in the Iranian regime is Supreme Leader Khamenei, and the IRGC is under his personal command. It is time to acknowledge the true nature of the governing elements in Iran, their intentions, and the meaning of their conduct. – Algemeiner


The mission of the team, overseen by the Raqqa city council and paid with foreign funding, is to collect and account for the bodies. It is a basic step in an effort to get the city, now run by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces, functioning again. – Wall Street Journal

A senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official on Thursday ridiculed US objections to the Tehran regime’s ongoing presence in Syria, where Iranian military forces have joined with Russia in stabilizing President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship. – Algemeiner

Russia’s deputy defense minister claimed Thursday that a U.S. military aircraft took control of 13 drones over Syria and attempted to have them attack a Russian military base there, but the drones were downed before they could reach their target. – Associated Press


Jordan said on Thursday its commitment to uphold a peace treaty with Israel was not in question despite ending a 25-year special regime that allows its neighbor to use two parcels of land along its borders under its sovereignty. – Reuters

An Egypt brokered understanding may have been reached that would end the Gaza border riots and the launching of incendiary devices against Israel, the London based Arabic language newspaper Al-Hayat reported on Friday morning. – Jerusalem Post

In an October 2, 2018 interview with the Tunisian Musaique FM radio channel, Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi said that people should slap Israeli soldiers “regardless of whether they did anything or not” and that it should become a “regular thing.” […]The following is the transcript of her October 2-3 statements. – Middle East Research Institute

Yaakov Lappin writes: The recent reopening of a border crossing between Israel and Syria holds the hope of stability for Israel as the Syrian war draws to a close. But if Iran, Hezbollah, and allied radical Shiite militias have their way, Syria will be hijacked and turned into a radical Iranian power base. Any hopes for stability would then give way to destabilizing conflict, terrorism, and new threats to Israel and Jordan. – Algemeiner


Iraq’s new prime minister began moving his offices out of Baghdad’s highly secure Green Zone on the first day of his term Thursday, saying he wanted to bring his government closer to the people. – Associated Press

Iraq’s new premier Adel Abdul Mahdi has had an early taste of the partisan politics he hopes to rein in, failing so far to win parliament’s approval of a full government to begin to tackle the destruction of years of war and rampant corruption. – Reuters

Sophia Jones and Christina Asquith write: History has shown that peace and stability are often impossible unless a fair process of justice and reintegration is implemented after war. This process must include women, both those carrying out justice and those facing the justice system for alleged crimes. Iraq’s future depends on it. – Foreign Policy

Saudi Arabia

CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed President Trump on Thursday about her trip this week to Turkey, where she listened to audio purportedly capturing the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, as Saudi Arabia appeared to acknowledge that its agents had murdered the dissident Saudi journalist in a “premeditated” operation. – Washington post

The European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution on Thursday condemning the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and urging a European Union-wide arms embargo on Saudi Arabia in response. – Washington Post

With its investment prospects rocked by the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia turned this week to its most trusted business ally—the oil industry. – Wall Street Journal

Canada is grappling with how to respond to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, apparently torn between a desire to stand up to Saudi Arabia and breaking an arms deal at a steep cost. – Washington Post

From the moment the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul this month, Saudi officials have offered a dizzying variety of public accounts about his fate. Here’s how the Saudi government has changed its story. – New York Times

A State Department spokesman says the U.S. welcomes a decision by Saudi Arabia to let the son of slain writer Jamal Khashoggi leave the country and come to the United States. – Associated Press

The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi bears the hallmark of an extrajudicial execution, and those who orchestrated his murder “are high enough to represent the state”. – Al Jazeera

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman spoke with Russian president Vladimir Putin by telephone on Thursday to brief him on the investigation into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to the official Saudi press agency. – Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the strongest terms possible during a phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, and vowed to take appropriate measures in response, the chancellery said. – Reuters

Since the murder in early October of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and with the daily publication of foreign media reports on Saudi involvement in the affair, many articles are appearing in the Saudi media expressing rage at what they called a hostile media campaign[…]. Along with these articles, however, the Saudi press has also published articles criticizing Saudi Arabia’s failure to respond effectively to this alleged media campaign. – Middle East Research Institute

David Ignatius writes: Why was Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman so afraid of Jamal Khashoggi that he reportedly gave orders this past summer to bring the Post contributing columnist back to Saudi Arabia? […]My guess is that Khashoggi was seen as dangerous for the simple reason that he couldn’t be intimidated or controlled. He was an uncensored mind. He didn’t observe the kingdom’s “red lines.” He was an insistent, defiant journalist. – Washington Post

Pankaj Mishra writes: The prince is only the latest, if pitifully crude, exponent of shock-and-awe savagery that many Western elites have long deemed vital to the pacification of intransigent non-Westerners. And there is nothing exceptional, in the extensive moral squalor created by them abroad and deepened now by President Trump at home, about Prince Mohammed’s own apparent response to a mild critic: exterminate the brute and mutilate his corpse. – New York Times

Barbara Leaf writes: The delayed acknowledgement of Jamal’s death after weeks of laconic and wholly unpersuasive Saudi comments to the contrary[…] could well persuade Saudis that there was a high level official hand in Jamal’s case. With President Trump now personally engaged – as is King Salman, both with Trump and Erdogan – Saudi public opinion will almost certainly churn with growing uneasiness. It will simply remain extraordinarily difficult for outsiders to chart this dynamic. – Washington Institute

Uri Friedman writes: The brazen murder of Khashoggi, by apparent agents of the Saudi state and allegedly on the orders of senior Saudi officials, is a test of just how far along we are in this emerging era of impunity. In a world in which more nationalistic, narcissistic countries are locked in competition, human rights and the rule of law be damned, it is quite possible that those responsible for the journalist’s death will escape serious consequences[…]. – The Atlantic

Mohammed Ayoob writes: There are a number of important issues bedeviling Turkish-Saudi relations. The Khashoggi affair has provided Ankara with a great opportunity both to discredit the Saudi regime—especially the crown prince, whom Erdogan detests—as well as drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the United States. By doing this, Turkey has increased its importance in America’s strategy in the region. – The National Interest

Middle East

U.N. experts on Thursday inspected a shipment of weapons recently seized by the U.S. Navy that American officials suspect could provide new evidence of Iranian support for Houthi rebels in Yemen. – Washington Post

The death toll from a Saudi air strike on a vegetable market in western Yemen has risen to 21, with a local health official reporting children among the fatalities. – Al Jazeera

A 19-year-old Ohio man has been arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Justice Department said Thursday. – The Hill

Korean Peninsula

The North and South Korean militaries agreed Friday to completely destroy 11 front-line guard posts by the end of November as they discussed their next steps in implementing a wide-ranging military agreement signed last month to reduce tensions. – Associated Press

An executive of one of two Singapore companies named by the U.S. Treasury Department this week for violating sanctions against North Korea said Friday that he was unaware of any such dealings. – Associated Press

While governments around the world ponder how to deal with the explosion of “fake news,” South Korea has come out swinging, vowing to use its criminal laws to curb what officials have declared a threat to democracy. – Associated Press

The Trump administration is drastically cutting back on who on Capitol Hill gets to see intelligence reports on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, according to multiple congressional sources. – CBS News


China on Thursday ridiculed but did not exactly deny an article in The New York Times detailing how Chinese intelligence agents eavesdropped on cellphone conversations President Trump had with friends in hopes of gaining insights into the administration’s policies. – New York Times

The U.S. is refusing to resume trade negotiations with China until Beijing comes up with a concrete proposal to address Washington’s complaints about forced technology transfers and other economic issues, officials on both sides of the Pacific said. – Wall Street Journal

China and Japan agreed Friday to cooperate in developing cities and other infrastructure in Asia, part of a rapprochement during the first formal visit by a Japanese leader to China in seven years. – Wall Street Journal

A woman with a knife attacked students at a kindergarten in southwestern China on Friday, injuring 14 children before she was stopped by teachers and guards, the police said. – New York Times

Analysts and allies fear that China can buy influence on the cheap and without raising alarms in New Zealand’s political system, which they say has weak rules about lobbying, by channeling money through small, anonymous donations. – New York Times

China has not asked for military access to Pakistan’s Chinese-funded, deepwater port of Gwadar, a senior Pakistani rear admiral said on Friday, amid persistent speculation in India and the United States it could become a Chinese naval base. – Reuters

China and India aim to hold joint army drills in China before the end of this year, China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday, as the two countries continue a rapid rapprochement. – Reuters

Seth Cropsey writes: Mr. Pence pledged that the U.S. would remain the Pacific’s dominant power. He identified China as the greatest challenger. He correctly observed that China has a “whole of government” approach to advancing its hegemonic ambitions. To protect American security, assist allies, defend U.S. economic interests, and demonstrate that Washington is not disengaging from the world, the Trump administration should call on all the tools at its disposal as well. – Wall Street Journal

Rian Thum writes: Han-centric racism and Islamophobia may be driving China’s leaders to blame unrest on Uighur culture and religion. But behind their efforts to forcibly re-engineer minority cultures also lies a pressing need to boost their legitimacy and account for their hold on power. The Xinjiang problem, in their view, isn’t a local issue; it’s a threat to the foundations of the entire system they oversee today. – New York Times

Abraham Denmark and Eric Sayers write: Ultimately, the decision to withdraw from the treaty will likely be based on the Trump administration assessment of how the benefits of these new options in Asia balance against the problems it may cause with Russia and within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. While the United States should not be compelled to simply mirror the strategy of Beijing, it is clear that exiting the treaty will present new opportunities and challenges for the United States to enhance its ability to compete with a rising China. – The Hill

Lyle J. Goldstein writes: Then again, all the above capabilities are likely redundancies since tens of thousands of advanced sea mines should suffice. The Taiwanese may want to stockpile lots of canned goods and pour some extra concrete for shelters too. If U.S.-China relations are permitted to continue in the present downward spiral, there is indeed much more to worry about than U.S. stock portfolios. – The National Interest


A longtime deputy in the Taliban who was arrested in a joint intelligence raid by American and Pakistani agents eight years ago has been freed, the insurgent group confirmed on Thursday. – New York Times

A Japanese journalist held hostage for more than three years in Syria returned home Thursday, ending an ordeal that he described as a personal “hell.” Jumpei Yasuda, 44, was kidnapped by militants in June 2015 during a reporting trip to northern Syria. – Washington Post

Ethnic Baloch separatists have killed at least two Pakistani paramilitary soldiers in a coordinated attack on a senior officer’s convoy in the southwestern province of Balochistan. – Al Jazeera

Mark Stoneman writes: It’s time for President Trump to acknowledge that we are no closer to developing an Afghan military capable of defending its government than we were 17 years ago. He should end the advisory mission and bring those soldiers home. – Washington Post


A never-before-seen missile photographed last month on a Russian MiG-31 interceptor is believed to be a mock-up of an anti-satellite weapon that will be ready for warfare by 2022, three sources with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report say. – CNBC

The United States is seeking to block a move by Russia to schedule a United Nations General Assembly vote on preserving a 1987 nuclear arms treaty that U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to abandon this week. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Russia has successfully launched an unmanned Soyuz rocket, the first such liftoff since an aborted launch of a similar rocket earlier this month. The Russian Defense Ministry on October 25 said that “a Soyuz-2.1B rocket was successfully launched carrying a satellite for the Russian military” from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the northwest of the country. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


Now it’s NATO’s turn to showcase its own military prowess in Trident Juncture 18, which kicks off today. Considering the increased tensions between the alliance and Russia since Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a lot is being signaled here. – Washington Post

Belgium has officially selected the F-35 as its next-generation fighter, becoming the 13th country to join the program, the Belgian government announced Thursday. – Defense News

The head of naval forces in Europe is satisfied with the increased presence he’s seen in his theater this year, but he stressed that the U.S. will also have to rely on its allies and partners to counter a growing threat. – USNI News


A week after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia filled half of his new cabinet with women in a radical overhaul, the country’s Parliament took another step toward gender parity on Thursday by appointing the country’s first female president. – New York Times

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said on Thursday he was lifting a partial ban on the import of Egyptian goods, during a visit by his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. – Reuters

About 300,000 Congolese have fled Angola in the last few weeks, many of them in response to the violence in Lucapa at the beginning of October. […]Politically, the upheaval threatens to further destabilize Congo ahead of elections in December and harm relations with Angola, an old ally. – Reuters

Heavy fighting between Cameroon’s army and separatist rebels killed at least 10 people, the two sides said on Wednesday, in the deadliest clash since President Paul Biya won a seventh term earlier this week. – Reuters

United States

Investigators hunting for the terrorist behind 10 suspected bombs addressed to prominent Democrats and outspoken critics of President Trump have zeroed in on Florida and New York, federal officials said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

A spate of suspicious packages containing pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats and CNN has injected national security into the final two weeks of the midterm elections. – Associated Press

Scott Stewart writes: Sending people even ineffective bombs meets the definition of heinous, but we must wait for facts and evidence to conclusively determine whether this was indeed terrorism or just an event that caused terror. In the meantime, by recognizing the limited threat these devices posed, the public can begin to defeat both terror and terrorism, and decrease the appeal for other attention-seeking individuals to copy this tactic. – LA Times

The Americas

While the two-day meeting in the Canadian capital was prompted by the Trump administration’s complaints about the WTO, its participants from 12 countries and the European Union did nothing to acknowledge Washington’s core grievance: the WTO’s limitations in curtailing China’s market-disrupting practices. – Wall Street Journal

The military is preparing to send 800 more troops to the Mexican border to help the Border Patrol, as a caravan of thousands of Central American migrants continues to move north. – Military Times

Ryan Berg writes: Beyond a stern denouncement by Guterres and platitudes about the need for civility, there isn’t much the United States can push for in a multilateral forum like the United Nations. Bilaterally, however, it’s a different story. The time to punish this behavior is now, especially given its ability to shape the future calculations of Cuba’s new president, Miguel Díaz Canel. – American Enterprise Institute


As Air Force leaders are working to improve the readiness of squadrons throughout the service, the Air Force’s top civilian says the goal is to get 204 of the service’s 312 operational squadrons to 80 percent readiness by 2020. – Defense news

Boeing landed the contract to build the Navy’s unmanned carrier-based refueling aircraft thanks to what company executives described as an aggressive up-front research and development investment. – USNI News

George P. Shultz writes: Now is not the time to build larger arsenals of nuclear weapons. Now is the time to rid the world of this threat. Leaving the treaty would be a huge step backward. We should fix it, not kill it. – New York Times

Roberto Guerrero writes: As we seek to further digitize the battlefield and maintain a competitive edge against our adversaries, the time is right for a collaborative effort to improve flight data collection and analysis across all major commands. – Defense News

J. William Middendorf writes: The best way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one. We must shift from the defensive mentality the U.S. military has had for the past 15 years. It takes a lead time of 10 years to 12 years to achieve a new weapons system. We must accelerate our present research and develop weapons that can match or exceed those of our enemies. We cannot expect success fighting tomorrow’s conflicts with yesterday’s weapons. And we cannot afford failure. – The Hill