Fdd's overnight brief

October 29, 2018

In The News


Iranian boats closely shadowed an American warship in the Persian Gulf on Friday, underscoring the potential for renewed maritime hostility between the United States and Iran. – Washington Post

Facebook announced Friday that it had suspended 82 pages, groups and accounts that had originated in Iran for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” and sharing divisive political messages, including opposition to President Trump.- Washington Post

A port being developed in the southern Iranian city of Chabahar underscores some of the dilemmas U.S. policy makers face in implementing sanctions against Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Israel launched airstrikes Saturday in response to a salvo of rockets fired by militants from the Gaza Strip into its territory overnight, saying it held Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, responsible for the flare-up and that it had evidence that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force was behind the latest escalation. – Washington Post

Shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump announced in May he would reimpose sanctions on Iran, the State Department began telling countries around the world the clock was ticking for them to cut oil purchases from the Islamic Republic to zero. – Reuters

As President Donald Trump prepares to re-impose a second batch of Iran sanctions that had been eased under the 2015 nuclear deal, conservative lawmakers and outside advisers have become worried that the administration may break a promise to exert “maximum pressure” on Iran. – Associated Press

A battle is brewing between the Trump administration and some of the president’s biggest supporters in Congress who are concerned that sanctions to be re-imposed on Iran early next month won’t be tough enough. – Associated Press

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Sunday for the stepping up of efforts to fight enemy “infiltration” in a speech to officials in charge of cyber defense, state television reported. – Reuters

European diplomats are warning that enhanced U.S. financial sanctions against Iran run the risk of forcing the rest of the world to create alternative banking systems that could undermine the long-time dominance of the U.S. dollar. – Washington Examiner

Hijab Shah and Melissa Dalton write: Reinstating economic sanctions on Tehran will not alone address the range of threats the United States faces from Iran—the Trump administration must broaden its scope and focus on the larger challenge. Rather than focusing singularly on Iran’s economy as the fulcrum of its new strategy, it must take a holistic approach towards the multifaceted challenge that Iran presents. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Israel has been conducting an aggressive military campaign across Syria against Iran-backed militia groups, an effort that has been encouraged by the White House but aroused the concern of many U.S. military officials. – Wall Street Journal

Russia used a four-nation summit [in Istanbul] on Saturday to cement its new role as a Middle East power broker and attract European funding for rebuilding Syria after its war ends. – Wall Street Journal

The Turkish army shelled on Sunday positions held by the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, east of the Euphrates River, in a new spike in tension along the borders. – Associated Press

The Islamic State group killed at least 40 U.S.-backed Syrian fighters, captured several alive and regained areas they lost earlier this month in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border in some of the most intense fighting in weeks, a war monitor and an agency linked to ISIS said Saturday. – Associated Press

Fourteen fighters from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were killed east of the Euphrates river in Syria in a battle with Islamic state militants, an SDF spokesman said on Saturday. – Reuters

A solution to the Syria crisis cannot simply be military and must include a political process under the auspices of the United Nations that envisages free elections as a goal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday. – Reuters


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Oman marked a new chapter in his effort to strengthen ties with Gulf Arab nations and shift the conversation from Palestinian issues toward regional threats like Iran. – Wall Street Journal

Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi says the country will not establishing ties with Israel and that it supports the Palestinians because the Gaza Strip has also faced “unprecedented atrocities” like Kashmir. – Associated Press

Three Palestinian boys were killed in an Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip frontier on Sunday, medical officials in the Hamas-run enclave said, while Israel said it had hit suspected militants trying to blow up part of a border fence. – Reuters

The Israeli frontier with Gaza fell silent on Saturday under what Palestinians described as an Egyptian-mediated truce, after Israel responded to the biggest salvo of Palestinian rockets for months with scores of air strikes on Gaza targets. – Reuters

Israeli residents from the southern border communities blocked the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza Monday morning. The group, protesting the continuous rocket fire and security situation in the south, were joined by activists from the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu, and managed to block dozens of trucks carrying supplies from entering the coastal enclave. – Jerusalem Post

Simon Henderson and Assaf Orion write: For Israel, the visit […]shows Muscat’s role as a possible back channel with Iran, perhaps relating to Syria. For Qaboos, the meeting may help deflect criticism of his relations with Tehran and his willingness to tolerate the transshipment of Iranian weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen. In addition, it implies that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are not the only regional routes for Israeli diplomacy. For Washington, the meeting is another good first step down the long road to reviving the peace process. – Washington Institute

Saudi Arabia

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Saturday said any role Saudi Arabia played in a journalist’s killing could destabilize the Persian Gulf region and beyond, leveling rare criticism at a military ally. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. and other government’s officials said the uproar over a Saudi journalist’s grisly death has put Saudi Arabia’s ability to rally others against Iran at risk, posing a challenge for the Trump administration’s Middle East policy. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Saturday rejected a call by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to try the suspects in the killing of the dissident commentator Jamal Khashoggi in that country, saying that the men arrested would be prosecuted on Saudi soil. – New York Times

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he received assurances from Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat that the kingdom would conduct a full and complete investigation into the slaying of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. – Washington Post

Saudi Arabia’s state oil company is turning to a former North Carolina state pension executive to manage its retirement money at a time when U.S. ties to the kingdom are under scrutiny. – Wall Street Journal

Mohamad Bazzi writes: The Saudi leadership’s leveraging of checkbook diplomacy, and threatening to withhold trade and investments, is directed not only at the Arab and Muslim worlds. Over the past year, Prince Mohammed halted trade and economic deals with Germany and Canada in retaliation for their criticism of Saudi actions, including the Saudi-led war in Yemen and the arrests of women’s rights activists. – New York Times

Jackson Diehl writes: One sideshow in the Jamal Khashoggi affair is the Twitter lynching of some of those who embraced Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, when he toured the United States earlier this year. I wasn’t one of those admirers. But now that the image of the crown prince has turned toxic, I have some sympathy for a few of those who bet on him. – Washington Post

Jamie Fly and Henry Sokoloski write: Concluding a nuclear cooperation agreement to Riyadh’s liking would undermine the Trump administration’s effort to reverse the nuclear concessions President Obama made to Iran and set a dangerous precedent in the region. Any negotiations regarding a U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperation agreement should be halted. – Wall Street Journal

Middle East

President Trump late Thursday signed into law new sanctions targeting Hezbollah. The law requires the U.S. to impose sanctions on foreigners, foreign companies and foreign government agencies found supporting Hezbollah or a number of entities related to the Lebanese militia and political group, including its financial agency, its foreign-relations department and its media arm. It also mandates sanctions on affiliated networks involved in transnational crime activity. – Wall Street Journal

The devastating war in Yemen has gotten more attention recently as outrage over the killing of a Saudi dissident in Istanbul has turned a spotlight on Saudi actions elsewhere. The harshest criticism of the Saudi-led war has focused on the airstrikes that have killed thousands of civilians at weddings, funerals and on school buses, aided by American-supplied bombs and intelligence. – New York Times

In an emotional scene, the Israeli national anthem was performed at a public sporting event in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday while two Israeli Cabinet ministers said they would soon head to the region in new signs of warming ties between Israel and the Gulf Arab states. – Associated Press

Gonul Tol writes: The killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul could not have come at a worse time for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Economic troubles have forced him to mute his anti-Western rhetoric: the country faces a currency crisis, double-digit inflation, and an enormous current account deficit. – Foreign Affairs

A. Smith writes: On June 27, 2018, the court board of the second criminal court of Sakarya province in Turkey sentenced Halis Bayancuk aka Ebu Hanzala to 12 years and six months in prison for the crime of “establishing and managing an armed terror organization” and to another year, six months, and 22 days for “organization propaganda,” for a total sentence of 14 years and 22 days[…]. This report will review the organization’s websites and the content they host as well as the social media accounts that distribute that content. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Korean Peninsula

The top U.S. envoy for North Korea on Monday expressed confidence about achieving North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, despite worries about the slow pace of nuclear diplomacy in recent weeks. Meeting with his South Korean counterpart in Seoul, Stephen Biegun said that Washington and Seoul have a shared goal of ending seven decades of hostility on the Korean Peninsula. – Associated Press

North Korea is exploring a grand plan to become a regional transportation hub, inspired in part by the successes of Singapore and Switzerland, and would be open to joining world financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund if current member states give up their “hostile” policies toward it, a senior government economist has told The Associated Press. – Associated Press

The director of the hospital in North Korea that treated an American student who died last year after detention in the country has rejected fresh charges that he died as a result of torture. – Reuters


U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is announcing that China’s defense chief will travel to Washington next week for a meeting that has been delayed by tensions between the two nations. – Associated Press

China has sent thousands of scientists affiliated with its armed forces to western universities — especially in countries that share intelligence with the US — and is building a web of research collaboration that could boost Beijing’s military technology development. – Financial Times

A privately developed Chinese carrier rocket failed to reach orbit after lifting off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Saturday, in a blow to the country’s nascent attempts by private companies to rival Elon Musk’s SpaceX. – Reuters

David Von Drehle writes: First-time visitors to the booming cities of Eastern China invariably marvel at everything new — the gleaming airports, super-fast trains, luxury emporia and glamorous rich. But in Western China, where foreigners are forbidden to look too closely, the ruling Communist Party remains as brutal and totalitarian as ever. – Washington Post

Claude Barfield writes: US intelligence agencies, given their own capabilities and missions, cannot have been surprised that Chinese intelligence agencies would probe and even possibly penetrate some US supply chains. Finally, whatever the truth of the Bloomberg assertions, the episode does represent a vital wake-up call. – American Enterprise Institute


Amid high tension and tight security, tens of thousands of voters lined up Saturday across southern Kandahar province, where polling in Afghan parliamentary elections was held one week late after the provincial police chief was assassinated in a shooting claimed by the Taliban. – Washington Post

A suicide bombing targeting the Afghan election commission’s office in Kabul on Monday killed a police officer and wounded five people, the police said. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest surrounding Afghanistan’s embattled parliamentary election process. – Associated Press

Seth G. Jones writes: The Trump administration should work with the Afghan government and regional powers—including Pakistan—to reach a political settlement with the Taliban. […]U.S. policymakers and the public need to carefully think through the implications of withdrawal. A precipitous exit might be worse than the status quo. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Anwar’s rise comes as the country faces critical decisions — righting its debt-burdened economy, taking steps toward human rights such as abolishing the death penalty and trying to stand up to China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia. – Washington Post

President Maithripala Sirisena late Friday removed his party from the ruling coalition and ousted the prime minister, appointing in his place the controversial former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and triggering a constitutional showdown. – Wall Street Journal

The leaders of China and Japan vowed Friday to open a new chapter in their often-fraught relationship and strengthen financial and trading ties between two powerhouse economies. – Washington Post

Panos Mourdoukoutas writes: For Pakistan, CPEC could help sustain economic growth and raise the living standards of its people. […]And, perhaps, something more in the case of Pakistan: Transparency for the CPEC project. Already, IMF has asked information about CPEC. But Pakistan has declined it, according to some sources, placing at risk the fate of the IMF bailout of the country and the future of CPEC. – Forbes


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that Moscow has started preparing answers to the questions related to arms control pact delivered by U.S. officials, RIA news agency quoted him as saying. – Reuters

Police in Moscow and St. Petersburg have detained about 50 people taking part in unauthorized demonstrations against a criminal case filed against 10 young Russians for allegedly taking part in in extremist group that aimed to overthrow the government. – Associated Press

There are no firm agreements yet regarding a possible visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. – Reuters

Russia lost a vote Friday that would have allowed the U.N. General Assembly to consider a resolution supporting a landmark missile treaty and opposing U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from it. – Associated Press

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall writes:  The challenges posed by Russian treaty violations are real, but we should draw on substantial prior positive experience in reducing nuclear dangers. Despite the negative spiral of our post-Cold War relationship, Washington and Moscow still share a solemn responsibility for, and stake in, reducing nuclear dangers. – The Hill

Desmond Butler writes: A year before federal prosecutors accused Maria Butina of operating as a secret agent for the Russian government, she was a graduate student at American University working on a sensitive project involving cybersecurity. Butina’s college assignment called for her to gather information on the cyberdefenses of U.S. nonprofit organizations that champion media freedom and human rights, The Associated Press has learned. –  Associated Press


Europe’s highest human rights court ruled on Friday that disparagement of religious doctrines such as insulting the Prophet Muhammad isn’t protected by freedom of expression and can be prosecuted. – Wall Street Journal

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s once-unassailable position in German politics endured yet another blow Sunday as support for her party dropped precipitously in a state that has long been a bellwether for the nation, projected results showed. – Washington Post

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said his talks with European allies so far have not resulted in any suggestions for addressing Russia’s violation of a Cold War-era arms control pact other than for the United States to withdraw. – Washington Post

French-German plans for a joint fighter aircraft project may be off to a rocky start, as reports emerged last week about fundamental disagreements between the two partners over export restrictions for such a weapon. According to a report on the website of the German magazine Der Spiegel, French negotiators made unlimited exportability of the so-called “Future Combat Air System” a prerequisite for getting started on the project. – Defense News

Gary Roughead writes: The reactivation of the U.S. Second Fleet on August 24, 2018, is a prudent and timely recognition of again having to deal with an increasingly capable and assertive near-peer Russian navy[…]. The Second Fleet’s return also resets the U.S. Navy’s command organization in the Atlantic so that it is better aligned to generate and oversee the operational readiness of naval forces in what is and will be a complex, demanding and active environment. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Heather A. Conley and Matthew Melino write: The United States and the European Union had always previously rejected the idea of partition[…]. In the end, perhaps the only positive dynamic to come from Serbia and Kosovo’s land swap idea was to awaken the transatlantic community from their strategic slumber so that it can re-prioritize and re- energize multi-ethnic regional integration in the Western Balkans. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Russia’s expanding influence in Central African Republic (CAR), a former French colony, over the past months is not likely to stabilize the country, French Defense Minister Florence Parly told weekly Jeune Afrique. – Reuters

Joseph Goldstein writes: President Trump is vowing to send the military to stop migrants trudging from Central America. Europe’s leaders are paying African nations to block migrants from crossing the Mediterranean — and detaining the ones who make it in filthy, overcrowded camps. But Solomon Osakan has a very different approach in this era of rising xenophobia. – New York Times

Richard Downie writes: While Kenya has made progress in tackling its terrorist threat, the problem will not be contained until its security institutions reform, professionalize, and rein in human rights abuses. […]Without the support of communities, al-Shabaab and its domestic affiliates will continue to threaten national security. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Pittsburgh Shooting

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 people dead Saturday has renewed calls for the federal government to update its laws to put the kind of violence targeting minorities, religious groups and the public in the same category as terrorists inspired by overseas groups. – Washington Post

The ambush that killed 11 people and injured six in what is considered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history has put synagogues across the country on lockdown and laid bare an active online world of hate postings. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump and his Republican allies remained defiant Sunday amid allegations from critics that Trump’s incendiary attacks on political rivals and racially charged rhetoric on the campaign trail bear some culpability for the climate surrounding a spate of violence in the United States. – Washington Post

Federal prosecutors want to pursue the death penalty for Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers. U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said they are seeking Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ approval for the move, according to the Associated Press. – Washington Examiner

Anti-Semitism has “moved from the margins into the mainstream,” Anti-Defamation League CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said Sunday. His remarks on NBC’s “Meet the Press” came a day after a gunman fatally shot 11 and injured seven others in Pittsburgh in the deadliest attack on a synagogue in U.S. history. The tragedy can be linked to concurrent political rhetoric, Greenblatt said. – Politico

The Shabbat morning massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh — in which 11 Jews were murdered by a white supremacist gunman — has drawn condemnation from an interfaith range of religious figures and groups across the world. At St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Francis said, “All of us are wounded by this inhuman act of violence,” and he asked God “to help us to extinguish the flames of hatred that develop in our societies.” – Algemeiner

Editorial: Americans would do well to ignore this toxic habit of political blame for murderous acts by the racist, anti-Semitic or mentally disturbed. […]But the blame artists are distracting attention from the real sickness, which in this case is anti-Semitism, a hatred that goes back millennia. That is the toxin to banish as much as possible from American life, even if it can’t be purged entirely from human souls. – Wall Street Journal

Dani Dayan writes: It must be faced: Our world is becoming darker. Robert Bowers might have acted out in hatred of Jewish values and derangement against Jewish conspiracies, but his evil must not be explained away. The only chance we have to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred is when we all take a strong stance against it in every corner. – Wall Street Journal

Max Boot writes: After a “lone wolf” Islamist militant attack, the media invariably ask: What inspired him to kill? Usually the answer is found in Islamist militant propaganda. We need to ask the same question about right-wing terrorism. – Washington Post

United States

David and Cecil Rosenthal, brothers in their 50s, were almost always in the synagogue, greeting everyone who came with a “Good Shabbos” and a ready prayer book. Joyce Fienberg, 75, prayed there every day after her husband’s death. And Melvin Wax, 88, took on so many tasks — from leading services to changing light bulbs — that one friend described his role there as “everything but the cantor.” – New York Times

As gunfire shattered the prayerful morning stillness of the Tree of Life synagogue, Barry Werber was hiding in a darkened storage room. In front of him was Melvin Wax, a longtime member of the New Light Congregation whose body now lay on the floor. Then a man stepped through a swinging door into the room. – New York Times

The van belonging to the Florida man suspected in a wave of mail bombs targeting prominent Democrats contained materials used to construct the explosive devices, law-enforcement officials said. – Wall Street Journal

A Facebook account apparently belonging to the man charged with sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats this week included references to Russian associates and propaganda links that echo Kremlin views on the Syrian civil war, alongside ramblings about soccer, women and U.S. politics. – Washington Post

The man suspected of mailing at least 14 pipe bombs to some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s leading critics was arrested on Friday in Florida on federal charges in a case echoing the rancor of one of the most toxic election campaigns in decades. – Reuters

The man suspected of sending 14 pipe bombs to prominent Democrats around the country will be formally charged in court Monday. Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Florida, is facing federal charges and could receive up to 48 years in prison if convicted. – CNN


The U.S. defense industry is on track for one of its best years in recent memory. The five largest U.S. defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics — reported healthy financial results for the third quarter, in a series of earnings reports over the past week. – Washington Post

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said Friday that the Trump administration has instructed the Pentagon to prepare a $700 billion budget for 2020 — 4.5 percent less than the $733 billion that the Defense Department had planned. – Washington Post

The U.S. military has already begun delivering jersey barriers to the southern border in conjunction with plans to deploy active duty troops there, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said as a caravan of Central Americans slowly heads across Mexico toward the United States. – Associated Press

A treaty banning nuclear weapons could come into force by the end of 2019, backers of a campaign that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize said in an annual progress report on Monday. – Reuters

The Czech Republic’s prime minister has told U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that a possible U.S. withdrawal from a landmark nuclear weapons treaty would be wrong. Andrej Babis told reporters in Prague on Sunday that relations (with Russia) “aren’t ideal and we’re returning to Cold War times.” – Associated Press

The Fiscal Year 2020 budget may slow down modernization efforts and research into next-generation weapons, like hypersonic missiles, but will still invest in growing the military force and boosting readiness for aircraft such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, the deputy secretary of defense told reporters today. – USNI News