Fdd's overnight brief

October 3, 2018

In The News


France froze assets of Iran’s intelligence agency and two agents in retaliation for an alleged Iranian terror plot on French soil, seeking to punish Tehran for planning terror activities in Europe even as the French government tries to salvage the Iran nuclear deal. – Wall Street Journal

The United Nations atomic agency hit back Tuesday at Israeli claims it is failing to police Iran’s nuclear work, rebuffing criticisms of the agency’s credibility. – Wall Street Journal

Iran said the missile attack it launched in Syria on Monday had killed 40 “top leaders” of Islamic State, and that intelligence for the operation had been provided by its elite Quds Force. –  Reuters

The United States on Tuesday accused Iran of recklessly firing missiles into southern Syria, an area where American troops are operating, but said the missiles did not come close to hitting U.S. forces. – Washington Examiner


Russia has delivered an S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Syria, it said on Tuesday, in defiance of Israeli and U.S. concerns that the arms sale would embolden Iran and escalate the Syrian war. – Reuters

U.S.-backed fighters are closing in on the “last pocket of ISIS resistance” in Syria, and remaining ISIS fighters are becoming increasingly desperate, the U.S. military said Tuesday. – Washington Examiner

Rebels in northern Syria who have rejected plans for joint Russian-Turkish patrols of a demilitarized zone said on Tuesday that Ankara had assured them no Russian forces would patrol the area. – Reuters


German Chancellor Angela Merkel will cancel her visit to Israel if the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar is evacuated before the beginning of her trip, Army Radio reported on Wednesday morning. – Jerusalem Post

When it comes to their view of US President Donald Trump and the US in the age of Trump, Israel is exceptional. Whereas most of the countries polled in a 25-nation Pew Research Center survey take a dim view of the president and the role of the US under his helm, Israelis are pleased – very pleased. – Jerusalem Post

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday defended the military against accusations that it was unprepared for war but acknowledged that the army had some “problems.” – Times of Israel

The Trump Administration praised the support for Israel shown in the new ten-year defense agreement signed in 2016 under President Barack Obama The 10-year $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding went into operation on Monday, the first day of the new fiscal year. – Arutz Sheva

Saudi Arabia

A prominent Saudi journalist and political commentator who criticized the government hasn’t been heard from since entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, said his fiancée, in what appears to be the latest effort by the kingdom to stifle dissent. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump says Saudi Arabia’s king “might not be there for two weeks” without U.S. military support, as he sought to pressure the close American ally over rising oil prices. – Associated Press

Agents apparently linked to the Saudi regime used spy technology from Israeli firm NSO Group Technologies to eavesdrop on a Saudi dissident in Canada, according to a report on Monday. – Haaretz

Middle East & North Africa

Iraq’s newly elected president nominated a new prime minister after a compromise between rival Shiite factions that ended weeks of soaring tensions. – Wall Street Journal

The rise of “super militias,” which last month triggered the worst spasm of violence in the Libyan capital Tripoli in four years, has exposed the weakness of Western efforts to stabilize Libya while creating an opening for the Islamic State to resurrect itself in North Africa. – Washington Post

Across the Middle East, countries locked out of purchasing U.S.-made drones due to rules over excessive civilian casualties are being wooed by Chinese arms dealers, who are world’s main distributor of armed drones. – Associated Press

Thousands of residents of the Dahieh suburb south of Beirut, an area controlled by Hezbollah, received anonymous mobile phone notifications warning them they live in close proximity to a Hezbollah weapons storage compound that has the potential of exploding at any moment, the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported on Wednesday, implying Israel is responsible for incident. – Ynet

Korean Peninsula

Emboldened by praise from President Trump, North Korea is moving to squeeze more concessions out of the U.S., signaling a tougher negotiating stance ahead of a possible second meeting between the countries’ leaders. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to North Korea at the weekend for denuclearization talks with the country’s leader Kim Jong Un, the State Department said on Tuesday, calling this “forward progress,” despite negative signals from Pyongyang. – Reuters

South Korean President Moon Jae-In delivered a message to President Trump on behalf of North Korea that said dictator Kim Jong Un is “determined” to denuclearize the peninsula, a South Korean diplomat said Tuesday. – Washington Examiner

A top South Korean official told lawmakers that North Korea is estimated to have up to 60 nuclear weapons, in Seoul’s first public comment about the size of the North’s secrecy-clouded weapons arsenal. – Associated Press

David Albright writes: In May 2018, I decided to reveal publicly the assessment that North Korea may have a secret uranium enrichment site called Kangsong. […] The Kangsong case is a microcosm of the challenges of verifiably dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. – Institute for Science and International Security


The fine print of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement includes a provision that requires any country in the pact to give three months’ notice to other parties if it is entering into trade negotiations with a nonmarket economy, which the U.S. considers China to be. If one country enters into a deal with China or another similar economy, then that nation can be kicked out of the newly negotiated trade pact. – Politico

The Trump administration is reviewing ways to clamp down on the export of U.S. technology that China’s government could use in its surveillance and internment of minority Muslims, amid reports of mass detentions of ethnic Uighurs and others in the Xinjiang region. – Reuters

China, through its ongoing One Belt/One Road Initiative, is increasingly challenging the United States’ ability “to move freely in a business environment and across the oceans,” the retired vice admiral heading one of the nation’s top trade groups said Monday. – USNI News

Mark Louchheim writes: Elite opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to Mr. Trump’s China strategy, based on the assumption that U.S. manufacturing is doomed no matter what. But leaders at manufacturing companies like mine know that pressing for fair competition can help ensure the continued vitality of our industry. – Wall Street Journal

James Arnold writes: The moment is here for the Anglo Interest to avoid being eclipsed by the rising Middle Kingdom — a rise that is primarily due to poor decisions of the former neoliberal order. […]The United States and United Kingdom have this opportunity to cement our historically strong relationship, unleash the power of free and fair trade, and eliminate burdensome red tape and regulation. – Washington Examiner


The United States ambassador to NATO nearly set off a diplomatic incident on Tuesday when she suggested that the United States might “take out” Russian missiles that it views in violation of a longstanding arms control treaty. – New York Times

Russia plans to increase its military presence in the North Atlantic to counter NATO in the region, a top diplomat said Tuesday. – Washington Examiner

NATO fears Russia’s military build-up in the Arctic, under way in the Arctic since 2008 and involving the creation and reopening of six military bases, could reduce the alliance’s freedom of navigation. – Reuters

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned Tuesday the public should steer clear of Russian-owned entities that pose as legitimate news outlets. – Washington Examiner


French President Emmanuel Macron was dealt a fresh blow after another pivotal minister in his political coalition announced his intention to leave the government. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. defense officials are in detailed talks with French counterparts on a request for the sale of American components built into French cruise missiles, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said. – Defense News

Britain’s defense secretary has revealed the government held discussions with Boeing over the purchase of a fleet of Wedgetail E-7 airborne warning and control aircraft. – Defense News

The Americas

Two letters that arrived at a Pentagon distribution center have tested positive for the poison ricin and a “suspicious envelope” had been sent to the White House, defense officials and the Secret Service said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began selling the merits of the country’s 11th-hour trade pact with the U.S. on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement, arguing Monday that the deal removes a layer of uncertainty that has stunted growth. – Wall Street Journal

With a major announcement by oil giant Shell on Tuesday, Canada has set itself up to become the U.S.’s biggest energy rival in supplying liquefied natural gas to Asia. – Washington Examiner

Canada’s Parliament formally stripped Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship on Tuesday for complicity in the atrocities committed against Myanmar’s Rohingya people. – Associated Press

Dalibor Rohac writes: The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is an illustration of President Donald Trump’s political business model – echoing the one he employed as real estate developer. – American Enterprise Institute

William Alan Reinsch writes: It is somewhat comforting to see that one of the worst things you can say about U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is that the new trade agreement replaces a term that everyone knows and can say with an unpronounceable acronym. […]If that’s the worst one can say about the agreement, then the business communities in all three countries dodged a serious bullet. – Center for Strategic & International Studies

Cyber Security

The Trump administration will host a technology summit in the coming weeks with executives including Google chief Sundar Pichai, a White House spokeswoman confirmed to the Washington Examiner. […]Both Republicans and Democrats are pressuring social media companies to increase security in advance of the 2018 midterm elections after platforms like Facebook fell prey to Russian disinformation campaigns in 2016. – Washington Examiner

Facebook says it can’t find any evidence that the hackers who compromised 50 million users’ accounts on the social network also used stolen “keys” to break into victims’ accounts on other apps and services. – Business Insider

Peter W. Singer writes: […]In these battles for virality, which can generate real world power, generating a sense of authenticity has become an important milestone for any online operation, be it selling an album, a political campaign, or an information warfare operation designed to cause your enemies army to run away (as in the #AllEyesOnISIS operation). – Defense One


The Navy’s ability to maintain and manufacture aircraft carrier and submarine propulsion systems is at risk, a panel of experts say, because the commercial nuclear industry has been in failing health for two decades. – USNI News

The U.S. Army awarded Northrop Grumman a $298 million contract modification to continue development and enhancement of the company’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, Sept. 28. – Defense News

NATO is gearing up for its “biggest exercises in many years,” the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg revealed Tuesday, according to multiple reports. – Business Insider

Monica Medina writes: Determined women in uniform have been busy breaking barriers, including some of the toughest ones. […] Yet when speaking at the Virginia Military Institute last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis seemed to hedge his support for the Defense Department’s full-integration policy for women in combat roles. – Washington Post

Julia Solomon-Strauss, Edoardo Saravalle & Claire Groden write: Virtual currencies have yet to scale to a point where this lack of oversight and regulation poses existential risks in the form of terrorist financing. However, if the growth continues without concerted international efforts to address the risks, countries will face the reality of an ungoverned, shadow financial system able to aid and abet worldwide terrorism, sanctions evasion, and money laundering. – Center for a New American Security

Long War

German authorities say they have arrested an eighth man on suspicion of forming a far-right terrorist organization that planned to attack foreigners and political enemies. – Associated Press

French police detained three people and seized weapons during raids of a dozen homes and the headquarters of a Muslim association based outside the port city of Dunkirk during an anti-terrorism operation early Tuesday, officials said. – Associated Press

A jihadi network claiming to have links to the Islamic State and spanning 17 prisons has been uncovered and dismantled in Spain. – Newsweek