Fdd's overnight brief

October 3, 2019

In The News


Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani kept open the door to diplomacy on Wednesday, backing European efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal despite rebuffing French attempts to broker a meeting between him and President Trump at the United Nations last week. – Wall Street Journal

Iran will continue reducing its commitments under its 2015 nuclear deal until it reaches the “desired result,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday, according to his official website. – Reuters

A plan for talks presented to the United States and Iran by French President Emmanuel Macron is broadly acceptable to the Islamic Republic, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday during a cabinet meeting that was broadcast live on state TV. – Reuters

The energy market must be non-political in order to prevent interference, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Wednesday, according to the official IRNA news agency. – Reuters

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps head General Hossien Salami said that Iran has “the capability to annihilate” Israel and that it must be “wiped off the world” map, during an IRGC commanders gathering on Monday.  – Jerusalem Post

Tom Rogan writes: As U.S.-Iran tensions escalate and Iranian attacks, such as the recent strikes against Saudi oil facilities, go largely unpunished, there is a growing risk that Iranian hardliners will attack U.S. interests. My specific concern is that Iran will go beyond shooting down American drones, and instead endanger American lives. There are two issues here. – Washington Examiner

David Ibsen writes: The EU has a moral responsibility to do everything in its power to avert such a cataclysmic conflict. The gamble which European leaders have made thus far is that, by keeping the Iran Nuclear Deal alive, they may do enough to placate Tehran, whose aggressive behaviour is merely an expression of its frustrated ambition to be admitted to the community of respectable nations. – Euronews


Defeating the Islamic State inside Syria is going to require more pressure from American forces and allies, even as the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad continues to use chemical weapons on civilians, senior Trump administration officials warned Wednesday. – Washington Times

But as the fighting has drawn to a conclusion, north-east Syria has sought to reinvent itself. It is no longer a solely Kurdish region: about 1.5 million of the population are Kurds, clustered near the Turkish border where the safe zone is proposed, while the rest are mostly Sunni Arabs from former Isis centres in the Euphrates valley. – The Guardian

In one of the twists of irony of the anti-ISIS war, more than 80 countries signed on to fight ISIS alongside the US, but none of them seem interested in investing in winning the peace, rebuilding the areas ISIS was removed from or handling the detainees that resulted from defeating ISIS. – Jerusalem Post

The Assad family, autocratic rulers for nearly five decades, have all but wiped out the secular rebels, leaving jihadists as the armed opposition. Assad’s army is accused by the US and Europe of detaining, torturing and gassing tens of thousands of civilians. With help from its military allies Russia and Iran, the regime has regained most of the country, though fighting continues in the north-west. But the battlefield victories have not brought financial relief. Most Syrians are sliding ever deeper into poverty. – Financial Times


Palestinian Authority media reported that another member of the Popular Front terror squad that carried out the attack on the Danny spring near Dolev, where Rina Shnerb was murdered, was arrested Wednesday evening by special units of the Israel Defense Forces. – Arutz Sheva

The Ministry of Strategic Affairs on Wednesday confirmed a report by the TPS news agency that the head of the terror squad that murdered Rina Shnerb, Sammer Arabid, worked as a clerk for the Palestinian Authority BDS organization Al-Dameer, which supports and promotes boycotts against the State of Israel. – Arutz Sheva

Jonathan Spyer writes: Wound into the civilian and military infrastructure of southwest Syria, Iran has already established a second front with Israel. Once an Israeli government emerges from coalition wrangling, it will need to confront this new and rising challenge by its doorstep. Aerial bombing won’t be enough. – Wall Street Journal

Ksenia Svetlova writes: There is no denying that Russia is an important country and Israel must continue to cooperate with it. But one must not forget for a moment that at the end of the day, the only country Israel can lean on is the United States – its sole true strategic ally. – Ynet


Iraqi security forces used tear gas against a few hundred protesters gathered in central Baghdad on Thursday, hours after a curfew was announced in the Iraqi capital on the heels of two days of deadly violence that gripped the country amid anti-government protests. – Associated Press

Iranian news outlets have widely denied reports that Baghdad has ordered the Iraqi consulate to suspend its activities in Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad. – Radio Farda

Eric R Mandel writes: Today, the failed Iraqi state has been taken over by Iran, America’s most dangerous Middle East adversary, which not only has political parties allied with it in the Iraqi government but, more consequentially, controls the nation’s most powerful force: the Shi’ite militia al-Hashd al-Sha’bi, which has ethnically cleansed Sunni areas for an Iranian land corridor to the Mediterranean and answers only to the supreme leader and his Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. How does this serve American interests? – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

A year after dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, his body has yet to be found. No one has been held legally responsible for his death. […]But so far Saudi Arabia has only charged alleged operatives while Turkish authorities say Riyadh has impeded their own efforts to seek justice. – Wall Street Journal

The Saudis, while condemning Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, have criticized the unrelenting Western focus on the case as one fueled by partisan politics in the United States and promoted by the kingdom’s regional foes Iran, Turkey and Qatar. – New York Times

Robin Wright writes: Khashoggi’s cold-blooded killing and the kingdom’s troubled war in Yemen have intensified doubts in Congress about Saudi Arabia. An attack last month on two Saudi oil installations, which temporarily crippled half the country’s petroleum production, did little to generate sympathy, even after the United States and Europe blamed Iran for the nighttime air strikes. […]In the traumatic last seconds of his life, Khashoggi probably never imagined the rippling impact that his death would have across the globe. – New Yorker

Kim Ghattas writes: MbS appears to be trying his hand at the Iranian playbook. The rules of the game between Iran and Saudi Arabia have changed, and the murder in the consulate was a gruesome twist. Khashoggi was one of this long-standing rivalry’s many victims, but he won’t be the last. – The Atlantic

Middle East & North Africa

Where once it could rely on the support of Tunisia’s socially conservative, less developed interior, it now faces a challenge from populist outsiders who challenge the main parties over poverty. – Reuters 

Turkey’s Middle Eastern borders have always been porous and prone to smuggling and clandestine crossings. After the Syrian turmoil broke out in 2011, long-standing smuggling routes became supply channels for armed rebels, including the Islamic State (IS). Having lost control on the ground, IS may be unable to use the smuggling routes as before, but its cross-border dealings are far from over. – Al-Monitor

A leading rights group has condemned “the biggest crackdown” under Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, following scattered anti-government protests last month. – Associated Press

April Corley writes: When a foreign country uses U.S. military aid to harm or murder an American citizen, I have to believe that putting America and Americans first means holding that country accountable. […]Holding Egypt accountable would demonstrate to the world that U.S. military aid does not come with a license to maim or kill U.S. citizens with impunity. – Washington Post 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea announced Thursday it had successfully tested a new type of ballistic missile the previous day that is designed to be fired from a submarine, in a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions just ahead of a resumption of negotiations with the United States over its nuclear weapons program. – Washington Post

North Korea’s penchant for packaging provocation with peace overtures resurfaced Wednesday, as Pyongyang committed to resuming nuclear talks with Washington—then promptly fired a ballistic missile. – Wall Street Journal

The North Korean missile that landed in Japanese waters on Wednesday offered another stark reminder of the threat posed to Japan by the kinds of short-range weapons that the North has been testing in recent months. – New York Times

Shortly after the launch US and South Korean officials said the missile was assessed to be a Submarine Launch Ballistic type missile (SLBM), though a US official said it was launched from a barge-like platform designed to test underwater launches and not a submarine which North Korea has never demonstrate the ability to fire from. The latest US assessment says that the missile was not underwater when it was launched from the barge. – CNN

George F. Will writes: North Korea’s opaque regime possesses nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and conventional artillery and rockets that could devastate large portions of this metropolitan area of nearly 26 million without any infantry or armor crossing the 38th parallel. But North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un is less unpopular among South Koreans than is Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. – Washington Post


Chinese factories are suddenly looking a bit healthier. U.S. manufacturers aren’t. While some Beijing-based trade warriors may be gloating and Washington-based ones sulking, investors shouldn’t jump to conclusions. – Wall Street Journal

The 70th anniversary of Communist rule in China exposed a rift among Republicans over how to talk about the country. – Wall Street Journal

Ian Johnson writes: China today is more serious about being a superpower. When the spontaneous enthusiasm flagged on Tuesday, cheerleaders made sure the flags kept waving. And security was so tight that it bordered on paranoia: Neighborhood parks around town implemented airport-style security to even enter. But that, too, was part of the spectacle, the message and the vision of a focused and disciplined state, led by the Chinese Communist Party, that can put on a spectacle few countries can match. – New York Times

Edward Wong writes: In an era when China plays a dominant role on the global stage, foreign officials, whether in Washington or Moscow or Hanoi, use such events to discern the   intentions of Mr. Xi and determine whether the economic juggernaut of China is a political and military threat. And the festivities on Tuesday sent a clear message at a complicated time for China’s diplomacy. – New York Times 


Senior Taliban leaders are meeting with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad as part of a push to revive an Afghanistan peace deal that has included stops in Russia, China and Iran. – Associated Press

An Afghan official says Taliban fighters have launched attacks in districts in and around Taluqan, the capital of northern Takhar province. – Associated Press

While the territorial dominance and perpetual attacks orchestrated by the Taliban remains at the forefront of the fragile nation’s woes, the presence of other insurgent groups and blatant threats to U.S. interests also lurk in the periphery. – Fox News


With placards and chants, they rejected the notion that their semiautonomous city is anything like mainland China, pushed back against Beijing’s control and demanded free, direct elections for city leaders. Protests were sparked in June by a bill to allow extraditions to mainland China, but they have swelled into an all-out rebuke of Hong Kong’s political system, in which leaders are handpicked by and answerable to Beijing. – Washington Post

Hong Kong’s cabinet will meet Friday to invoke emergency powers to tackle spiraling protests and lawlessness, starting with a ban on people wearing masks that are used to protect themselves from tear gas or hide their identities, people familiar with the plan said. – Wall Street Journal

The Myanmar government has ratified the United Nations protocol on child soldiers, formally committing the country to putting an end to what has been a persistent reality for all sides involved in the Southeast Asian country’s long-running armed conflicts. – Jane’s 360

Timothy McLaughlin writes: It is almost a cliché now to note that the unofficial motto of this leaderless movement is “Be like water.” For months, the protests have morphed and shifted, moving far beyond the now-withdrawn extradition bill that sparked the rallies and coalescing around a ferociously anti-China message unique in that it is emanating from within China itself. – The Atlantic


In his first public comments on the political scandal that has engulfed the Trump administration, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wouldn’t oppose his conversations with President Trump being made public, a reversal of the Kremlin’s position opposing the publication of the two leaders’ talks. – Wall Street Journal

The FBI is running ads on Facebook in the Washington DC area seemingly designed to target and recruit Russian spies as well as those who know about their work, CNN has learned. – CNN

Russian President Vladimir Putin poked fun at the ongoing political crisis in the US by joking about election meddling Wednesday. – CNN

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak accused the U.S. of weaponizing liquefied natural gas (LNG) — gas which is super-cooled to liquid form — in an attempt to derail Moscow’s economic ties to Western Europe. – CNBC


The U.S. plans to swiftly impose tariffs on $7.5 billion in aircraft, food products and other goods from the European Union after the World Trade Organization authorized the levies Wednesday, citing the EU’s subsidies to Airbus – Wall Street Journal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new proposals to break the deadlock over Brexit met with some skepticism from European officials Wednesday, setting the stage for weeks of tense political maneuvering before the U.K.’s scheduled exit from the European Union on Oct. 31. – Wall Street Journal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a final Brexit offer to the European Union on Wednesday, pitching a possible compromise for a last-minute exit deal that was cautiously welcomed by the EU though the two sides still remain far apart. – Reuters

France is poised to become the first European country to use facial recognition technology to give citizens a secure digital identity — whether they want it or not. – Bloomberg

Dozens of neo-Nazis marched through the German city of Dortmund on Monday, calling for Palestinian support to eradicate Israel. – Ynet

Europe would be vulnerable to even more economic “pain” if the Trump administration decided to press ahead with U.S. investment curbs against China, analysts told CNBC. – CNBC

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Talks can stall at any moment if Zelenskiy gets cold feet. That said, other participants will push him toward an agreement that leaves the eastern territories under formal Ukrainian but actual Russian control — the outcome that Poroshenko has long feared. Fighting would stop, European sanctions on Russia would erode and Russian sovereignty over annexed Crimea would be tacitly accepted. – Bloomberg

Lionel Laurent writes: Johnson talks openly of “collusion” between the EU and his rivals in Westminster. This is the kind of rhetoric that lends itself to hostility, not flexibility. The most likely outcome is that Europe will dodge a no-deal Brexit on Halloween by extending the deadline again, but patience and trust are being stretched thin. Downing Street wouldn’t have it any other way. – Bloomberg

The Americas

A U.S. prosecutor alleged Wednesday that Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán gave $1 million to the brother of the Honduran president that was meant to go to the president to protect drug shipments going through the country. – Wall Street Journal

The Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba will require Venezuelans to obtain a visa to visit, its government said on Wednesday, adding to the nations that have tightened entry restrictions on the crisis-hit country because of mass emigration. – Reuters

Venezuela is asking the U.N. Security Council to affirm that the United States and 10 other countries have no authority to use force against the South American nation by invoking the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty. – Associated Press

A study carried out for the World Zionist Organization and the Argentine Jewish Federations – DAIA during June and July 2019 shows troubling data on the state of anti-Semitism in the country. – Arutz Sheva

Mark Goldfeder writes: For the most part, white supremacist or alt-right anti-Semitism is not tolerated in these United States, and that is something to be thankful for. But it is high time to call out a particular form of anti-Semitism that too often does go unchallenged in polite society, and does pose a real threat to our values: the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. – Washington Examiner 


Aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) continues to face electrical system challenges even as repairs are ongoing, and the ship may not be ready to deploy until mid-November or later, USNI News has learned. – USNI News

The Marine Corps continues its drive to become a more agile and maritime-focused force that can respond to tensions quickly and buy decision space for military leaders and diplomats, the commandant said. – USNI News 

Bell has pulled the shroud off its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) design for the Army after keeping it under wraps as a competition for a chance to build prototypes heats up. – Defense News 

The Army has completed a two-year effort to shrink the number of software programs it uses, a move that would allow service leaders to buy, maintain and field systems easier and to bolster network security. – Fifth Domain 

The US Air Force has tested an unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile with a launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. – Associated Press

The challenges of countering drones while advancing on defensive positions held by opposing forces is certainly different than setting up point defense around critical infrastructure, though it is not wholly irrelevant. Jammers and other electronic warfare defeat capabilities are broadly prohibited from use in domestic contexts, and even some tracking systems may run afoul of privacy concerns under state and federal regulations. – C4ISRNET 

Trump Administration

The Trump administration plans to sell more Javelin antitank missiles to Ukraine, U.S. officials said Wednesday, moving forward with a sale that Ukraine’s president sought in his July 25 call with President Trump. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration’s sanctions chief, responsible for wielding U.S. financial firepower as the White House’s primary foreign-policy tool, is leaving for the private sector, Treasury Department officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged for the first time that he listened in on the phone call between President Trump and Ukraine’s leader that has resulted in a House impeachment inquiry, and said the conversation occurred in the context of normal U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

The House committees leading an impeachment inquiry into President Trump said they planned to issue a subpoena to force the White House to turn over records related to a pair of phone calls between Mr. Trump and Ukraine’s president on a day when each side took to the microphones to accuse the other, in stark terms, of bad faith. – Wall Street Journal

Kurt Volker, the former special representative for Ukraine negotiations, will dispute Rudy Giuliani’s account of back channel meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, sources told the Washington Examiner. – Washington Examiner 

The State Department’s inspector general briefed congressional aides Wednesday about an apparent attempt to smear the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who is seen by House Democrats as a key witness in their impeachment inquiry. – Politico