Fdd's overnight brief

October 31, 2018

In The News


On a sunny day in late June, an Iranian émigré named Amir Saadouni met on the terrace of a Luxembourg cafe with an Iranian intelligence agent known to him only as Daniel, who for years had paid him to spy on a France-based group that opposes the regime in Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Denmark interrupted an Iranian assassination plot in the country, the Danish government said Tuesday, as it called for the European Union to respond, at a critical moment in relations between Europe and Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Do business in Iran or in the United States’’ is how Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran policy, put it last month. But despite the hard-line approach, it looks like there will be plenty of countries –- including American allies — either in open violation or seeking waivers. The last time the U.S. imposed similar sanctions, during the Obama administration, China, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Taiwan and India won exemptions. – Bloomberg

A UK-based Iranian TV station is being funded through a secretive offshore entity and a company whose director is a Saudi Arabian businessman with close links to the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Guardian can reveal. – The Guardian

Katherine Bauer and Elana DeLozier write: The U.S. sanctions set to resume on November 5 threaten to hobble the procurement channel, the mechanism established by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to monitor transfers of material, equipment, and other assistance required for Iran’s nuclear program. The channel oversees procurements for nuclear and some commercial purposes; it is also the route by which Tehran is obliged to notify the UN about certain modifications to its nuclear facilities and related activities. – Washington Institute


Turkey threatened to expand a military assault on U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, risking a faceoff with American troops stationed there as frictions with Damascus grew over a brittle agreement. – Bloomberg

Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen will be the new United Nations Syria envoy, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council in a letter seen by Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters

A Turkish-Russian deal for Syria’s Idlib has revived efforts towards a diplomatic solution to the country’s seven-year war, but analysts say a political settlement is still far off. – Agence France-Presse


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has for years boasted about warming ties with key Arab states that have no diplomatic relations with Israel. But those ties — still largely unpopular among the Arab public — were rarely visible. That changed on Friday, when Netanyahu made an unannounced visit to Oman, where he met longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said. – Associated Press

Israel’s communications minister called for “peace and security” on Tuesday during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, as his country launches an unprecedented diplomatic push into Gulf states. – Agence France-Presse

Israel Aerospace Industries announced two deals worth a total of $1.3 billion with India between Oct. 24 and 29. One deal will see IAI outfit the Indian Army with the Sky Capture air defense system, a contract worth $550 million. In addition, IAI will provide $777 million worth of Barak 8 missile defense systems, known as LRSAM in India, for seven ships. – Defense News

Israelis voted in municipal elections across the country Tuesday, with a closely watched race in Jerusalem — a city with great importance to billions of people around the world. – Associated Press

Hundreds of Druze Arabs, some carrying Syrian flags, gathered outside the gates of a polling station in Israel’s Golan Heights on Tuesday, trying to block their townspeople from voting in municipal elections. – Reuters

Speaking at a PLO Central Council meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinian government will continue to pay salaries to the families of martyrs, prisoners, and wounded Palestinians, even if salaries are subtracted from Palestinian money held by Israel. – Middle East Research Institute

The Israel Defense Forces field a wide variety of American military equipment, due to significant amounts of American military aid to Israel. However, American equipment has not always been the best suited to the tough desert and urban conditions encountered by the IDF. As a result, American equipment in Israeli service is often extensively modified to fit the IDF’s unique mission. Here are some unique derivatives of American equipment that the IDF fields. – National Interest

Saudi Arabia

A senior member of the Saudi royal family, who had feared returning to the kingdom, flew back to Riyadh from London on Tuesday in the most significant move in the royal family since the killing of the dissident Jamal Khashoggi. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia’s royal family is closing ranks to protect the monarchy from a storm of criticism after the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate. – Wall Street Journal

The ouster was not completely surprising, since his cousin was the favored son of bin Nayef’s uncle Salman, the current king. But the speed and apparent ruthlessness with which it was done — a late-night summons that left the crown prince with little choice — were shocking to many in the extended royal family, in which decisions had traditionally been made by consensus after extensive consultation. – Washington Post

Police are investigating the mysterious deaths of two sisters from Saudi Arabia whose bodies, bound together with tape, washed up on New York City’s waterfront last week. – Associated Press

The Turkish fiancee of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi has called on President Donald Trump and other leaders to ensure that his death in Istanbul is not covered up, while Saudi Arabia’s top prosecutor on Tuesday visited the Saudi Consulate where officials from his government killed the writer. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor held talks overnight with Turkish intelligence officials over the investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Demiroren news agency said. – Reuters

France doesn’t rule out any sanction against Saudi Arabia if its authorities are found to have been involved in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Dennis Ross writes: Clearly, the Trump administration must act in what the Saudi Minister of Energy, Khalid al-Falih, has now publicly acknowledged “are difficult days” and a crisis the Saudis are going through. Not responding is not an option. Even as the administration seeks to preserve the U.S.-Saudi relationship, it must make the king and MbS understand that the risks are high for Saudi Arabia if it does not change the way it operates. – The Hill

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Juggling multiple question marks about what comes next in Syria would be difficult under normal circumstances, but the Khashoggi affair, in which Saudi Arabian former insider and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul, has changed calculations about a key U.S. ally in the region. – National Interest

Middle East & North Africa

Turkey’s first deep-sea drilling ship, flanked by Turkish war vessels, set sail Tuesday looking for natural gas and oil in contested waters of the Mediterranean, a launch liable to exacerbate longstanding tensions with Greece. – Bloomberg

Three Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims were killed by a roadside bomb as they walked to a holy site near the northeastern Iraqi city of Khanaqin on Tuesday, police said. – Reuters

The U.S. said talks to end the war in Yemen must start in November, ramping up pressure on Saudi Arabia to dial back its aggressive foreign policy following the murder of a vocal critic of the kingdom. – Bloomberg

The Trump administration has given details of a UN-brokered peace plan aimed at ending the war in Yemen, beginning with a ceasefire within 30 days and talks to be held in Sweden. – The Guardian

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s top court on Tuesday stirred decades-old resentments that threaten to inflame relations with Japan, ordering a leading Japanese steel maker to compensate Korean men forced to work as slave laborers during World War II. – New York Times

Defense chiefs from the two nations will gather for an annual meeting in Washington on Wednesday facing a radically changed landscape after President Donald Trump’s decision to restart nuclear negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. While those discussions put off the prospect of a conflict, Trump has also canceled major military exercises to facilitate the detente. – Bloomberg

South Korea’s spy agency has observed preparations by North Korea for international inspections at several of its nuclear and missile test sites, the Yonhap news agency said on Wednesday, citing a South Korean lawmaker. – Reuters


Intelligence officers in a small office in China’s vast intelligence-gathering network for years stole secrets from aerospace companies in the United States and abroad, Justice Department officials said on Tuesday in unsealing the third indictment in recent weeks that detailed China’s elaborate efforts to steal corporate secrets through espionage and hacking. – New York Times

As the United States and China swap threats and mete out increasingly punishing tariffs, the world is watching to see whether Beijing turns to one of its most potent economic weapons. It involves the number 7. – New York Times

The Chinese military is expanding its collaborations with foreign universities, sometimes concealing its scientists’ military ties, according to an Australian report published Tuesday. The report raises questions about whether countries wary of China’s rising power are in fact directly contributing to its military advancement. – New York Times

Federal prosecutors unsealed charges against 10 Chinese intelligence officers and other individuals Tuesday, accusing them of engaging in a persistent campaign to hack into U.S. aviation companies in Arizona, Massachusetts, Oregon and elsewhere. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese leaders have tried but failed to assimilate the Uighurs before. Due to a dramatic change in China’s global clout and influence, Beijing may now find its assimilation plan easier to implement. – Washington Post

China expects the U.S. Navy to send warships through the Taiwan Strait in November, an action Chinese officials say infringes on their national sovereignty but American military leaders say is in keeping with international law. – USNI News

The Chinese economy has revealed fresh signs of the pressure of a trade war with the US and a wider slowdown at home as manufacturing activity fell and the yuan was fixed at a new 10-year low to the dollar. – The Guardian

Arthur Herman writes: Unfortunately, time is short: perhaps only a matter of weeks, not months. China is already planning to take its victory lap at the congress in Barcelona, following formal signings with Saudi Arabia and other countries. However, a U.S. delegation armed with the DoD RFP can be there to spoil the party, and signal that America is coming back strong and tall, for the future of information technology and freedom. – Hudson Institute


Senior Taliban members once held at Guantanamo Bay have joined the group’s political office in Qatar, a potential step forward in nascent peace talks under way between Washington and Afghanistan’s main insurgency. – Wall Street Journal

An Afghan army helicopter crashed Wednesday in bad weather in the western Farah province, killing all 25 people on board, including the deputy corps commander of the western zone, a provincial spokesman said. – Associated Press

A suicide bomber targeting a bus carrying employees of Afghanistan’s biggest prison killed at least seven people on Wednesday, officials said, in the latest militant attack in the war-torn country. – Agence France-Presse


A Pakistani Christian mother whose death sentence for blasphemy sparked an international outcry was freed by the country’s highest court on Wednesday. The Supreme Court ruled that her sentence be set aside. – Wall Street Journal

Potentially faulty or misleading airspeed indications in the cockpit have emerged as an initial focus of safety experts delving into the Lion Air jet crash in Indonesia that killed 189 passengers and crew, according to industry officials tracking the investigation. – Wall Street Journal

A trade pact between 11 Pacific Rim nations will come into force this year after Australia became the sixth country to ratify it, nearly two years after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from talks. – Wall Street Journal

The newly elected governor of the Japanese island of Okinawa said Tokyo’s decision to press ahead with the construction of a new U.S. military base on Tuesday is “outrageous” and disrespects local democracy. – Washington Post

Philippine Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi is optimistic that a deal to jointly explore disputed areas of the South China Sea for oil and gas will finally move forward when President Xi Jinping visits next month. – Bloomberg

Japan and South Korea will try to keep a row over World War Two forced laborers from spiraling into a crisis, after a court ruling forced the U.S. allies to confront hardening public opinion and divergent views of history. – Reuters


Russia plans to test missiles off Norway this week in an area where NATO is carrying out its biggest military exercises since the end of the Cold War, a move seen as an escalation of tensions in the Far North. – Agence France-Presse

Russia’s only aircraft carrier was damaged in a dock accident Tuesday that left one person missing and four injured, officials said. – Associated Press

A man set off a bomb at the entrance of the local branch of Russia’s main intelligence agency in a northern city Wednesday, injuring three security officials and killing himself, authorities said. – Associated Press

A government-to-government contract was signed between India and United Shipbuilding Corporation of Russia last week for the supply of two stealth frigates after two years of negotiations, an Indian Ministry of Defence official said. – Defense News

The U.S. and NATO are preparing for the wrong type of war with Russia. The Russian Armed Forces has determined that hybrid warfare will characterize future conflict and is actively preparing for that future. NATO in turn remains excessively focused on the conventional threat. Mason Clark and Catherine Harris write: Russia is developing its military doctrine for hybrid warfare through discourse among high-ranking military officers in military journals based on their experience in conflicts abroad, namely Syria and Ukraine. The pattern of these discussions is similar to that the discourse that shaped military thought and development in the Soviet Union.. – Institute for the Study of War

Janusz Bugajski writes: Both the United States and Russia project and protect their national interests by trying to influence developments in key states, but their methods and goals are fundamentally different. For Washington, democracy and security are viewed as two reinforcing pillars that strengthen the transatlantic alliance even if the policy emphasis shifts between different administrations. […]Moscow’s professed national interest is to restore dominance over its European neighbors by undermining their security and weakening their sovereignty. – European Policy Analysis


Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to step down from her party’s chair this week started a race whose outcome will shape Germany’s political direction. – Wall Street Journal

A force of NATO warships, aircraft and marines stormed a beach here in Europe’s icy north on Tuesday to practice repelling an invader, part of the bloc’s largest military exercises since the Cold War. – Wall Street Journal

NATO’s secretary general said Tuesday he is confident the Western military alliance and Russia “will act in a respectable way” as both hold training exercises in the same area off Norway’s coast. – Associated Press

Charles Grant writes: The departure of Angela Merkel from the leadership of her party will make little difference to the Brexit negotiations. One of the few things Germany’s mainstream parties – the three in government and the Free Democrats and Greens in opposition – agree on is giving firm support to Michel Barnier, the European commission’s chief negotiator. So even if the parties in the coalition change, the German line on Brexit – which to the British government seems hard – will not. – The Guardian


An American missionary died in northwestern Cameroon after being shot in the head Tuesday amid fighting between armed separatists and soldiers, the director of a regional hospital said. – New York Times

The normal-looking campaign rally in Somalia’s capital this month was anything but. Dozens of people in T-shirts bearing the smiling candidate’s image and “Security and Justice” were praising the former No. 2 leader of Africa’s deadliest Islamic extremist group, the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, who until recently was the target of a $5 million U.S. reward. – Associated Press

The European Union is set to renew sanctions in December on senior officials in Democratic Republic of Congo, including presidential candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, four Western diplomats told Reuters. – Reuters

Dozens of soldiers stationed in northeast Nigeria, in the heart of Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency, have disappeared — but the army is saying nothing. – Agence France-Presse

A Ugandan government investigation into alleged fraud over refugee numbers has confirmed that previous figures were exaggerated by 300,000. An official inquiry, conducted since March by the office of the prime minister and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, found that Uganda hosts 1.1 million refugees rather than 1.4 million. – The Guardian

United States

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump paid homage Tuesday to each of the 11 people slain in the worst instance of anti-Semitic violence in American history. As the Trumps placed their tributes outside the Tree of Life synagogue, protesters nearby shouted that the president was not welcome. – Associated Press

The man accused of sending bomb-like devices to at least 15 high-profile Democratic lawmakers, celebrities and CNN had been planning since at least July, according to a letter filed Tuesday night in federal court. – USA Today

The more than 5,200 active-duty troops being sent by President Donald Trump to the U.S.-Mexico border will be limited in what they can do under a federal law that restricts the military from engaging in law enforcement on American soil. – Associated Press

“This American carnage stops right here, and stops right now,” President Donald Trump said at his inauguration, describing a fractured society. Twenty-one months later, voters brace for midterm elections darkened by the specter of domestic terrorism. – Agence France-Presse

Latin America

A caravan of about 1,000 Central American migrants crossed into Mexico and began trekking north on Tuesday, a few hundred miles behind a larger caravan also headed to the U.S. border. – Wall Street Journal

Venezuela poses a clear threat to regional stability and its economic collapse could drag down key U.S. allies in Latin America such as Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, a senior Treasury Department official warned on Tuesday. – Reuters

Emily Atkin writes: Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right nationalist who on Sunday was elected Brazil’s new president, has been called the “Brazilian Trump.” But he’s more extreme than that. His rhetoric is more explicitly violent and bigoted, and his rule threatens more than just the fourth-largest democracy in the world. The livability of the entire planet is at stake. – The New Republic

Cyber Security

The massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, the pipe bombing attempts from last week and the Florida high school shooting this year have underscored the dilemma of law enforcement around the country in assessing the risk of people making online rants at a time when social media has become so ubiquitous. – Associated Press

The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency worries that an issue that was officially cited as one of the U.S. failures in the 9/11 attacks also could be a threat to America’s ability to develop cyber counterintelligence. – Defense News

The Department of Defense needs to work closely with the Departments of Homeland Security and Energy in developing and implementing a national cyber defense strategy, according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan. – Defense News

The Department of Homeland Security has created a task force to secure U.S. technology amid concerns that the American supply chain has been infected by foreign hackers. – Defense News

Frank Bruni writes: The internet is the technology paradox writ more monstrous than ever. It’s a nonpareil tool for learning, roving and constructive community-building. […]I don’t know exactly how we square free speech and free expression — which are paramount — with a better policing of the internet, but I’m certain that we need to approach that challenge with more urgency than we have mustered so far. Democracy is at stake. So are lives. – New York Times

Kara Swisher writes: I naïvely thought a lone man sending a reporter a missive of malevolence could not find such refuge on the wide-open internet, where his hate would be seen for what it was and denounced and exorcised. I was obviously very wrong. Instead, the internet gave people like him the space to grow and thrive. Tech made no real rules, claiming the freedom from any strictures would be O.K. in what is the greatest experiment in human communications ever. – New York Times

A. Brad Schwartz writes: Without impeding the flow of ideas, internet providers can and should place reasonable limits on how some ideas are expressed, both by strengthening efforts to block websites that mimic legitimate news sources and by shuttering accounts that spread counterfeit journalism — whether they represent individuals, automated “bots” or government entities. – New York Times

David von Drehle writes: They use the Internet to assemble passionate audiences, not always large; niche audiences whose intensity will motivate them to subscribe, to donate, to purchase, to obsess. […]Through subscriptions, tipping and other expressions of customer passion, Gab would capitalize on “a fragmentation process of the social media networking ecosystem into smaller niche communities with shared values and ideals.” – Washington Post


The Marine Corps may have expanded its use of ground-based Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (SP-MAGTFs) in response to a shortage of amphibious ships to carry Marines around the globe, but Marine Corps leadership says the service is committed to these units even as the number of available amphibious ships is rising. – USNI News

Six months into the job, the head of the U.S. Army’s Rapid Capabilities Office is leaving to join the F-35 Joint Program Office as its top civilian. Tanya Skeen is set to take on the role of the F-35 JPO’s executive director early next year, when the current director, Todd Mellon, vacates the position, confirmed F-35 JPO spokesman Joe DellaVedova. – Defense News

In mid-October, the U.S. Air Force received its largest shipment of ordnance since the bombing of Yugoslavia in the late 1990s. The measure is part of a lockstep approach by U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. European Command to rearm the continent and bolster its deterrence posture. – Defense News

History has informed international defense companies that it’s difficult to play ball in the United States, but as the U.S. Army looks to rapidly modernize, both American and international companies are finding that partnering to bring readily available advanced technology and weapon systems into the U.S. is a win-win for both sides. – Defense News

Karlyn Bowman writes: Americans haven’t focused on President Trump’s proposal to create a Space Force, and different question wording pulls them in different directions. It is premature to know how their opinions will solidify. – Forbes

Jonathan Brewer writes: The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a critical threat facing the international community. Numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) place binding obligations on member states to put in place measures to combat proliferation threats, whether from non-state actors, including terrorist groups, or specific state actors like North Korea. Among the tools to counter the spread of WMDs is the adoption of policies designed to deter, disrupt, and eliminate the financing of proliferation. – New American Security

Melissa Dalton, Daniel Mahanty, Hijab Shah and Julie Snyder write:  The United States’ national security and defense strategies, as well as trends in U.S. military operations around the globe, reflect a preference for working by, with, and through partners to achieve common security objectives. However, partnerships in armed conflict can aggravate or reduce the risk of harm to civilians, exposing civilians to a wide array of risks. –  Center for Strategic and International Studies

Trump Administration

A spokesman for Robert S. Mueller III said Tuesday that the special counsel’s office has asked the FBI to examine claims that women were offered money to say Mueller behaved inappropriately toward them decades ago. – Washington Post

The special counsel investigation is pressing witnesses about longtime Trump ally Roger Stone’s private interactions with senior campaign officials and whether he had knowledge of politically explosive Democratic emails that were released in October 2016, according to people familiar with the probe. – Washington Post

Marc A. Thiessen writes: Now Democrats are doing exactly what they condemned, blaming President Trump’s divisive rhetoric for the recent spate of mail bomb attacks and the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The truth is they ceded the moral high ground years ago. Our descent into vitriol began long before Trump — and Democrats and their allies are as culpable as the president. – Washington Post

Marcy Wheeler writes: Shortly after Mueller was appointed in May 2017, Trump’s team claimed that the special counsel had conflicts of interest—claims that Trump might use to justify firing him. More recently, Trump has complained that the investigation—which by special counsel standards has barely begun—has gone on too long. If Trump is planning on firing Mueller, he’s most likely to do it right after the election, since it will take two months before the new Congress is sworn in and any political consequences will be delayed. – The New Republic