Fdd's overnight brief

October 5, 2018

In The News


Big questions loom over the European Union’s plan to create a money-transfer system to help Iran. Among them: Can this entity help sustain a meaningful amount of trade with Iran? Can it be safeguarded from the United States’ financial sleuths? Will it require significant use by two of America’s biggest adversaries, China and Russia, to really work? – New York Times

The Trump administration is giving greater priority to Iran and radical groups it backs in a new U.S. counterterrorism strategy document released on Thursday that further increases the pressure from Washington on Tehran. – Reuters

Germany and Israel agree that Iran should never be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons but they differ on how to achieve this goal, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. – Reuters

Charles Bybelezer writes: France’s Jekyll-and-Hyde game seemingly reinforces the contention of opponents of the atomic pact that the de-coupling of the nuclear issue from Iran’s other “nefarious” behaviors was bound to embolden the Islamic Republic. […]There is thus some common ground with President Donald Trump, although few believe that Paris will fall in line with Washington. – Jerusalem Post

Efraim Inbar writes: As the international community, including the US, has no appetite for a military confrontation with Iran, it is left to Israel to prevent its nuclearization. The only way to do it is by brute force, adding a new dimension to the war conducted already against Iran. This is an inevitable imperative for Jerusalem. Jerusalem Post


Islamic State has threatened to execute more than two dozen women and children it kidnapped in southwest Syria, if the Assad government doesn’t halt a monthslong offensive against its fighters in the area by Friday. – Wall Street Journal

A senior U.S. general on Thursday sharply criticized Russia’s deployment of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system in Syria, saying it was a needless escalation and a knee-jerk response to last month’s downing of a Russian military aircraft there. – Reuters

The clock is ticking to implement a Russian-Turkish deal for the Syrian rebel region of Idlib, but its terms remain hazy and little has changed on the ground. – Agence France-Presse

The Assad regime, Russia, and Iran have been preparing for a military campaign in Idlib province, although under the agreement signed by Putin and Erdoğan the battle is postponed to some time in the future. […]This report will review the various reports on the drafting of opposition fighters and their integration into the forces of the Syrian regime and its allies – Middle East Media Research Institute


Turkey will not leave Syria until the Syrian people hold an election, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday. – Reuters

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday he would consider putting Turkey’s long-stalled bid to join the European Union to a referendum, signaling exasperation with a process he says has been waylaid by prejudice against Muslims. – Reuters

James Stavridis writes: Losing Turkey from the trans-Atlantic world would be a geopolitical mistake of near epic proportions. Yet the U.S. and its European allies cannot bend our basic views on geopolitics or, above all, our value systems. To remain a NATO member and have a deepened relationship with the EU, Turkey must adhere to rule of law, avoid corruption, allow a free media and respect human rights. – Bloomberg


Head bowed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid homage in Jerusalem on Thursday to the six million Jews killed by the Nazis and said Germany had a responsibility to confront anti-Semitism and never to forget the Holocaust. – Reuters

Israel said it was reinforcing troops around Gaza on Thursday as a precaution against Palestinian border protests now in their seventh month, and threatened the enclave’s ruling Hamas Islamists with a “very harsh” response in the event of attacks. – Reuters

Jerusalem’s mayor has said he plans to remove a United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees from the city to “end the lie of the Palestinian refugee problem”. – Al Jazeera

Hanin Ghaddar and Matthew Levitt write: Ultimately, if the intelligence on the Beirut sites is accurate, then Israel may in fact feel compelled to attack them, much as it has done in Syria. Even if exposing such locations to the public does not convince Hezbollah to dismantle them, it would at least counter the group’s narrative that “resistance” is the best way of defending Lebanon and helping the Shia community prosper. – Washington Institute

Saudi Arabia

The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to discuss the whereabouts of veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkey’s state media reported, after he disappeared while visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday. –  Washington Post

Saudi Arabia is in talks with South Africa’s major arms manufacturers and is considering taking an equity stake in the struggling state-owned defense firm Denel, the head of the Saudi state defense company told Reuters. – Reuters

Editorial: The crown prince has been all over the United States preaching his vision of a more modern Saudi society[…]. If he is truly committed to this, he will welcome constructive criticism from patriots such as Mr. Khashoggi. And he will do everything in his power to ensure that Mr. Khashoggi is free and able to continue his work. – Washington Post

Ishaan Tharoor writes: The geopolitical backdrop to Khashoggi’s disappearance is worth considering. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has presided over a sweeping purge of the country’s civil society and government ever since a botched coup attempt in 2016. Yet Turkey has also become something of a sanctuary for Arab dissidents of various stripes. – Washington Post

Middle East

The best way to resolve Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is to fix the economy so stemming a slide in the riyal currency is the top international priority, the U.N. special envoy said on Thursday. – Reuters

The head of a UN-mandated team of investigators on Yemen has accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of interfering in his panel’s work, which accuses all sides of the conflict in Yemen of rights abuses. – Al Jazeera

ISIL no longer holds towns and cities, but its fighters still operate in the desert regions around the Iraq-Syria border. – Al Jazeera

The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was leading in a parliamentary election in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq with 85 percent of votes counted, the election commission said on Thursday. – Reuters

Tafi Mhaka writes: It is in the context of these past and future human rights abuses that the EU’s decision to work with el-Sisi must be strongly condemned. Any deal struck with the Egyptian president will diminish the diplomatic legitimacy and moral authority of the EU in Egypt and beyond. – Al Jazeera

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. Treasury Department said Thursday it imposed sanctions on a Turkish defense firm and its top executives for allegedly trading weapons and luxury goods with North Korea. – Wall Street Journal

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha spoke with The Washington Post about her government’s proposal for breaking the impasse between the United States and North Korea in their ongoing denuclearization talks. The interview took place last week at the South Korean mission to the United Nations. The following is a lightly edited transcript. – Washington Post

Japan should refrain from flying the “Rising Sun” flag on a warship in a fleet review planned in South Korea next week, a North Korean propaganda website said on Friday, joining South Koreans in the latest spat over the countries’ colonial history. – Reuters

Kim Hjelmgaard and Deirdre Shesgreen write: With the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced Friday, USA TODAY asked foreign policy specialists and international relations experts to respond to the following question: “Does Donald Trump deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.” Here’s what they said. – USA Today


A breakdown in relations with the West over the Rohingya crisis is prompting Myanmar to seek closer ties with regional powers such as Japan and India that are eager to counterbalance China’s influence. – Wall Street Journal

In Supermicro, China’s spies appear to have found a perfect conduit for what U.S. officials now describe as the most significant supply chain attack known to have been carried out against American companies. – Bloomberg

Data center equipment run by Amazon Web Services and Apple may have been subject to surveillance from the Chinese government via a tiny microchip inserted during the equipment manufacturing process[…]. The claims in the report have been strongly disputed by the technology giants. – CNBC

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence intensified Washington’s pressure campaign against Beijing on Thursday by accusing China of “malign” efforts to undermine President Donald Trump ahead of next month’s congressional elections and reckless military actions in the South China Sea. – Reuters

Nearly 20 years have passed since Portugal handed Macau over to China, and although colonial culture still infuses parts of daily life, the influence of the territory’s Portuguese elite is declining rapidly as the special administrative region becomes increasingly closer to mainland China. – Reuters

A trio of Democratic senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee has written a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats requesting “additional information” about President Trump’s accusation, made last week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, that China has been “attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election.”  – CBS News

Beijing has been locked in its own escalating trade war with the United States throughout 2018. According to several trade experts, Trump is likely to push harder for concessions from China in a row that could drag on for months – or even years – longer. – Al Jazeera

That report and the vice president’s speech reflected the Trump administration’s growing view of China as a rival to be confronted rather than a rising power to be embraced and co-opted into the international system. It also suggested that what began as a tariff war is hardening into a long-term standoff on many levels. – Foreign Policy

James Pethokoukis writes: Understand what happened here if Bloomberg’s reporting is accurate (and it should be noted that the companies involved deny such an attack took place) about this audacious hardware hack: China is sending its spies to infiltrate mainland companies that form a critical part of the global tech supply chain for the US and other countries. – American Enterprise Institute


More than a year after his plan to privatize the Afghan war was first shot down by the Trump ­administration, Erik Prince returned late last month to Kabul to push the proposal on the beleaguered government in Afghanistan, where many believe he has the ear — and the potential backing — of the U.S. president. – Washington Post

But 17 years into America’s longest war, in which the argument for protecting and “saving” Afghan women has long shaped the rhetoric to invade and maintain troop presence, their advancement in the security sector is still largely at odds with cultural perceptions of women’s place in society. […]there’s concern that programs to recruit and train women have only put them in more danger.. – New York Times

Afghan officials have reacted angrily to speculation that foreign military contractors could take over training and advising the Afghan armed forces, following a renewed push by the founder of private military contractor Blackwater. – Reuters

A U.S. soldier was killed in fighting in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. general said on Thursday, bringing the American combat death toll this year to seven service members. – Reuters


India deported seven Rohingya Muslims who had fled their native Myanmar back to their country Thursday, sparking concerns that the move could endanger their lives and violate international laws that protect refugees. – Washington Post

The United Nations refugee agency voiced deep concern on Friday for the safety and security of seven Rohingya men deported from India to Myanmar, saying they had been denied access to legal counsel and a chance to have their asylum claims assessed. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in India for a two-day visit during which Moscow is expected to ink a weapons deal worth billions of dollars, despite threat of sanctions by the United States. – Al Jazeera

Pakistan has ordered 18 international aid agencies to shut down operations and leave the country, the ActionAid charity said on Thursday, in what would be Islamabad’s latest move against foreign-funded groups. – Reuters

Edward Morgan and Marcus Thompson write: It sets out Australia’s developing information warfare capabilities, with a view to generating discussion between Indo-Pacific security partners and allies on the nature of information warfare in a modern context, and the capabilities and frameworks required to meet this emergent challenge. This is especially important for the U.S.-Australia relationship as two key five-eyes partners. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The United States and major Western allies on Thursday forcefully condemned Russia’s hacking and disinformation operations, announcing indictments and describing in striking detail Moscow’s targeting of top Olympic athletes, anti-doping organizations, and chemical weapons monitors. – Washington Post

One of the Russians accused by U.S. officials of conducting cyber attacks around the world is registered at an address in Moscow that has been identified by the U.S. government as a base of Russian military intelligence. – Reuters

NATO’s chief vowed on Thursday to strengthen the alliance’s defenses against attacks on computer networks that Britain said are directed by Russian military intelligence, also calling on Russia to stop its “reckless” behavior. – Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Thursday that Russia’s violation of an arms control treaty was “untenable” and unless it changed course the United States would respond. – Reuters

Thousands of people took to the streets of the southern Russian region of Ingushetia on Thursday to protest against what they said was an unfair land swap deal with the neighboring Russian region of Chechnya. – Reuters

Editorial: Thursday’s coordinated reveal is part of a growing willingness of Western governments to inform citizens about the true scale of the cyber threat, and it’s important for voters to know. Mr. Putin is beyond embarrassment, but he’s not beyond exposure. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. agent, seems not to have fathomed that few in the West are fooled by his propaganda antics or impressed by his power plays, and that his irresponsible cyberattacks serve only to further diminish his country’s already dismal standing in the world. – New York Times


The European Union’s Brexit negotiators told national diplomats in Brussels late on Thursday that a divorce deal with Britain was “very close”, according to two sources present at the meeting. – Reuters

A court in Norway extended the detention of a Russian citizen suspected of spying at the Norwegian parliament for another two weeks on Thursday, despite Moscow’s protests, his lawyer said. – Reuters

The chief of Belarus’s secret police, the KGB, says Ukrainian citizen Pavlo Sharoyko, who was sentenced to eight years in prison on espionage charges in May, could soon be pardoned. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Six soldiers were killed Thursday and several others seriously injured when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in eastern Burkina Faso in the latest attack in the jihadist-hit country, security sources said. – Agence France-Presse

France carried out air strikes in northern Burkina Faso after Islamist militants attacked a police unit at a local gold mine, the latest incident to underscore rising insurgency in the West African region. – Reuters

Anjali Dayal writes: But the parable of the Rwandan genocide — a story about clear abandonment in the face of clear, avoidable calamity — must be understood within the context of the insufficient measures the UN and its member states took before the genocide. The violent processes that produce mass atrocity continue today, and so too do the half-measures and earnest efforts policymakers take to try and forestall the next Rwanda. –  War on the Rocks


A combination of Chinese influence and budgetary uncertainty means America’s defense industrial base is decaying at the lower levels, with some vital suppliers facing “domestic extinction,” a new study from the Trump administration is warning — and direct investment from the administration appears to be the solution. – Defense News

U.S. President Donald Trump is peeved with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson over her handling of his directive to stand up a separate Space Force in the U.S. military, and he’s considering ousting her after the midterm elections[…]. – Foreign Policy

Boeing and Brazilian aerospace company Embraer are reportedly discussing the prospect of building an assembly line for Embraer’s KC-390 cargo planes in the United States. – Defense News

The U.S. Army has picked Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to continue on the path to develop a next-generation air and missile defense radar following a concept design phase that looked at four different companies’ technology, according to company representatives. – Defense News

The U.S. industries responsible for the production of military weapons systems show “a number of vulnerabilities,” a White House report revealed Thursday, according to a senior administration official. – Fox News