Fdd's overnight brief

October 9, 2018

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran is finding it hard to receive payments for its natural-gas exports to Iraq, as U.S. pressure hits one of the Islamic Republic’s most crucial sources of revenue beyond crude. – Wall Street Journal

Oil prices started the week under pressure amid reports the U.S. could grant waivers to some buyers of Iranian crude when oil sanctions on the Islamic Republic go into effect next month. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s parliament voted Sunday to join a global convention to cut off terror financing, hoping to avoid further international sanctions as the 2015 nuclear accord unravels. Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said 143 out of 268 lawmakers voted to join the “Combating the Financing of Terrorism,” or CFT. – Associated Press

The Trump administration is actively considering waivers on sanctions it will reimpose next month for countries that are reducing their imports of Iranian oil, a U.S. government official said on Friday. – Reuters

The United States asked judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to throw out a claim by Iran to recover $1.75bn in national bank assets seized by American courts. – Al Jazeera

European finance ministers will try to persuade the Trump administration not to cut off Iran’s access to Swift, the global financial messaging service, in meetings with Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, at the IMF gathering in Bali this week. – Financial Times

Former Secretary of State John Kerry said he has not met with any Iranians since President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, despite vocalizing his disagreement with the administration’s decision. – CNN

An internal battle is being fought inside the Trump administration to save Iran’s access to international financial markets, providing Tehran with a critical lifeline ahead of the implementation of harsh new economic sanctions, according to multiple U.S. officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon. – Washington Free Beacon

Maysam Behravesh writes: Iran’s shift to a more “offensive” foreign policy following Trump’s decision to leave the nuclear accord five months ago is at least partly due to the empowerment of hardliners in Iranian decision-making circles, including hawkish elements within the Revolutionary Guards. – Reuters

Alan Mendoza writes: Europe is weakening democratic principles by capitulating to Iran’s wishes. The unwavering commitment of European countries to the JCPOA means that they are forced to effectively turn a blind eye to the turmoil Iran has been sowing across the Middle East. – Washington Examiner

Tyler Headley writes: The recent increase in diplomatic jockeying between the United States and Iran may counterintuitively alleviate some consternation in the Gulf region, where despite the joint nuclear deal, Iran still exerted regional influence to wage proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Declining relations between the U.S. and Iran may thus signal affirmatively an increase in military and economic support to the GCC countries[…]. – The National Interest


Jihadists and Turkish-backed rebels have withdrawn most heavy weapons from territory around Syria’s last major opposition stronghold ahead of a Wednesday deadline, a monitor said. – Agence France-Presse

A senior Russian diplomat has said that foreign governments demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down have since abandoned this position as world powers search for a solution to the country’s seven-year crisis. – Newsweek

Russia provided the advanced S-300 air defense system to Syria’s military free of charge, transferring three battalions with eight launchers each to the Assad regime, Russia’s state news agency TASS reported Monday. – Times of Israel

The Syrian government has announced an amnesty for men who deserted the army or have avoided military service, giving them several months to report for duty without facing punishment, it said Tuesday. – Reuters


Turkey’s Interior Ministry says police have detained 90 people suspected of links to outlawed Kurdish rebels in simultaneous raids in nine Turkish provinces. – Associated Press

Ahmet Yayla writes: But when he promises to disarm 10,000 al Qaeda-linked fighters and give them free passage out of the area,  where’s he thinking they’ll go? Indications are that Erdogan plans to use them for his own ends, eventually pitting them against Kurdish fighters that have been backed by the United States. – The Daily Beast

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan named several of his advisers and a theology professor to a new economic policy committee, as the country seeks to reassure foreign investors spooked by a falling lira currency and high inflation. – Reuters


A Palestinian man fatally shot two Israeli co-workers and injured a third in an Israeli-run factory in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, an attack that Israeli officials described as terrorism. – New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have agreed to meet for the first time since the downing of a Russian military aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea last month. – CNN

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday vowed during a visit to the Golan Heights to hold on to the disputed territory and insisted that Russia understands Israel’s need to act beyond the northern border to maintain its security. – Times of Israel

Saudi Arabia

President Trump said he is concerned about the disappearance of a prominent Saudi journalist in Istanbul, the latest sign of the White House’s frustration with a key Middle Eastern ally. – Wall Street Journal

A week after dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul for some routine paperwork, the mystery over his disappearance remains unresolved: Turkish officials allege he was killed in the compound; the Saudis say he left the building unharmed. – Associated Press

Charles Lane writes: Yet to those listening closely to what MBS actually says, it is clear that his top priority is not, and never has been, the expansion of individual freedom. His aim is to modernize the Saudi monarchy so as to render it sustainable under the new economic and geopolitical conditions of the 21st century — with the 33-year-old MBS on top for a long, long time. – Washington Post

Thomas L. Friedman writes: The future stability of Saudi Arabia and the whole Arab Gulf depends on the reform process in Saudi succeeding, and it can’t succeed without significant investments by foreigners and Saudis to create a more vibrant and diverse private sector […]. – New York Times

Bobby Ghosh writes: Inevitably, the Khashoggi affair has drawn renewed attention to a broad crackdown on dissent under Prince Mohammed, one that has too frequently stolen the spotlight from his reform efforts. – Bloomberg

Erin Dunne writes: Khashoggi’s disappearance and likely murder has gained international attention[…]. Trump and his administration must also push back on countries that violate international norms in this way. A policy of sovereignty must not simply mean a loss of U.S. interest. Instead, Washington must make clear that these actions are unacceptable and that there will be consequences for this sort of thing. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: The first priority is to find out what the Saudis have done and why. While Pompeo probably already knows, thanks to U.S. intelligence, he must get the crown prince’s personal explanation. Then President Trump can respond. – Washington Examiner

Middle East

Libyan forces captured a former Egyptian army commander wanted for a series of deadly attacks in Egypt, a boost for Cairo as it struggles to put down an Islamist insurgency. – Wall Street Journal

Egyptian security forces killed 52 suspected militants in North Sinai, the military said in a statement on Monday. – Reuters

Daniel DePetris writes: The Trump administration should welcome Middle Eastern governments who want to deepen their military and intelligence cooperation and embrace more responsibility for the security of their own neighborhood. The region’s security, after all, can only be addressed by the people who live there. But the White House should stop deceiving itself — it is not America’s responsibility to solve these problems for them. – Washington Examiner

Korean Peninsula

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that in his meeting with Kim Jong-un on Sunday, the leader of North Korea had agreed to allow inspectors into a key nuclear testing site that the North has claimed it blew up, a down payment on the country’s commitment to denuclearize the country. – New York Times

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reported progress—but no immediate breakthrough—on slow-moving denuclearization talks after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on Sunday with Kim Jong-un of North Korea as he tried to get him to take steps toward denuclearization and arrange another summit meeting with President Trump. – New York Times

As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo works to regain traction in negotiations with North Korea, one of the main questions hanging over the talks will be how to go about ending a 65-year-old war. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump should rebuff South Korean and North Korean calls for an ‘end-of-war declaration’ in the early stages of denuclearization negotiations, in the judgment of one senior Republican lawmaker. – Washington Examiner

A North Korean hacking group has tried to steal at least $1.1 billion in a series of attacks on global banks over the past four years, according to cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc. – Bloomberg

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited Pope Francis to visit Pyongyang in a gesture designed to highlight peace efforts on the Korean peninsula, South Korea’s presidential office said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Editorial: The best argument for Mr. Pompeo’s optimism is that all of this amounts to confidence-building that would make the North feel comfortable with nuclear disarmament. But the fact that it is being done on the North’s slow timetable, and perhaps with U.S. concessions up front, means the North has the diplomatic advantage. – Wall Street Journal

Ethan Epstein writes: The U.S. administration remains wary of South Korea’s overtures, especially given the tone evinced by South Korean president Moon Jae-in when he visited Pyongyang last month. […]There are also suggestions that the Moon administration is pushing for the forthcoming Kim-Trump summit to occur in Seoul, so that it can further influence the process. Kim, for his part, wants the meeting to be in Pyongyang. But neither location would be genuinely “neutral.” – The Weekly Standard


A rare public confrontation between the top U.S. and Chinese diplomats marked a new level in the worsening relations between the world’s two biggest economies and risked complicating an anticipated summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. – Wall Street Journal

Now China is looking for new ways to retaliate in the intensifying trade drama — and experts warn that some corporate deals with American buyers could be in jeopardy. – New York Times

The Chinese police official who led Interpol until his sudden disappearance and resignation from the international police organization is being investigated in China by a new, powerful antigraft agency. – Wall Street Journal

China is redoubling efforts to protect its slowing economy from the effects of a trade war with the United States, providing fresh ammunition for President Trump’s claim that Washington enjoys the upper hand in the deepening commercial conflict. – Washington Post

Chinese officials appealed to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday to repair relations they said have been damaged by U.S. tariff hikes and support for Taiwan, as their governments press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. – Associated Press

The US-China trade war will hobble global growth, the International Monetary Fund warned Tuesday, cutting its forecast for this year and next and predicting that “everyone is going to suffer” from a clash between the world’s two biggest economies. – Agence France-Presse

US officials have warned China that Donald Trump will not engage in trade talks with Xi Jinping at next month’s G20 summit if Beijing does not produce a detailed list of concessions, according to two people briefed on negotiations between the countries.- Financial Times

Gerald F. Seib writes: This portrayal of China’s tactics is important for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it puts the mushrooming trade disputes between Washington and Beijing in much broader and more ominous context. The Trump administration sees Chinese practices not merely as an attempt to gain an economic upper hand, but as a part of a kind of broad struggle over global dominance, in which the Chinese are pulling every lever at their disposal in a quest to prevail. – Wall Street Journal

Walter Russell Mead writes: To the mix of longtime China hawks and trade hawks now driving U.S. policy, national security matters more than economic friction, and many of the protestations from the U.S. business community may fall on deaf ears. Both China and the U.S. are likely to move quickly, unpredictably and disruptively as they struggle for advantage; Wall Street should brace itself for further shocks.  – Wall Street Journal

Eli Lake writes: Until now, the Western nations of Interpol have been loath to suspend any country’s membership. This practice has to stop. If China doesn’t face consequences for what it has done, then Interpol will be setting the conditions for its own irrelevance. What good is an international law enforcement system that lets rogues act like cops? – Bloomberg


Taliban militants on Monday broke months of silence on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, warning they would seek to disrupt the Oct. 20 vote. – Washington Post

Washington’s newly named point man tasked with finding a peaceful end to Afghanistan’s 17-year war is in Pakistan to seek the help of the new government in Islamabad in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, the U.S. Embassy said Tuesday. – Associated Press

An Afghan official says a Taliban assault in northern Jawzjan province has killed 12 members of the security forces and wounded another 10. – Associated Press

The lesson of Afghanistan may be that the best chance to avoid a prolonged, grinding insurgency may be at the beginning of the conflict[…]. The other takeaway, Biddle says, is that counterinsurgency is not impossible, but it is expensive and it takes a very long time to succeed unless you get lucky. – Washington Examiner

To mark the 17th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, Rep. Ruben Gallego wants to finally end the conflict. Gallego, D-Ariz. and a Marine Corps veteran who served in combat in Iraq, has been a vocal critic of the “perpetual war” in the recent years. In a statement this weekend, he said military and political leaders need to find a way to put a stop to America’s longest military fight. – Military Times

Afghan military and police forces had higher numbers of battlefield casualties in a “difficult and bloody summer” of fighting the Taliban insurgency, the American general overseeing the war said Thursday. – Associated Press

Editorial: America’s goals should be to avoid making things worse in Afghanistan, contain the Taliban, and focus more on the Islamic State. These are not lofty goals, but lofty goals have proved to be pipe dreams that produced a  – Washington Examiner

Andrew Quilty writes: The Americans won’t want to stay at Blackfish longer than they believe they have to. And the region won’t be free of problems even if government forces maintain control. […]If the Afghan government can’t take charge when the Americans leave, the Taliban will be quick to reassert their authority. – New York Times

South Asia

Pakistan, the flagship country for China’s global infrastructure building initiative, said Monday that it needed a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, amid growing concerns that Beijing’s program is pushing recipient countries into financial crisis. – Wall Street Journal

A top Indian general downplayed the significance of his country’s relationship with the United States while talking to Russian officials on Sunday, despite major recent defense agreement between the world’s two largest democracies. – Washington Examiner

Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid has approved a controversial new digital security law that rights groups fear could be used to further erode press freedoms and dissenting voices online. – CNN


The Financial Times said in an editorial Sunday that the expulsion of one of its journalists from Hong Kong sends a chilling message about the steady erosion of basic rights in the semiautonomous Chinese city, as more than 15,000 people signed an online petition calling for an explanation from the government. – New York Times

Hong Kong’s leader Tuesday refused to say why the city had denied a visa to a leading Financial Times journalist, despite escalating demands for an explanation of the unprecedented challenge to freedom of the press. – Agence France-Presse

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has hosted her Paraguayan counterpart at a military exercise in a sign of the island’s determination to withstand China’s diplomatic onslaught. – Associated Press

The trip illustrates the administration’s struggle to counter challenges to American influence in Asia as the president focuses on turbulent domestic politics ahead of a pivotal midterm election. – Bloomberg


Western governments mounted an unprecedented and coordinated fightback Thursday against “brazen” attempts by Russia to meddle in international affairs, publicly unmasking alleged intelligence agents and blaming Moscow for a series of audacious cyberattacks. – CNN

China, Russia, and North Korea will huddle in Moscow just days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest trip to Pyongyang, a Russian diplomat confirmed Saturday. – Washington Examiner

America’s most senior naval officer in Europe, Adm. James Foggo, said Friday that he was “concerned” about some of Russia’s newer and more advanced fleet of submarines. – CNN

The U.S. Navy admiral who will command a major NATO military exercise meant to simulate the alliance’s response to a theoretical Russian attack on Norway is urging Russia to accept an invitation to send observers. – Associated Press

Russia’s foreign minister on Monday dismissed accusations made in the Netherlands against suspected Russian spies, saying they were intended to distract public attention from stark divisions between Western nations. – Associated Press

Anne Applebaum writes: But when state security institutions and an NGO with a reputation for accuracy combine with traditional media, they can undermine the Russian strategy. Russia’s military intelligence operatives were seeking to create distrust of international institutions. Instead, they have created distrust of Russia itself. – Washington Post


A group of investigative journalists and researchers on Monday identified a military doctor employed by a Russian intelligence agency as one of two men suspected by the British authorities of trying to kill a former Russian spy with a potent nerve agent in Britain earlier this year. – New York Times

The Baltic state of Latvia, governed since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union by political forces inclined toward Europe and wary of Russia, on Sunday became the latest country whiplashed by rising populism with the announcement of election results that showed strong support for pro-Russia and anti-establishment parties. – New York Times

A pro-Russia Serbian nationalist claimed victory in the race for the Serbian seat on Bosnia’s three-member presidency on Sunday[…]. A victory for Milorad Dodik, a Bosnian Serb strongman and a close ally of Russia’s president Vladimir V. Putin, could exacerbate ethnic rivalries in the Balkan nation and stall the country’s bid for membership in the European Union. – New York Times

The upcoming Trident Juncture 2018 exercise will be the first opportunity to test out the premise of NATO’s new “Four Thirties” initiative – the idea that NATO may need to move a lot of people and platforms quickly to defend an ally whose sovereignty has been violated[…]. – USNI News

Austria’s conservative government plans to impose a ban of Islamic extremist symbols from the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas. The ban is scheduled to go into effect in March. – Jerusalem Post


Cameroon is still grappling with a tangled colonial past that involved three European powers — Germany, France and Britain — and in recent years, it has become a vital partner of the United States in the battle against Islamist extremism in Africa. Now, the country is on the brink of civil war. – New York Times

Burkina Faso authorities say at least six policemen are dead after their vehicle struck an explosive device in the country’s north. – Associated Press

Cameroon’s opposition candidate has claimed victory in Sunday’s presidential polls despite a government warning not to announce unofficial results. – Al Jazeera

A Rwandan judge has ordered the release on bail of a vocal critic of Paul Kagame, the president, raising hopes for greater political tolerance after the release last month of another jailed high-profile opposition figure. – The Guardian

Cyber Security

From the president on down, leading members of the Trump administration suggest their work on cybersecurity has been a rescue mission from the Obama days. Yet President Trump’s new strategy is earning high marks — along with a few inevitable brickbats — from veterans of the previous administration. – Washington Examiner

Most cybersecurity research is focused on cloud services, data management and other types of information systems, but security of the manufacturing industry’s supply chain has been overlooked, according to the Oct. 5 report. – Fifth Domain

One of the U.S. Senate’s most vocal members on cybersecurity is concerned that Army Cyber Command does not have the personnel it needs to conduct offensive cyber operations. – Fifth Domain

Home of the Army Cyber Center of Excellence, where soldiers go to become high-end cyber and electronic warfare planners and operators, Fort Gordon is growing quickly and becoming increasingly more important within the Army. – C4ISRNET


The U.S. State Department approved just under $70 billion in foreign weapon orders in fiscal year 2018, as the Trump administration stepped up its focus on increasing defense sales abroad. – Defense News

The Army plans to slash and reinvest $25 billion in its budget over the next five years as part of a new “renaissance” of the service, Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday. – Washington Examiner

On a Friday afternoon, just two days before the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, the White House announced that President Trump had signed into law annual funding for the Pentagon.  […]But the respite from years of budget dysfunction on Capitol Hill is already receding. – Washington Examiner

These elite Marines are on track for a manpower ­crisis; one that questions the Corps’ ability to sustain its reconnaissance force into the future at a time of rapid modernization across the force and as recon questions its mission. – Marine Times

From reconnaissance to communications relay and delivering small payloads, man-portable drones have already proven their flexibility on the battlefields of Syria and Ukraine this decade. Now, defense contractors are jumping into the fray to offer something purpose-built for the U.S. military. – Army Times

Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley is the new Army Capabilities Integration Center director and the first director to guide the center’s efforts under the purview of the brand-new Army Futures Command, as opposed to Training and Doctrine Command, where the center lived since its inception. – Defense News

Technological advances in production and distribution can strengthen the Navy and Marine Corps aviation parts supply chain the services’ aviation leaders said on Friday. – USNI News

Dakota Wood writes: Our military must overcome a generation of experience dealing with terrorist groups and non-state irregular forces, challenges that are dramatically different from what it’s faced in the past and may face again in the future: a larger-scale conventional war with a rival major power. – Heritage Foundation

Missile Defense

The Army is racing to get a new medium-range air-and-missile defense radar far ahead of previous expectations, according to the Army’s chief in charge of acquisition. – Defense News

During a Monday panel hosted by Defense News at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting, Col. John Rafferty, director of the Long-Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team, said the Army aspires to have “an integrated network, rather than interoperability, which is the work around” in the meantime. – Defense News

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Review has been completed, according to the department’s No. 2 official. But when it will be released remains unknown. – Defense News

Long War

A Connecticut-based video analytics and cloud computing firm is pitching the U.S. Army on an artificial intelligence that can tag cars, people and weapons in drone footage, saving troops from drowning in data. – C4ISRNET

The UK is refusing calls to repatriate at least nine Britons detained in Syria for links to Isil, the Telegraph has learnt, as it emerged crown prosecutors may not have the power to bring returning extremists to justice. – The Telegraph

Thomas Hegghammer writes: Jihadist terrorism until recently had Europe on the defensive. Now the continent is getting tough and fighting the threat with measures that would have been unthinkable six or seven years ago. – Wall Street Journal

Trump Administration

As President Donald Trump grapples with a number of huge foreign policy challenges over the coming months, he is going to have to make some key decisions on the generals who advise him and lead the US military. Behind the scenes, the White House and Pentagon are looking for a new slate of senior officers to fill several key jobs with several senior military figures set to retire. – CNN

Brett Schafer and Anthony Kim write: Many influential countries in the U.N., particularly in groups like the G-77, see the U.N. as a vehicle for enhancing their influence in order to counterbalance the United States. To counter this pattern, the U.S. must use its influence and resources, including foreign assistance, to reward nations for siding with the U.S. in the U.N. and communicate displeasure when they regularly oppose the U.S. on important matters. – Heritage Foundation

Hugh Hewitt writes: That’s not even the entire list of accomplishments, but it’s enough to have silenced the #NeverTrumpers who used to mock Trump-supporting conservatives by posting a street sign carrying the name “Gorsuch” above rising floodwaters. […] Republicans are amused that the #NeverTrump rump has stopped the “but Gorsuch” nonsense. – Washington Post