Fdd's overnight brief

September 10, 2018

In The News


With much fanfare, a French-Iranian scientist recently announced a $3 million plan to invest in a bankrupt medical factory that had become a symbol of France’s troubled economy and revive it. The majority owner wasn’t disclosed: Iran’s government. – Wall Street Journal

The United States will threaten Monday to punish individuals that cooperate with the International Criminal Court in a potential investigation of U.S. wartime actions in Afghanistan, according to people familiar with the decision. – Washington Post

The U.S. Navy is conducting exercises this month to ensure its readiness to guarantee freedom of movement through Persian Gulf and Red Sea waterways amid escalating threats from Iran to disrupt shipping across important choke points. – Bloomberg

Iran has completed a facility to build advanced centrifuges, Iran’s nuclear chief was quoted on Sunday as saying, as Tehran prepares to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity if the nuclear deal collapses after the United States exits. – Reuters

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iran’s armed forces on Sunday to increase their power to “scare off” the enemy, as the country faces increased tension with the United States. – Reuters

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that the US administration is sending contradictory messages to his country, as Iran routinely receives invitations from the White House for talks while being pressured by US sanctions. – Ynet

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak will discuss Iran and gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2 with his U.S. counterpart Rick Perry on Thursday, Russian news agencies reported. – Reuters

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards fired seven missiles in an attack on Iraq-based Iranian Kurdish dissidents that killed at least 11 people on Saturday, the elite military unit was reported as saying by Iranian news agencies on Sunday. – Reuters

Iraq’s foreign ministry protested an attack on its territory as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards= confirmed they’d attacked rebels in the Iraqi Kurdistan area. – Bloomberg

Iran executed three Iranian Kurdish men accused of belonging to a militant group and taking part in attacks against civilians and security forces in the Kurdish region of western Iran, the judiciary’s news service reported on Saturday. – Reuters

Frzand Sherko writes: The relative strength of these forces only increases the sense that future stability lies with the military. In the meantime, Ayatollah Khamenei maintains power over an increasingly fragile state. Outside observers can expect continued efforts to stabilize the country, but should carefully observe the military for signs of a new balance of power in Iran. – Washington Institute


U.S. Marines conducted a live-fire aerial assault exercise in southern Syria on Friday designed to warn Russian and other military forces to stay away from an American base there. – Washington Post

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has approved the use of chlorine gas in an offensive against the country’s last major rebel stronghold, U.S. officials said, raising the prospects for another retaliatory U.S. military strike as thousands try to escape what could be a decisive battle in the seven-year-old war. – Wall Street Journal

Syrian and Russian warplanes launched dozens of airstrikes on Syria’s northern province of Idlib on Saturday, a monitoring group said, intensifying pressure on the country’s last rebel stronghold after crisis talks yielded no progress. – Washington Post

As a possible showdown approaches, the rebels have arrested and tortured people they accuse of conceding defeat, sowing fear in the local population. A doctor was recently pulled from his home at night, witnesses said. A pistachio peddler was arrested as masked men patrolled the street. – Washington Post

The three foreign powers negotiating an end to Syria’s conflict failed Friday to agree to a cease fire that would have halted a decisive but potentially devastating battle for the country’s last rebel stronghold. – Washington Post

Against the backdrop of potential chemical attacks by the Syrian regime in the province of Idlib, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen is exploring how Germany can engage in military retaliatory actions against the army of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. – Business Insider

Russia’s military said on Sunday that two U.S. F-15 fighter jets dropped phosphorus bombs over Syria’s Deir al-Zor province on Saturday, the TASS and RIA news agencies reported, an allegation the United States denied. – Reuters

Clashes erupted on Saturday between U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters and Syrian troops in the centre of the city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria that left at least 18 people killed, Kurdish forces said. – Reuters

America’s top general on Saturday said he was involved in “routine dialogue” with the White House about military options should Syria ignore U.S. warnings against using chemical weapons in an expected assault on the enclave of Idlib. – Reuters

Despite dire U.S. warnings and fears of a humanitarian disaster, the Trump administration has little leverage to stop Russia, Iran and Syria pressing ahead with a massive military assault against Syria’s northwest Idlib province. – Associated Press


Turmoil in Turkey has pushed down the Turkish lira and unsettled the emerging markets. A political tussle between the U.S. and Turkey in mid-August dealt another blow to the Turkish economy. – Wall Street Journal

Turkish authorities detained 48 soldiers and eight others over alleged links to the U.S.-based cleric who Ankara says orchestrated a failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan, the Hurriyet newspaper said on Monday. – Reuters

A Turkish filmmaker was convicted on Friday of membership of a terrorist group for a feature film that portrayed President Tayyip Erdogan having a gun pointed at his head as his family lay dead all around him, the state news agency said. – Reuters


The Trump administration is expected to announce Monday that it will close the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington, administration officials said Sunday night, widening a U.S. campaign of pressure amid stalled Middle East peace efforts. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered that $25 million earmarked for the care of Palestinians in East Jerusalem hospitals be directed elsewhere as part of a review of aid, a State Department official said on Saturday. – Reuters

A handshake on the White House lawn sealing the first of the landmark Oslo accords inspired hope that Israeli-Palestinian peace could finally be achieved, but 25 years later those dreams have faded. – Agence France-Presse

The Israeli army said Sunday that it shot and fatally wounded a Palestinian man who sought to damage the fence on the flashpoint Israel-Gaza border. – Agence France-Presse

Simon Henderson writes: Israeli missile defenses have been able to stave off major infrastructure damage in previous rounds, but they could be overwhelmed in future conflicts by more (or more-accurate) projectiles. […]From the U.S. perspective, an additional cause for celebration is that it combines American business and technology with Washington’s quiet diplomatic efforts to help regional partners work together. – Washington Institute


Protesters in this port city stormed the Iranian Consulate late Friday, setting it on fire and sharply escalating violent demonstrations that began over miserable living conditions but have grown into an indictment of Iraq’s stagnant politics. – Washington Post

U.S. diplomatic missions in Iraq’s capital and the southern oil hub of Basra appeared to be the target of rocket fire Saturday, a day after protesters torched the Iranian consulate in a show of anger against the entire political class and foreign interference. – Wall Street Journal

Iraqi security forces stepped up patrols Saturday in the southern city of Basra, a strategically important oil port on the border with Iran where longstanding protests about quality of life have escalated into days of rioting and violence. – New York Times

After several nights of deadly protests, calm returned to the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Sunday, even as residents stuck to their demands that the central government no longer neglect their region. – Agence France-Presse


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has authorized the release of $1.2 billion in U.S. military assistance to Egypt, despite human rights concerns that have held up previous funding. – Associated Press

An Egyptian court sentenced 75 people to death on Saturday including prominent Islamist leaders Essam al-Erian and Mohamed Beltagi over a 2013 sit-in which ended with security forces killing hundreds of protesters. – Reuters

The UN’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, has asked Egypt to overturn mass death sentences handed down to members of the opposition, including senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood. – Al Jazeera

A New York City taxicab driver, a U.S. citizen, who was arrested in Egypt when he went to visit his wife and children has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in a case his lawyers call “bogus” and “a disgrace.” – ABC News


Yemeni tribal leaders say a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed four alleged al-Qaida militants including a field leader in the country’s south. – Associated Press

An attempt to hold peace talks for Yemen was abandoned on Saturday after three days of waiting for the Houthi movement’s delegation, but the United Nations envoy vowed to press ahead with diplomacy. – Reuters

Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi on Saturday accused the Saudi-led coalition opposing it in Yemen’s war of blocking the Houthi delegation from traveling to U.N.-hosted peace talks in Geneva. – Reuters

The collapse of UN efforts to organise peace talks between the Yemeni government and rebels is likely to lead to an escalation in the country’s war, analysts say. – Agence France-Presse

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisian and Western authorities have feared their return and the possible chaos that could follow. So far, those fears haven’t materialized, according to Tunisian authorities, Western diplomats and regional analysts. Instead, the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are recruiting a new generation of locals to stage terrorist attacks at home[…] – Washington Post

Armed groups vying for control of the Libyan capital have agreed to set up a mechanism to “consolidate” a recently agreed ceasefire, the United Nations’ Libya mission, UNSMIL, said on Sunday. – Reuters

Several armed men attacked the headquarters of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) in the Libyan capital on Monday and several blasts could be heard, a Reuters witness said. – Reuters

Katherine Bauer writes: Prior to the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda’s primary source of funds was external donations funneled largely through charitable fronts. Yet as AQ and the Islamic State have established global networks of affiliates, their methods of financing have also diversified. Because these organizations now appear better resourced than ever before, some have called into question the value of counter-terrorist financing efforts. – ​Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

The United States and North Korea returned to the negotiating table Friday, with generals from the two countries meeting to discuss the possible recovery of more remains from service members killed in the Korean War, an official said. – Washington Post

North Korea celebrated its 70th anniversary with a military parade marked by the absence of any intercontinental ballistic missiles, noteworthy as the event comes amid a monthslong detente between Pyongyang and Washington that has appeared precarious at times in recent weeks. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. President Donald Trump said “North Korea has just staged their parade, celebrating 70th anniversary of founding, without the customary display of nuclear missiles,” and in a tweet added the “theme was peace and economic development.” – Bloomberg

Kim Jong Un has confirmed his readiness to visit Russia, the RIA news agency quoted speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament Valentina Matvienko as saying after she met the North Korean leader in Pyongyang on Saturday. – Reuters

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un told an envoy of Chinese president Xi Jinping that North Korea is upholding the denuclearisation agreement it reached with the United States this year, China’s state broadcaster said. – Reuters

The biggest show on earth made an astonishing comeback Sunday as North Korea put on its all-singing, all-dancing propaganda display, the ‘Mass Games’, for the first time in five years. – Agence France-Presse


This stretch of ocean, dotted by thousands of islands and home to important shipping lanes and fisheries, is again in strategic calculations as China modernizes its military to project power far from its shores—threatening the dominance of the U.S. and its allies. – Wall Street Journal

China’s trade surplus with the U.S. hit another record monthly high in August as the world’s second-largest economy faced the threat of more tariffs from the Trump administration. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump said Friday that tariffs on another $267 billion in Chinese goods are ready to go and could be rolled out on short notice, reinforcing earlier threats and signaling no end in sight for the growing trade dispute. – Wall Street Journal

The Turkic mostly Muslim Uighur minority in China’s Xinjiang region face arbitrary detentions, daily restrictions on religious practice and “forced political indoctrination” in a mass security crackdown, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. – Reuters

The Chinese government’s top diplomat defended Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative during a visit to Pakistan on Saturday, rejecting criticism the project has saddled Pakistan with expensive debt. – Reuters

China is participating for the first time in Australia’s largest maritime exercise as more than 3,000 personnel from 27 countries engage in joint training off the strategic northern port of Darwin. – Reuters

The Chinese government is inviting Wall Street’s top bankers to a hastily arranged meeting in Beijing as President Donald Trump threatens to impose punitive tariffs on all Chinese exports to the US. – Financial Times


The United States will threaten Monday to punish individuals that cooperate with the International Criminal Court in a potential investigation of U.S. wartime actions in Afghanistan, according to people familiar with the decision. – Washington Post

Ordinary life came to a standstill in the Afghan capital on Sunday, with businesses largely shut and many people forced to stay indoors as thousands of young men brandishing knives and assault rifles took to the streets and fired indiscriminately, mostly into the air. – Washington Post

The answers to these questions point to how little has changed despite 17 years of Afghan and international efforts. Conflict has invaded daily life in Kabul, government efforts to contain it have failed repeatedly, and young men are being trained and paid to shoot, kill and chronicle deadly mayhem. – Washington Post

Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack near a procession in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Sunday, according to the group’s news agency Amaq said. – Reuters


United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on Monday for a new quasi-judicial body to collect evidence with a view to future prosecution of crimes against Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar including murder and torture. – Reuters

Vietnam has placed orders for Russian weapons and military services worth more than $1 billion, Russia’s TASS news agency has reported, as the Southeast Asian country bolsters its defense capability. – Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to champion free trade in his first policy speech since U.S. President Donald Trump renewed pressure on the country to sign a bilateral trade deal. – Bloomberg

Two human rights officials invited to attend the World Economic Forum on ASEAN this week in Hanoi were denied entry to Vietnam. – Bloomberg

U.S. President Donald Trump is to blame for surging consumer prices in the Philippines after he sparked a trade war with China, said Rodrigo Duterte, head of the Southeast Asian country where inflation has reached a nine-year high. – Bloomberg

Abigail Grace writes: Nearly a year after the roll-out of the U.S. Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, it is time to shift away from discussing what FOIP is or isn’t, and instead focus on indicators to gauge success. Unfortunately for policymakers, expectations among the expert community and the region are high, and it will require concrete actions, rather than rhetoric, to interrupt China’s narrative of the inextricable U.S. decline and withdrawal from the Pacific theater. – Center for a New American Security


U.S. prosecutors have acknowledged they misunderstood text messages they used to claim in court that a Russian woman traded sex for access and should be jailed pending trial on charges she was a foreign agent attempting to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and other American conservative groups. – Washington Post

Two worlds collided in central Moscow on Sunday. One was organized by the government of Vladimir Putin; the other opposed the Russian president. Both filled the streets with youths, whether they were dancing in leotards or climbing lampposts in anger. – Washington Post

The Russian police detained more than 800 people protesting planned increases to the retirement age on Sunday, a rights group said, disrupting demonstrations against an unpopular change that has hurt President Vladimir V. Putin’s approval rating. – New York Times

A mysterious Russian satellite “with big ears” cozied up to a French communications satellite last year in an apparent effort to eavesdrop on secure military communications, France’s defense minister alleged Friday. – Associated Press


British anti-terrorism officers were helping to investigate a knife attack in a northern English town on Saturday in which one man was injured, although police said they were keeping an open mind. – Reuters

French police detained a man who wounded seven people in a knife attack in central Paris late on Sunday, police and judicial sources said on Monday, adding there was no initial indication the incident was linked to terrorism. – Reuters

Britain’s police chiefs have drawn up plans for possible civil disorder if the country leaves the European Union without a Brexit agreement, a newspaper report said Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

After nearly 13 years in office, the German chancellor may be under pressure at home but her international standing has rarely been higher. Just ask Recep Tayyip Erdogan: […]now he’s set to visit Berlin as he seeks allies in a dispute with the U.S. that’s helped crash the Turkish economy. Russian President Vladimir Putin answered an invitation to visit Merkel last month for their first bilateral meeting in Germany since 2013.  – Bloomberg

British and French defense ministers will meet twice a year rather than just once, reflecting a deepening of bilateral relations despite Britain’s impending exit from the European Union, said French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly. – Defense News

France has linked its search for independence from U.S. export rules with the Franco-German project for a future fighter jet, in a bid to boost foreign sales of the aircraft, the French armed forces minister said. – Defense News


The C.I.A. is poised to conduct secret drone strikes against Qaeda and Islamic State insurgents from a newly expanded air base deep in the Sahara, making aggressive use of powers that were scaled back during the Obama administration and restored by President Trump. – New York Times

At least six people were killed on Monday in al Shabaab attack on a local government building in Somalia’s capital, the director of an ambulance service and a Reuters witness said. – Reuters

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday warned against foreign interference in the country’s politics days after an opposition call for the United States to suspend military aid over the government’s human rights record. – Reuters

Many people are feared dead after an Islamist militant attack on the northeast Nigerian town of Gudumbali, two residents and a vigilante said on Saturday. – Reuters

Nigeria’s military on Sunday said it had restored order after Boko Haram fighters took control of a town in the country’s remote northeast, sparking fears about the group’s resurgence. – Agence France-Presse

Latin America

A high-level conference intended to highlight U.S. security cooperation with Mexico and Central America was abruptly called off Friday amid flaring diplomatic tensions with El Salvador and Guatemala, according to two Trump administration officials. – Washington Post

Venezuela and one of its allies accused the United States on Saturday of plotting against its president, Nicolás Maduro, who has presided over a near collapse of the country. – New York Times

The United States has recalled three chiefs of mission from Latin American nations that cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of recognizing China. The move comes as American officials have expressed growing unease over China’s rising influence in the region. – New York Times


The U.S. Army is getting close to greenlighting Stinger missiles that are more lethal against enemy drones following a string of successful tests last month. – Defense News

The Pentagon’s inspector general launched an audit of the Army’s future missile defense plans in August, according to a recent announcement from the office. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is looking to change its promotion and personnel management system inside its acquisition workforce to create more continuity for its programs, the head of the brand-new Army Futures Command said Wednesday at the second annual Defense News Conference. – Defense News

US Rep. Mike Coffman writes: The United States military needs to procure a light attack aircraft, and it needs to do so quickly[…] Light attack aircraft can strike hostile targets when the enemy does not possess a significant anti-aircraft capability. The current conflicts in Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan are examples of such conflicts. – Defense News