Fdd's overnight brief

September 12, 2018

In The News


The White House said Iranian-backed militias in Iraq had carried out “life-threatening attacks” against the U.S. consulate in Basra and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and warned Washington would hold Tehran responsible if there are future assaults. – WallStreet Journal

It’s hard not to see China wherever you look in Iran. From Chinese goods flooding markets to its business people eager for deals as Western business interests flee, Iran likely will further embrace Beijing as an alternative market for its crude oil and financial transactions amid uncertainty over the nuclear deal. – Associated Press

Iran is starting to store oil on its fleet of supertankers again as impending U.S. sanctions force the Persian Gulf country to revive a strategy it deployed under previous curbs. – Bloomberg

Europe will have no choice but to comply with U.S. sanctions on Iran, according to Javier Solana, a former NATO secretary general and early advocate of the nuclear deal abandoned by Donald Trump. – Bloomberg

The United States has issued a fresh warning to airlines to exercise caution when operating in Iran’s airspace, citing concerns over military activity including an unnamed U.S. civil operator being intercepted by fighter jets in December 2017. – Reuters

Bilal Wahab writes: A few minutes after the start of a leadership meeting on September 8, the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran (KDP-I) came under missile attack. […] According to the IRGC-linked Tasnim News Agency, the compound was “used for training anti-Iran terrorists and hosted a meeting of terrorist leaders.” […]Yet the missiles primarily hit members of the more passive and pro-dialogue KDP-I, raising questions about Tehran’s claim that the operation was purely a counterterrorism measure. – Washington Institute


Defense Secretary Jim Mattis became the third U.S. official in three days to warn Syria that any use of chemical weapons will draw a swift U.S. military response. – WashingtonExaminer

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is appealing to all parties directly and indirectly involved in Syria — especially Iran, Russia, and Turkey — to protect civilians and avoid a “bloodbath” in the last major rebel-held stronghold in Idlib. – Associated Press

A US Marine Corps aircraft carrier full of F-35B stealth jets showed up in the Middle East after Russia threatened US forces in Syria in the latest military buildup between the world’s two greatest nuclear powers. – Business Insider

Turkish intelligence agents in an operation in Syria have captured a man wanted over a deadly 2013 bomb attack and brought him back to Turkey for questioning, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported on Wednesday. – Associated Press

Michael O’Hanlon and Steven Heydemann write: We need an overall framework for preventing a massacre in Idlib and ending the war in Syria, not appeals to the better angels of Putin’s or Assad’s nature. The right plan would also help bring home refugees and assist communities in the areas where U.S. and allied forces are present to build better political futures for themselves. – USA Today

Fabrice Balanche writes: The Assad regime’s brewing offensive against Idlib, the last major rebel pocket in Syria, will take place soon. […]Various international actors publicly oppose the imminent campaign, including Turkey, which wants to protect its local rebel proxies and long-term strategic interests in Syria. Yet Damascus and its allies in Moscow and Tehran seem indifferent to Ankara’s dissatisfaction, and they will not be deterred by other outside warnings either. – Washington Institute


A top official said Tuesday the Palestinians have filed a new complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court, after the United States said it would resort to any means to protect its allies against such actions at the international war crimes body. – Associated Press

There will be no long-term quiet on Israel’s border with Gaza in the near future, the head of the Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, said during his first interview since assuming the position in June. – Jerusalem Post

National Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), a member of the Israeli security cabinet, applauded the decision by the White House earlier this week to shutter the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington DC over the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to commit to the resumption of final status talks with Israel. – ArutzSheva

Middle East & North Africa

Under a new law linking the actions of Persian Gulf countries to continued U.S. military support, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is required to inform lawmakers by Wednesday whether he thinks Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are doing enough to protect noncombatants in the two countries’ war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. – Washington Post

A U.S. official said Tuesday that Washington is disappointed that Turkey is staying away from Europe’s largest human rights conference for a second straight year because it wasn’t allowed to prevent the participation of non-governmental organizations that it finds objectionable. – Associated Press

Iran’s ambassador to Iraq says his country is relocating its consulate in Basra, after demonstrators burned down the old one four days ago. – Associated Press

An Egyptian judicial committee on Tuesday announced an asset freeze of more than 1,000 charities tied to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, as well as those of hospitals and individuals. – Agence FrancePresse

The only working airport in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, has diverted flights after it came under rocket fire. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties at Mitiga International Airport after the attack on Tuesday night. – BBC News

Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on the headquarters of Libya’s main oil company in Tripoli and said oil fields in the North Africa nation are a “legitimate target” for its militants. – Bloomberg

Jamal Khashoggi writes: Saudi Arabia must face the damage from the past three-plus years of war in Yemen. The conflict has soured the kingdom’s relations with the international community, affected regional security dynamics and harmed its reputation in the Islamic world. – Washington Post

Korean Peninsula

A subtropical island famed for its turquoise seas, female divers and golf courses, Jeju has attracted South Korean honeymooners for decades. In recent months, however, the resort island has been receiving a new type of visitor — asylum seekers fleeing the catastrophe in Yemen. – New York Times

The US has successfully identified two American service members from among the remains North Korea returned this July as part of the agreement signed by President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. – Business Insider

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that North Korea was taking a lot of steps toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula but Washington was not responding and was making endless demands for full disarmament instead. – Reuters

David Tweed writes: As disputes go, this one really has dragged on. Some 65 years since open hostilities ended in the Korean War, North Korea and the U.S. are still technically at war. The sudden warming of relations this year between North Korea and both South Korea and the U.S. have improved prospects of a long-overdue resolution. – Bloomberg


Chinese leaders are stepping up a charm offensive with U.S. multinationals and dropping earlier threats of retaliation as Beijing changes tack to keep the trade fight with Washington from scaring off foreign investors. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday pledged closer cooperation between their respective countries in preventing trade protectionism, as the Trump administration pursues trade renegotiations with China and sanctions on Russia. – Washington Examiner

US subs remain far better than their Chinese counterparts, but in a conflict, numbers and geography may help China mitigate some of the US and its partners’ advantages. – Business Insider

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday expressed deep concern over China’s “worsening crackdown” on minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region, as the Trump administration considered sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies linked to allegations of human rights abuses. – Reuters

China urged the United States on Wednesday to abandon its “prejudice” over Xinjiang, as the Trump administration considers sanctions against Chinese officials and companies linked to allegations of human rights abuses in the Chinese region. – Reuters


Extremists in eastern Afghanistan bombed a peaceful protest on Tuesday, killing at least 68 people, officials said, the deadliest in a series of attacks in Nangarhar Province over the day. – New York Times

The Afghan military has increased its vetting of local forces working with American troops as a result of recent insider attacks that killed two U.S. service members, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday. – Associated Press

The Taliban say they are ready for another round of talks with the U.S., which is likely to focus on prisoner exchange, confidence building measures, and ways to move from back-door meetings to formal negotiations. – Associated Press

Afghan rights workers warned Tuesday that a blistering U.S. attack on the International Criminal Court investigating war crimes allegations will strengthen a climate of impunity in Afghanistan, prolong the war and embolden those committing acts of violence. – Associated Press


The leaders of China and Japan met Wednesday for the first time since last year and said relations were warming, a development Tokyo officials attribute to the pressure both feel from President Trump. – Wall Street Journal

Eleven Republican and Democratic U.S. senators urged President Donald Trump’s administration to “use all tools at your disposal,” including imposing more economic sanctions, to ensure “the immediate, unconditional” release of two Reuters journalists imprisoned in Myanmar. – Reuters

Pakistan’s military is using fear and intimidation to stifle the media and undermine press freedom even as overall violence against reporters has fallen, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP) said on Wednesday. – Reuters

A top Chinese official and leaders of several Southeast Asian countries said Wednesday that moves by the U.S. to limit trade and protect American businesses pose a grave threat to the world economy. – Associated Press

Seth G Jones writes: Despite tough talk from Washington, Taliban leaders continue to enjoy a sanctuary in Pakistan and support from Pakistan security agencies. […]If Washington is serious about ending the war in Afghanistan—including through a peace settlement—it needs to put significant pressure on the Taliban and Haqqani Network in Pakistan, not just in Afghanistan – Center for Strategic & International Studies


From this Pacific port to a Siberian training range 900 miles away, China and Russia sent an unambiguous message to Washington on Tuesday: Under American pressure, these historical rivals are becoming allies. – Washington Post

The Trump administration dismissed media reports on Tuesday that Russia was involved in mysterious “attacks” against some U.S. government personnel in Cuba and China. – USA Today

Russian President Vladimir Putin, sitting on a stage alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, proposed on Wednesday that the two men sign a peace treaty by the end of this year. – Reuters


The U.S. military is in talks to expand its operations in Greece, including using more air and naval bases here, signaling a potential move toward the eastern Mediterranean amid growing tensions with Turkey, officials said. – Wall Street Journal

The European Union is proposing massive fines for online providers that aren’t fast enough in removing terrorist content from their services, raising pressure on big tech firms like Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google that have backed voluntary approaches. – Wall Street Journal

Irish officials were surprised two weeks ago to learn that President Trump planned to stop by their country in November when he visited France. On Tuesday, they were surprised to learn that he might not. – New York Times

Hundreds of thousands of pro-independence Catalans took over downtown Barcelona on Tuesday, in their largest show of force since a botched declaration of independence from Spain last October. – New York Times

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia knew the real identity of two men accused by British prosecutors of trying to murder former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain. – Reuters

Prime Minister Viktor Orban vowed Tuesday that Hungary would resist any attempt to “blackmail” it into softening its anti-migrant stance, on the eve of an EU parliament vote to censure his populist government. – Agence FrancePresse

The European Union should flex its potential strength as a world power as the United States under President Donald Trump pulls back from international engagement, EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to say on Wednesday. – Reuters

The European Union will deploy 10,000 armed border guards to tackle unlawful migration by 2020, the European Commission President Claude Juncker is expected to announce in a speech on Wednesday. – TIME


But on Tuesday, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea reopened crossing points on their shared border, clearing the way for trade between the two nations. The development was part of a series of reconciliation moves that began in July, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea signed a formal declaration of peace. – New York Times

Though America’s drone war in Somalia has been shrouded in secrecy, in the last year and a half the number of American airstrikes in Somalia have notably increased. According to multiple foreign analysts, Somali officials, and several al-Shabaab defectors, these strikes have become one of the most effective tools in confronting the group. – The Atlantic

The European Commission’s president is to deliver his annual state of the union address and will propose a new Africa-Europe alliance. Jean-Claude Juncker will say it is time for the EU to take its place at the top table of global powers. – BBC News

North America

The new head of civil rights at the Education Department has reopened a seven-year-old case brought by a Zionist group against Rutgers University, saying the Obama administration, in closing the case, ignored evidence that suggested the school allowed a hostile environment for Jewish students. – New York Times

A candidate for New York’s state senate said Tuesday she was sexually assaulted five years ago by a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an accusation the man denies. Julia Salazar, 27, whose insurgent campaign has attracted wide attention, said on Twitter that she was speaking out about David Keyes because she was about to be “outed” as a sexual assault survivor. – Associated Press

President Trump said Tuesday that U.S. trade negotiators are “dealing in good faith” with Canada, as deadlines loom for the White House to give Congress the text of a trade deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. – Washington Examiner


Congress could, in the coming days, finalize a nuclear weapons budget that adds $458 million in 2019 over last year, after a conference committee released a compromise funding plan on Monday. – Defense News

The United States is preparing a new push to change how unmanned systems are categorized under an international arms agreement, as part of a broad effort to make it easier to sell military drones abroad. – Defense News

The U.S. Army has begun to accept new AH-64E Apache attack helicopters from Boeing after halting deliveries due to a safety concern, according to Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd, the service’s program executive officer for aviation. – Defense News

The Navy will begin offering large bonuses to senior captains in the submarine community – worth up to $180,000 in some cases – in Fiscal Year 2019 to boost retention. – USNI News

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the United States became the first nation in NATO history to invoke Article 5, the organization’s premise that an attack on one country is an attack on all of its member countries. The rarity of this act is why some officials raised eyebrows when NATO made it clear last year that a large-scale cyberattack against a member nation could now trigger the same response. – FifthDomain

Long War

Extremism poses a greater global threat today than it did 17 years ago, despite costly US military action overseas, according to members of the US government commission that investigated the September 11 attacks. – Associated Press

Marking the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the leader of al-Qaeda on Tuesday called on Muslims to wage war against the United States throughout the world. In a 30-minute speech released Tuesday, Ayman al-Zawahiri went to great lengths to portray the United States as a religious enemy of Muslims, using Washington’s transfer of its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as evidence of that enmity. – Times of Israel

David A. Brown, Timothy Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside write: Following the 9/11 attacks, successive U.S. administrations have promulgated three consistent objectives. […]These reasonable objectives contrast with some of the associated rhetoric surrounding the “war on terror,” often obscuring these objectives and seeking more expansive ones. – War on the Rocks

Tricia Bacon writes: Now the Taliban does not rely on al-Qaeda nor does it need al-Qaeda’s support for its insurgency. Al-Qaeda gains more from the relationship, not least of all a role in the insurgency in Afghanistan and an alternative to the Islamic State that it can promote to discredit its former ally. – War on the Rocks

Hassan Hassan writes: Contemporary extremism is a product of local dynamics in a way that bin Laden was not. In 2011, bin Laden grappled with what was unfolding before his eyes in the region. In his notebook, released by the CIA last year, he took credit for triggering the uprisings, but he clearly struggled to understand what was happening. – The Atlantic

Trump Administration

President Trump paid tribute on Tuesday to the airline passengers and crew members who stormed the cockpit of a hijacked plane and thwarted terrorists in the skies over Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, vowing to follow their example by standing up to evil in the world. – New York Times

The Trump administration is preparing a new executive order to allow sanctions of foreign citizens suspected of interference in the American elections, officials who have reviewed the order said. – New York Times

Donald Trump Jr. said Tuesday he is not afraid of going to jail as the result of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. – USA Today