Fdd's overnight brief

September 12, 2019

In The News


John Bolton’s abrupt departure as White House national security adviser will not pave the way for direct talks between the United States and Iran, officials in Tehran said, even as some welcomed the removal of one of the Trump administration’s chief hawks on Iran. – Washington Post 

President Trump appeared to take a step back from his administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran on Wednesday, leaving open the possibility of easing economic sanctions before starting new nuclear negotiations with Tehran. – New York Times  

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to annex the Jordan Valley and his frequent accusations against Tehran were ploys to win re-election, the semi-official news agency Tasnim reported. – Reuters  

Iran has denounced a “U.S.-Israeli plot” to put pressure on the United Nations nuclear watchdog, after the IAEA called in recent days for more cooperation from Tehran following what diplomats say was the detection of uranium particles at an undeclared site. – Reuters 

President Donald Trump has left the impression with foreign officials, members of his administration, and others involved in Iranian negotiations that he is actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion credit line to the Iranians if Tehran comes back into compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal. – Daily Beast 

A group of retired military officers, including a chief of staff for Colin Powell, urged Congress to pass legislation to block a declaration of war with Iran without congressional approval. – Defense News 

Several prominent Israeli politicians weighed in on Wednesday on the ouster of US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, expressing concern and trepidation about a possible shift in American policy toward Iran. – Algemeiner 

Canberra’s adherence to a hawkish US policy has undermined its ability to negotiate with the paranoid and sanctions-squeezed regime in Tehran. – The Guardian  

Ori Nissim Levy writes: There is much discussion around the world about how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But few if any international bodies deal with the question of how to prepare for the day Iran achieves such capabilities, if that day has not already arrived. – Algemeiner


Hundreds of young children have died from disease and malnutrition in the desert camp holding families of Islamic State fighters in northeast Syria, United Nations investigators said on Tuesday, warning that international inaction on the situation risked incubating a new wave of extremism. – New York Times  

Syrian rebel fighters on Wednesday said Russian-backed forces were amassing troops in preparation for resuming a five-month offensive in northwest Syria after a second day of raids by jets believed to be Russian threatened to end a fragile ceasefire. – Reuters   

United Nations investigators said in a report Wednesday that air strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces have killed, wounded or displaced many civilians in Syria. […]The report also accused Syrian and pro-government Russian forces of waging a deadly air campaign that appeared to target medical facilities, schools and other sites that could also amount to war crimes. – The Hill 


Ibrahim Qtishat said he watched on live television as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled his map for future annexation of large parts of the West Bank. […]Netanyahu’s announcement made headlines in all the predictable ways. […]But in the Palestinian communities on the map that Netanyahu presented, his words were not seen as a political game. They have been taken as a sign that life may get much worse, and fast. – Washington Post 

New official data obtained by The Associated Press shows a spike in Jewish settlement construction in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, along with strong evidence of decades of systematic discrimination illustrated by a huge gap in the number of construction permits granted to Jewish and Palestinian residents. – Associated Press 

IDF fighters and aircraft attacked several terrorist targets at a military compound belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the northern Gaza Strip, confirmed an IDF spokesperson on Wednesday night. – Jerusalem Post 

It sounds like a screenplay for a movie: According to the Israel Defense Forces, the Jewish state is operating a spy in a very senior position in an Arab state — without his even knowing he is providing invaluable intelligence to Israel. – Times of Israel 

Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) said on Wednesday the US commitment to Israel was “as strong as ever” despite American overtures to Iran and the abrupt departure of President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton. – Algemeiner 

Ghaith al-Omari writes: The administration’s position thus far—stating that U.S. policy remains unchanged, and deferring the issue to the eventual release of its peace plan—might create sufficient distance from the annexation announcement to avoid serious fallout. […]The other alternative—issuing statements that signal American endorsement of Netanyahu’s proposals—would give the PA even more leverage, all but ensuring its success in building a preemptive alliance against the peace plan. – The Washington Institute 

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election vow to annex parts of the West Bank as a “very dangerous escalation,” adding to a chorus of international condemnations and injecting the issue of Palestinian statehood into an election campaign that had all but ignored it. – Associated Press 

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister says his country is keen to explore ways of strengthening relations with Cyprus given the European Union member country’s geographic location and long-standing ties with the Arab world. – Associated Press   

Republican and Democratic U.S. senators revived an effort to pressure Saudi Arabia over human rights, by pushing the country to fulfill its commitment to provide $750 million this year to help the people of Yemen, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday. – Reuters   

Hamas revealed this week that its unofficial representative in Saudi Arabia has been arrested together with dozens of Hamas supporters and activists. – Jerusalem Post 

Saudi Arabia and Russia called on Thursday for members of OPEC and its allies to better comply with oil production cuts, effectively signaling they want over-producing countries such as Nigeria and Iraq to curb output to help boost oil prices. – Reuters   

Middle East & North Africa

Germany aims to host a conference about Libya this year in conjunction with the United Nations to try to stabilize the oil producing country, where rival factions have been fighting over the capital, Germany’s ambassador to Libya said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

In a speech in honor of Ashura that aired on Al-Manar TV (Lebanon), Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah reiterated Hezbollah’s loyalty to Iran and its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. – Arutz Sheva 

Arab and Muslim countries Wednesday led a wave of outcry after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to annex a key part of the occupied West Bank if re-elected. […]But Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which earlier this month exchanged cross-border fire with the Israel army, blamed the Gulf Arab states for emboldening Netanyahu to take stronger steps against the Palestinians. – Agence France-Presse 

Korean Peninsula

China urged the United States on Thursday to adopt an approach more conducive to dialogue in response to North Korea’s goodwill in wanting to resume denuclearization talks, and again suggested United Nations sanctions relief be considered for Pyongyang. – Reuters 

Images released by North Korea’s state-run media show that the weapon system the country tested on 10 September was the same ‘super-large multiple rocket launcher [MRL]’ it had tested on 24 August. – Jane’s 360 

Rich Lowry writes: In the “fire and fury” phase of Donald Trump’s presidency, everyone worried that he’d impulsively start a war with North Korea. The worry should have been he’d, almost on a whim, step across the Korean DMZ in a chummy photo-op with Kim Jong Un. […]No tool of foreign policy, including diplomacy, should be deployed indiscriminately and thoughtlessly. Trump views himself as primarily a dealmaker, which doesn’t mean that every deal is worth having or even pursuing. There’s a lot of space between “fire and fury” and hosting terrorists at Camp David. – Politico 


President Trump says the U.S. will delay by two weeks a planned increase in tariffs on some Chinese imports, a move that could ease chilled relations between the two nations ahead of planned trade talks in Washington next month. – Wall Street Journal  

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it’s important for her country to engage in dialogue with China, including on issues such as human rights. – Associated Press  

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday welcomed China’s decision to exempt some U.S. anti-cancer drugs and other goods from its tariffs and announced a short delay to scheduled tariff hikes on billions worth of Chinese goods. – Reuters  

China’s ambassador in Berlin issued a rare rebuke to German politicians and media who welcomed a prominent Hong Kong demonstrator this week, laying bare tensions over unrest in the coastal territory. – Bloomberg 


The U.S. war in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of about 2,400 American service members, including 16 in combat action this year. Some 20,000 more have been wounded, many grievously. But there’s another set of revealing numbers about the war that exposes its sprawling nature. Data provided by the Pentagon shows that more than 775,000 U.S. service members have deployed to Afghanistan at least once. – Washington Post 

President Donald Trump says the U.S.-Taliban talks on ending the fighting in Afghanistan are “dead,” deeply unfortunate wording for the Afghan civilians who have been killed by the tens of thousands over almost 18 years. Many fear his cancellation of negotiations will bring more carnage as the U.S. and the Taliban, as well as Afghan forces, step up their offensives and everyday people die in the crossfire. – Associated Press 

While paying tribute to the fallen of 9/11, President Donald Trump on Wednesday blamed the Taliban for the cancellation of Afghanistan peace talks and appeared to threaten more military action against the insurgent group. – USA Today  

Anthony Cordesman writes: No one can forge lasting peace or win a war on the basis of bluff and bluster, or by ignoring the sheer facts on the ground. This, however, is how the United States is currently approaching the long running war in Afghanistan. […]Ultimately, all of the options are bad. The choice, however, should be made between the best possible peace plan and the best plan for staying. This critical choice should be based on the grim realities on the ground, and offer the best steps forward it can. It should not be made on the basis of hollow political gestures or on the basis of heated ideological rhetoric. – The Hill 


Bangladesh took in 750,000 Rohingya expelled from Myanmar in a military-led crackdown. Two years on, facing simmering conflict between natives and the recent arrivals, and after failed attempts to persuade some refugees to return, the host country is running out of patience for the Rohingya. – Washington Post  

When unrest began to grip Hong Kong early this summer, the Mass Transit Railway took on a different role. It carried protesters to demonstration venues, allowing them to leave the scene or shuttle between rallies in minutes. […]But as police crack down harder on dissent, station ticket halls and platforms are becoming battlegrounds, strewn with debris, tear gas and blood as officers clash violently with demonstrators. – Washington Post 

Security forces in Indian Kashmir shot dead on Wednesday a suspected member of a Pakistan-based militant group who was accused of attacking the family of a fruit trader, the state police chief said. – Reuters  

China and Malaysia have agreed to set up a joint dialogue mechanism for the disputed South China Sea, the Chinese government’s top diplomat said on Thursday after meeting Malaysia’s foreign minister. – Reuters   

Australia’s first Chinese-born lawmaker is under intense political scrutiny over her former ties with Communist Party-linked groups — a saga that reveals growing sensitivities about Beijing’s perceived meddling in national affairs. – Bloomberg  

U.S. officials have warned the Solomon Islands to be wary of Chinese funding promises and not to be pressed into cutting ties with Taiwan, in comments highlighting increasing big-power competition for influence in the South Pacific. – Reuters  


Moscow condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announced intention to  annex the Jordan Valley if he wins next week’s election, warning on the eve of his one-day trip to Russia on Thursday that this could lead to an “escalation” in the region. – Jerusalem Post  

The Russian state directed and ran the military coup in Crimea and its subsequent annexation in 2014, Ukraine has told the European court of human rights. – The Guardian   

Samuel Ramani writes: Russia’s willingness to engage with the United States in the country is principally aimed at highlighting its great power status and should not be viewed as real support. Although Russia is genuinely concerned about the spillover of terrorism from an unstable Afghanistan to Central Asia, it principally seeks to counter that threat by consolidating its hegemony over Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and strengthening its influence in Afghanistan by backing pro-Kremlin political figures. – Foreign Policy  


Lockheed Martin has received State Department approval to sell 32 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to the Polish military in an estimated $6.5 billion order, the Pentagon announced Wednesday. – Washington Post 

A Scottish court ruled on Wednesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful, a remarkable rebuke of the government’s hard-line tactics in trying to pull Britain out of the European Union. – New York Times    

The Czech president sparked ire when he said he’d ask his nation’s leadership whether the European Union member could undo its recognition of Kosovo, making him an unexpected backer of Serbia in the Balkans’ biggest territorial dispute. – Bloomberg 

Switzerland welcomes international scrutiny of the way it oversees the Facebook-led Libra cryptocurrency project and is ready to work with other countries to ensure seamless supervision, the top Swiss financial watchdog said. – Reuters  


Islamist militants killed nine Nigerian soldiers in an attack on a military base in the northeast of the country, three soldiers and an official from a security agency said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

A Mali-based al Qaeda affiliate said a landmine it planted that killed 14 civilians when it exploded under a passenger bus was intended to target French troops. […]Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) – an umbrella group for al Qaeda-linked militants in West Africa and the Maghreb – said it had not intended to attack the bus and offered its condolences and sympathy to the relatives of those killed. – Reuters  

Angola is attracting renewed interest from Chinese business owners since it lifted curbs on money transfers, following an exodus of tens of thousands of Chinese amid an economic crisis. – Bloomberg

Latin America

The Colombian military is on alert in response to Venezuelan armed forces exercises along the two nations’ border that Colombia considers an open threat, a senior military commander said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

With hundreds of Venezuelans crossing the border into Brazil every day, locals are becoming increasingly aggrieved and xenophobia is rising, according to residents, officials and aid workers in the area. Arrivals — and tensions — are set to rise further as a result of tighter US sanctions on Venezuela and the fact that Ecuador and Peru have tightened requirements for new arrivals. – Financial Times 

Roger F. Noriega writes: For the past decade, conventional diplomacy failed to assess the nature of the Venezuelan narco-state[…]. Diplomats failed to act effectively as Maduro stole a series of elections, cynical opposition leaders sold out democracy, narco-traffickers hijacked a government, and economic destruction and brutal repression forced 4 million refugees out of Venezuela. Now that Bolton has been sidelined, Trump will have to empower another leader to confront a well-funded narco-state that is destabilizing the Americas with drugs, terrorists, corruption, and refugees. Confronting this threat, forcefully and finally, is the only reasonable option. – Washington Examiner 


The Navy’s explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) community is looking to leverage nearly two decades of expertise gained in the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts in Iraq and apply them to helping the Navy gain sea control and beach access in a future high-end, near-peer adversary type of fight. – USNI News 

Raytheon is expecting a boom in international sales of its counter-UAS system already battle-tested with the U.S. Army. – Defense News 

A spending bill making its way through the Senate includes at least $1 billion more for hypersonics and hypersonics defense than what the Pentagon requested in March. – C4ISRNET 

A FLIR System that deploys tiny unmanned aerial vehicles from a ruggedized container affixed to the front of a vehicle is helping to shape how advanced teaming can be used on the tactical edge against near peer threats. At DSEI — a major defense exposition in London — the system that deploys Black Hornet UAVs, which is the system chosen by the U.S. Army for the Soldier Borne Sensor program, made its appearance in several variations around the showroom floor. – Defense News 

In a move that could have major impacts on the already-delayed tanker program, the U.S. Air Force has indefinitely barred the KC-46 from carrying cargo and passengers, Defense News has learned. – Defense News  

Long War

Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri called Wednesday on Muslims to attack U.S., European, Israeli and Russian targets in a speech on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. – Associated Press  

ISIS might have lost control of its last territorial stronghold in March, but the retired Marine Corps general who led American efforts to defeat the terrorist organization five years ago says the group remains much alive. – USNI News  

An Austrian student and journalist says a Turkish court has acquitted him and two others of terror-related charges. – Associated Press   

An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader and 10 other top officials from the outlawed group to life in prison in connection with charges of conspiring with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. – Bloomberg  

Trump Administration

As President Trump begins considering replacements for former national security adviser John Bolton, sources close to the administration say it’s possible Trump will make an unusual pick and ask Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to fill the role. – Washington Examiner  

John Bolton’s dismissal as U.S. national security advisor on Tuesday removes the most vocal hardliner from President Donald Trump’s inner circle. Trump has spent his presidency carving out an unorthodox approach to global crises, including his moves to meet Kim Jong Un and court Vladimir Putin. – Bloomberg  

Adam Taylor writes: The most difficult factor for the president may not be his enemies, but his allies. Yes, Bolton is now gone, but his disagreement about even the manner in which he left the White House suggests he may continue to be a thorn in the side of a more agreeable Trump from afar. – Washington Post