Fdd's overnight brief

September 14, 2018

In The News


Iran’s falling currency is causing many Iranians to cancel vacations, business trips, college studies and medical treatment abroad, a retreat in consumer spending that is weighing on the country’s troubled economy. […]The economy has worsened since the Trump administration in May withdrew from a multilateral pact that restrained Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.  – Wall Street Journal

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said at the beginning of the week that if Iran chooses to continue pursuing a nuclear program it will face a “military” answer from the US and its allies. Katz was responding Sunday to the Iranian nuclear chief’s warning that the Islamic Republic’s program stands ready to build advanced centrifuges and further enrich uranium. – Associated Press

A top adviser to Iran’s president on human rights said that the government “failed” to help a U.S. permanent resident imprisoned over spying allegations that she personally invited to the country for a conference. – Associated Press

Thousands of Iranians attended a massive funeral for 135 soldiers on Thursday, 30 years after the end of the 1980s war between Iran and Iraq. – Associated Press

The Energy Department is raising its oil price projections in response to the effects of sanctions on Iran kicking in sooner than expected. – Washington Examiner

The build-up in Iranian oil supplies underscores the pressure that Iran is facing as Washington aims to bring Iranian oil exports down to zero to force Tehran to re-negotiate a nuclear deal. – Reuters

Josh Rogin writes: Several administration officials claim that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has found another way to “resist” the president’s maximum-pressure strategy on Iran: simply neglect to give the president a document he requested several weeks ago. – Washington Post

Michael Rubin writes: If Kerry wants to criticize Trump for walking away from the JCPOA, he is free to do so. And if he wants to plot and plan with Zarif, he can register as a foreign agent on behalf of Iran. But he should not remain above the law. – Washington Examiner


A Syrian rebel commander said on Thursday rare military exercises with U.S. marines in southern Syria sent a strong message to Russia and Iran that the Americans and the rebels intend to stay and confront any threats to their presence. – Reuters

Turkey’s foreign minister said in a letter to New York Times editors published on Thursday that the Kurdish YPG militia may aid the Syrian government in an attack against Idlib, the last major rebel-held area in Syria. – Reuters

More than 360,000 people have been killed across war-ravaged Syria in seven years, a monitoring group said Thursday, in a new toll for the brutal conflict. – Agence France-Presse

Turkey sent in military reinforcements Thursday to beef up its positions inside Syria’s last rebel bastion Idlib, activists reported, even as the Turkish defense minister said Ankara is still trying with Russia and Iran to prevent a humanitarian tragedy in the case of a threatened Syrian government offensive. – Associated Press

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says he will warn Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later on September 14 that a major military offensive on the last Syrian rebel stronghold of Idlib Province risks triggering a “humanitarian catastrophe.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Free Liberty

Companies from dozens of countries are showing their wares at the Damascus International Fair this week, but those from two in particular are getting special treatment — Russia and Iran. – Times of Israel

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu writes: Having Y.P.G. forces operating from Syria, just miles from the border of Turkey, is untenable. It’s time for Washington to assess who its real allies in the region are. – New York Times

Bret Stephens writes: The Trump administration has made clear that its top priority in the Middle East is to thwart Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions. So why is it so reluctant to lift a finger against Tehran’s most audacious gambit in Syria? – New York Times


Three days after the Trump administration evicted the Palestine Liberation Organization from its offices in Washington, Jared Kushner defended the latest in a string of punitive actions against the Palestinians and insisted that none of them had diminished the chances of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. – New York Times

The Trump administration is prepared for Israeli criticism of elements of its coming Middle East peace plan, the US envoy to the region said, even as Washington faces growing Palestinian accusations that it will be heavily tilted in favor of Israel. – Reuters

The White House flatly denied on Thursday a report that said US President Donald Trump had offered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas $5 billion to enter peace negotiations. – Times of Israel

Three Palestinians were spotted crawling towards the Gaza border fence in the early hours of Friday morning before they threw a pipe bomb at soldiers patrolling the area, according to the Israel Defense Forces. – Times of Israel

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrived in Azerbaijan on Thursday for his first visit to the strategic Muslim country that borders Iran, is one of the biggest markets for Israeli arms, and sells Israel 40% of its oil. – Jerusalem Post

Melanie Phillips writes: Given that the demonization of Israel is the key strategy in the war of extermination being waged against it, “getting Israel’s message across” is the equivalent to using a leaky bucket to ward off a tsunami. The essence of such psychological warfare is as simple as it is seismic. It is the manipulation of language. – Jerusalem Post

Daniel Beaudoin writes: If the “refugee” term remains uncontested, UNRWA will continue to serve as a political springboard for those states which seem to be more interested in using UNRWA to keep the right of return on the international political agenda than they are for meeting the humanitarian needs of its Palestinian beneficiaries. – Jerusalem Post


Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Thursday that a missile strike they launched on a Kurdish rebel base in neighboring Iraq last week should serve as a warning to “arrogant foreign powers.” – Agence France-Presse

US Congressman Ted Poe has been pushing to sanction Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. In mid-August he spoke about the need to “stand up to Iran’s proxies” in Iraq. […]But the Shia militias were not disbanding and their presence was undermining the government’s authority. Now the US risks losing in Iraq again as enemies of Washington seek to form a government coalition and Congress seeks to sanction militias that hold sway in Baghdad. – Jerusalem Post

Jonathan Spyer writes: The events in Basra appear to reflect popular anger against Iran’s de facto power in Iraq. But the militias and their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) backers are unlikely to be deterred or made to change course by popular unrest. Rather, the signs are they will dig in and mobilize their own counterforce. – Jerusalem Post


The United Nations warned Thursday of an “incalculable human cost” in Yemen, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of people, as an Arab force backed by the United States pressed toward the strategic Yemeni port city of Hodeida. SANAA, Yemen. – Washington Post

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen is taking steps to reduce civilian casualties, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday as it defended a certification to Congress by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to avoid limits on U.S. aid to the kingdom. – Reuters

Spain will go ahead with the controversial delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, engaged in a bloody conflict in Yemen, Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

Middle East

Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah burst into tears in front of thousands of people on Tuesday while delivering a speech during an annual Ashura ceremony. – Ynet

Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic brawl with Canada has exposed what Western officials call “new red lines” in their engagement with the oil-rich kingdom, deterring nations from publicly criticising its human rights record. – Agence France-Presse

The UN Security Council has extended the mandate for the UNSMIL mission in Libya by another year, until September 15, 2019, but did not endorse a December 10 date for elections that were agreed to in a Paris meeting four months ago. – Al Jazeera

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil says his country will never agree to grant Lebanese citizenship to so-called “Palestinian refugees”, in response to reports that the US government would like the countries hosting the “refugees” to grant them citizenship. – Arutz Sheva

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned two Russian and Chinese technology firms Washington said are front companies for North Korea generating illicit revenues for Pyongyang’s weapons programs. – Wall Street Journal

In all, seven shipments of North Korean coal and pig iron were determined to have arrived in the South last year, at least three of which came after the U.S. warned the Seoul government. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Moscow on Thursday of seeking to cover up breaches of U.N. sanctions on North Korea by Russians after it pushed for changes to an independent report on sanctions violations. – Reuters

Senior Republicans on Thursday called on Trump administration officials to beef up the enforcement of North Korea sanctions on Chinese companies, and warned that failing to do so will undermine U.S. progress with the regime on nuclear proliferation. – Washington Examiner

North Korea is “willing to denuclearise” and the US is prepared to end hostile relations, President Moon Jae-in said Thursday as he struck an upbeat tone ahead of his third meeting with Kim Jong Un next week. – Agence France-Presse

Next week’s inter-Korean summit will test whether South Korean President Moon Jae-in can pull off his role of mediator and salvage stalled nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington. – Reuters

North and South Korea opened a liaison office on the North’s side of their heavily militarized border on Friday, setting up a permanent channel of communication as part of a flurry of efforts to end their decades old rivalry. – Reuters

North Korea said on Friday U.S. accusations that it was responsible for cyber attacks in 2014 and 2017 were a “smear campaign” and the man sanctioned by Washington does not exist, the official KCNA news agency said. – Reuters


President Trump insisted Thursday that he was “under no pressure to make a deal with China,” signaling a readiness to escalate his trade war with Beijing. – Washington Post

In recent months, Germany, France, Britain, the European Union, Australia, Japan and Canada have all joined an unprecedented global backlash against Chinese capital, citing national security concerns. – Politico

China’s foreign minister and the head of the National Development and Reform Commission held a meeting on Friday with visiting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. – Reuters

The current world trade system is not perfect and China supports reforms to it, including to the World Trade Organization, to make it fairer and more effective, Beijing’s top diplomat said. – Reuters

China is not mistreating Muslims in Xinjiang province but is putting some people through training courses to avoid extremism spreading, unlike Europe, which had failed to deal with the problem, a Chinese official told reporters on Thursday. – Reuters

The United States is looking more closely at a crackdown by China on minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region, a senior U.S. economic official said on Thursday, as Washington considers imposing sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies linked to allegations of human rights abuses. – Reuters

As Beijing intensifies its effort to further isolate Taiwan diplomatically, Taipei is actively but discreetly broadening security ties with regional powers beyond its long-standing relationship with the United States. – Reuters

The strategic partnership between China and Russia, long marred by mutual suspicion, has risen to new heights with recent news of joint projects of more than $100 billion and large-scale army drills. But such cooperation belies the rivalry that defines the relationship between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, political strategists warn. – CNBC


The U.S. Agency for International Development’s biggest program for Afghan women has spent almost $90 million over three years and so far has placed just 55 women in Afghan government jobs, a watchdog report said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

The Afghan conflict could overtake Syria as the deadliest conflict in the world this year, analysts say, as violence surges 17 years after the US-led invasion. […]The grim assessment contrasts sharply with the consistently upbeat public view of the conflict from NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Kabul, and underscores the growing sense of hopelessness in the war-torn country. – Agence France-Presse

The trade is part of $4 billion in annual illicit outflows deepening the strain on Afghanistan’s war-ravaged economy and undermining Iran’s attempts to halt the decline of its battered rial. Despite official attempts to curb the activity, traders see no sign it will slow down: Afghanistan’s government is preoccupied with battling the Taliban and Islamic State, while Iran is overextended dealing with U.S. President Donald Trump’s fresh wave of sanctions. – Bloomberg


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday repeated Japan’s stance that a row over islands seized by Russian troops in the final days of World War Two must be settled before a peace treaty can be signed to formally end hostilities between their countries. – Reuters

Vietnam has asked Facebook to open a local office as the Communist-ruled country increases pressure on global technology firms to abide by a controversial cyber security law. – Reuters

Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has faced a rare pushback from institutions and the military over orders to arrest a key critic who has been hiding out in the country’s senate building for almost two weeks in order to avoid arrest. – The Guardian

Stuti Bhatnagar writes: While the India-U.S. relationship moves forward, encouraged by the success of the dialogue, particularly from the American perspective, the impact of these spoilers and India’s balancing act is likely to create significant tensions. Trade sanctions will be particularly detrimental to a struggling Indian economy, and deterioration of relations with either Russia or Iran could significantly hamper India’s regional position. – War on the Rocks


Amid wild rumors in Russia that a NASA astronaut deliberately drilled a hole in a Russian spacecraft docked to the International Space Station, the space agencies of the two countries released a joint statement on Thursday saying that a leak last month was being investigated and that they would refrain from further comment. – New York Times

Two Russian agents suspected of trying to spy on a Swiss laboratory were arrested in the Netherlands and expelled early this year, Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources. – Reuters

The Pentagon has issued a protest after U.S. Air Force fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace west of the U.S. state of Alaska. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Free Liberty

Washington may follow through on threats to impose sanctions over the construction of an underwater natural-gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has said. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Free Liberty


France has recognized the use of torture by its military during the Algerian War in an attempt by the government of President Emmanuel Macron to heal the wounds of its colonial past. – Wall Street Journal

The United States has joined the European Union in condemning plans by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to hold “elections,” calling them “phony procedures” that undermine peace efforts in the region. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Free Liberty

In Thursday’s interview with the Kremlin-funded RT channel, the suspects, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, said they were simply tourists catching the sights in Salisbury about the same time as the attack. – Washington Post

Hungary’s government will decide on Monday on legal steps to challenge a European parliament ruling against the country for flouting democratic standards, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday. – Reuters

The U.K. government meet for three hours on Thursday morning to discuss the eventuality of a “no-deal” Brexit. – CNBC

The European Union wants to bolster the global role of the euro as part of an effort to avoid being pushed around by President Donald Trump, whose foreign policy actions are increasingly at odds with its trans-Atlantic partner, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said. – Bloomberg

Anne Applebaum writes: Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all societies eventually will. […]All of this has happened before. Profound political shifts—events that suddenly split families and friends, cut across social classes, and dramatically rearrange alliances—do not happen every day in Europe, but neither are they unknown. – The Atlantic

The Americas

U.S. and Cuban officials met at the State Department on Thursday to discuss the mysterious health problems that have affected more than two dozen American Embassy personnel, a situation that led to a reduction in staffing at the Havana mission and a chill in ties between the countries. – Reuters

Mexico’s government said on Thursday that it was analyzing a proposal from the U.S. State Department to help fund the deportation of migrants from Mexico. – Reuters

Canadians who work in the marijuana industry — and those who invest in the booming pot sector — risk a lifetime ban on travel to the U.S., according to a senior official overseeing U.S border operations. – Politico

Cyber Security

The Army believes integration will be the key to winning in the high tech environments of the future, and to do so the service is building a force that will be well versed in cyber, electronic warfare, signal and information operations. One of the Army’s first moves toward this end is the transition of electronic warfare officers into the cyber branch. – Fifth Domain

Some of the most well-known viruses from the past decade are still infecting machines despite their well-documented nature, according to cyber research firms. Some viruses, such as WannaCry and Conficker, are still spreading, Sean Sullivan, a security adviser at F-Secure told Fifth Domain. – Fifth Domain

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg offered new details Thursday on the social media giant’s efforts to combat foreign interference in U.S. elections this fall. – Washington Examiner

Citing a U.S. Attorney’s Office release, WRAL-TV reports 49-year-old Mittesh Das, a defense contractor, was also ordered to pay the government $1.5 million in restitution. He was convicted on a charge of knowingly transmitting malicious code with the intent to cause damage to a U.S. Army computer used in furtherance of national security. – Associated Press


Congressional conferees on Thursday finalized a $674.4 billion defense spending bill for next year packaged with funding for the departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, or Labor-HHS—and a continuing resolution through Dec. 7 for some other parts of the government. – Defense News

Boeing Co. won a $194 million contract to update software and equipment used by crews training to work on the U.S. Navy’s P-8A Poseidon, a maritime patrol jet based on the planemaker’s widely used 737 model. – Washington Examiner

U.S. Special Operations are a remarkable, formidable fighting force who are admired and feared throughout the world. Now, the military’s elite warriors are set to become even more deadly with a new addition to their arsenal. About $48 million-worth of new, cutting-edge suppressors will be in the hands of America’s top military personnel, enhancing their capabilities on the battlefield. – Fox News

Rhys McCormick writes: There have been substantial shifts in the defense acquisition system over the past two years as it begins to rebound after sequestration and the defense drawdown.1 At a most basic level, defense contract obligations have grown in each of the past two years after a trough in defense contract spending in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. – Center for Strategic & International Studies

Long War

A report released this month by the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor finds that U.S. counterterrorism aid intended to bolster U.S. and its allies’ efforts to combat violent extremists has also had the unintended consequence of fueling corruption and funding terrorist group activities and recruitment. – Defense News

A new report tracking the roots, spread and effects of violent Islamist extremism found that 121 groups that share elements from a common ideology are now operating worldwide. Their activities resulted in the deaths of 84,000 people – nearly 22,000 of them civilians – in 66 countries in 2017, the report found. – CBS News

A German teenager has been arrested on suspicion he was planning an Islamic extremist bombing attack in the Frankfurt area, prosecutors said Thursday. – Associated Press

Trump Administration

President Trump’s executive order authorizing sanctions against foreigners who attempt to interfere in U.S. elections won’t deter meddlers and is somewhat redundant, according to sanctions lawyers, U.S. senators and others. – Wall Street Journal

William McRaven, the retired four-star admiral who led U.S. Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014, has resigned from the Pentagon’s technology advisory board following a public critique of President Donald Trump, Defense News has learned. – Defense News

Rumors that President Donald Trump is considering replacing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis continue to grow, buoyed by a new report claiming the commander in chief has taken to calling the former Marine general “Moderate Dog” Mattis behind closed doors out of frustration with his measured political positions. – Military Times

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has tentatively agreed to a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller that will head off his upcoming trial […]. Manafort and his most senior defense attorneys spent more than four hours Thursday in discussions with a team of special prosecutors who are involved in the ongoing investigation into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. – ABC News

Marc A. Thiessen writes: The ICC is not just a threat to U.S. citizens and our democratic allies — it is a hindrance to democratic change. […]By taking on the ICC, the Trump administration is not just protecting U.S. citizens and American sovereignty — it is striking a blow for democracy across the world. – Washington Post