Fdd's overnight brief

September 20, 2018

In The News


The State Department released a report Wednesday identifying Iran as the leading state sponsor of terrorism with a “near-global reach” and accusing it of sending suspected operatives to the United States. – Washington Post

Iran has asked the United Nations to condemn Israeli threats against Tehran and to bring Israel’s nuclear program under its supervision, state media reported on Thursday. – Reuters

The United States is seeking to negotiate a treaty with Iran to include Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its regional behavior, the U.S. special envoy for Iran said on Wednesday ahead of U.N. meetings in New York next week. –  Reuters

France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris last June, French officials said on Wednesday. – Reuters

British-Iranian dual nationals have been warned by the UK Foreign Office against all but essential travel to Iran. A spokesperson said Britain’s ability to provide support to detained dual nationals in Iran was “extremely limited” as the country does not recognise their status. – Sky News

Iran’s once optimistic tourism industry has been left in disarray following the reintroduction of U.S. sanctions against Tehran in early August. The move by President Donald Trump has led to tourists shying away from Iran, while locals are not spending their money either, both of which have had a negative effect on the country’s economy. – CNBC

Iran’s national security policy is the product of many overlapping and sometimes competing factors such as the ideology of Iran’s Islamic revolution; perception of threats to the regime and to the country; long-standing Iranian national interests; and the interaction of the Iranian regime’s factions and constituencies. – USNI News


Israel Atomic Energy Commission Director General Zeev Snir said that the Israel will upgrade and reinforce its nuclear facilities in response to Iranian threats during the 62nd General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinians protested Wednesday at a new location along the perimeter fence between Israel and Gaza as Hamas intensified demonstrations at the border after Egyptian-led cease-fire talks stalled. – Associated Press

Israel’s air force commander was set to lead a delegation to Moscow on Thursday to share the military’s findings on the Syrian downing of a Russian warplane following Israeli air strikes. – Agence France-Presse

Israeli forces opened fire during a demonstration in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday, killing a Palestinian youth, the Palestinian health ministry said. – Reuters

Middle East

Jordan has embarked on an overseas lobbying campaign to replace funding that the Trump administration pulled last month for an agency that supports hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the kingdom. – Wall Street Journal

Thousands of people who were recently displaced by violence in northwest Syria have returned home following a Russia-Turkey deal that averted a government offensive on the last major rebel stronghold, Syrian opposition activists said Wednesday. – Associated Press

The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, a key Damascus ally, said on Wednesday that his group will keep its military presence in Syria until further notice, commending the Idlib Russian-Turkish agreement as a step toward reaching a political solution in the country. – Reuters

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed on Thursday that the balance of power between the Lebanese Shiite terror group and Israel has “changed” and that the group has accurate missiles which would be used in the next conflict. – Jerusalem Post

Russia has begun stepping up operations off the coast of Syria following the downing of a military aircraft, media outlets in Cyprus reported on Thursday. Russia reportedly decided to close areas near Cyprus to air, land and sea movement from Thursday until next Wednesday for the sake of military operations. Sources in Israel confirmed the report. – Haaretz

Canada is extending an olive branch to Saudi Arabia after a diplomatic blowout, as the countries weigh whether they can potentially avoid a prolonged standoff affecting Canadian firms and Saudi students. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

The offer by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came with a caveat. He would permanently dismantle his country’s main nuclear site, but only if only if the United States makes concessions first. President Trump called the developments part of “tremendous progress” in outreach to Kim’s regime yet made no new commitments. – Washington Post

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s offer to decommission a plant that makes fissile material for nuclear weapons—if the U.S. agrees to unspecified concessions—puts the focus on how Washington responds. – Wall Street Journal

The leaders of the rival Koreas took to the road for the final day of their summit Thursday, standing on the peak of a beautiful volcano considered sacred in the North and a centerpiece of propaganda used to legitimize the Kim family’s rule, their hands clasped and raised in a pose of triumph. – Associated Press

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Trump has repeatedly insisted that the “maximum pressure” campaign compelled Kim to come to the table and paved the way for a potentially historic peace. But skeptics point to the dizzying, confused trajectory of White House strategy — which alternated threats and flattery, and insists on a “complete denuclearization” few have faith will ever come to pass — as a sign of an administration without a real plan. Now, Trump appears to be losing what leverage he had. – Washington Post

Micheal J, Green, Sue Mi Terry, and Victor Cha write: Kim no doubt hopes that an eventual peace treaty with the United States can be used in the future to discredit the UN Command, […]and possibly even lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea and the withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea, ultimately resulting in the end of the U.S.-South Korea alliance. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


China’s second-highest-ranking official delivered a confident message Wednesday amid the looming trade war with the United States: Beijing will survive. The remarks from Premier Li Keqiang to a crowd in the port city of Tianjin seemed directed at President Trump — without invoking his name — as fresh tariff announcements bring the United States and China closer to the extremes in their trade war. – Washington Post

At a hastily arranged news conference during a World Economic Forum meeting in China on Wednesday, a pair of U.S. congressmen vigorously defended President Trump’s policies and took issue with remarks made minutes before by China’s premier. – Wall Street Journal

China has welcomed the outcome of the inter-Korean summit and will continue supporting both sides in further talks on reducing tensions. – Associated Press

China’s education ministry has launched a “comprehensive” inspection of school textbooks to remove unapproved alterations or foreign content, state media reported late on Wednesday, amid a push to combat Western influence in China’s schools. – Reuters

China’s new tariffs on American liquefied natural gas will hurt the industry, but ultimately may only hinder rather than halt the progress of a growing industry that is a key plank of the Trump administration’s “energy dominance agenda.” – Washington Examiner

John Cassidy writes: The trade dispute between Washington and Beijing has been rumbling along all year, and it hasn’t had much impact on the rest of the economy. G.D.P. growth and job creation have both been strong. Corporate profits have hit record highs. But the dangers attending the current situation shouldn’t be underestimated. – New Yorker

South Asia

More than at any time since the Taliban was ousted in 2001, rampant criminality has returned to the heart of Afghanistan’s politics. Kabul is overrun with mafia-style networks that control the national drug trade and bring violence to the streets with armed robberies and factional warfare. – Wall Street Journal

A Pakistani court suspended the corruption conviction of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and ordered he be freed from jail, reinvigorating his party’s claims that the case was aimed at hindering its prospects in July’s national election. – Wall Street Journal

The gunmen appeared on the streets of Kabul when the 10 days of Ashura commemorations began in mid-September, stark testament to crumbling security, and the devastating rise of sectarianism in a country once spared its ravages. – The Guardian

Pakistan’s ambassador to Turkey pledged this week to increase defense cooperation between the two countries to new levels, but after a string of recent deals, analysts believe further cooperation will be incremental. – Defense News


President Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin for two hours in Helsinki in the summer, and we still don’t know what the two men discussed. The White House has also made a habit of not providing details of Trump’s calls with world leaders. – Washington Post

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted Israel’s offer to share detailed information on the Israeli airstrike in Syria that triggered fire by Syrian forces which downed a Russian reconnaissance plane, the Kremlin said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Leonid Bershidsky writes: All of a sudden, President Vladimir Putin is a soft touch on Syria. First, he let President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey persuade him not to begin a huge attack on the Syrian opposition in Idlib. Then he defused a conflict with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel over a downed Russian military plane. – Bloomberg

Roman Dobrokhotov writes: There have been some observers who have expressed their doubt that Moscow is responsible for the Skripal poisoning. […]They are partially right: Russia really doesn’t need such a scandal right now. Yet, we should not be surprised about its intelligence agencies undertaking such a mission and failing in it. As the popular saying goes: Never attribute to conspiracy that which is adequately explained by incompetence. – Al Jazeera

Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti write: But why did Mr. Putin care about the election, then more than two years away? He was seething. The United States, in his view, had bullied and interfered with Russia for long enough. It was high time to fight back. – New York Times


European leaders met in Salzburg, Austria, on Wednesday evening in an effort to nudge stalled Brexit talks closer to the finish line. The big stumbling block: what to do about the U.K.’s border with Ireland. – Wall Street Journal

Now there is growing talk of making those divisions formal and partitioning Kosovo, essentially along ethnic lines. It is an idea the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia hope will settle lingering animosities 20 years after the two sides fought a war — and will be a step toward both of them joining the European Union. – New York Times ​

President Trump had a suggestion for how Spain could deal with Europe’s migration crisis during a recent meeting with Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, according to reports in the Spanish media. The idea was simple: “Build a wall across the Sahara.” – Washington Post

In the expanding lexicon of the tortuous withdrawal negotiations, this minimalist solution now has a name: “Blind Brexit.” For Mrs. May — who wants to keep some close economic ties to the European Union — the most dangerous opponents seem to be in London, where hard-liners in her warring Conservative Party are demanding a more brutal break and plotting to sabotage her Brexit plans. – New York Times ​

The parliament of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia slammed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting the Jewish state as antisemitic, barring the parliament and other public facilities from hosting and supporting BDS groups. – Jerusalem Post

James Stavridis writes: Yet, despite some positive traction out of France under President Emmanuel Macron and the continuing influence of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany, the forces tugging at Europe seem to be growing. Russia, of course, is the principal beneficiary, and will do all that it can — in subtle and direct ways — to accelerate the process of decomposition. – Bloomberg


Several senior officials with the al-Shabab extremist group have been killed or wounded in an airstrike in southern Somalia, Somali intelligence officials said Wednesday, while the al-Qaida-linked group and a resident said children were among the dead. – Associated Press

Ethiopia’s stunning political reforms are now threatened by long-standing ethnic tensions that have roared back to life since a young prime minister took power just five months ago and promised greater freedoms. – Associated Press

Islamist militants have killed hundreds of soldiers in attacks in northeastern Nigeria in recent weeks, security and military sources say, forcing a turnaround in the course of an insurgency which the government has frequently claimed to have vanquished. – Reuters

Cyber Security

Foreign government hackers continue to target the personal email accounts of U.S. senators and their aides — and the Senate’s security office has refused to defend them, a lawmaker says. – Associated Press

Bitcoin and other digital currency worth around 6.7 billion yen ($60 million) has been stolen in Japan following a hacking attack, a virtual exchange operator said on Thursday. – Agence France-Presse ​

In its first formal cyber strategy document in three years, the Department of Defense said it would focus its cyber efforts on China and Russia and use the Pentagon’s cyber capabilities to collect intelligence as well as to prepare for future conflicts. – Defense News

The Pentagon is preparing to press the defense industry to increase its cyber security, with Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan saying it will become a key measurement for how industry is judged by the department. – Defense News

Facebook Inc on Wednesday said it would team with two U.S. non-profits to slow the global spread of misinformation that could influence elections, acknowledging that fake news sites were still read by millions. – Reuters

Hackers are illegally generating Monero, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies by exploiting a software flaw that was leaked from the U.S. government, according to new research, raising questions about the security of one of the fastest-growing corners of financial markets. – Bloomberg


The Pentagon’s new focus on high-end warfare with sophisticated adversaries will put increased emphasis and pressure on Navy readiness, and the service’s maintenance infrastructure needs to better in fixing ships on time, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command said on Tuesday. – USNI News

The Navy identified a sailor who was killed aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on Monday on the carrier’s flight deck. Airman Apprentice Joseph Min Naglak was working on the flight deck of Bush struck by the propeller of an E-2C Hawkeye after he secured the plane to the deck. The carrier was conducting flight operations qualifications at the time. – USNI News

When the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s command element leaves home later this year for the Middle East, it will deploy without its usual complement of ships and amphibious force of Marines. Instead, the 15th MEU command element will land in the region to lead the next iteration of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, marking the first time the task force is led by a MEU commander. – USNI News

Long War

A top aide to the leader of the Islamic State was sentenced to death by hanging by an Iraqi court Wednesday, becoming the highest-ranking member of the extremist group to be tried and sentenced in a court of law. – Washington Post

Foreign terrorist groups and their affiliates had a bad year in 2017 as the United States and other countries fought back against the Islamic State, but Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias remain deadly threats, according to an annual government terrorism report that was released on Wednesday. – New York Times

Matthew Levitt, Stephen Tankel, Tricia Bacon, and Barak Mendelsohn write: The creation of the Islamic State (IS) came as a humbling strategic surprise, and while the group no longer holds vast swaths of territory, its “provinces” in various countries remain a problem. Such challenges mean that international cooperation is just as important as ever. – Washington Institute