Fdd's overnight brief

September 21, 2018

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Israeli missiles are suspected to have struck an Iranian arms shipment at Damascus airport late Saturday, the latest in a string of attacks aimed at eroding Tehran’s military foothold in Syria. – Wall Street Journal

Across Iran’s capital, rush-hour traffic always grinds to a halt, a sea of boxy Renault four-doors and Peugeot coupes all idling their way through the streets of Tehran. Soon, however, Iran’s faltering nuclear deal with world powers may be what causes the country’s domestic automotive market to stall out. – Associated Press

Washington’s Gulf Arab allies should be included in proposed treaty negotiations with Iran over its ballistic missile program and regional behavior, a senior Emirati official said on Thursday. – Reuters

The Trump administration persuaded Volkswagen AG to comply with sanctions on Iran and end almost all of its business in the country, according to a U.S. official, a symbolically charged step in undercutting European Union efforts to keep the 2015 nuclear deal alive. – Bloomberg

Iran said it will veto any OPEC decision that harms the Islamic Republic and warned that some oil producers are trying to create an alternative suppliers’ forum that supports U.S. policies hostile to the government in Tehran. – Bloomberg

Washington’s envoy to the United Nations accused Iran on Thursday of flagrantly violating Iraqi sovereignty in order to carve a corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean coast. – Algemeiner

A troupe acts out a scene from Islam’s first century at a crowded tent in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, while in another part of town youths sporting tattoos and wearing torn jeans watch a procession. The two settings reflect the increasingly contrasting ways that people in the Iranian capital are marking Ashura — one of the holiest days in Shiite Islam which this year fell on Thursday. – Agence France-Presse


A deal to create a demilitarized zone in Syria’s last opposition stronghold and forestall a regime offensive faces an immediate challenge from terrorist groups there who have signaled their reluctance to abide by the agreement. – Wall Street Journal

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, said Wednesday that Israel must stop its “intolerable” attacks in Syria. His comments came after an Israeli airstrike on a Syrian base in Latakia, during which a Russian spy plane was accidentally shot down by soldiers loyal to President Bashar Assad. – Times of Israel

Captured foreign Islamic State militants must be taken back by their home countries, the Kurdish-led forces in north-eastern Syria have said. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said it would not put them on trial themselves and lacked the resources to hold them indefinitely. – BBC News

Russia did not accept the findings of an Israeli investigation into Monday’s incident in which Syrian anti-aircraft missiles downed a Russian plane while trying to thwart an Israeli airstrike on Syrian port city Latakia, the Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen TV network reported Friday. – Haaretz


If Hezbollah dares confront Israel it will receive an unimaginable blow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as Jerusalem’s crisis with Moscow over Syria’s downing of a Russian plane triggered an unusual “war of words” with terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah. –  Jerusalem Post

Eight European Union nations are underlining their opposition to Israel’s planned demolition of the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar and are urging its government to reconsider the decision. – Associated Press

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday Israel will defend itself against Iran, after a friendly fire incident in Syria this week linked to Israeli strikes on Iranian targets there. – Agence France-Presse

The U.S. ambassador to Israel blasted the Palestinian Authority practice of paying salaries to those who attack Israelis, after a Palestinian official said the teen who stabbed an Israeli-American to death earlier this week can receive a monthly stipend. – Bloomberg

An Israel Air Force aircraft struck the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, the Israeli Army Spokesperson’s Unit said. According to the statement, it struck a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons toward Israeli territory. – Haaretz

An anti-Zionist student group at The New School in New York appeared to justify the recent killing of an Israeli-American man by a Palestinian terrorist, claiming, “He was neither a victim, nor a hero.” – Algemeiner

Editorial: The death of Ari Fuld reminds us that the Palestinian Authority isn’t so much a legitimate government as an official death cult. No government that urges the young to ruin their lives by murdering the innocent can be trusted to act in good faith. – The Weekly Standard

Middle East & North Africa

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed continued U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen over the objections of staff members after being warned that a cutoff could jeopardize $2 billion in weapons sales to America’s Gulf allies, according to a classified memo and people familiar with the decision. – Wall Street Journal

The European Union is exploring a landmark deal with Egypt it hopes could alleviate a refugee crisis that has upended politics on the continent, EU officials said on Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

The United States has called for the immediate release of a NASA scientist who was arrested in southern Turkey for alleged links to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Islamic cleric the Turkish government blames for a failed 2016 coup attempt. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: Simply put, Turkey may believe it has a qualitative military edge over the Kurds but it would be foolish for Ankara to assume that such an advantage is perpetual. The dawn of PKK and YPG drones may be sooner than Turkey realizes. – Washington Examiner

Canada’s export financing agency is raising a red flag on doing business with Saudi Arabia in the wake of a feud between Riyadh and the Trudeau government. – Bloomberg

In a show of President Trump’s staunch support of Saudi Arabia, his administration is mulling the possibility of having that nation’s young leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, speak at the U.S.-hosted UN Security Council meeting next week, according to sources familiar with its planning. – CBS News

The campaign to drive rebels from Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah will not be stopped again until it is captured from the Houthis, a militia commander said. – Al Jazeera

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to hold a second summit with President Trump soon to speed up the denuclearization process, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday. – Washington Post

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea urged the United States on Thursday to declare an end to the Korean War as an incentive for North Korea to denuclearize, a call that could put the Trump administration in a bind as it tries to revive stalled talks with Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader. – New York Times

North Korea is open to allowing outside inspections of a nuclear-weapons testing site it closed in May, South Korea’s leader said Thursday, just a day after the North agreed to open a missile site to inspectors. – Wall Street Journal

Seven time zones and 4,000 miles from Moscow — or a 100-minute flight from North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang — the fate of Russia’s Far East is bound up in the diplomacy playing out on the Korean Peninsula and Washington. – Washington Post

South Korean Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon expressed optimism about signing a revised U.S. free-trade pact into law, though lawmakers in Seoul have threatened to block the deal if Washington imposes new tariffs on Korean autos and auto parts. – Wall Street Journal

A visit to his nation’s sworn enemy by the third generation of his family to rule North Korea since the nations were divided and then fought a bloody, three-year war that still technically continues would be a truly historic event that could test Seoul politically and logistically. […]Here’s a look at the possibility of a visit by Kim to South Korea, what it could look like and whether it could happen – Associated Press

A report written by a United Nations panel of experts has determined that North Korea is evading international sanctions with “seeming impunity,” but a bitter behind-the-scenes battle between Russia and the United States has prevented the report from being made public. – Foreign Policy

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Thursday that negotiations between the two Koreas won’t be successful unless there is simultaneous success in U.S.-North Korean negotiations to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. – Associated Press

David Ignatius writes: Is the North Korea denuclearization process for real? Many hard-line U.S. military and national security officials remain skeptical. The outer boundaries of the agreement are becoming clearer. But the middle is a big blur. – Washington Post


The reality is that governments with overlapping territorial claims — representing Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei — lack the firepower to challenge China. The United States has long fashioned itself as a keeper of peace in the Western Pacific. But it’s a risky proposition to provoke conflict over a scattering of rocks in the South China Sea. – New York Times

A burglary targeting a New Zealand professor who has examined the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in Western countries has drawn the interest of Interpol and other police agencies. […]Analysts said there was strong circumstantial evidence that agents of Beijing were responsible. – New York Times 

Chinese authorities are placing the children of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities into dozens of state-run orphanages across the far western Xinjiang region, as around 1 million adults in their families are sent to internment camps. The orphanages are only the latest example of Beijing’s efforts to systematically distance young Muslims in Xinjiang from their families and culture. – Associated Press

Western navies that sail warships near contested islands in the South China Sea are risking a military confrontation, according to a top Chinese diplomat. – Washington Examiner

The United States hit a Chinese military organization with punishing financial sanctions for buying Russian fighter jets and missiles as it stepped up pressure on Moscow over its “malign activities.” – Agence France-Presse

Josh Rogin writes: The Trump administration is publicly calling out China for attempting to influence U.S. politics ahead of the midterm elections. Privately, the U.S. government is looking past November as Beijing expands its already significant capability to interfere in American democracy over the long term. The United States must be aware of the growing threat and mount a response. – Washington Post

Erin Dunne writes: Although we aren’t there yet, a stand-off between the U.S. and China, as opposed to greater cooperation, would do even more damage not only for the economies of the two countries, but also for global stability. Instead of fighting, the governments of the two countries must find ways to work with each other to head off this brewing conflict. – Washington Examiner

Abigail Grace writes: The United States and China are forging a new, uncharted gray area—not quite the economic bifurcation that characterized the U.S.-Soviet relationship at the height of the Cold War, but far from the high degree of interdependence seen in the early-21st century. – The Atlantic


Taking a page from Vietnam War propaganda, the American military in Afghanistan has been widely publicizing body counts of Taliban and Islamic State fighters killed in battle. Officials described the practice, which began in January, as part of an apparent strategy to rally White House support for remaining in the conflict. – New York Times

Sixty journalists and media workers have been killed in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime and enabled independent media to blossom in its wake — an average of around three a year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). – Agence France-Presse

An Afghan official says the Taliban have carried out a series of coordinated attacks in central Ghazni province, killing five members of the security forces. – Associated Press

Trained and armed by the Afghan government, they were been paid to protect their own — members of the Shi’ite Hazara minority — for the September 20 religious holiday that has been marred by devastating militant attacks in the past. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


The president of the Maldives, who has embraced Beijing and jailed his foes, is seeking re-election on Sunday, with the global stakes high enough that the U.S. has threatened “appropriate measures” and the European Union has prepared sanctions if the vote isn’t free and fair. – Wall Street Journal

China, which insists that Taiwan is part of its territory, is a major power at the U.N., not least because of its veto as a permanent member of the Security Council. Barring seismic political shifts in Beijing, Taiwan won’t be joining the United Nations anytime soon. – New York Times

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has written to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, seeking to resolve outstanding disputes between the two nuclear-armed nations, including the issue of the divided region of Kashmir, an official said Thursday. – Associated Press

Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers will meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the first high-level interaction between the two nuclear-armed neighbors in three years. – Bloomberg

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, fresh from winning a third term as premier, is expected to walk a fine line when he meets President Donald Trump next week as Tokyo looks to avoid a trade war with the U.S. – CNBC

Canada’s Parliament has unanimously adopted a motion declaring crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar to be genocide. – Associated Press

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he hopes Myanmar’s government will pardon “as quickly as possible” two Reuters journalists jailed on charges of possessing state secrets in connection with their reporting about massacres of Rohingya Muslims. – Associated Press

Suspected insurgents killed one person and wounded four others in a roadside ambush in southern Thailand, a region where a Muslim separatist rebellion has been active for more than a decade, police said Thursday. – Associated Press


A pair of Russian nuclear-capable bombers buzzed the British coastline along the North Sea on Thursday while ignoring repeated radio calls, according to the U.K.’s ministry of defense. Royal Air Force (RAF) Typhoon fighter jets on alert launched from a base in Scotland to intercept the bombers. – FOX News

The Trump administration on Thursday blacklisted 33 Russian individuals and entities, including a billionaire and several companies accused of interfering in American politics, limiting their ability to conduct business internationally. – Politico

The World Anti-Doping Agency declared Russia’s scandal-ridden drug-fighting operation back in business Thursday, a decision designed to bring a close to one of sports’ most notorious doping scandals but one bitterly disputed by hundreds of athletes and described as “treachery” by the lawyer for the man who exposed the corruption. – Associated Press


European Union leaders rejected the British government’s proposal for how to maintain economic relations with the bloc post-Brexit, piling pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May as she is trying to put down a possible rebellion in her party. – Wall Street Journal

Polish police are looking for a man who threw a stone into a synagogue in the city of Gdansk as members of the Jewish community were praying at the end of the Yom Kippur holiday. – Associated Press

Ukraine’s president says the country needs to amend its constitution to make NATO membership its long-term goal. President Petro Poroshenko said Thursday that Ukrainians are finally convinced of the benefits of the alliance with NATO and said the Ukrainian army will meet the criteria for NATO membership by 2020. – Associated Press

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen expressed outrage Thursday after being ordered to undergo psychiatric tests for tweeting pictures of atrocities committed by the Islamic State group. – Agence France-Presse

Britain will leave the European Union without a deal unless the bloc’s leaders soften their position on the Irish border, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC. – Reuters

The US online payment service PayPal has closed the account of the Germany-based NGO International Alliance – an organization that sympathizes with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist organization and supports boycotting Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: For now, it looks as though the open appeals of the West will trump Russian subterfuge. Polls show the referendum proposition passing, which would give the Macedonian parliament the basis to approve the necessary constitutional change. But whatever the outcome, one message from Macedonia is clear: Mr. Putin remains bent on undermining the West and its institutions whenever and wherever he can. – Washington Post

Hans Binnendijk writes: In the wake of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s visit to Washington last week, the question arises of how politically vulnerable the alliance is. It has endured through nearly half of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first term, but there is a dangerous dynamic underway that could yet undermine it from within. – DefenseNews

The Americas

While the police documents paint a clearer picture of the terror Mr. Hussain caused that night, and the lonely life he lived, they leave many important questions unanswered: What was Mr. Hussain’s motive. And was he was connected to others? […]Shortly after, the Islamic State’s news agency issued a bulletin claiming the attacker had been inspired by the terrorist group. The Canadian minister of public safety, however, said that the attack did not appear to be a national security issue. – New York Times

Stopping them is all but futile, Colombian police commanders readily admit. There are hundreds of illegal footpaths along the 1,400-mile border, which authorities estimate are used by thousands of Venezuelans daily. Already, nearly 1 million Venezuelans are living in Colombia. – Wall Street Journal

A University of Michigan professor refused to help a student study abroad in Israel because of an academic boycott against the country — and claims he’s getting death threats for his decision. – New York Post

The man who went on a shooting rampage that killed two people and wounded 13 in Toronto was an emotionally disturbed loner and did not appear to act out of any particular ideological motivation, according to police documents released Thursday. – Associated Press

Nafta talks have probably missed the latest in a string of deadlines, leaving all eyes on the U.S. over what will happen next. – Bloomberg

China’s most senior envoy arrived in the Dominican Republic on Thursday to inaugurate a new embassy after the country cut ties with Taiwan, as the U.S. ambassador there urged countries to make diplomatic decisions based on long-term goals. – Reuters

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel met U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who is on a trip to Havana to discuss tense bilateral relations and other “matters of common interest”, state-run media reported on Thursday. – Reuters

Cyber Security

The White House has “authorized offensive cyber operations” against U.S. adversaries, in line with a new policy that eases the rules on the use of digital weapons to protect the nation, national security adviser John Bolton said Thursday. – Washington Post

America’s prosperity and security depend on how we respond to the opportunities and challenges in cyberspace. Critical infrastructure, national defense, and the daily lives of Americans rely on computer-driven and interconnected information technologies. – USNI News

The National Security Agency shut down expensive and vital operations as a result of top secret information being spirited out of its headquarters by a fired NSA computer engineer who claims he took the sensitive records home to work on bolstering his performance review, according to a report submitted to a federal court. – Politico

National security adviser John Bolton defended his decision to eliminate a cybersecurity coordinator position at the White House, saying he “fixed” an overstaffing issue and that, “You know, the whole thing works.” – Washington Examiner

Nina Kollars and Jacquelyn Schneider write: Great-power strategic competition, defend forward, and prepare for war: These are the three central tenets of the newly released summary of the 2018 Department of Defense Cyber Strategy. The new strategy document is decidedly more focused, risk-acceptant, and active than its predecessor in 2015. – War on the Rocks


The U.S. strategic bomber program plays a vital role in U.S. nuclear and conventional posture, providing both penetrating and standoff capabilities that allow the U.S. to hit targets almost anywhere in the world. But as the Air Force expands from 312 to 386 operational squadrons — planning to increase the bomber squadron from nine to 14 — how can the service keep costs within reason? – Defense News

A Pentagon-directed group tasked with making close-combat infantry more lethal and effective has its sights on getting troops into more realistic, immersive training as soon as possible. – USNI News

The Pentagon is banking on billions in savings through operational efficiencies to sustain and modernize the military but if the plan doesn’t work the Department of Defense may have to cut major weapons programs to make up the difference, a defense expert told reporters on Thursday. – USNI News

The Air Force’s estimate that President Trump’s Space Force will cost $13 billion is likely inflated, said Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. – Washington Examiner

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has overseen trials using mind-controlled drones for use by the military. – Business Insider

Harvey Sapolsky writes: President Donald Trump wants to create a space force, America’s sixth armed service, to assure U.S. dominance in space. It doesn’t matter that America already has a sixth armed service (more on that later), and is already dominant in space. […] Nevertheless, there is a drumbeat for enhancing America’s presence in space — and Trump’s demand for a space force is its most authoritative (and tweeted) expression. – War on the Rocks

Long War

A Hungarian court rejected the appeal of a Syrian refugee and upheld his 2016 conviction for “terrorism”, but reduced his seven-year sentence, in what a rights group called an abuse of anti-terrorism laws. – Al Jazeera

Extensive investigative reporting by Dutch newspaper Trouw and news program Nieuwsuur revealed that the Dutch government sent support to 22 armed groups in Syria — including Jabhat al-Shamiya — to the tune of €25 million (almost $30 million). – Algemeiner

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: There are good reasons to question both these conclusions and the way in which both the State Department main report and Annex of Statistical Information are structured. Reasons that raise serious questions about the way the U.S. is approaching the very nature of terrorism and its wars against extremism. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Louis René Beres writes: The obligatory war against jihadist terror must become a preeminently intellectual one. […]Although any such optimal application of “mind over mind” to counter jihadist terror seems effectively implausible, a more general commitment to mounting an authentically intellectual struggle in this urgent arena of conflict could be reasonable and promising.- Algemeiner

Trump Administration

President Trump will address world leaders next Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly with a speech focused on “protecting U.S. sovereignty” and expanding relations with countries that share similar values, according to U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley. – Wall Street Journal

It’s easy to lose the larger narrative of the Trump-Russia story given the relentless pace and complexity of the news. Stepping back to view the timeline from beginning to end reveals how these parallel threads — contacts, hacking and social media fraud — often crossed during the election. – New York Times

U.S. President Donald Trump will hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of South Korea, Egypt, France, Israel, Japan, and Britain next week during a gathering for the United Nations General Assembly, the White House said on Thursday. – Reuters