Fdd's overnight brief

September 23, 2019

In The News


The attack was brazen in its aim and execution, targeting some of the world’s most vital oil infrastructure with a barrage of missiles and drones and potentially inviting a fierce American response. But for Iran, which U.S. officials believe staged the weekend assault on Saudi oil facilities, the gamble of such a mission may have been worth the risk. – Washington Post   

The GPS systems could allow investigators to trace the drones and missiles back to their runways and launchers, which Saudi and American officials believe were in Iran. – Wall Street Journal  

President Trump is likely to face an uphill battle in mobilizing international pressure against Iran at the United Nations over Tehran’s alleged attack on Saudi oil facilities, Western diplomats and experts said. – Wall Street Journal 

The U.S. said it would send military forces and hardware to Gulf allies and moved to sever some of Iran’s last ties to world markets on Friday, while preparing to outline a case for international action next week when world leaders gather at the United Nations. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran’s foreign minister said US president Donald Trump had “closed the door” to any negotiations with Tehran with his decision on Friday to toughen sanctions on the Iranian central bank. – Financial Times

Iran’s Central Bank governor said on Friday a U.S. move to sanction the bank for a second time on new grounds showed Washington had failed to find new ways to pressure Tehran, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. – Reuters 

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Sunday that Iran would not resume talks with President Donald Trump and his administration until a French plan to extend $15 billion of credit to Tehran goes into full effect. – The Daily Beast 

President Trump on Sunday said he has no plans to meet with the Iranian leaders at this week’s United Nations General Assembly. – The Hill 

Britain has concluded that Iran was responsible for attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Sunday. He said the U.K. would consider taking part in a U.S.-led military effort to bolster the Gulf kingdom’s defenses. – Associated Press

Iran’s president called Sunday on Western powers to leave the security of the Persian Gulf to regional nations led by Tehran, criticizing a new U.S.-led coalition patrolling the region’s waterways as nationwide parades showcased the Islamic Republic’s military arsenal. – Associated Press

The United States said Sunday it will make its case against Iran at the United Nations this week, insisting it wants to give diplomacy “every opportunity to succeed” in the wake of a devastating attack on a vital Saudi oil complex. – Agence France-Presse

Tulsi Gabbard warned that President Trump’s newly announced deployment of troops and weapons to Saudi Arabia threatens instability in the region and could lead to a major war with Iran. – Washington Examiner 

Stena Impero, the British-flagged tanker detained by Iran on July 19, will be released soon, an Iranian maritime official said on Sunday, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. – Reuters   

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will present a plan for creating security in the Gulf in cooperation with other countries in the region when he attends the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. – Reuters  

Iran will pursue any aggressor, even it carries out a limited attack, and seek to destroy it, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Saturday, after attacks on Saudi oil sites which Riyadh and U.S officials blamed on Tehran. – Reuters 

The European Parliament on Thursday, September 19 adopted a resolution condemning the Islamic Republic’s human rights record, calling Tehran to end “suppression of women” in Iran. – Radio Farda 

In the last few weeks, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog revealed that Iran is hindering an investigation into a secret nuclear facility where uranium has been detected. Its proxies in Lebanon attacked Israel. – New York Post   

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: Whether from shrewdness or instinct or an inability to reconcile his bellicose Twitter style with his urge for deals, Mr. Trump’s administration has defaulted to a useful strategy. It consists of letting sanctions work while leaving it to our local partners to cope with any spillovers that don’t fundamentally affect U.S. interests. – Wall Street Journal 

Mehdi Khalaji writes: Therefore, while the United States should carefully avoid military confrontation with Iran, keep the door open for direct negotiations, and do more to clarify what it wants from the Islamic Republic, it must also find credible and sustainable ways to strengthen deterrence and reverse the latest spike in Iranian aggression. […]Continued inaction is not an option, since that would only feed Iran’s ambitions. For proof, one need only look at the Saudi Aramco attacks, which came after the regime was emboldened by the lack of substantial response to its attacks on Gulf shipping and a U.S. drone. – Washington Institute 

Quentin Lopinot writes: The U.S.-Europe conversation on Iran must move out of the current dead end. The idea that maximum pressure and negotiations are exclusive options is not only erroneous, it is also dangerous. It locks the United States and Iran into a binary standoff that neither will accept losing. – Center for Strategic and International Studies  

Arabian Peninsula

Houthi militants in Yemen have warned foreign diplomats that Iran is preparing a follow-up strike to the missile and drone attack that crippled Saudi Arabia’s oil industry a week ago, people familiar with the matter said. – Wall Street Journal  

The United Arab Emirates has joined an intentional maritime security coalition to “deter threats to maritime navigation and global trade” in the Arabian Gulf and surrounding waterways, the country’s official news agency reported Thursday. – Defense News

Saudi Arabia will seek to make a case at a global gathering in New York this week for concerted action to punish and deter arch-foe Iran after strikes on Saudi oil plants rattled global markets and exposed the kingdom’s vulnerability to attack. – Reuters 

Yemen’s Houthi movement said early on Monday that five civilians from one family were killed in air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Omran province in Yemen, according to the Houthi owned Al-Masirah TV. – Reuters  

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis will stop aiming missile and drone attacks at Saudi Arabia if a coalition targeting Yemen does the same, a Houthi official said on Friday, nearly a week after the Houthis claimed a strike on Saudi oil facilities. – Reuters  


An explosives-laden drone captured by Syrian authorities was not Israeli and was likely Iranian, the Israeli military’s Arabic-language spokesman said Saturday. – Haaretz  

The Syrian army sent military reinforcements consisting of tanks, vehicles, soldiers, ammunition and weapons to the towns of Jamlah and Aabdyn near the Syrian border with the Israeli Golan Heights for unknown reasons, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Saturday. – Jerusalem Post 

A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to brief reporters, said “very targeted” spending has been going into newly liberated areas to ensure that IS doesn’t return. […]IS retreated to desert areas and melted in among the population. It’s now waging a counterinsurgency, targeting local officials and security checkpoints. – Associated Press 


Doctors from Turkey’s large cities have been stationed in two southern provinces to prepare for a possible incursion into northern Syria, two security sources told Reuters on Friday, adding leave for doctors in the region had been canceled. – Reuters  

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is eager to see Turkey’s economy grow quicker after suffering its first recession in a decade — but some economists doubt the president can revive the credit-fuelled expansion of previous years. – Financial Times  

Gonul Tol writes: The latest shift in Erdogan’s Syria policy came as a result of the growing nationalist backlash against the 3.6 million Syrian refugees Turkey is hosting. […]Sending back the refugees is now his first priority. After the Ankara summit, he spoke at length about the need to establish a safe zone that would host two to three million refugees. Fighting the Kurds is now only secondary to the urgent need to address the refugee issue, and toppling the regime seems to have been pushed off the list altogether. Erdogan is under pressure from both the opposition and people in his own party to normalize ties with Bashar al-Assad. – Middle East Institute 


The Israeli military on Sunday released new audio recordings of a dramatic rescue operation in the Gaza Strip that took place last year, and issued commendations to several of the soldiers involved. – Algemeiner

The application of sovereignty to the West Bank settlements can’t be halted, settler leaders said Sunday as they held a New Year toast and wished that sovereignty would have been extended this year instead. – Jerusalem Post  

The Jewish extreme sect Lev Tahor (Pure Heart), had requested political asylum from the Iranian government, according to documents filed in Federal Court last Thursday. Lev Tahor declared its “loyalty and submission to the Supreme Leader and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the documents state. – Ynet  

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has ordered senior members of the Gaza-based terror group not to publicly comment on rare protests held in Egypt Friday against President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. – Times of Israel 

Middle East & North Africa

The Islamic State claimed responsibility on Saturday for the bombing of a minibus that killed 12 people near the entrance to a major Iraqi pilgrimage center. – New York Times

Five Western countries including the United States, as well as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, support Libyan state oil firm NOC as the sole legitimate authority for the country’s energy sector, a joint statement said on Sunday. – Reuters 

An unidentified aircraft struck on Sunday a military base near an airfield west of Iraq’s Anbar province, Lebanese television network Al-Mayadeen quoted Iraqi sources as saying. – Haaretz 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea named a veteran diplomat with extensive U.S. experience as its chief negotiator for working-level talks with Washington, while praising President Trump for dismissing national security adviser John Bolton. – Wall Street Journal 

While the future of talks between the United States and North Korea remains uncertain, satellite imagery of a North Korean nuclear complex has revealed the existence of two secret underground facilities. – Washington Examiner

Japan failed to track the paths of a new type of short-range North Korean missile on several occasions since May, Kyodo News reported on Monday, citing unidentified sources. – Bloomberg  

The U.S. needs to wake up to the reality that its policy on North Korea is not working and quickly impose harsher sanctions if the world is going to avert the birth of a new nuclear state, a former North Korean diplomat says. – TIME 


In China’s northwest, the government is stripping the most overt expressions of the Islamic faith from a picturesque valley where most residents are devout Muslims. The authorities have destroyed domes and minarets on mosques, including one in a small village near Linxia, a city known as “Little Mecca.” – New York Times

China is funneling vast amounts of public and private data into huge databases aimed at tightening its control over its nearly 1.4 billion people. But the business world has become its biggest target. – New York Times

President Trump said on Friday that China was a “threat to the world” and suggested Beijing was eager to make a trade deal because his tariffs were hurting the Chinese economy, coarsening his tone as the two countries prepared to resume negotiations. – New York Times

America’s top diplomat says Central Asian nations should reject Chinese demands to repatriate ethnic minorities to China, where they face repression. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Beijing’s detention of Uighur Muslims in western China has nothing to do with terrorism, as China claims, but is an attempt “to erase” minority cultures and religions. – Associated Press 

China has taken fewer shipments of iron ore from Iran over August and September, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, as additional export tariffs due to be imposed by Tehran have dampened risk appetites in the world’s biggest steelmaker. – Reuters 

China’s cancellation of a planned visit to farms in the American heartland was done at the request of the U.S., people familiar with the matter said, indicating it wasn’t caused by a negative turn in the lower-level discussions held in Washington last week. – Bloomberg 

Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer returns to a Vancouver courtroom Monday to fight extradition as Canadian voters deliberate who’s best suited to helm an unprecedented confrontation with China over her plight. – Bloomberg  

Patrick M. Cronin writes: Yet the long-term challenge of China’s political warfare campaign will require greater allied cooperation to balance security and economic growth. Washington and Canberra, and other like-minded allies and partners, will have to continue to step up in innovative and often arduous ways in the years ahead. – The Hill 


When Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ran for office in 2014, he campaigned as a no-nonsense reformer in a hurry to modernize an insular, traditional society. Today, he is campaigning for reelection as an avuncular, turbaned elder, hugging everyone he meets and invoking the glories of Afghan history. – Washington Post 

Police in Afghanistan are one of the country’s most-criticized security forces, denigrated as corrupt and inept. Yet Interior Minister Massoud Andarabi says police are also the hardest hit, taking 70% of all casualties among government forces, dozens of whom die each day in relentless attacks by Taliban and Islamic State insurgents. – Associated Press

A Taliban delegation met China’s special representative for Afghanistan in Beijing on Sunday to discuss the group’s peace talks with the United States, a spokesman for the Islamist insurgency said. – Reuters 

Daniel F. Runde writes: Afghanistan goes to the polls on Sept. 28. Despite the daily drumbeat of negative headlines, Afghanistan has made great strides in the last decade by any political, economic, or social standards. […]Given that the peace talks have stalled, the election is now the best option. Given that it has been almost six months since the mandate of the current government ended, now is the time for Afghans to choose their new leaders. A new government, formed by these elections, is the appropriate way for the Afghans to chart their own future. – The Hill 

South Asia

President Trump is scheduled to join Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a “Howdy Modi” rally in Houston, Texas on Sunday in front of thousands of people. – Washington Examiner 

President Donald Trump endorsed India’s need for “border security” at a rock concert-like event in Houston with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government seeks to expand its control of the disputed territory of Kashmir. – Bloomberg 

Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes: In a sweeping and controversial move on August 5, India transformed its relationship to the disputed territory of Kashmir. […]Against this backdrop, the elimination of Article 370 can be seen as part of the Modi’s larger Hindu nationalist project: centralizing power and suppressing the claims of national minorities. India has long failed to make the promise of democracy alluring to Kashmiris. But the actions of this government, and the acquiescence of democratic institutions and political parties, make it even more unlikely that Kashmir will easily accept New Delhi’s rule. India thinks it has won Kashmir, but it might be losing the soul of its democracy in the process. – Foreign Affairs


Antigovernment protesters clashed with the police and threw gasoline bombs in Hong Kong on Saturday, a fresh sign that political tensions are running high in the Chinese territory ahead of a sensitive political anniversary. – New York Times 

Protesters have accused the Hong Kong police of using excessive force throughout the demonstrations that have gripped the city for the past four months. But on the night of Aug. 11, a major shift occurred. For the first time, officers disguised as demonstrators were seen beating protesters and conducting arrests. – New York Times

Protesters marched through shopping malls in Hong Kong on Sunday, targeting businesses with connections to China — or those perceived to be pro-Beijing — as demonstrations in the city stretched into their 16th weekend. – Washington Post 

Timothy McLaughlin writes: Over the summer, however, students have been central to the demonstrations that have gripped Hong Kong. The tumult has once again put campuses near the forefront of this city’s protest movement—a position they have filled multiple times in decades past—and provided momentum for activism in secondary schools and universities, emboldening a new crop of student leaders such as Siu who may well follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and shape higher-level politics, too. – The Atlantic 


The attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities last weekend were a disaster for both Riyadh and Washington, with weapons allegedly made in Iran circumventing expensive U.S. missile defense systems. But in Moscow, news of the attack was greeted as yet another chance to mock the United States and its allies — all while extolling the virtues of Russia’s own missile defense technology. – Washington Post   

Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved a government proposal to bankroll the modernization of the armed forces in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, a government document published online showed on Monday. – Reuters 

Brian Finch writes: The Macron team’s success was a rare table-turning victory against hackers. The Russians had been embarrassed by a team of low-budget French cybersecurity professionals. This incident means they and other bad actors will have to spend more time in future cyberattacks validating the accuracy of data before exfiltrating it out of a hacked system. As Mr. Macron’s team bragged, every additional minute spent dawdling in a system makes it likelier the criminals will caught in the act. – Wall Street Journal 


Senior Ukrainian officials said they were blindsided over the summer when they heard the United States would withhold security assistance to the country. – New York Times 

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party prepared to vote Monday on a new Brexit strategy that could unite its warring factions and avoid a potential drubbing in early polls. Britain is hurtling toward its October 31 departure from the European Union without an exit agreement and facing the threat of border disruptions that the government admits could cause food shortages and spark civil unrest. – Agence France-Presse 

France’s foreign minister said on Sunday his country’s main aim at this week’s U.N. General Assembly meeting is to de-escalate tensions between the United States and Iran and that a meeting between their presidents was not the top priority. – Reuters 

The European Union can’t be blamed for the construction of border posts between Northern Ireland and Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Sunday. – Politico 


Fighters belonging to Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab stormed an army base near the capital Mogadishu on Sunday, looted it for weapons and then withdrew, a military source, residents and the group told Reuters. – Reuters  

An Iranian sailor held hostage by Somali pirates was dying of malnutrition, a former British army officer who helped negotiate his release told Reuters on Sunday. Three other Iranian hostages remain in Somalia. – Reuters  

Ethiopia said on Saturday it had arrested an unspecified number of Islamist militant members of the Somali group al Shabaab and Islamic State who were planning to carry out attacks in the country on various targets including hotels. – Reuters 

The Americas

As China presented itself as a partner with a vision for El Salvador’s future, President Trump may have played into China’s hands, his critics say. The Trump administration initially countered China with little beyond threats to the Central American nation and its neighbors for not doing enough to curb migration, one of the president’s signature issues. – New York Times 

Colombian President Ivan Duque called on Saturday for coordinated international sanctions targeting Venezuela to help stop President Nicolas Maduro’s support for Colombian rebels and drug traffickers from destabilizing Latin America. – Reuters 

The United States on Friday signed an agreement that paves the way for the U.S. to send many asylum-seekers to one of the world’s most violent countries, El Salvador. But both countries must first take necessary legal actions and implement major border security and asylum procedures before it would go into effect, according to a draft copy of the agreement obtained by The Associated Press. – Associated Press


The Air Force wants industry to help provide support on a series of cyber-related capabilities that would range from software support to developing offensive cyber tools. […]The RFI, described as “Enterprise Cyber Capabilities,” includes 15 areas such as command and control, cyber planning, modeling and simulation and intrusion detection. – Fifth Domain

States need more money for election security and it’s not important where the money comes from. That’s the message from the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s, who spoke to reporters at his agency’s cybersecurity summit in National Harbor, Md. Sept. 19. – Fifth Domain

The Air Force is overhauling its cyber enterprise. The service announced Sept. 18 a new information warfare focused organization called 16th Air Force that combines cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare and information operations. – Fifth Domain

The security concerns posed by the introduction of 5G technology extends beyond the borders of the United States and will require a serious discussion about the government’s role in that market moving forward, top officials said Sept. 19. – Federal Times


Boeing conducted the first flight of its prototype unmanned aerial refueling aircraft on Thursday, testing its handling and the Navy’s ability to fast-track a long-stalled program. – USNI News 

As the Navy and the Marine Corps narrow in on what their future amphibious operations might look like, they are considering acquiring something akin to an Offshore Support Vessel to help Marines distribute around a littoral environment in a future fight. – USNI News 

U.S. Transportation Command announced this week the largest simultaneous activation of sealift vessels in its history, a stress test of the aging logistics fleet that would be called upon to move up to 90 percent and Army and Marine Corps kit in the event of a major conflict. – Defense News

The Defense Department was forced to issue an apology Saturday after a tweet was sent out the day before suggesting the military would not hesitate to bomb millennials attempting to raid Area 51. – Air Force Times

Trump Administration

President Trump confirmed Sunday that he discussed Joe Biden with Ukraine’s president during a July call, a conversation that has prompted Democrats to accuse the president of wrongfully pressuring a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent. – Wall Street Journal 

Matt Pottinger, who has served as President Trump’s top adviser on Asia, will serve as the new deputy national security adviser. – The Hill 

The Ukraine scandal raging around Donald Trump is forcing Democrats to confront a fateful choice on impeachment that will not just shape the 2020 election but will echo down the ages. – CNN