Fdd's overnight brief

September 24, 2019

In The News


After months of lobbing threats and vowing military reprisals, President Trump will find himself on the same block of midtown Manhattan as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this week at the annual U.N. General Assembly. – Washington Post

Iran is now admitting how much damage the American-led sanctions have done to its economy — crashing the currency and turning a boomlet into a recession. – New York Times

The leaders of Britain, France and Germany joined the U.S. in blaming Iran for this month’s attacks on Saudi Arabia and said the time had come for Tehran to start talks on a new, long-term agreement dealing with its nuclear, regional and missile activities. – Wall Street Journal

Iran said a British-flagged tanker it seized in July on alleged maritime violations is free to leave, ending a monthslong standoff with the U.K. ahead of a United Nations summit this week where it faces tough questions over attacks on rival Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump is considering a range of options to punish Iran for this month’s attack on Saudi oil facilities, and has toughened sanctions on Iran and ordered the deployment of additional troops to the region. But a second cyberstrike — after one launched against Iran just three months ago — has emerged as the most appealing course of action for Mr. Trump, who is reluctant to widen the conflict in a region he has said the United States should leave, according to senior American officials. – New York Times

US President Donald Trump said Monday he could not rule out a meeting with Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations this week, but no encounter was yet scheduled. – Agence France-Presse

US President Donald Trump will try selling his tough Iran policy in a speech to the UN on Tuesday, but the bid for international leadership will be overshadowed by growing political scandal at home. – Agence France-Presse

Enemies who try to attack Iran will face captivity and defeat, a senior Iranian military official said on Tuesday, a day after President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s message to the world was “peace and stability”. – Reuters

The path to reduce tensions in the region has become smaller and the moment has come for Iran to help defuse the crisis, France’s president told his Iranian counterpart on Monday, his office said in a statement. – Reuters

Iran ruled out the possibility of negotiating a new deal with major powers, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Monday, saying that European partners have failed to fulfill their commitments under a 2015 nuclear pact. – Reuters

Editorial: In recent weeks, as Iran has lashed out at its neighbors, rekindled its nuclear ambitions, violently disrupted regional commerce, and issued not-so-veiled threats to the world, Europe has done little more than mollify and coddle the regime. That needs to stop: The stability of the global economy, as well as of the Middle East, may depend on it. – Bloomberg

Walter Russell Mead writes: The mix of military restraint and sanctions resolve has worked well for Washington so far. Even Iran hawks are happy with the impact the sanctions are having. But the chances of a military confrontation between Iran and the U.S. are rising, not falling. Strategic patience in Washington matched by strategic realism in Tehran is the world’s best hope for peace. – Wall Street Journal

Gerald F. Seib writes: President Trump is engaged in one of the great strategic gambles of recent times. He is betting that he can create so much pressure on Iran that it buckles to American demands, while simultaneously making good on his promise to keep America out of any more “endless” Middle East wars. So far, the gamble is working, much to the amazement of the president’s critics. But the stakes in this international poker game are growing steadily higher, and the costs of losing the bet are rising along the way. – Wall Street Journal

Jason Rezaian writes: Perhaps there was a time when a government could hide behind its own rhetoric. Today, though, the astoundingly unconvincing arguments offered by Iran and the United States on these two issues prove that era is over. We have too much insight into the thinking of the powers behind these moves and the human toll exacted by these policies to claim ignorance. Attempts to rationalize them are equally ridiculous. – Washington Post

Josh Rogin writes: There will be a lot of Iran-related diplomatic action this week here in New York during the United Nations General Assembly, but any prospect of direct interaction between U.S. and Iranian officials is now officially eliminated, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Sunday. He also accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of “economic terrorism” and said he should be put on trial before the International Criminal Court. – Washington Post

Jon B. Alterman writes: The United States is carefully amassing evidence, consulting with allies, and building a case for Iranian responsibility. From it will flow a case for broad international action. The president appears to appreciate that Iran is unlikely to represent a great triumph for him, but it represents a serious threat to his reelection and to his legacy. Calibrating his message this week so that the world bandwagons with him rather than balancing against him is a difficult task, but one at which he can’t afford to fail. – Defense One

Ben Fishman writes: The unilateral “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran must become a multilateral campaign, and Iran needs to see a release valve as an alternative to sponsoring terrorism, firing drones and missiles and targeting Saudi Arabia. That could be the promise of limited sanctions relief or reinstituting waivers for some oil sales in exchange for a verifiable halt in terrorist activity in the Gulf region. – The Hill

Barbara A. Leaf and Charles Thépaut write: At this critical juncture, diplomacy does not convey weakness, but rather an acknowledgment that the United States has multiple tools for steering Iran and its regional rivals toward a sustainable solution. […]To be effective, U.S. leadership must be buttressed not by unrealistic threats, but by actions and collective diplomacy that visibly constrain Iran’s room for further destructive acts while defining the path to negotiations. – Washington Institute


A Syrian constitutional committee made up of opposition, civil society and government members has been finalized after almost two years of negotiations, the United Nations announced Monday. – Washington Post

On September 22, 2019, the Syrian opposition website Zamanalwsl posted a report providing details of the locations of U.S. bases in Syria and U.S. troop deployment in the region. The report emphasized bases in northern Syria that are situated near the Syria-Turkey border in an area controlled by Kurdish forces. The publication of this information may expose the bases to attack by hostile elements. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Despite the creation of a security zone on the border between Turkey and northeast Syria that has defused some tension in recent weeks, Syrian Kurds still fear the movement of Turkish ground and aerial forces in their backyard could be a prelude to an assault on the country’s Kurdish minority population. – Foreign Policy

O. Peri and H. Varulkar write: In its war in the past years against the opposition forces and terrorist organizations in Syria, the Bashar Al-Assad regime has received substantial support from its two major allies, Russia and Iran. However, in the last year there have been increasing reports – mainly in the media of the Syrian opposition but also in the Arab and global media – about a struggle between Iran and Russia for control and influence in Syria. This struggle, which takes place amid the regime’s gradual recapture of most of Syria’s territory, reflects each country’s desire to ensure its future influence over the Syrian state, over its leadership, especially the military echelon, and over the economy, thus securing itself a share in the profits from the rebuilding of the country. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Three U.S. law firms have sued a leading Turkish Islamic bank on behalf of an American family for aiding and abetting terrorist activity, Washington based law firm Stein Mitchell Beato & Missner said in a press release on Monday. – Ahval

Victims of the Palestinian Hamas terror group are suing a prominent Turkish-controlled bank with business ties in the United States over the financial institution’s backing of the terror group and its violent attacks. – The Washington Free Beacon

Turkey remains susceptible to external and domestic risks, the International Monetary Fund said on Monday, while strong, sustainable growth would be challenging without further reforms by the government. – Reuters


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, Benny Gantz, began talks Monday night to form a coalition government, under pressure from Israel’s president after no clear winner emerged from last week’s election. – Wall Street Journal

The United Nations released an interim report by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on Monday, in which he says he is “alarmed by the growing use of antisemitic tropes by white supremacists including neo-Nazis and members of radical Islamist groups in slogans, images, stereotypes and conspiracy theories meant to incite and justify hostility, discrimination, and violence against Jews.” […]His report, which the Israeli mission to the UN called “unprecedented,” identified antisemitism from all sides of the political spectrum and called for action. – Jerusalem Post

Israelis hold the most negative view of the United Nations of any nationality in the world, a new poll has revealed. The survey — conducted by the Pew Research Center — found that 65 percent of Israelis look at the UN unfavorably, with only 31 percent having a favorable outlook toward the global intergovernmental body. – Algemeiner

Palestinian Authority security forces have thwarted an attempt by Islamic Jihad to manufacture rockets in the West Bank. – Algemeiner

The U.S. and the international community weren’t tough enough on Israel in pursuing a two-state solution, former British Prime Minister David Cameron writes in a new book out Tuesday. – Jewish Insider

Daniel Gordis writes: If the rift between American Jews and Israel is to be healed, salvation will come not in the form of Benny Gantz or any other prime minister, but in beginning an overdue conversation between the world’s two largest Jewish communities, to deepen our understanding of each other’s differences, successes and vulnerabilities, in the hopes that we can learn from the best that each has to offer. In a world that is darkening for the Jews once again, we need each other now more than ever. – New York Times

Ira Stoll writes: But that’s the most generous possible face to put on what operates functionally as an anti-Israel bias. It’s hard to imagine the Times would have skipped the American Political Science Association story entirely if the BDS resolution had succeeded. It ends up being a double standard. It leaves Times readers a false impression that BDS “may be gaining ground,” when a more accurate impression is that it may be losing ground. – Algemeiner

Arabian Peninsula

Iran said on Monday that the United Kingdom should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia instead of accusing the Islamic Republic, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain believes Iran was responsible for an attack on Saudi oil facilities. – Reuters

Editorial: The Trump administration should not allow the regime of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to destroy this potential de-escalation. […]The State Department should also open, as it has said it would do, a direct dialogue with Houthi leaders. The Houthis are telling their interlocutors that they expect Iran to carry out further attacks and do not want to be blamed for them. If Mr. Trump wishes to avoid being cornered into a military conflict, he should act quickly. – Washington Post

Bilal Y. Saab writes: This hypothetical, but no longer unthinkable, scenario can be prevented through more serious and regular consultation between Trump and MBS. This cannot be limited to a quick visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh to reassure the Saudis. Washington must game-plan this with Saudi leaders to not only assuage their fears but also check their worst impulses. MBS has done the right thing thus far by exercising prudence and leaning on the Americans. But if Tehran strikes again, Trump shouldn’t take his patience for granted. – Defense One

Middle East & North Africa

Two rockets landed about a half-mile from the United States’ Iraq Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Monday amid rising tensions between the U.S. and its allies and Iran. – The Daily Beast

An Algerian military tribunal on Monday opened the unprecedented trial of a brother of the country’s longtime former president and two ex-intelligence chiefs, accusing them of plotting against the state. – Associated Press

President of Iraq Barham Salih writes: Recent events are a stark reminder of how volatile the Middle East remains and how easily local enmity can damage the interests of the rest of the world. […]It is in our interest to act as a stabilizing force and use our key strategic position and good relations with our neighbors to eradicate extremism. Iraq seeks to be a force for stability, and a bridge for economic integration in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

Jason Pack writes: Largely overlooked in international policymaking toward Libya’s current conflict is the role of corruption as a key driver of violence, as opposed to merely its byproduct. […]While foreign nations providing money and weapons to the various Libyan warlords and militias have ideological, security, and economic motivations, it is not much of an oversimplification to state that the Libyan militias themselves are fighting primarily over money. […]For too long, international policymakers have thought: we can’t fix the Libyan subsidy system while there is fighting going on. That logic must be turned on its head: the fighting can’t be stopped while the subsidy system is going on. – Middle East Institute

John Dunford and Brandon Wallace write: The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is likely preparing to free its loyal fighters and followers from prisons and displacement camps across Syria and Iraq. The U.S. Anti-ISIS Coalition is operating on borrowed time when it comes to detainees in Syria and Iraq. […]ISIS has reportedly already extracted small numbers of its fighters from these prisons, possibly using bribes derived from online fundraising. […]The U.S. Anti-ISIS Coalition faces a high risk in coming months of successful prison breaks and raids on displacement camps by ISIS. These operations would reinvigorate ISIS’ festering insurgency in Iraq and Syria. – Institute for the Study of War

Korean Peninsula

Kim Jong-un could meet again with President Trump and even visit South Korea in November if expected talks between Pyongyang and Washington make progress on eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers on Tuesday. – New York Times

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers in a private briefing Tuesday that nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea will likely resume within two to three weeks, according to one of the lawmakers who attended the session. – Associated Press

Donald Trump, who orchestrated a spur-of-the-moment June encounter with Kim Jong Un that saw him become the first U.S. president to set foot in North Korea, said Monday that another meeting with the North Korean leader “could happen soon.” – Associated Press

South Korea will not participate in Japan’s naval fleet review in October, it said on Tuesday, as it had not been invited to a display its navy joined when the event was last held four years ago. – Reuters

Joseph Bosco writes: If the president does intend to revive and enlarge the moral indictment of the Kim regime, it would be an adroit asymmetrical response to Pyongyang’s test-firing of a half-dozen missiles in recent months, which some analysts have seen as a slap at Trump’s charm offensive. Since love letters have not convinced Kim to get down to serious denuclearization, a reinvigorated U.S. program of non-kinetic support for regime change in Pyongyang may prove more effective. – The Hill


U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday questioned a decision by his top trade negotiators to ask Chinese officials to delay a planned trip to U.S. farming regions after trade talks last week, saying he wanted China to buy more American farm products. – Reuters

Top Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou and her lawyers went to court on Monday to try to have her extradition case thrown out, arguing that her rights were violated. – Agence France-Presse

U.S. President Donald Trump called for an end to religious persecution on Monday at a U.S. event on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations featuring a woman whose Uighur father has been imprisoned in China. – Reuters

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Monday called for a “comprehensive strategy” in dealing with China, saying the Trump administration should be less “erratic and incoherent” in its approach to Chinese threats in cyberspace and other areas. – The Hill

Vuk Vuksanovic writes: Because of Serbian self-interest, its partnership with China will survive even the potential change in Serbian leadership. However, precisely because of Serbian political self-interest, a better understanding of China is needed to ensure that Serbia can manage its partnership with China in a way that will help it insulate itself from any risks. Seeing China’s relationship with Serbia for what it is will probably involve a partnership between international institutions and domestic stakeholders in Serbia, such as representatives of civil society, remaining independent media, and academics, with the purpose of initiating a more nuanced and balanced debate on China. One thing is for certain, if nothing changes, China is in the driver’s seat. – War on the Rocks


U.S. and Afghan troops carried out a deadly raid Monday against al-Qaeda in southern Afghanistan, detaining a number of suspected fighters and destroying an apparent weapons cache, according to American and Afghan officials. – Washington Post

The United States and Japan may fall short of signing a trade deal this week, as negotiators from both countries grapple with how to resolve President Trump’s threat to place tariffs on cars from Japan. – New York Times

Does sharing a stage with the Indian Prime Minister outweigh a warm interaction with Pakistan’s leader? That is the question many are asking following US President Donald Trump’s interactions with the leaders of the South Asian rivals. – BBC

President Donald Trump on Monday repeated his offer to mediate Pakistan’s dispute with India over territory in Kashmir, telling Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that he has mediated a lot of big disputes among his friends with great success. – New York Post


President Trump asked his acting chief of staff to place a hold on $391 million in aid to Ukraine more than a week before a July phone call in which he urged his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Joe Biden’s son, according to a person familiar with the matter, a revelation that comes as an investigation into the president’s dealings with Kiev is mushrooming on Capitol Hill. – Wall Street Journal

Britain’s Labour party on Monday called for a future government led by Jeremy Corbyn to adopt a raft of anti-Israel policies. – Times of Israel

Spanish prosecutors called for rebellion and terrorism charges to be leveled against nine activists linked to pro-Catalan independence groups who were arrested Monday on suspicion they may have been preparing to commit violent acts, possibly with explosives. – Associated Press

Britain’s opposition Labour Party descended into chaos on Monday as it narrowly rejected a grassroots attempt to force leader Jeremy Corbyn to campaign to remain in the European Union and reverse the outcome of the 2016 Brexit vote. – Agence France-Presse

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated a call for “flexibility” from the EU in Brexit talks during a meeting with Council President Donald Tusk in New York Monday that failed to yield a breakthrough. – Agence France-Presse

The Americas

The Trump administration opened a double-barreled critique on Monday of what it described as a limp European response to the crisis in Venezuela, renewing demands for tougher sanctions against President Nicolás Maduro’s government and more aid for refugees. – New York TImes

Western Hemisphere nations voted Monday to employ a regional treaty to impose sanctions against embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, accusing his regime of criminal activity including drug trafficking and money laundering. – Wall Street Journal

An Army private at Fort Riley, Kan., has been arrested on charges of providing instructions on how to make bombs to people he met online, including an undercover FBI agent. – Washington Post

Jarrett William Smith, 24, was charged with distribution of information related to weapons of mass destruction after offering to teach others bomb-making and discussing bombing the news network’s headquarters, according to documents in Kansas federal court. He was stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas before his arrest on Saturday. The arrest of Smith comes amid a wave of arrests and charges the Justice Department has made disrupting possible domestic terror plots. – CNN

President Donald Trump urged the United Nations to support the United States in protecting religious liberty around the world and called for an end to religious persecution. – Washington Examiner


The Pentagon’s research agency wants to explore the possibility of editing a soldier’s genetic makeup to protect against chemical and biological attacks. – Washington Examiner

The National Reconnaissance Office has awarded a commercial imagery study contract to HySpecIQ as a way to better understand the company’s imagery capabilities and how commercial hyperspectral images can fulfill some of the intelligence communities geospatial needs. – C4ISRNET

The Navy and Marine Corps recently used a new Littoral Combat Force concept to command and control units spread over 2.2 million square miles of land and sea, in the latest demonstration of what a future operation near and on the shore might look like. – USNI News

The Air Force plans to spend as much as $95 million on cloud services from several companies to work on one of Cyber Command’s first major weapon systems. Unified Platform will allow cyber teams to share information, conduct mission planning and provide the command and control tools they need to conduct missions. – Fifth Domain

Connor McLemore and Charles Clark write: The military should prepare to implement strong measures to ensure unambiguous human accountability over each of their automated systems. Success will require infrastructure investment, policy innovation, and understanding AI’s strengths and weaknesses. – War on the Rocks

Long War

Indonesia’s counterterrorism squad on Monday arrested nine suspected militants accused of plotting a suicide bomb attack on police using high-explosive materials, police said. – Associated Press

Jacob Ware writes: Lethal autonomous weapon systems are likely to proliferate to terrorist groups, with potentially devastating consequences. The United States and its allies should urgently address the rising threat  by preparing stronger defenses against possible drone and swarm attacks, engaging with the defense industry and AI experts warning of the threat, and supporting realistic international efforts to ban or stigmatize military applications of artificial intelligence. – War on the Rocks

Cliff Smith writes: The Trump Administration should follow up on its tough rhetoric toward radical Islamic networks by taking the practical step of broadening USAID’s vetting approach. […]This stricter policy would have excluded all of the terror-linked charities named above from receiving U.S. government grants. If USAID’s policy does not change, expect more instances in which well-intentioned grant programs end up subsidizing unspeakable acts of terrorism, instead of saving lives. – Washington Examiner