Fdd's overnight brief

September 28, 2018

In The News


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of secretly housing nuclear materials and equipment, in his bid to persuade the international community that Tehran maintains its goal of developing atomic weapons despite its pledge otherwise. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s foreign minister denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allegations against Tehran at the U.N. General Assembly as an “obscene charge,” the state-run IRNA news agency reported Friday. – Associated Press

India is committed to buying Iranian oil and continuing the two nations’ economic cooperation, the Iranian foreign minister said after a meeting with his Indian counterpart and ahead of U.S. sanctions aimed at halting Tehran’s oil exports. – Reuters

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Thursday he had had a frank discussion with his Iranian counterpart about detained British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and that he would not let the matter rest. – Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday the United States had nothing to show for its appearance at the U.N. General Assembly this week, extending an exchange of insults with Tehran’s arch-adversary. – Reuters

Oil prices inched up on Friday, with investors trying to gauge the potential impact on supply from looming sanctions by the United States on Iran’s crude exports. – Reuters

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must examine the evidence on Tehran’s nuclear program which Israel obtained from Iran in the spring, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in a meeting in New York. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: The Trump administration rightly and vocally rejected its predecessor’s insistence that Iran’s promise not to pursue nuclear weapons could be considered in isolation from its malign behavior as a terror sponsor. All week, in anticipation of President Trump’s addresses at the United Nations, top administration officials have been making that case. They’re not short on material. – Weekly Standard


The Israeli military on Thursday released a video clip and photos of what it said were Hezbollah Shi’ite militia rocket building sites in Lebanon. – Reuters

Britain will issue a full ban on the Hezbollah terrorist organization next month, extending the partial ban now in place against the Lebanese group’s military wing. – Arutz Sheva

Hanin Ghaddar writes: As a result of a Russian-Turkish agreement, the Syrian regime’s offensive on Idlib has been avoided for now. […]This testimony examines the role of Iran and its main proxy, Hezbollah, and the means they are using to achieve these goals. It then offers recommendations on how Washington can best counter Iran and its terrorist proxies in Syria – Washington Institute


Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said the United States has failed to comply with the timescale agreed for the withdrawal of Kurdish YPG militia from northern Syrian city of Manbij, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on Friday. – Reuters

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council has said Israel will be sorry if it continues to attack Syria’s army and its allies. Iran and Russia have both backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a seven-year civil war. – Reuters

Syrian rebels forced from their towns when government forces retook eastern Ghouta near Damascus are starting over in the far north, aiming to build hundreds of homes for displaced fighters and civilians on opposition-held land near the Turkish border. – Reuters

After weeks of intense diplomatic activity, Turkey seems to have managed to avert a full-scale offensive on Idlib province, the last opposition stronghold in northwest Syria. – Al Jazeera

Russia announced Monday it will supply Syria’s government with sophisticated S-300 air defense systems after last week’s downing of a Russian plane by Syria forces responding to an Israeli air strike, a friendly fire incident that stoked regional tensions. – Associated Press

Lara Seligman writes: In a move that strayed squarely onto Defense Department turf, Bolton declared that the United States will keep a military presence in Syria as long as Iran has forces there. […]Mattis now must walk a fine line between the administration’s increasingly hostile rhetoric against Iran, including its regional ambitions, and concerns about U.S. mission creep in Syria. – Foreign Policy


But with Turkey’s economy in crisis and Germany home to three million ethnic Turks and reliant on Turkey to help contain a Syrian migrant crisis beyond Europe’s borders, both sides want to put their differences aside. – Reuters

Chancellor Angela Merkel is letting Turkey’s leader in from the cold, a year after he accused Germans of using Nazi methods. Hemmed in by U.S. pressure and an economic crisis, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to repair relations with the leader he views as the key to the European Union. – Bloomberg

Bulent Aliriza writes: Erdogan is clearly facing one of the most serious challenges of his political life. Ironically, it is coming not from domestic political opponents […]but from external global forces without whose help he would not have been able to strengthen his grip on power. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Israeli and Palestinian leaders gave diametrically different appraisals of their protracted conflict on Thursday, with speeches at the United Nations General Assembly that suggested the dispute is more intractable than ever. – New York Times

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas tore into the Trump administration Thursday, refusing to accept the United States as the sole mediator in the Middle East conflict, a day after Donald Trump promised a “very fair” peace plan.” – Agence France-Presse

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday called on the United States to reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and cuts in aid to the Palestinians, saying these had undermined the two-state solution to the conflict. – Reuters

A Syrian national recently arrested in Germany was part of an apparent plot to attack Israeli targets with chemical weapons, the German Bild newspaper reported. – Arutz Sheva

Israel is ready to reopen a crossing point into the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights now that Syrian government forces have regained control from rebels, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday. – Reuters

Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad selected a new leader for the first time in more than 20 years Thursday, a senior official said, but is likely to remain close to Iran. – Times of Israel

The European Parliament’s budgetary committee voted to freeze more than 15 million euros from the Palestinian Authority if they do not remove incitement from their textbooks. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli politicians from across the spectrum reacted to President Donald Trump’s endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. – Algemeiner

Facing a financial crisis after the United States cut funding, the head of the U.N. agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees says the problem of their well-being will continue to exist whether there’s money or not — and especially if it was forced to shut down. – Associated Press

Hamas is preparing for war, Israel security forces said, bolstering its forces significantly over the past few weeks, as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens and reconciliation talks with the Palestinian Authority have broken down. – Times of Israel

A US intelligence official has said that the speech delivered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday at the UN General Assembly about the existence of a second secret atomic facility in Iran was “somewhat misleading.” – Reuters

Benny Avni writes: Meanwhile the 83-year-old Abbas, who is yet to designate a successor 13 years after elected for a four-year stint, undermines the Palestinian cause by turning his back on any peace plan America would propose, no matter who’s president.  […]Abbas, with his eternal “no” and current clumsy attempt to marginalize America, won’t be history’s first roaring mouse. Nor will he be the first leader history has forgotten. – New York Post

Saudi Arabia

Three Saudi men accused of terrorism were killed on Wednesday after they resisted arrest in the eastern Shi’ite Muslim region of Qatif, a Saudi security spokesman said on Thursday. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia will quietly add extra oil to the market over the next couple of months to offset a drop in Iranian production but is worried it might need to limit output next year to balance global supply and demand as the United States pumps more crude. – Reuters

Caroline Alexander writes: The news made headlines around the world: Saudi Arabia, the only country to bar women from driving, ended the ban in June 2018. […]But the advancement of women’s rights is uneven at best in Saudi Arabia, as well as across North Africa and the Middle East, a region that regularly rates worst or second worst to sub-Saharan Africa in overall assessments of gender equality. – Bloomberg

Middle East

More than 1,100 civilians have been killed in U.S.-led strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since the operation began in 2014, the U.S. military said on Thursday. – Reuters

Voters in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq will elect a new parliament on Sunday.  – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: Iraqis do not treat incumbents well. That’s not always a bad thing, given the tendency of Middle Eastern leaders to assume that term limits are optional and offices to be occupied for life. If the parliamentary horse-trading and religious establishment in Najaf ultimately push Abadi aside, one thing is clear: Iraqis will come to recognize just how skilled Abadi was at navigating Iraq through the political, military, and regional vortex. – American Enterprise Institute

Korean Peninsula

The Trump administration worked to move ahead on its top diplomatic priority—the denuclearization of North Korea—but ran head-on into opposition to its plans from Russia, which called for the easing of United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the world is at “the dawn of a new day” in confronting the threat posed by North Korea’s weapons programs but that sanctions against the country must continue for now. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned members of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that they must “set the example” by enforcing sanctions on North Korea as China and Russia suggested the council consider easing the tough measures. – Reuters


By claiming without offering proof that China is interfering in the U.S. midterm elections, President Trump not only escalated bilateral tensions, but he also provided ammunition to senior Communist Party members who say his real intention is to stop China’s ascent as a global power. – Wall Street Journal

A South Korean warship sailed close to disputed islands in the South China Sea this month, entering what Beijing sees as its territorial waters without its permission, in a maneuver that piqued Chinese officials. – Wall Street Journal

It was a rare indication of official concern about the issue within the Islamic world, and added to a growing backlash among Muslims world-wide that presents a thornier challenge for Beijing than Western government censure. – Wall Street Journal

China stoutly defended on Thursday its right to publish in an American newspaper a supplement that President Trump attacked as interfering in the United States elections, saying the publication was lawful and commonplace. – New York Times

The United States is working on a counter-offer to stop Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] from building internet infrastructure in Papua New Guinea, its top diplomat to Australia said on Friday. – Reuters

China on Thursday labeled a recent mission by nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bombers over the disputed South China Sea as “provocative,” and said the U.S. was solely responsible for a recent downturn in relations between their militaries. – Associated Press

As the world’s two largest economies exchange tit-for-tat tariffs, there are growing suggestions that the trade turmoil has spilled over into military relations. China has canceled friendly engagements with the U.S. Navy, possibly due to the trade dispute. – CNBC

Josh Rogin writes: The Trump administration needs to shift to an approach that places pressure on China to behave better in Djibouti and encourages the Guelleh government to reject Beijing’s scheme to turn that country into a Chinese vassal — before that instability further harms U.S. and African interests. – Washington Post


Candidates running in Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections kicked off campaigning on Friday ahead of the country’s balloting next month. The vote for the lower house of parliament is scheduled for Oct. 20, though it’s unclear if voting will take place in areas held by the Taliban. – Associated Press

Representatives from the Taliban met an Afghan government delegation in Saudi Arabia this week to discuss security ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections and a limited prisoner release, three Taliban officials said. – Reuters

The United States used an F-35 jet against a Taliban target in Afghanistan earlier on Thursday, marking the first U.S. combat use of the stealthy plane, a U.S. official said. – Reuters

Multiple rockets hit the Afghan city of Ghazni during a visit by President Ashraf Ghani, according to officials and residents of the city which is still struggling to return to normal after it was overrun by Taliban fighters last month. – Al Jazeera


The United Nations Human Rights Council stepped up pressure to punish Myanmar’s military commanders for a brutal campaign against Rohingya Muslims, deciding on Thursday to create a body to expedite criminal prosecutions. – New York Times

When Japan agreed to enter into bilateral trade talks with the United States during meetings at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, the country’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, appeared to have finally said “yes” after two years of saying “no.” – New York Times

The Rohingya issue should not be complicated, expanded or “internationalized”, China’s top diplomat said, as the United Nations prepares to set up a body to prepare evidence of human rights abuses in Myanmar. – Reuters


Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited Azerbaijan and hailed the increasingly close economic ties between the two ex-Soviet neighbors. – Associated Press

A U.S. House of Representatives committee will vote on Friday on whether to release dozens of transcripts of interviews from its investigation of Russia and the 2016 U.S. election, including conversations with senior associates of President Donald Trump. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, where he will attend a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on September 28. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras vowed to ratify a landmark pact with neighboring  Macedonia regardless of domestic political risks, as part of a strategy to stabilize the Balkan region in cooperation with the U.S. and European Union. – Wall Street Journal

Russia sought to dismiss a report identifying one of the suspects in the attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury as a highly decorated special service operative. – Wall Street Journal

British police have identified a third Russian military intelligence officer they believe carried out a reconnaissance mission before the attempted murder of double agent Sergei Skripal, the Telegraph newspaper reported. – Reuters

Seven men were arrested Thursday in the Netherlands on suspicion of plotting a large-scale terrorist attack that Dutch prosecutors said they think was foiled following a months-long investigation. – Associated Press

European Union lawmakers appear set this month to demand audits of Facebook by Europe’s cybersecurity agency and data protection authority in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. – Associated Press

Editorial: Italy’s new populist leaders appear to be sticking to the program that brought them to power: In their budget plans, they’re charting a course that could ultimately put the entire European project at risk. – Bloomberg

Leonid Bershidsky writes: For many Americans, fake news, or, specifically, a lively cottage industry that produced it for the U.S. market, was what put Macedonia on the map. But as the small Balkan nation holds a fateful referendum on Sunday that may unblock its path toward membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, disinformation will play a smaller role in the outcome than an authoritarian, corrupt party’s failed, 10-year-long nationalist project. – Bloomberg

The Americas

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said President Trump’s administration is frustrated over talks on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement because “Canadians are tough negotiators, as we should be.” – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration’s move to proceed with a new North American Free Trade Agreement without Canada is running into resistance from a group that officials had hoped would provide significant support for the revised pact: congressional Democrats. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations took up a megaphone and addressed protesters calling for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro outside the U.N. building in New York on Thursday. “We are going to fight for Venezuela and we are going to continue doing it until Maduro is gone!” Nikki Haley shouted from the megaphone, according to a report by AFP. – Agence France-Presse

Cyber Security

The Port of San Diego said on Thursday that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security were investigating a ransomware attack that disrupted the port’s information technology systems. – Reuters

The past few years have seen the United States experience election hacking efforts by foreign adversaries and corporate data breaches from underground hacktivists, among other events, leaving many officials to wonder what the U.S. doctrine for cyberspace even is. The new U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission was created to answer just that. – Fifth Domain

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis predicted the U.S. government will one day offer cyber protection to businesses that work with critical infrastructure and may even extend such a buffer to some individuals. – Fifth Domain


The U.S. military has suspended its top enlisted official from his position temporarily amid an investigation into allegations of misconduct, a setback for the leadership at the Pentagon. – Washington Post

A Boeing-Saab partnership has won a $9.2 billion contract to produce the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation training jet. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force’s top leader is hopeful that Boeing will be able to keep the newly awarded UH-1N helicopter replacement on pace despite the company’s record with schedule delays on the KC-46 tanker program. – Defense News

When the Pentagon split the legacy Acquisition, Technology and Logistics office into two new organizations, it came with a massive reshuffling of personnel. Now, eight months after the split officially happened, Under Secretary of Research and Engineering Michael Griffin and Under Secretary of Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord are still working to formulate their teams, with several key individuals confirmed or added in just the last few weeks. – Defense News

The Marine Corps’ rapid capabilities office is looking for a drone that can help Marines clear mines in the shallows ahead of a landing, and Kongsberg’s Hydroid is hoping its REMUS 100 unmanned undersea vehicle will answer the bell. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a contract worth more than $1.3 billion for two GPS III satellites, according to an announcement from the Department of Defense Sept. 26. – C4ISRNET

The Navy awarded six of its next Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to Ingalls Shipbuilding and four to General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, in a combined $9-billion purchase right at the end of the fiscal year. – USNI News

Striking the right balance between funding today’s force and funding new capabilities for the future has always been a challenge, but Marine Corps leaders have firmly come down on the side of favoring modernization to win in a future fight. – USNI News