Fdd's overnight brief

September 4, 2018

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran’s state-run oil company is in talks to salvage a $1 billion oil deal with Swiss trader Vitol Group as companies sever ties with the Islamic Republic ahead of U.S. sanctions. Vitol is likely to end the deal because Washington will prohibit business with NIOC and all Iran oil trades once U.S. sanctions begin. – Wall Street Journal

An Iranian civil aviation company is suspected of smuggling arms into Lebanon, destined for the militant group Hezbollah and Iranian weapons factories — and western intelligence sources said Monday they’ve uncovered the unexpected routes that Iran apparently took to try avoiding detection. – Fox News

Discounts, bartering and smuggling — even disabling the tracking systems on its fleet of tankers — are among the tactics Iran may lean on to keep almost 800,000 barrels a day of its exports flowing after U.S. restrictions resume in November. – Bloomberg

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday war was unlikely but called on Iran’s armed forces to boost their defence capacities, according to his official website, as the country faces increased tension with the United States. – Reuters

Iran plans to boost its ballistic and cruise missile capacity and acquire modern fighter planes and submarines, the Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted a senior Defence Ministry official as saying on Saturday. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: As if the free world didn’t have enough to worry about with Russian fake news, now the world leader in state-sponsored terrorism is getting into the act: Iran is running a disinformation campaign on social media, and it is bigger than previously believed. – Bloomberg


President Donald Trump warned Syria President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies against “recklessly” attacking Idlib, one of the last remaining holdouts for rebels in the country’s civil war. – Bloomberg

France remains “ready to act” if the Syrian regime uses lethal chemical weapons, the French foreign ministry said in a statement. The statement came as the Syrian regime and its allies prepare for what could be an assault on Idlib, one of the few remaining zones still under rebel control. – Bloomberg

Iran called on Monday for militants to be “cleaned out” of Syria’s Idlib province, as it prepared for talks with Syria and Russia about confronting the last major enclave held by rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. – Reuters

A blast killed at least one person in a region of north Syria controlled by Turkey-backed Syrian rebel groups, a witness and a war monitor said on Saturday. – Reuters

At least two military personnel were killed and 11 wounded in overnight explosions caused by suspected Israeli strikes on a military airport on the edge of the Syrian capital, a war monitoring group said Sunday. – Associated Press

Israel’s defense minister described Iran on Friday as having slowed down its long-term force deployment in Syria, attributing this to Israeli military intervention as well as an economic crisis gripping Tehran as U.S. sanctions are restored. – Reuters

Mona Alami writes: Iran has a vested interest in the southwest and will continue to expand its influence there. It may do so either covertly or use strategic patience until circumstances are ripe. South Syria, muchlike Lebanon, has become a useful strategic card in Tehran’s regional game. – Middle East Institute


The United States ended its funding for the U.N. agency supporting Palestinian refugees for political reasons related to the peace process, its commissioner said Monday, but he expressed confidence that a $200 million shortfall would somehow be fixed. – Washington Post

Jordan said on Saturday it regretted a U.S. decision to halt funding to a United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, saying it would only fuel radicalism and harm prospects for Middle East peace. – Reuters

The first-ever visit of a leader of the Philippines is sure to be touted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as another success in his campaign to enhance Israel’s relations across the globe. But critics say this outreach has come at a cost, with Netanyahu cozying up to authoritarian leaders, some of whom are guilty of human rights abuses. – Associated Press

Israel signalled on Monday that it could attack suspected Iranian military assets in Iraq, as it has done with scores of air strikes in war-torn Syria. – Reuters

The U.S. sent a message to Israel warning it not to attack Iranian targets in Iraq, the Kan public broadcaster reported, citing Western sources. – Bloomberg

The United Arab Emirates will let Israelis participate in the Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam under their national flag, after the International Judo Federation threatened to cancel the event. – Bloomberg

Shimon Arad writes: Hamas’s development of asymmetric area-denial capabilities and doctrine since 2014 has countered the traditional military strengths of Israel’s precision-strike and maneuver systems, rendering military access into and movement in Gaza a costly endeavor. This has tempered Israel’s traditional preference for offensive ground operations, eliminating one incentive for escalation. – War on the Rocks

Middle East

In a rare admission, a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition accepted responsibility Saturday for an airstrike last month on a school bus in northern Yemen that killed scores of people, including at least 40 children. – Washington Post

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged Kyrgyzstan on Saturday to crack down on groups linked to the Fethullah Gulen movement which Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup, something Bishkek has so far refused to do. – Reuters

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday it was “astonished” at a Reuters report that Iran had moved missiles to Iraq and that the article was “without evidence”, but stopped short of denying its contents. – Reuters

Eight years later, attacks this week in Anbar province and Kirkuk, attributed to ISIS, show just how difficult it is to stabilize a country that has seen little stability since then—and not for want of trying. – Defense One

Korea Peninsula

Nearly three months after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shook hands with President Trump and agreed to pursue denuclearization and a reset in relations, the two sides have reached an impasse over who should make the next concession in talks aimed at implementing their accord. – Wall Street Journal

As North Korea celebrates a major anniversary this weekend, the presence — or absence — of Chinese President Xi Jinping could highlight just how much vitality has been restored to ties between Pyongyang and its most powerful backer after a prolonged chill. – Associated Press

Satellite imagery shows North Korea is poised to stage another military parade amid new worries that diplomatic efforts on denuclearisation are stalling, though analysts say it is unclear whether it will showcase any of the country’s largest ballistic missiles. – Reuters

South Korea’s president will send a special delegation to North Korea next week for talks on a nuclear standoff and to set up a summit planned for next month, his office said Friday. – Associated Press


The U.S. is finalizing plans to double funding for big infrastructure projects around the world, seeking to counter China’s growing influence. Congress is working to resolve the last barriers to passing a bill that would boost the U.S.’s role in international development. – Wall Street Journal

The islands of Kinmen County, and the Nationalist troops stationed there, withstood artillery shelling from China long after the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war. Today, relations between China and Taiwan’s Kinmen, just miles apart, are very different indeed. – New York Times

China is still determined to reform and wants to work with all parties to build an open world economy, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Sunday, reiterating Beijing’s message amid a bitter trade war with Washington. – Reuters

James Stavridis writes: While undermining Taiwan in that way could provide some short-term relief on knotty problems between the two superpowers, it would be self-defeating over the longer term. Keeping faith with a faithful ally is the right course of action, and offers the most benefit to U.S. objectives in the region and beyond. – Bloomberg


A veteran of the U.S. military’s most elite and secretive combat units took command of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan on Sunday. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller assumed command of about 14,000 U.S. forces and 8,000 military personnel from other countries. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. forces have killed the self-proclaimed leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) branch in Afghanistan, according to a statement posted Sunday by the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. – Time

NATO says an American has been killed in eastern Afghanistan while serving in the multinational mission the military alliance is leading. NATO said in a statement that a second U.S. service member was in stable condition after being wounded during Monday’s attack. – USA Today

The founder of Afghanistan’s much-feared Haqqani network, a former U.S. ally turned fierce enemy, has died after years of ill health, a Taliban spokesman said Tuesday. Jalaluddin Haqqani was 72. – Associated Press

Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate detonated a roadside bomb in eastern Nangarhar province killing five border police and wounding four others, a statement issued Friday by the insurgent group said. – Associated Press

South Asia

The Pentagon said it suspended $300 million in military aid to Pakistan, accusing it of not doing enough to tackle militant groups, in a move certain to heighten tensions between the two countries ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit this week to Islamabad. – Wall Street Journal

There have always been irritants in relations between India and the United States. But few have been as perplexing to New Delhi, or left as bitter a taste, as President Trump’s tendency to mock Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s accent in English. – New York Times

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo travel to New Delhi this week in an effort to seal a new defense cooperation agreement with their Indian counterparts despite tensions over threatened American sanctions. – Bloomberg

Pakistan has temporarily closed its consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad over alleged interference by the provincial governor and a lack of security, its embassy in Kabul announced. – Al Jazeera


A Myanmar judge on Monday found two Reuters journalists guilty of violating a colonial-era secrets law and sentenced them to seven years in prison after a months-long trial that was widely seen as farcical and a severe blow for press freedom in the country.  – Washington Post

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Baku last month, she met with one of Azerbaijan’s most renowned journalists. But it was not for an interview. Khadija Ismayilova offered Merkel a firsthand appraisal of Azerbaijan’s crackdowns on political dissent and the media — which included jailing Ismayilova for 18 months and blocking her from leaving the country. – Washington Post

A bomb blast killed one person and injured 15 in an internet cafe in the southern Philippines on Sunday, in the second such attack in days blamed by the military on pro-Islamic State militants. – Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed confidence in improving ties with China and said the countries’ relationship had returned to a “normal track”, in a newspaper interview published on Sunday. – Reuters

Edward Morgan writes: Australia and Indonesia today signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) that defines the relationship of these two Southeast Asian nations going forward. […]The signing of the CSP brings hope for two reasons important to Southeast Asia. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The U.S. and Germany are at odds over a possible plan to redraw the border between Serbia and Kosovo and resolve one of Europe’s last major territorial disputes, with Berlin concerned the move could open a Pandora’s box of ethnic recriminations in some of the region’s poorest countries. – Wall Street Journal

But Central European University — founded and funded by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s favorite boogeyman, liberal Hungarian American investor George Soros — has become the prime target of Orban’s campaign to dismantle Europe’s multicultural, tolerant liberalism and cement a culture that is unapologetically Christian, conservative and nationalist. – Washington Post

A bomb killed the most prominent pro-Russian rebel leader in the breakaway region of eastern Ukraine on Friday, Russian and Ukrainian officials said, heightening the tension in the region’s simmering proxy war. – Washington Post

The Ukrainian city of Lviv, once a major center of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, commemorated on Sunday the 75th anniversary of the annihilation of the city’s Jewish population by Nazi Germany and honored those working today to preserve what they can of that vanished world. – Associated Press


At least six people were killed, including two children, after a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle on Sunday outside a district headquarters in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the authorities said. – New York Times

The British prime minister, Theresa May, the vicar’s daughter known for her devotion to duty and wooden campaign style, busted out first in South Africa and then in Kenya. Her dance moves, such as they were, did serve the purpose of drawing attention to an otherwise forgettable trip to drum up trade deals. – New York Times

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged debt relief to some poorer African nations, attempting to push back against a major criticism of his signature Belt and Road Initiative. – Bloomberg

Rick Noack writes: As more than 40 African heads of state arrived at the China-Africa Cooperation summit Monday, one figure stood out: $60 billion. That’s how much additional funding Chinese President Xi Jinping promised the continent as the two-day summit got underway. And all of Africa is competing for it — except for one country: Swaziland, an absolute monarchy that has in recent months renamed itself eSwatini. – Washington Post

Cyber Security

Just two months before the midterm elections, bipartisan legislation to try to prevent foreign hacking into U.S. election systems is stalled in Congress as the White House and some Republicans worry it could exert too much federal control over the states. Supporters of the bill say the delay could embolden Russia, which targeted election infrastructure in at least 21 states in 2016. – Associated Press

For the cyber world, fall means a likely deluge articles about the vulnerabilities of voting machines used in the upcoming midterm elections. But during the DEF CON conference in August, Jeanette Manfra, the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber czarina, downplayed the possibility of widespread election interference using voting machine hacks. – Fifth Domain

Using the same framework of damage control practices that kept the USS McCain afloat, the Navy can build a cyber strategy to prepare for, survive and return to mission readiness after a cyber incident. Like shipboard damage control, the cybersecurity continuum is broken into three main objectives representing before, during and after an incident. – Fifth Domain

Data is an ever-more-critical battlefield asset, given the rising internet of things, including a rapidly growing inventory of unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets across the Navy. Protecting all that data from enemy exploitation represents a potentially massive cyber challenge. – C4ISRNET

Benjamin Jensen and JD Work write: Civilian leaders are responsible for creating a policy framework in which multiple interagency stakeholders craft cyber strategy and establish how a country can legally use the digital domain to achieve a position of relative advantage. Such a framework must enable interagency contingency planning that combines cyber operations with other instruments of power such as economic sanctions, diplomatic demarches, and military threats. – War on the Rocks


Drones are everywhere in the Pentagon today. While unpeopled vehicles are most closely associated with the Air Force and targeted killing campaigns, remotely controlled robots are in every branch of the military and used across all combatant commands. The fiscal year 2018 defense authorization contained the largest budget for drones and robots across the services ever, a sign of just how much of modern warfare involves these machines. – C4ISRNET

The Pentagon is downplaying major F-35 Joint Strike Fighter design flaws that could leave service members at risk in an effort to keep the long-scrutinized program on schedule, a watchdog group warned this week. – Military.com

Kyle Mizokami writes: Military shotguns are an invaluable part of twenty-first century arsenals. […]The military shotgun can bust doors, destroy obstacles, cow prisoners of war, deploy tear gas, and unleash a devastating pattern of lead shot with a single pull of the trigger. Until the day these missions go away, shotguns are here to stay. – National Interest

Long War

The Dutch authorities said on Saturday that the suspect in a double stabbing at a busy railway station in Amsterdam had “a terrorist motive,” while the United States ambassador to the Netherlands identified the two people injured as American citizens. – New York Times

A 15-year-old boy from Bradford is to stand trial next year accused of a terror offence and making an explosive substance. He is accused of making a pair of carbon dioxide canisters, drilled and clipped together, between May and August this year. – BBC

Robert G. Rabil writes: Yet these perceptions are grounded in the assumption that the terms as defined by terrorist groups also reflect broader Sunni and Shi’a conceptions of the concepts. This mischaracterization both hinders the public understanding of Islam as a multifaceted religion and U.S. security understanding of terrorist threats motivated by specific and extremist concepts of jihad and takfir. – Washington Institute

Robert G. Rabil writes: By historicizing extremist definitions of jihad and refusing to legitimate extremists’ claims that they provide an ahistorical and ‘correct’ interpretation of jihad and takfir, U.S. officials can help to reduce the oversized influence extremist groups have had on certain western understandings of Islamic concepts and the ideological appeal of extremism for those lost and searching for authentic interpretations of Islam. – Washington Institute