Fdd's overnight brief

September 4, 2019

In The News


The State Department imposed sanctions against Iran’s space program on Tuesday following a failed attempt to launch a rocket last week, which the U.S. suspects was an effort to advance its ballistic missile program. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration imposed sanctions Tuesday on Iran’s space agency for the first time, accusing it of developing ballistic missiles under the cover of a civilian program to launch satellites into orbit. – Associated Press

A senior Iranian diplomat has expressed doubts Europe would succeed in salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. – Associated Press

Iranian officials ratcheted up pressure Wednesday ahead of a weekend nuclear deadline for European nations to come up with a solution for Iran to sell its oil abroad in the aftermath of escalated U.S. sanctions. – Associated Press

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani gave European powers another two months to save a 2015 nuclear deal on Wednesday, but warned that Tehran was still preparing for further significant breaches of the pact that would have “extraordinary effects”. – Reuters

France has proposed offering Iran about $15 billion in credit lines until year-end if Tehran comes fully back into compliance with its 2015 nuclear deal, a move that hinges on Washington not blocking it, Western and Iranian sources said. – Reuters

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz claimed on Tuesday that “the deep state” within the Treasury and State Departments trying to undermine the Trump administration’s efforts to counter Iran. – Washington Examiner

As the U.S. tries a new way to protect shipping across the Persian Gulf amid tensions with Iran, it finds itself sailing into uncertain waters. – Associated Press

Iran is capable of resuming production of 20% enriched uranium within two days, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Behrouz Kamalvandi said on Tuesday. – Reuters

France’s foreign minister on Tuesday said talks with Iran over the creation of credit lines guaranteed by Iranian oil revenues were continuing, and that the plan would ultimately hinge on the U.S. reissuing oil export waivers. – Reuters

David Albright and Sarah Burkhard write: The focus is on Iran’s potential growth in its stocks of LEU hexafluoride rather than a systematic increase in the enrichment capacity at Natanz and Fordow, in further violation of JCPOA limits. Other scenarios will be addressed in future reports, as events and interests develop. – Institute for Science and International Security


The teen, an Azerbaijani girl who had lived until earlier this year with her mother under the Islamic State’s rule, had run afoul of the die-hard ISIS adherents who have come in the past few months to dominate parts of the al-Hol displacement camp here in northeastern Syria, according to camp residents. They said she had suggested dispensing with her black niqab, the face covering worn by ultraconservative Muslim women. – Washington Post

The creation of a so-called “safe zone” in northeastern Syria has gotten off to good start, with U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces pulling back from a small, initial area along the Turkish border, a Syrian Kurdish official said — but calm can only prevail if Turkey also removes its troops. – Associated Press

As Syria’s civil war edges toward a bloody end, many displaced persons like al-Yousef fear that a government win will bring little relief — or sense of closure. – Associated Press

Explosions heard on Tuesday in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia were a result of anti-aircraft defenses intercepting drones launched toward Hmeimim air base, Syrian state TV and the state news agency (SANA) reported. – Reuters

Iran has not eased up its efforts to establish a military presence in Syria as new satellite images reveal the Islamic Republic has established its largest military base to day in the war-torn country and is in the process of moving thousands of troops into the facility, Fox News reported Tuesday – Ynet

The U.N. human rights chief says her office has tallied more than 1,000 civilian deaths in Syria over the last four months, the majority of them due to airstrikes and ground attacks by President Bashar Assad’s forces and their allies. – Associated Press

A U.S.-backed mostly Kurdish force in Syria on Tuesday carried out a patrol along with the U.S.-led coalition near a border town with Turkey to select fortifications to be removed as part of an agreement to set up a safe zone along the country’s northwest border, a spokesman for the group said. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: Frankly, if Turkey’s concern is the fight against terrorism, diplomats should base their policy on reality rather than what increasingly appears to be yet one more example of tendentious Turkish demands. […]Rather than Kurdish terrorism, it is Turkey’s proposed buffer zone, Turkey’s revanchism, and its use of fake grievances to justify its imperialism that poses the greatest threat to the region. – Washington Examiner


Israel accused Hezbollah on Tuesday of setting up a factory for precision-guided missiles in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, in a veiled warning of further possible Israeli counter-strikes after a drone attack near Beirut set off brief cross-border fighting. – Reuters

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz emabrked on an official visit to Switzerland on Monday accompanied by a legal team in an effort to find a solution to existing Swiss legislation that allows Israeli political and military officials to be arrested and interrogated for alleged war crimes. – Ynet

A report published on Wednesday by Amnesty International claims that “Israeli Arabs elected to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, are being targeted by discriminatory regulations and legislation that undermine their ability to represent and defend the rights of the Israeli Arabic minority population in Israel.” – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that US President Donald Trump’s peace plan will be released “immediately” after Israel’s elections later this month. – Times of Israel

Michael J. Armstrong writes: That perhaps is the larger lesson here: no missile defense system is perfectly reliable, especially against an evolving threat. […]This lesson is not limited to the Israel-Gaza conflict. The U.S. Army is buying two Iron Dome systems and apparently, the U.S. Marine Corps also seems interested. Similar limitations apply to defenses against other missile threats, including those posed by North Korea and China. – The National Interest


The Trump administration is weighing continuing a special refugee program for some Iraqis while further reducing the cap on other refugees allowed into the U.S., according to people familiar with internal deliberations. – Wall Street Journal

Islamic State insurgents are reportedly weaponizing cows in an attempt to target Iraqi forces. – Washington Examiner

An American working to clear mines and unexploded ordinance left from battles with the Islamic State near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has been killed, according to local Iraqi security officials. – NBC

N. Mozes writes: It appears that the Iraqi government is seeking to prevent an escalation on its soil and to balance its relations with Iran and the militias it backs against its relations with the U.S. Thus, it has announced that it will act through diplomatic channels to prevent more attacks, and that its armed forces are ready to respond to them if they do occur. – Middle East Media Research Institute


All parties to the war in Yemen are committing horrific abuses, from arbitrary killings to rape and torture, with an impunity that underscores a collective failure of the international community, a panel of international experts said on Tuesday. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia has deployed more troops in southern Yemen to try to contain clashes between nominal allies in the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Houthis that risk further fragmenting the country. – Reuters

Alexandre Mello and Michael Knights write: While the UAE will likely leave a sizable counterterrorism force in Shabwa, its capabilities may be diminished if Saudi Arabia becomes the leading force in the province and militias continue to lose trust in Abu Dhabi. To avoid that scenario, the U.S. intelligence and defense establishments should encourage the UAE to stay fully engaged in the anti-AQAP fight, while diplomatic officials quietly press Riyadh and Hadi to ensure that the slack Saudi attitude toward combating the group does not become the new normal in Shabwa, Abyan, and Hadramawt. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

The closure of Yongsan—which means dragon hill—marks the end of an era for a slice of small-town Americana in the heart of South Korea’s capital. The move to Camp Humphreys consolidates what had been multiple U.S. camps at a single site and pushes American forces farther from the firing range of North Korea’s artillery. – Wall Street Journal

China reasserted its backing for North Korea on Tuesday as its foreign minister visited Pyongyang, vowing to maintain “close communication” with its longstanding ally in the face of deadlocked nuclear talks with Washington. – Agence FrancePresse

The U.S. military plans to begin rotating F-35 stealth fighters into South Korea starting in a few years, a South Korean newspaper reported. – The National Interest

Bruce Klingner writes: The failure of all previous denuclearization agreements with North Korea does not preclude additional attempts. But, given the lack of progress since the Singapore summit, skepticism and wariness are warranted. The best policy for the United States is a comprehensive strategy of diplomacy, upholding UN resolutions and U.S. laws, and deterrence until the nuclear, missile, and conventional force threat is reduced. – The National Interest

Kyle Mizokami writes: North Korean special forces have evolved from a nuisance force designed to stage attacks in the enemy’s rear into something far more dangerous. Their ability to distribute nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological weapons could, if successful, kill thousands of civilians. They have even trained to attack and destroy a replica of the Blue House, the official resident of the South Korean president. Although many would undoubtedly die en route to their destination, once on the ground their training, toughness and political indoctrination make them formidable adversaries. – The National Interest

Sarah Vogler writes: North Korean propaganda surrounding the new SSB should be interpreted as a very serious signal that the window for continued negotiation between the two countries is closing, and actual testing may indicate that the window has closed. – The Hill


President Trump said he would redouble his pressure on China if he wins a second term, warning Beijing not to stall trade negotiations until after the 2020 U.S. election and vowing to stick with his go-it-alone approach to the discussions. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump said on Tuesday that Chinese manufacturing would “crumble” if the country did not agree to the United States’ trade terms, as newly released data showed his trade war was washing back to American shores and hurting the factories that the president has aimed to protect. – New York Times

In an effort to secure the national security supply chain against China, the Pentagon is planning to stand up rare earth production sites in Australia. – Washington Examiner

President Trump is facing an acute challenge with China that could define his first term and directly impact his chances for reelection. Trump has made toughening up against China a key prong of his administration’s work. But a trade deal with Beijing has eluded him, with both sides instead ratcheting up tariffs on one another in an extended back-and-forth. – The Hill

Derek Scissors writes: China does have the size to make its policies matter to the point of an emergency, the potential to use force, and a drive over several decades to acquire technology by any means short of war. Its actions may thus call for using IEEPA, even after the United States finishes its new policy tools and sets aside lesser matters such as bilateral trade deficits. – The Hill

William Reinsch writes: The Chinese have to be thinking, if agreements can be so cavalierly ignored, what’s the point of making them? So, while the fundamental issues may not have changed, the mood has; This makes final agreement much less likely even while talks continue because neither side can afford to break them off. Stay tuned for more drama—and more columns. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Hundreds of protesters gathered outside a compound housing foreign nationals on Tuesday, calling for it to be shut down just hours after a bomb targeting the facility killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 100 others. – Washington Post

In recent months, an increasing number of graphic images of atrocities in the Afghan war have circulated on social media — raising alarm that hatred sown deep into local communities would be difficult to resolve even if a peace agreement can be reached with the Taliban. – New York Times

Nine former U.S. ambassadors on Tuesday warned that Afghanistan could collapse in a “total civil war” if President Donald Trump withdraws all U.S. forces before the Kabul government and the Taliban conclude a peace settlement. – Reuters

Citing the U.S. experience in Iraq, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis cautioned Tuesday against a hasty withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, even as the sketchy outlines of a peace deal with the Taliban emerged. – Military.com

Nine former senior U.S. diplomats on Tuesday warned that Afghanistan could slide into an all-out civil war and once again become a sanctuary for terrorists if the Trump administration withdrew all U.S. forces without a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. – NBC

The longest war in American history has gone on for more than 17 years. The U.S. and its NATO-led allies announced the official conclusion of their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014. But with the country remaining in violent turmoil, plans for the exit of the coalition have been repeatedly put off. In his third year in office, U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed an eagerness to withdraw his country’s forces, which make up 14,000 of the 17,000 foreign troops there. His government is pursuing a peace deal with the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalists who once ruled the country and have reclaimed significant patches of it. – Bloomberg

Eli Lake writes: If Trump wants to order a partial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, he is free to do so without saddling the U.S. with a flawed agreement that, as members of his administration acknowledge, has enough caveats and loopholes to keep a small force inside the country. If Trump wants a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, he should have to face the consequences of that disastrous decision — without the fig leaf of a deal with the Taliban. – Bloomberg

Melanne Verveer writes: Withdrawal — even the planned partial withdrawal — should be based on key conditions being met by the Taliban. The prospects for a genuine and enduring peace will be contingent on a peace process that includes the resolution of key issues and the protection of human rights, and ensures that women and other members of civil society will be at the table and fully engaged in the post-agreement process to chart a better future for Afghanistan. – USA Today


China’s top office for Hong Kong affairs said it had legal power to unilaterally declare a state of emergency in the city if unrest continues unabated, while laying out specific measures for the city’s leader to address protests. – Wall Street Journal

The chairman of Cathay Pacific Airways resigned on Wednesday, the second top executive of the embattled Hong Kong carrier to step down as protests have roiled the city. – New York Times

Hong Kong activists urged Taiwan on Tuesday to help promote democracy in the Chinese-ruled city amid its worst political crisis in decades and called for a mass rally before the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China on Oct. 1. – Reuters

A witness in former Malaysian leader Najib Razak’s trial testified that the ex-premier offered projects to China in exchange for help resolving 1MDB’s debt. – Bloomberg

The U.S. has kicked off a new exercise in the Western Pacific with participation of the maritime assets of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The ASEAN Maritime Exercise (AUMX) began on Sunday at the Sattahip Naval Base, Thailand. – USNI News

Andrew Higgins writes: For a foreigner, Hong Kong still feels unquestionably Chinese, its streets flashing with neon Chinese characters, its graveyards filled with tombstones recording ancestral homes in faraway provinces, its cacophonous restaurants offering endless varieties of Chinese cuisine. But for many Hong Kongers these are no more signs of the place being part of Communist-ruled China than the magnificent collections of Chinese art in Taiwan are proof that the island belongs to Beijing. – New York Times

Marco Rubio writes: China’s leaders must either respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law or know that their escalating aggression will inexorably lead them to face swift, severe and lasting consequences from the United States and the world. – Washington Post


A Russian satellite has sidled up to yet another satellite in geostationary orbit, reigniting concerns that it could be stealing data or could cause a collision. – C4ISRNET

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is pressuring the Trump administration to release $250 million in military aid to Ukraine. – Defense News

David Ignatius writes: The United States is losing the fight for what Russians call the “information space.” […] “Information Wars” ought to be a wake-up call. The message is that open, democratic societies are in retreat. There’s only one force powerful enough to save the day (one too little mentioned these days), and that’s the readers and viewers who consume information. Their choices are decisive. – Washington Post

Anna Mahjar-Barducci and Amiel Ungar write: Despite the self-congratulatory mood, Russian commentators have questioned whether it is possible to speak of alliances in the sense of NATO or the Warsaw Pact, where the partners shared political as well as strategic objectives. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Mark Episkopos writes: As with the upcoming Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle and Sarmat thermonuclear heavy ICBM, Kinzhal reflects the essence of Moscow’s new nuclear deterrence doctrine: instead of trying to match NATO’s combined nuclear warhead output in a costly, ill-fated arms race, the Kremlin is developing a handful of hypersonic delivery systems that they believe will ensure their first-strike capability into the mid 2020’s. – The National Interest


U.K. lawmakers delivered a blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson ’s Brexit strategy with a vote aimed at delaying the country’s exit from the European Union, prompting the British leader to call for a general election. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump may soon win a largely symbolic victory in his effort to squeeze larger NATO contributions from Germany, under a compromise plan that would slightly increase what Germany pays toward administering the military alliance while lowering the U.S. bill, diplomats and other officials familiar with the proposal said Tuesday. – Washington Post

North Macedonia expects to get a date for the start of EU accession talks in October and is worried the Balkans region would be discouraged about reform if discussions do not begin, its foreign minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Chinese diplomats disrupted a pro-Hong Kong protest in Lithuania on the anniversary of a major anti-Soviet demonstration, according to the Baltic nation’s top diplomat, resulting in the arrest of two Chinese citizens. – Washington Examiner

The British government is facing growing outrage from the European commission and five EU member states over its plans to leave some decommissioned oil rigs in the North Sea, with one senior German official describing the UK’s proposal as a “grotesque idea” that amounts to a “ticking timebomb”. – The Guardian


Pope Francis heads to Mozambique on Wednesday to encourage the country’s fragile peace, starting a three-nation African tour where climate change, poverty and corruption will also be high on the agenda. – Reuters

A makeshift bomb exploded under a passenger bus traveling in the violence-plagued central Mali region of Mopti on Tuesday, killing at least 14 people and wounding 24, the security minister said. – Reuters

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres on Tuesday suggested the UN help fund the fight against jihadism in the Sahel, warning “we are not winning the war against terrorism” in the frail region. – Agence FrancePresse

United States

The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to divert $3.6 billion from military-construction projects to build or fortify portions of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. – Wall Street Journal

Reps. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) will introduce a bill this week intended to modernize a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program that ensures the cybersecurity of federal agencies. – The Hill

Gov. Matt Bevin signed Kentucky’s anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) legislation in the State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky on August 27. – Jerusalem Post

The Conference of Presidents welcomes Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s signing of Senate Bill 143 last week, which allows Kentucky to deny contracts to companies that engage in efforts to boycott Israel. This legislation solidifies Governor Bevin’s Executive Order 2018-905 from last fall, and demonstrates the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s strong support for the Jewish state. – Conference of Presidents

Despite the video-sharing website’s June 2019 crackdown on hate speech, in which it updated its policy to prohibit videos that advance ideologies such as white supremacy, clips which deny historical atrocities including the Holocaust, or posts justifying discrimination against other protected classes, there remains a vast reservoir of bigoted invective and extremism on the platform. – Times of Israel

Latin America

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday ordered the armed forces to be on alert for a potential attack by Colombia’s government and announced military exercises on the border amid the rearmament of a group of former guerrilla commanders. – Reuters

After more than 20 years of neglect, one of the Argentinian capital’s oldest synagogues has been returned to the community that founded it. Dating back to 1907, the synagogue is located in the neighborhood of La Boca, where most of Buenos Aires’s first Jewish immigrants settled. – Times of Israel

Moises Rendon and Max Price write: Sanctions can take time to have their intended effect and, even when successful, are not sufficient to dismember and rebuild a government. They are simply a tool for coercing good behavior. In order to help Venezuelans restore their democracy, sanctions are key to increasing pressure on the Maduro regime. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


China’s Huawei Technologies Co. accused the U.S. of “using every tool at its disposal” to disrupt its business, including launching cyberattacks on its networks and instructing law enforcement to “menace” its employees. – Wall Street Journal

Companies and universities around the country are building cybersecurity training centers that simulate real-world networks and breaches to train staff and test theories about how to guard against and respond to attacks. – Wall Street Journal

Congress began approving ‘cyber incident response teams’ at the Department of Homeland Security to guarantee they can work with private sector companies to recover from malicious events that may impact the country’s digital infrastructure. – Fifth Domain

Maj. Gen. Timothy Haugh assumed command of 25th Air Force during a change of command ceremony Aug. 29, the Air Force said in a release. – C4ISRNET


“Historically, we haven’t needed to have allies in space,” Gen. Jay Raymond said Aug. 29 at the Pentagon. But now, as space becomes a full-on war-fighting domain, working with allies is “a big growth area for us. And I think it’s going to provide our country a big advantage. We’re stronger together.” – Defense News

The Navy is expanding its NavalX innovation support office, setting up five regional hubs across the country that will bring military, industry and academia together to help solve nagging problems for the service. – USNI News

Textron has partnered with global gun-maker Heckler & Koch to mass-produce new rifles for the Army and with ammunition giant Olin Winchester to churn out the high-powered yet lightweight 6.8 millimeter rounds. – Breaking Defense

Long War

Hungarian prosecutors say they have charged a Syrian man suspected of belonging to the Islamic State group with committing acts of terror, murder and crimes against humanity in his homeland in May 2015. – Associated Press

Dutch prosecutors have demanded a 25-year sentence for an Afghan asylum-seeker accused of stabbing two American tourists in the back at Amsterdam’s main railway station last year, in what they called a terror attack aimed at forcing authorities to take action against anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders. Prosecutors sought the defendant’s conviction for attempted murder with a terrorist motive at the trial Tuesday of the 20-year-old, identified as Jawed S. – Associated Press

The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday urged ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee to oppose a bill that targets white supremacist groups by criminalizing domestic terrorism. – Associated Press