Fdd's overnight brief

September 5, 2018

In The News


President Donald Trump will chair a United Nations Security Council debate about Iran during the world body’s annual gathering of international leaders later this month, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said. – Wall Street Journal

The presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey meet Friday in Tehran for a summit expected to shape the future of Idlib province, home to Syria’s last major rebel bastion. The summit comes as Syrian forces look poised to launch a major assault that is raising fears of a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale not yet seen in the seven-year-old conflict. – Agence FrancePresse

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says his country will continue exporting crude oil despite U.S. efforts to stop it through sanctions. Speaking to a group of oil officials on Tuesday, Rouhani said the U.S. is targeting oil exports as part of efforts to reimpose sanctions on Iran. – Associated Press

German media outlets are reporting that Iran has rescinded its request to transfer 300 million euros ($347 million) in cash from a Hamburg-based bank in a case that been closely followed by the U.S. – Associated Press

United Nations Security Council diplomats should review President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal at a coming high-level meeting in New York, according to a senior Russian diplomat. – Washington Examiner

Iran may resort to various ways of reducing the impact of the U.S. sanctions on its oil exports, and those tactics include secret oil shipments without trackers on tankers, bartered trades, discounts, and extended credit periods on oil sales, analysts tell Bloomberg. – Business Insider

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: Clashes with Iran in the Gulf, struggles for influence in Iraq and Syria, and the war in Yemen all act as warnings that new rounds of conflict are possible. The Iranian reactions to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran, and the U.S. response also indicate new rounds of conflict are possible. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon write: Iran will never withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), aka the Iran nuclear deal, because this agreement (once the limits it imposes expire) grants Iran the recognized legal status of a nuclear state, with the official recognition and seal of the UN Security Council. – MiddleEast Media Research Institute


The top U.S. military commander said Tuesday that a precise counterterrorism campaign—not a full-scale military offensive—was the appropriate way to tackle extremist elements in northwest Syria, as an assault by the Syrian regime and its backers appeared imminent. – Wall Street Journal

Russian warplanes struck rebels in Syria’s last major opposition stronghold on Tuesday, forcing the Trump administration to confront a looming regime offensive that is expected to deliver a fatal blow in the seven-year conflict and hand Moscow a diplomatic victory. – Wall Street Journal

Israeli jets flying high over Lebanon struck at targets inside Syria on Tuesday, Syrian state media reported, in a rare daytime raid that killed at least one person. Syria’s SANA state news agency said the country’s air defenses shot down five missiles, adding that one person was killed and 12 others were wounded. – Associated Press

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said President Trump has not considered ordering the assignation of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, as reported in an explosive new book. – Washington Examiner

The White House on Tuesday said it is “closely monitoring” an imminent major Syrian regime attack on rebel holdouts in Syria’s Idlib province—a military action that would defy admonitions from President Donald Trump and other senior U.S. officials. – Politico

An attack on Syria’s Idlib, a rebel-held enclave, would be a massacre and the upcoming summit in Tehran, which will be attended by Iran, Russia and Turkey, would yield positive results, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying by Hurriyet Daily.. – Reuters


The United States has “thrown more than $10 billion” in aid to the Palestinians, but that spending has brought the region no closer to peace or stability, the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman charged Tuesday, in an address explaining why US President Donald Trump thought it was important to halt US funding to UNRWA, the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency. – Times of Israel

The Israeli army has carried out more than 200 air-strikes against Iranian targets in Syria and fired over 800 missiles and mortar shells over the past year and a half, the IDF has revealed. The strikes were meant to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and led to the Islamic Republic evacuating several bases in Syria, according to the IDF. The campaign also interrupted Iran’s arms smuggling. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on Tuesday reiterated his denial that a ceasefire agreement had been reached with Israel, saying that hostilities will not end until the blockade of the coastal enclave has been lifted. – Times of Israel

Israel announced the temporary closure of its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after the border terminal was damaged during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians. – Times of Israel

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told lawmakers this week that the military is prepared to fight a war under any scenario, in an apparent rejection of recent criticism from the army’s ombudsman. – Times of Israel

Middle East & North Africa

An apparent attempt to bomb the American Embassy in Cairo failed on Tuesday when an explosive detonated prematurely in the backpack of a would-be attacker, the Egyptian government said in a statement. No one was injured. – New York Times

As rockets rained on parts of Tripoli, hitting a hotel popular with foreigners and forcing the airport to close, and 400 prisoners escaped from a jail, a parallel battle unfolded online. On their Facebook pages, rival groups issued boasts, taunts and chilling threats — one vowing to “purify” Libya of its opponents. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for a prominent Muslim cleric who has criticized the way the monarchy is governed, the Saudi news media and the cleric’s son said Tuesday. – New York Times

At least 47 people have been killed and 1,800 families internally displaced by the violence, officials say. Last week, a ceasefire deal announced by officials from western cities only held for a few hours. – BBC News

At least five protesters have been killed and 16 injured on a second day of clashes with security forces in Iraq’s city of Basra, officials say. Crowds in the city are angry about the lack of basic services, including drinking water, and jobs. – BBC News

Korean Peninsula

South Korea sent a team of envoys to North Korea on Wednesday to prepare the way for a planned summit meeting between the two nations’ leaders and maintain the momentum in the inter-Korean dialogue. President Moon Jae-in is due to visit his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang this month. – Washington Post

President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed Tuesday to meet later this month in New York during the United Nations General Assembly as they seek to break an impasse over their shared goal of denuclearizing North Korea. – Wall StreetJournal

Businesses connected to the Zhou family helped enrich North Korea as Pyongyang plowed much of its national income into weapons development, according to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal. […]Sanctions have curtailed Chinese trade with North Korea in the past year, and a member of the family told the Journal that the Zhous don’t do business in North Korea. But the relationship between the two families endures.  – Wall Street Journal

Michael O’Hanlon writes: There is an alternative. Through the U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command, headed by Gen. Vincent Brooks in Seoul, the allies could develop a new plan for smaller but more numerous exercises, unrelated to the nuclear negotiations. They should be designed to practice the same combat capabilities as the earlier large exercises – Wall Street Journal

Robert R. King writes: Humanitarian engagement, which was a major element in the U.S. and South Korean relations with North Korea two decades ago, has significantly declined in importance. As we consider next steps in the relationship with the North, humanitarian engagement should definitely be one issue on the table. – Center forStrategic and International Studies

Ramon Pacheco Pardo writes: And the Moon administration increasingly sees progress in the inter-Korean relationship unrelated to U.S.-North Korea relations. The growing gap between Washington and Seoul in their respective North Korea policies is leading to fears that the U.S.-South Korean alliance will be the most important casualty of the Trump administration’s Korean Peninsula policy. – War on the Rocks


Li Zhanshu, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and the head of China’s rubber-stamp Parliament, will lead a delegation to Pyongyang, the capital, on Saturday as Mr. Xi’s special envoy, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said. North Korea plans to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its government on Sunday with large celebrations, including a military parade. – New York Times

Days before President Trump is expected to impose tariffs on an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods, some U.S. businesses here are reluctantly drafting plans for a new era of hindered trade between the world’s two largest economies. – Washington Post

As President Xi Jinping gathered together leaders from almost all African countries for a summit in Beijing in recent days, some former Chinese officials and state media were busy mounting an unusually strong defense of China’s role in the continent. – Reuters

Benjamin H. Friedman writes: The bottom line is that while China’s military gains are impressive, their value fades in the circumstances we’re told to worry about. Assuming we do not attack Chinese territory unprovoked, the United States and its Asian allies would enjoy tremendous advantages in a war against it. – Defense One

South Asia

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as the top envoy for Afghan peace on Tuesday, tapping a foreign-policy veteran who has been involved in the conflict for decades. – Wall Street Journal

For the first time, the Taliban have confirmed the death of Jalaluddin Haqqani, an American ally from the Cold War who later turned his weapons against the United States as the founder of the feared Haqqani militant network, behind some of the deadliest attacks of the 17-year Afghan war. – New York Times

Concerned about Pakistan’s international isolation and faltering economy, the country’s powerful military has quietly reached out to its archrival India about resuming peace talks, but the response was tepid, according to Western diplomats and a senior Pakistani official. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said he was hoping to “reset the relationship” with Pakistan ahead of a trip to Islamabad to meet with new Prime Minister Imran Khan. – Agence FrancePresse

Simon Henderson writes: It will be a miracle if Wednesday’s meeting in Islamabad between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan goes smoothly. Pre-meeting diplomacy has been less than diplomatic. – The Hill


The authorities have been thirsting for inside information about their domestic opposition since large antigovernment demonstrations exploded from nowhere in the winter of 2011, severely unnerving the Kremlin. A new surge of protests that started in May 2017, while smaller than the previous round, also caught the authorities by surprise — and increased the value of inside information. – New York Times

Nearly a year after Russian government hackers meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, researchers at cybersecurity firm Trend Micro zeroed in on a new sign of trouble: a group of suspect websites. – Associated Press

Kudryavtsev did not work on weapons and has had no access to secrets for more than 20 years, beginning when his daughter married a foreigner and settled abroad. Still, following his arrest, he was accused of high treason for disclosing top-secret data on the Russian newest hypersonic weapons to a source in the West. The term “hypersonic” refers to a rocket speed in excess of five times the speed of sound. – Washington Examiner

A leak on board the International Space Station could not have been caused by any member of the international crew, according to a Russian space industry expert. – Washington Examiner


The U.S. is looking at further expanding its military presence in Greece, including increasing access for U.S. aircraft and ships, and increasing joint exercises there, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said Tuesday. – Military Times

US and European officials have warned repeatedly in recent years that more sophisticated and more active Russian submarines pose a growing threat, and NATO countries are taking steps to counter that perceived challenge. – Business Insider

The Italian defence minister, Elisabetta Trenta, has said the blame for the current conflict in Libya lies partly with France. She said on social media that when France pushed for military intervention in 2011 against Libya’s then-leader Muammar Gaddafi they put their own interests ahead of those of the Libyan people. – BBC News


Re-elected Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita vowed Tuesday to restore peace to the troubled north of the Saharan country hours after a UN peacekeeper was injured there in a jihadist rocket attack. – Agence FrancePresse

Amnesty International says hundreds of people have been detained and tortured by the South Sudanese authorities during the civil war which began in 2013. The rights group says many of them are political detainees accused of being linked to the opposition and there have been cases of detainees being sexually assaulted. – BBC News

Abdi Latif Dahir writes: Russia is joining the list of nations intent on establishing their foothold in the Red Sea. In a meeting with Eritrean leaders on Friday (Aug. 31), foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced plans to establish a “logistics center” at a port in the East African nation. – Defense One

Cyber Security

A majority of the 25 most-populous U.S. cities now have cyber insurance or are looking into buying it, according to a Wall Street Journal survey. A ransomware attack on Atlanta earlier this year—one of the biggest reported breaches of a city’s network—served as a warning to officials everywhere of the constant barrage from hackers. – Wall StreetJournal

The Trump administration and its closest intelligence partners have quietly warned technology firms that they will demand “lawful access” to all encrypted emails, text messages and voice communications, threatening to compel compliance if the private companies refuse to voluntarily provide the information to the governments. – New YorkTimes

A top executive at Google has released his prepared remarks for a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the use of foreign governments spreading misinformation on social media — but he won’t be allowed to officially testify Wednesday. – WashingtonExaminer

David Ignatius writes: Russia’s tone on cyber matters, at once defiant and defensive, reflects Moscow’s claim that America shot first in the Internet wars and Russia is struggling to respond. For example, before quoting Smirnov, Nezavisimaya Gazeta cited a Wall Street Journal report that the Trump administration had decided to “loosen rules of engagement for U.S. cyberattacks.” – Washington Post


An F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter flying from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) was damaged during an aerial refueling exercise, in the first major flight mishap for the carrier version of the JSF. – USNI News 

The Pentagon’s long-awaited Missile Defense Review has been delayed more than just a few times, but the under secretary of defense for policy said he’s hopeful it’s coming out very soon. – Defense News

The Navy is making an aggressive push to explore and refine the new combat tactics, offensive weaponry and networking technologies needed for modern warfare on the open seas – as part of a service-wide strategic initiative to prepare the fleet for major ocean combat against increasingly high-tech enemies. – Business Insider