Fdd's overnight brief

September 5, 2019

In The News


Iran will abandon restrictions on nuclear research and development, including on the advancement of centrifuges used to enrich uranium, as the next step toward reducing its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday. – Washington Post

The Trump administration cast new doubt Wednesday on efforts by France to ease tensions between the U.S. and Iran as Washington sanctioned what it called an Iranian “oil-for-terror” exporting network. – Wall Street Journal

Israel’s prime minister says now is the time to ratchet up pressure on Iran and not the time for talks, as the Islamic Republic appears poised to move further away from its commitments under the nuclear deal with world powers. – Associated Press

Iran has released seven of the 23 crew members of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero that was seized earlier this summer, Sweden’s foreign minister said on Wednesday. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday left the door open to a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly in New York. – Reuters

Iran said it would violate the 2015 nuclear deal for the third time in four months and set a new November deadline for additional potential violations if a French compromise does not materialize. – Reuters

US special envoy for Iran Brian Hook offered the captain of the Iranian Adrian Darya 1 tanker several million dollars if he would steer the vessel towards a country that would seize it on America’s behalf, according to a Financial Times report on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Amid efforts to broker a diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse between the United States and Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday morning called for amping up the pressure on the regime in Tehran. – Times of Israel

The Trump administration is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information that can help disrupt the financial apparatus of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). – The Hill

Jason Rezaian writes: Think tanks and independent researchers serve as convenient boogeymen — especially since Iranian ideologues find it impossible to comprehend how think tanks actually effect police (or not). […]Yet this is one area where the reality doesn’t matter. It’s what’s in the heads of the people who run Iran that counts. Unfortunately, the consequences will be anything but imaginary for those who have the misfortune to run afoul of the regime’s boundless and voracious paranoia. – Washington Post

Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti write: Unlike with Bush and Obama, there is greater confidence that Trump wouldn’t stand in the way. Netanyahu has recently been flexing Israeli muscle around the Middle East — launching hundreds of raids into Syria against Iranian and Hezbollah arms stores and troop concentrations, and undertaking an even bolder operation in July against a base in eastern Iraq that, Israeli intelligence believed, was being used to store long-range guided missiles en route to Iranian forces in Syria. – New York Times


Hilal, a missile operator, is one of several Hezbollah fighters in eastern Bekaa Valley who told Foreign Policy during a recent reporting trip that they are preparing for the possibility of the first major outbreak of war with Israel in 13 years. – Foreign Policy

Israel had been bracing for potential retaliation from Iran-backed Hezbollah over two recent occurrences — an air strike in Syria in which two Hezbollah fighters plotting a drone attack on the Jewish state were killed and the apparent targeting of a site in Beirut linked to Hezbollah’s precision-guided missiles program. – Algemeiner

Hillel Frisch writes: There are several reasons why Hezbollah is restrained, but probably, the most important has to do with Hezbollah’s demographic predicament. […]Essentially, the Alawite regime has exported its problem to Lebanon, and more specifically to the Shi’ite areas on Lebanon’s eastern border. Hezbollah, then, has not only paid in blood to prop up the Syrian regime, it faces a more uncertain future in Lebanon itself as a result of that support. Under such circumstances, Hezbollah’s relatively minor attack was a reasonable response. – Jerusalem Post


Iran has established a new military base in Syria and has plans to house thousands of troops at the location, according to multiple Western intelligence sources. The classified Iranian project, called the Imam Ali compound, was approved by top leadership in Tehran and is being completed by the Iranian al-Quds Forces. – Fox News

U.S. troops and an allied Syrian militia conducted a joint patrol Wednesday in a town on the border with Turkey, a Kurdish news agency and a Syria war monitor reported. The move appeared to be part of an agreement to set up a safe zone along Syria’s northeast border. – Associated Press

As many as 124 churches have been damaged or targeted by military forces on all sides of Syria’s civil war, which has stretched on for more than eight years, according to a new report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). The report’s timeline of incidents involving Syrian government forces, opposition forces and extremist militants, including the Islamic State (ISIS), extended from March 2011 to September 2019. – Fox News


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday it was unacceptable for nuclear-armed states to forbid Ankara from obtaining its own nuclear weapons, but did not say whether Turkey had plans to obtain them. – Reuters

Turkish military personnel has started training in Russia to operate S-400 missile defense systems, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense informed on Wednesday. – TASS

Russia and Turkey said they’re discussing sales of Su-35 fighter jets and possible supplies of the latest Russian stealth warplane, as Moscow seeks to exploit divisions between Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the U.S. – Bloomberg


A study has found that new Palestinian educational materials to be used during the 2019-2020 school year have, despite considerable international criticism, become even more ridden with anti-Israel and sometimes antisemitic propaganda. – Algemeiner

Israeli Police forces arrested 170 Druze men at the Jordanian border on Thursday morning, following a months-long joint investigation with the Shin Bet, according to Walla! News. According to the investigation, the 170 religious men were on their way to Syria to illegally meet with government officials. – Jerusalem Post

Israel and Switzerland will work together to consider alternatives to the UN Relief and Works Agency, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Wednesday after meeting with Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis in Bern. – Jerusalem Post

Canada denied a report in the Lebanon-based newspaper Al Akhbar on Wednesday according to which the country has reached an understanding with the United States that it will receive 100,000 Palestinians (40,000 from Lebanon and another 60,000 from Syria). – Jerusalem Post

Gadi Eisenkot and Gabi Siboni write: The state of Israel has rarely known peace; at best, it has enjoyed short periods of quiet between intermittent conflicts. These periods are cherished by Israelis and serve as incubators for the country’s extraordinary growth. Yet Israel’s enemies often take advantage of these periods as well, using them to refill their arsenals and evolve their tactics and capabilities. As ever, Israel must continue operating under the ancient adage “Si vis pacem, para bellum”—“If you want peace, prepare for war.” – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The Islamic State has been reluctant to use humans to carry bombs because of the group’s reduced numbers, so it has tried out a new tactic: Bovine suicide bombers. Residents of Al Islah, Iraq, on Saturday said they had witnessed “a strange” sight: two cows harnessed to explosive vests roving the northern side of the village, according to Col. Ghalib Al-Atyia, the spokesman for the police commander in Diyala Province. – New York Times

Yemeni government officials have begun indirect talks with United Arab Emirates-backed southern separatists in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah to end fighting in Aden and other southern provinces, a Yemeni official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The U.N. envoy to war-torn Libya said Wednesday he has launched “an intensive campaign” for an international conference to deliver a message that the offensive launched five months ago by a rebel commander must end. – Associated Press

Zvi Bar’el writes: The diplomatic disagreements between France and Italy over a solution to the Libyan situation and between Turkey and Qatar on one hand and Egypt and the UAE on the other, and the UN’s limited ability to forge a political consensus have so far halted prospects that a plan for a solution would be accepted by all of the parties involved — or at least by the country’s military forces. As long as Haftar believes in his ability to impose his will militarily and conquer Tripoli, and as long as the recognized government of Libya expects that it can foil Haftar by force, Libya will continue to be a country that is the sum of its parts. – Haaretz

Korean Peninsula

North Korea has told the United Nations to cut the number of international staff it deploys in the country because the world body’s programs have failed “due to the politicization of U.N. assistance by hostile forces,” according to a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday. – Reuters

Sales of Japanese beer and cars have plummeted in South Korea amid a consumer boycott sparked by a deepening dispute over the countries’ wartime legacy that has hit trade and security cooperation. – The Guardian

Michael O’Hanlon and Jung Pak write: However, asking South Korea to host any American ground-based intermediate-range surface to surface missiles would be a mistake. It is precisely the kind of stress that the alliance does not need right now, as President Trump and President Moon of South Korea seek to cooperate on the key priority of reining in the North Korean nuclear program and as a very strained relationship between Japan and South Korea adds further complications to American strategic missions in Northeast Asia. – The Hill


China said Thursday its trade representatives will fly to Washington in early October to resume negotiations with the United States, raising the possibility that both sides might arrest a recent deterioration in the bilateral relationship that has cast a shadow over the world economy. – Washington Post

Canada has appointed the former managing partner at McKinsey & Co. as its new ambassador to China in the hopes his ties to Asia could help mend frosty relations between Beijing and Ottawa over the arrest of a Huawei Technologies Co. executive. – Wall Street Journal

The Solomon Islands intends to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan and align itself with Beijing, the leader of a high-level government team representing the South Pacific archipelago has said. – Reuters

Schneider, only the second-ever federal chief information security officer, said he could’ve chosen nation-states in general as his concern, but that China has “displayed their intent, has clear means to get into and to attack our critical infrastructure systems, our government systems.” […]Chinese cyber actors have demonstrated ability for not only espionage, but also theft, he said. Many cyber experts point to the Chinese fighter jet that looks eerily similar to the F-35 as an example of Chinese actors’ ability to steal sensitive government information. – Fifth Domain

Thomas Gift writes: To the extent that nations can craft a reputation for resolve, the trade war presents Xi with a rare and unusually high-profile opportunity to send a loud and clear signal that China won’t be tossed around on the world stage. For Xi, refusing to budge in the trade war may preempt future challenges from adversaries – and prove that China is a force to be reckoned with. – Washington Post


A Taliban suicide car bomb rocked Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 10 civilians in a diplomatic area that also includes the U.S. Embassy — the second such attack this week that underscored Afghan government warnings that a preliminary U.S.-Taliban deal on ending America’s longest war was moving dangerously quickly. – Associated Press

The U.S. is closing in on a deal with the Taliban that is designed to wind down America’s 18-year war in Afghanistan, but the best indication of how risky the pact may be is this: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is declining to sign it, according to senior U.S., Afghan and European officials. […]But the deal doesn’t ensure several crucial things, those familiar with the discussions tell TIME. – TIME

The Afghan government has concerns about the draft peace agreement reached between U.S. and Taliban negotiators and wants further clarification, President Ashraf Ghani’s main spokesman said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: The open secret—even among those towing Trump’s line—is that the Taliban deal will bring an American exit but not peace. Indeed, the net result could be far greater expense down the road. The Taliban continues to embrace and incorporate Al Qaeda’s philosophy and personnel. […]There is a strong possibility that today’s savings could cost the American people exponentially more should a Pakistani regime and their Taliban proxies high on victory decide to expand their fight, Khalilzad’s piece of paper be damned. – The National Interest


China’s increasingly caustic accusations against the United States — in state media and official statements — reflect a deepening conviction that support for democratic rights in Hong Kong is part of a broader effort to undermine the Communist Party. – New York Times

Chief Executive Carrie Lam offered her first major concession to protesters’ demands after months of unrest in Hong Kong, saying she would withdraw the extradition bill that sparked the turmoil. – Wall Street Journal

The lack of a mechanism in Hong Kong to extradite suspects to mainland China is an obstacle to tackling money laundering and terrorism financing, a watchdog said on Wednesday as Hong Kong withdrew an extradition bill that sparked mass protests. – Reuters

After less than two years forward-deployed, big deck amphib USS Wasp (LHD-1) has left Japan. […]The amphibious assault ship will be replaced later this year by USS America (LHA-6), 7th Fleet announced on Wednesday. – USNI News

Editorial: China’s denunciation shows Mr. Lai is on Beijing’s target list and why Hong Kongers don’t trust Ms. Lam’s assurances. To restore public confidence in the rule of law, Ms. Lam should urge that charges be dropped against nonviolent protesters. – Wall Street Journal

Yi-Zheng Lian writes: But this also means, in the words of Mrs. Lam, that the authorities in Beijing are “willing to play it long,” and “so you have no short-term solution.” Put another way: China’s strategy is essentially to play a game of attrition, conceding as little as possible while expecting the Hong Kong government and the local police to hold out longer than the protesters, despite the risk of imposing significant costs on the city in the meantime. – New York Times

Wang Chaohua writes: Beijing has done well to grant Hong Kong’s protesters some of what they want in withdrawing the extradition bill. Yet China must also investigate police abuse, give amnesty to arrested protesters, and reopen political reform toward comprehensive universal suffrage in the territory. Of course, it may not, reckoning it can wear down Hong Kong’s protesters. Given the city’s history and its rapidly politicized population, that would be a miscalculation. – The Atlantic


Alarmed by Russia’s growing partnership with China, Beijing’s Asian neighbors are increasingly looking for ways to court Moscow away. – Wall Street Journal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tribute to Poland for not surrendering to tyranny during World War II drew a rebuke from Russia, which blamed the United Kingdom for the conflict. – Washington Examiner

The $21 billion Arctic liquefied natural gas (LNG)-2 project led by Russian private gas producer Novatek won a green light on Thursday, the latest in a raft of new projects aimed at meeting a likely doubling of LNG demand over the next 15 years. – Reuters

Joseph Dresen writes: A military accident in the Russian far north last month left seven dead and several others injured by radiation. The August military accident was no Chernobyl. But it will cause yet another thread to unravel from Putin’s legitimacy, and that of his carefully built system. How many threads are left? – The Hill


Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has staked his job on his ability to deliver Brexit, suffered two major losses in Parliament on Wednesday, leaving his governing authority in doubt and the terms of Britain’s pending divorce from the European Union unclear. – Washington Post

President Trump stuck by embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday, offering encouragement for the fight to take Britain out of the European Union as the political turmoil in Great Britain complicated a week of European diplomacy for Vice President Pence. – Washington Post

Latin America

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro caused friction with regional ally Chile on Wednesday when he accused its former leader Michelle Bachelet of meddling in Brazil’s affairs by criticizing rising police violence and erosions of democracy. – Reuters

Venezuela’s planned border military exercises are a direct threat to regional stability, Colombia’s foreign minister said on Wednesday, as the neighboring countries renewed their frequent verbal sparring over security. – Reuters

Russia has warned of new U.S. moves against the government of Venezuela, where the military has been placed on high alert in response to recent actions by the country’s neighboring Washington-backed rival. – Newsweek

Christine Balling writes: On Aug. 29, Iván Márquez, one of the former commanders of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), announced a renewed call to arms via video, dealing the latest public relations blow to the long-running (and deeply troubled) Colombian peace process. […]For Washington, Marquez’s warning should be significant. It comes amid the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, where the corrupt regime of strongman Nicholas Maduro remains firmly ensconced despite America’s best efforts. The two matters are linked, because Maduro (and before him, Hugo Chavez) has tacitly supported the FARC’s destabilizing activities in regional rival Colombia. – The Hill


Federal law enforcement officials huddled with Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter on Wednesday to discuss election security ahead of the 2020 presidential race, according to several U.S. and industry sources, amid heightened concerns that social-media sites are still vulnerable to the spread of disinformation online. – Washington Post

U.S. officials are pointing to the recent sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Bulgaria as an early success in their efforts to export American weapons to countries caught up in a great power competition between the United States, Russia and China. – Defense News

Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election rattled America’s next-door neighbor so badly that Canada spent the last three years developing the most detailed plan anywhere in the Western world to combat foreign meddling in its upcoming election. – Politico

Mackenzie Eaglen writes: The Pentagon must also improve its R&D planning process to translate basic research into action sooner, before the systems have become irrelevant or overmatched. Technology researchers need to think especially about how to deploy more quickly weapons and security systems that require tech specifications like advanced algorithms, precision guidance and reliable connectivity. – Wall Street Journal

James Andrew Lewis writes: There are deep interconnections between the U.S. and Chinese economies, and China has built its technology base on what it has acquired from the West. China’s government and some Chinese companies will use any means, legal or illegal, to acquire technology. The United States’ relationship with China cannot continue unchanged, but given the interconnections, change must be managed carefully. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Lawrence Sellin writes: The Chinese military considers “space dominance” a prerequisite for “information dominance.” […]It will be the responsibility of Congress to bridge the technological investment gap, while the United States Cyber Command, U.S. Space Command and an engaged commercial sector must integrate space-cyber defense activities to meet the challenges posed by America’s 21st century technological adversaries. – Military Times

Matt Sheehan writes: The U.S. is right to reexamine how its companies and labs interact with their Chinese counterparts. It should shield crucial AI assets, such as advanced semiconductor designs, from being acquired by rivals. It should be vigilant in defending against industrial espionage and regularly review the implications of openly publishing certain types of research, a practice on which some top AI labs have voluntarily taken the lead. But, severing all the networks that provide for interaction between U.S. and Chinese researchers could prove deeply counterproductive. – Bloomberg


The Pentagon is defunding Hurricane Maria recovery projects at military installations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to pay for President Trump’s border barrier and is also taking money from construction projects across Europe designed to help allies deter Russia. – Washington Post

The head of the Navy’s surface force is pushing the fleet to be more ready for high-end combat, both in the skills of the crew and the material condition of the ships. – USNI News

The Air Force’s stealthy fighters will not meet an 80 percent mission capable rate requirement set by former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, top officials revealed Wednesday. – Defense News

The A-10 Warthog will not be one of the planes the U.S. Air Force requests to retire in its upcoming fiscal 2021 budget request, a senior service official confirmed. – Defense News

Defending the Pacific region requires seamless integration between the U.S. military services, but that requires a joint force concept aimed at deterring near-peer competitors across all domains, according to military leaders in charge of strategy and concept development, who spoke Sept. 4 at the Defense News Conference. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force’s top civilian hinted the service will make major cuts to certain legacy programs — and potentially retire entire aircraft inventories — to further invest in advanced technology for combating future threats. – Defense News

The White House is concerned that the Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill could place undue limitations on the Pentagon as it works to build a space-based sensor layer capable of detecting and tracking hypersonic weapons. – C4ISRNET

The Pentagon will not seek repayment from industry for money tied to the now-canceled Redesigned Kill Vehicle program, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin confirmed Tuesday. – Defense News

Army leaders say they are making progress in rebuilding the service’s electronic warfare capabilities through its ranks and its equipment. – C4ISRNET

The US Air Force (USAF) is laying the groundwork for a fifth-generation (5G) radio frequency (RF) communications network at its bases, according to the service’s top civilian. – Janes 360

Seamus P. Daniels writes: With the 2020 election fast approaching and a new administration potentially on the horizon, defense-wide reform poses fewer roadblocks in Congress and DoD for Esper and Norquist to make an impact in this short timeframe. Immediate savings to reinvest in the FY 2021 budget cycle will nevertheless be difficult to come by given the activities supported by defense-wide funding, but a balanced, realistic approach in which tough decisions are made could yet bear fruit. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Long War

A federal judge on Wednesday declared that a terrorism watch list created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is unconstitutional in its current form, reopening the legal debate about a key national security tool used by thousands of U.S. and international government agencies. – Wall Street Journal

A court in Kosovo said it had jailed six people, including a woman, for terms ranging from one to 10 years, for planning attacks on NATO troops and the public in Kosovo, Belgium and France. […]A prosecutor told Reuters the suspects, arrested last year, and one of whom also had a Belgian passport, were supporters of the Islamic State militant group, and some were in contact with Kosovo-born militants involved in fighting in Syria and Iraq. – Reuters

A 43-year-old man from Brooklyn, N.Y., who allegedly became an ISIS sniper and then a high-ranking emir in the terror organization has been indicted for aiding the group in Syria, Department of Justice officials announced Wednesday. – Fox News