Fdd's overnight brief

September 6, 2019

In The News


U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday he currently had no plan on his desk to seize the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, which is at the centre of a dispute between Tehran and Western powers. – Reuters

A U.S. official offered several million dollars to the captain of an Iranian oil tanker reportedly heading to Syria. The State Department confirmed to The Hill that Brian Hook, head of the Iran Action Group, emailed the captain of the Adrian Darya 1 about sailing the tanker out of its course so the U.S. could seize the ship. – The Hill

Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak says Moscow is weighing efforts to boost support for embattled Iran’s oil industry, which is currently the target of crippling U.S. sanctions aimed at forcing Tehran to negotiate new curbs on its nuclear and missile programs. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

European powers are calling on Iran to refrain from any action that contravenes its commitments to a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, after Tehran warned it will lift all limits on its development of centrifuges to speed up uranium enrichment. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Roughly a year before President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the CIA predicted that “radical elements” of the Iranian government would be emboldened by the Trump administration taking a hardline stance against Tehran, according to a New York Times Magazine report. – Business Insider

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would not object to US President Donald Trump meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New York later this month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. – Jerusalem Post

Bret Stephens writes: Reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency don’t usually make for riveting reading, so you may have missed last Friday’s latest, soporifically headlined “Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015).” As for Iran, hiding nuclear materials is a violation of its basic reporting obligations to the I.A.E.A. It’s also further evidence that Tehran was in violation of the nuclear deal from the moment it was signed. – New York Times


The United States has blocked the U.N. Security Council from issuing a statement following the recent exchange of cross-border fire between the militant group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and Israeli forces in Israel, diplomats said Thursday. – Associated Press

United Nations peacekeepers on Wednesday conducted an independent investigation of Sunday’s Hezbollah missile attack, visiting the areas hit in the strikes, the Israel Defense Forces said. – Times of Israel

Following the military escalation between Israel and Hizbullah in the last two weeks […]writers in the Saudi press published articles attacking Hizbullah and Nasrallah. The writers accused Hizbullah of dragging Lebanon into confrontations with Israel to serve the Iranian agenda and thereby harming Lebanon and its economy and perpetrating treason against it. […]The following are excerpts from their articles. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Helena Cobban writes: Much about the regional balance has changed since 2006. […]But the inescapable facts, that Hizbullah can cause wide damage within Israel’s heartland and withstand the strongest counter-attacks that Israel can launch against it, still remain. – Business Insider


Russia’s military is incorporating mercenaries hired by a wealthy ally of President Vladimir Putin into its planned offensive to help Syria’s army retake the last major stronghold held by jihadist rebels, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. – Bloomberg

Turkey’s president on Thursday threatened to “open the gates” and allow a flood of Syrian refugees to leave Turkey for Western countries unless a so-called “safe zone” is established inside Syria soon in negotiations with the Americans. – Associated Press

Jennifer Cafarella and Emily Estelle write: Al Qaeda’s General Command issued a call for mobilization in Syria on August 15 to halt the regime’s advance into Idlib province. It directed fighters to return to the model of Jaysh al Fatah, the joint operations room that seized Idlib city in March 2015 and threatened the regime’s control in Hama province, farther south, and in the Syrian coast in Latakia province. – Institute for the Study of War


Turkey’s former economy czar Ali Babacan is planning to establish his own political party by the end of this year to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 16-year rule, a person close to Babacan said. – Bloomberg

Turkey plans to resettle 1 million refugees in northern Syria and may reopen the route for migrants into Europe if it does not receive adequate international support for the plan, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday. – Reuters

Israeli satellite imagery provider ImageSat International released imagery on 3 September showing S-400E components emplaced at Mϋrted airfield near the Turkish capital of Ankara. – Janes 360

According to Avatkov, Erdogan’s visit best embodied the oriental metaphor for Russian-Turkish relations. […]Vladimir Putin fed him with Russian ice cream in order to call him down and talked about the possibilities for expanding cooperation and showed, in every possible way, that Moscow, unlike Washington, is ready to do a lot, but … it desires reciprocity,” Avatkov wrote. Avatkov concluded that Russia is prepared to go further in deepening relations with Turkey, despite its “accumulated discontent” with Ankara. “The time for big changes is coming, for now – there are too many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, however, this is the road that has to be walked through and risks cannot be avoided,” Avatkov asserted. Below is Avatkov’s article. – Middle East Media Research Institute


President Trump’s lead negotiator on his highly anticipated Arab-Israeli peace plan will be leaving the White House soon, throwing further into question the administration’s efforts to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Wall Street Journal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed during a meeting in London on the need to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, Downing Street said on Thursday. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world powers on Thursday not to open a dialogue with Iran, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he may meet his Iranian counterpart to resolve a crisis over Tehran’s nuclear programme and sanctions against it. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Days after Sudanese soldiers massacred pro-democracy demonstrators in Khartoum in June, an obscure digital marketing company in Cairo began deploying keyboard warriors to a second front: a covert operation to praise Sudan’s military on social media. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia is pushing for a settlement between the internationally recognized Yemeni government and southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates, Yemeni officials said Thursday. – Associated Press

Top US official David Schenker (2nd-R) says that Washington is in talks with the Iran-aligned #Huthi rebels in a bid to end Yemen’s war. – Agence FrancePresse

Waving Palestinian and Canadian flags, hundreds of Palestinian refugees gathered outside the Canadian Embassy in Beirut on Thursday requesting asylum in the North American country. – Associated Press

Rabah Arezki  writes: The EU could serve as a source of inspiration for MENA countries. A joint call for action by MENA leaders with the support of the development community could go a long way toward creating intraregional trade, and attracting the foreign direct investment required to create the millions of jobs and the peace and stability the MENA region needs. […]The region and the international community must ensure that barriers to market entry are eliminated and that independent regulatory bodies at the national and regional levels help promote domestic demand as the main engine for sustainable and inclusive growth. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho will not attend the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations later this month “due to his schedule,” the country’s mission to the U.N. told Reuters on Wednesday. – Reuters

North Korea slammed Senator Ted Cruz in a scathing article, ranting about the Texas Republican’s hard-line stance against engaging in diplomatic relations with longtime adversaries of the United States. – Newsweek

Robert R. King writes: The new U.S. ambassador to the UN has a full plate, but now is the time to put North Korea’s human rights atrocities on the agenda of the Security Council. […]Ambassador Craft has the perfect opportunity, now that she is confirmed to serve, to demonstrate her diplomatic skill by getting this issue on the Security Council agenda this December. The human rights abuses are horrific, and this is the opportunity to reaffirm United States leadership. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Hackers working for the Chinese government have broken into telecoms networks to track Uighur travelers in Central and Southeast Asia, two intelligence officials and two security consultants who investigated the attacks told Reuters. – Reuters

China urged Canada to “reflect on its mistakes” and immediately release an arrested Huawei executive in comments Thursday on the appointment of a new Canadian ambassador to the country. – Associated Press

The Solomon Islands announced Wednesday that it will sever its diplomatic ties with Taiwan and align itself with mainland China, Reuters reported. – The Hill

With governments from Japan to Canada and Australia taking a harder line on China as President Donald Trump steps up his trade war, Germany too is toughening its policy toward China on matters such as investment or intellectual property. But it’s an especially high-risk strategy for Berlin at a time when its export-dependent economy is flirting with recession. – Bloomberg

Several analysts have predicted that China’s economy — instead of America’s — will experience a bigger hit from elevated tariffs. That’s partly because the U.S. economy is on better footing and, over the longer term, China may have more to lose because of its greater reliance on exports. But the Chinese economy has been stable  and U.S. economy is also doing well, so both countries could hunker down. – CNBC

On the eve of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, two top State Department officials voiced alarm about America’s loss of diplomatic influence as China mounts an ambitious effort to fill the vacuum, according to an account of a confidential internal staff meeting.- Foreign Policy

It can travel more than 100 nautical miles, passively detect an enemy through imaging stored in its computer brain, and can kill a target so precisely that an operator can tell it to aim for a specific point on the ship – the engine room or the bridge, for example. And it’s heading to China’s stomping grounds. – Defense News

William Schneider Jr. writes: Not coincidentally, an integrated infosphere meets aspirations held by the People’s Republic of China to dominate and control the global information infrastructure. Beijing’s investments in 5G reflect an understanding that this technology is the gateway to control the world’s information infrastructure and growing realm of 5G-dependent technologies. […]While U.S. policymakers have yet to fully grasp the implications of this emerging infosphere, the components below reflect the enabling dimensions that support China’s effort to dominate the global information infrastructure. – Hudson Institute


The Afghan government is criticizing parts of a proposed U.S.-Taliban deal to withdraw U.S. and other foreign forces from Afghanistan, saying the accord contains no clear penalties if the insurgency fails to comply. – Wall Street Journal

Officials close to the U.S.-Taliban negotiations on Afghanistan say U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has returned to Qatar, where he has been holding talks with the militant group on ending America’s longest war. – Associated Press

Relentless, deadly attacks by the Taliban, including a car bombing Thursday that killed a U.S. service member, are testing President Donald Trump’s resolve to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and end what he has called America’s “endless” war. – Associated Press

The Taliban attacked a third provincial capital in Afghanistan in less than a week, killing at least two civilians, an official said Friday as a U.S. envoy was back in Qatar for unexpected talks on a U.S.-Taliban deal he had described as complete just days earlier. – Associated Press

U.S. negotiations with the Taliban would be considered successful if they led to less violence by the insurgent group, and promoted peaceful dialogue among Afghans, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Thursday night. – Bloomberg

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is threatening to subpoena a top U.S. envoy to Afghanistan if he fails to voluntarily testify before Congress about ongoing peace talks with the Taliban. – Politico

The chairwoman of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) says the acting head of the organization’s office in the western province of Ghor was found dead after being abducted by the Taliban. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

President Ashraf Ghani says he has “regretfully” accepted the resignation of the head of Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency after four members of a family were killed in an operation in the country’s east. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

South Asia

About one million Rohingya Muslims in camps in Bangladesh could soon lose a vital connection to the outside world if the government moves forward with a threat to suspend cell service to the world’s largest refugee settlement. – New York Times

The United States said on Thursday it was deeply concerned about the Myanmar army’s filing of a lawsuit against a religious leader who told President Donald Trump the military oppressed Christians in the Buddhist-majority country. – Reuters

Pakistan’s army chief has accused India of being responsible for “state terrorism” in the Indian-controlled sector of the divided Kashmir. – Associated Press

Pakistani police say two bombs exploded minutes apart near a police vehicle at a bus terminal in the southwestern city of Quetta, killing one person and wounding 10 others. […]No one immediately claimed responsibility, but the bombings came less than a week before Ashoura, the holiest day on the Shiite Muslim calendar, which mourns the 7th-century death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. – Associated Press

Pakistan will make the fullest possible response to India’s actions in disputed Kashmir and the global community would be responsible for any “catastrophic” aftermath, Imran Khan, the prime minister of the Muslim-majority nation, said on Friday. – Reuters

Sadanand Dhume writes: Could an India that actively discriminates against religious minorities still be a close partner with the U.S.? Many Indians point to their country’s strategic significance and economic heft to argue that it could. They’re mistaken. […]In the end, India matters mostly because it offers a model of pluralistic democracy at odds with China’s monochromatic authoritarianism. New Delhi risks this at its own peril. – Wall Street Journal


A day after Hong Kong’s leader said she would withdraw the extradition bill that set off months of protests, she gave no sign on Thursday that more concessions would be forthcoming, even as dissatisfied protesters planned to hold more demonstrations. – New York Times

Students and alumni from at least five Hong Kong schools formed human chains Friday to raise awareness for the remaining four demands of protesters involved in months of demonstrations in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. – Associated Press

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Thursday that the decision to withdraw an extradition bill that sparked months of demonstrations in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory was her government’s own initiative to break the impasse, and not Beijing’s directive. – Associated Press

Indonesian police on Thursday vowed to hunt down separatists blamed for violent protests in the region of Papua, as the government partially lifted an internet blackout imposed in the easternmost area after three weeks. – Reuters

The sleepy northwestern Japanese suburb of Araya seemed like the perfect place for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to put a U.S. anti-missile system. The area had reliably backed the ruling party and had first-hand experience of a North Korean rocket flying overhead. That is, until residents began to worry that Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Aegis Ashore system might make their pocket of homes nestled near rice fields and the sea a prime target for Pyongyang in any conflict. – Bloomberg

Katrina Lantos Swett writes: While recognizing such leadership is important, we believe that those of us who live in freedom owe these brave democracy crusaders more than just our words of support. We must equip them to defend themselves against the crushing apparatus of the Chinese communist state. […]We encourage everyone who stands with the people of Hong Kong to match their words and good wishes with the resources to help defend those who are on the front lines of this fight for freedom. – The Hill


Italian police arrested a top executive of Russia’s state-owned aircraft-engine maker on U.S. charges that he tried to steal aviation secrets, the Justice Department said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin complained on Thursday about Italy’s arrest of a Russian state executive on suspicion of industrial espionage at Washington’s request, saying the move would harm ties with the United States. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin sought to lure Asian investment to Russia’s Far East as the launch was announced of a huge Arctic gas project aimed at Asian markets. – Agence FrancePresse

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia would produce missiles that were banned under a landmark Cold-War era nuclear pact that ended last month, but that Moscow would not deploy them unless the United States did so first. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia was ready to host a meeting of the G7/G8 group of nations, and would welcome a wider format featuring Turkey, India and China. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on Thursday that Tokyo’s military ties with the United States and many other issues made it hard for Japan and Russia to sign a World War Two peace treaty. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that he recently offered US President Donald Trump the chance to purchase some of Russia’s new weapons, including hypersonic missiles, purportedly to prevent an arms race. – Business Insider


In short, the brothers Johnson, Boris and Jo, always had each other’s back. Until Thursday, anyway, when Jo Johnson announced his resignation, both from his seat in the British Parliament and from the Conservative government that his brother leads. – New York Times

As a law to prevent a no-deal Brexit hurtled toward passage on Thursday, British lawmakers began drawing the battle lines for their next fight: when to hold a general election that is now inevitable. – New York Times

Vice President Pence and his extensive security detail raised eyebrows on Wednesday as they traveled through the capital city of Iceland, a famously peaceful country where its president travels alone on private errands. – Washington Post

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that European nations should consider funding projects in their countries after the Pentagon diverted money to pay for a border wall with Mexico. – Reuters

Serbia’s refugee agency has accused Croatian border police of torturing a 16-year-old Afghan refugee and of denying him and 15 other migrants travelling with him their right to claim asylum in the European Union. – Reuters

German prosecutors are investigating a Bavarian company suspected of supplying software to Turkey allowing authorities to spy on opposition activists via their phones, an investigative media consortium reported on Thursday. – Reuters

Paul Taylor writes: The erosion of some of the foundations of 20th-century European democracy—political parties, trade unions, religious communities and industrial jobs for life—has left societies more volatile. Growing income inequality, concerns about migration and the disruption of low-skilled jobs by globalization provide a continuing seed bed for the politics of nativist anger in Europe and in the United States. And social media offers an instant outlet for all forms of protest, amplified by fake news and other manipulation. […]The tide may have broken, but there’s still plenty of mopping up to be done. – Politico


Robert Mugabe, a schoolteacher-turned-guerrilla fighter who helped topple white colonial rule in Zimbabwe only to lead the country to the brink of economic ruin, has died. – Wall Street Journal

South Africa is facing a backlash after rioters in and around Johannesburg targeted immigrants from other African countries this week, torching their shops and leading to at least 10 deaths. Pop stars have announced a boycott. Air Tanzania has suspended flights to Johannesburg. Madagascar and Zambia are refusing to send their soccer teams. Nigeria has recalled its ambassador and pulled out of a major economic forum. – New York Times

South Africa has closed its diplomatic missions in Nigeria, underscoring the growing strain between Africa’s two largest economies after the latest wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation said Thursday. – Associated Press

Sudan’s newly appointed prime minister is announcing his Cabinet, the first since the military’s ouster of autocratic former President Omar al-Bashir in April. The new members include Sudan’s first woman foreign minister and a former World Bank economist. – Associated Press

Sam Wilkins writes: During the Ogaden crisis, Cold War attitudes pushed American decision-makers into a series of choices that ignored the inconvenient nuances of regional politics, and encouraged destabilizing behaviors by would-be partners for the sake of gaining an advantage against the Soviet threat. Paradoxically, this zero-sum, threat-based conceptualization of U.S. interests degraded the American strategic position in the Horn and simultaneously threatened progress on wider détente-era priorities, such as strategic arms control. In the new competition with China, similarly opportunistic zero-sum strategies will be at best expensive and at worst dangerous for U.S. interests — and potentially devastating for the nations caught in-between. – War on the Rocks


United States has lobbied Italy and other European allies to stay clear of Huawei equipment and to also pay close scrutiny to ZTE, saying the vendors could pose a security risk. Both companies have strongly denied any such risk. – Reuters

The Department of Homeland Security’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program will be introducing its new dashboard in the next few months, according to CDM manager Kevin Cox, allowing agencies better insight into their overall cybersecurity. – Fifth Domain

The National Security Agency’s new cybersecurity directorate aims to level the playing field against a barrage of cyber threats. – Fifth Domain

Chris Scott writes: What’s at stake is more than an institution’s connectivity, financial assets or data. It’s the resilience of specific critical functions which, if lost, can threaten constituents’ physical integrity. So, what can we do?  […]The horizon beholds many destructive attacks for which the U.S needs to prepare. Just as adversaries can execute to destroy rapidly so must we meet this threat with urgency and vigilance. U.S. institutions need to prepare for cyber threats — and, in the case of destructive attacks, response and redesign of systems, based upon the risk, is imperative. – The Hill


U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominees to lead the Army and Air Force are expected to have a joint confirmation hearing next week. – Defense News

In the skies above China Lake, from the back of an MH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter, an operator with a tablet takes control of a Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft and tasks it to fire a small precision glide munition at an enemy target located on the ground. But at the last second, a higher level threat is detected and the munition is rapidly re-directed to take out a different threat and within seconds eliminate the new target. – Defense News

The U.S. Army aviation branch is considering bringing back armored cavalry squadrons in lieu of attack reconnaissance squadrons to complement the future attack reconnaissance aircraft expected to be fielded in 2030, according to the Army Aviation Center of Excellence commander at Fort Rucker, Alabama. – Defense News

The U.S. Army’s program-killing project known as “night court” will continue and become more aggressive in the coming years as demands for the service’s modernization effort increase, the Army’s acting secretary said Wednesday. – Defense News

Five years from now, there may be as many Littoral Combat Ships deployed as there are destroyers. The ships are here now and only growing in footprint: that’s the message the head of the surface force is repeating, trying to capture the attention of anyone for whom the words “Littoral Combat Ship” brings to mind limited deployments and mission package development delays. – USNI News

The Department of Defense is focusing its directed energy weapons research on technologies ready to field now, placing on the backburner plans to create more complex space-based technology, the Pentagon’s head of research said on Wednesday. – USNI News

Ross Marchand writes: On Aug. 29, the Trump administration launched the U.S. Space Command, a new, concentrated cluster of units within the Pentagon tasked with satellite defense, missile warning, and general space operations support. When the Pentagon gets basic accounting correct, they tend to hold onto infrastructure long after it is needed. America should shutter its Space Command, scrap plans for a Space Force, and focus on investing in actual satellite and space shuttle protection.  – Washington Examiner

Nathan Strout writes: Space is a war fighting domain and there hasn’t been a single panel or discussion about military space in the past year where that phrase has failed to be uttered. That’s because American assets in space, from the position, navigation and timing signal provided by GPS satellites to early warning missile detection satellites, are increasingly seen as targets by adversaries. Increasingly the military is looking to protect those assets and the nation’s space capabilities. […]All of this is essential to protecting American military satellites in orbit. – C4ISRNET

Long War

The European Union has set up a common counter-terrorism register, hoping to facilitate prosecutions and convictions of suspected militants and people returning home from fighting with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, EU officials said on Thursday. – Reuters

US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has expressed her appreciation after a US federal judge ruled that an FBI terror watchlist was unconstitutional. – Jerusalem Post

David Inserra writes: Law enforcement arrested a 19-year-old New York man before the Labor Day weekend and charged him with plotting a terrorist attack in New York City. It was the 114th Islamist terrorist plot or attack against the U.S. homeland. […]The case also exemplifies the importance of coordinated law enforcement sting operations, with the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force responding quickly to the rapidly developing plot. Such task forces are an important part of our ability to stop terrorists before they attack. – The Daily Signal