FPI Overnight Brief: August 10, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

A fresh wave of arrests of alleged Islamic State (IS) militants, while scant on details, is helping build the case that the extremist group's activities in Iran go beyond the recent deadly bombings in Tehran. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Islamic State issued a video on Wednesday threatening new attacks in the Iranian capital Tehran and calling on young Iranians to rise up and launch jihad in their country. - Reuters
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will travel to Vienna later this month to discuss Iran's nuclear activities with U.N. atomic watchdog officials, a U.S. official said on Wednesday, as part of Washington's review of Tehran's compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal - Reuters
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani appointed two women vice-presidents on Wednesday, but made no changes to an all-male list of cabinet ministers criticized by reformists for its lack of female representation. - Reuters
Syrian opposition activists are reporting that airstrikes on parts of the northern city of Raqqa that are controlled by the Islamic State group have intensified, killing at least 29 people in the past two days. – Associated Press
After fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for six years, rebel soldier Abu Mohammed laid down his arms as part of a peace deal in his home town of Moadamiya last year. But he has now fled Syria into Turkey. His reason: the Syrian army told him to report for duty and he feared being sent to his death fighting his former allies or Islamic State. - Reuters
Like Abu Ghazi and Raad Abdelaziz, dozens of those displaced by the fighting have returned to West Mosul, which saw some of the fiercest fighting in nine-month battle to rout the militants from their stronghold in Iraq's second-largest city. - Reuters
Yazidi men and boys in the town of Bashiqa north east of Mosul are rebuilding a shrine destroyed by Islamic State as they wait for the return of women from their community taken captive years ago by the jihadists. - Reuters
Gulf States
A security campaign against Shi'ite Muslim gunmen in eastern Saudi Arabia has reduced dozens of buildings in the town of Awamiya to ruins and forced thousands of residents to flee. - Reuters
A court in the United Arab Emirates has convicted an Iranian national for spying and aiding Tehran's nuclear program, sentencing him to 10 years in jail then deportation, local newspapers reported on Thursday. - Reuters
North Africa
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack on a patrol car on Wednesday that killed four Egyptian policemen in North Sinai, the militant group's AMAQ news agency said on Thursday. - Reuters
In a pugnacious speech on Wednesday evening before thousands of supporters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, embroiled in graft investigations, railed against “the left” and “the media that serves it,” contending that they had ganged up to overthrow him. – New York Times
At the moment time appears to be on Netanyahu's side and - unlike his predecessor Ehud Olmert, who quit and later went to jail for corruption - he leads a relatively stable coalition government and presides over a buoyant economy. - Reuters
Israel warned Gaza's Hamas rulers on Thursday not to try to foil its construction of a border wall designed to stop tunnels between the two sides. - Reuters
Grant Rumley writes: Abbas is 82 years old and hasn’t faced an election in over 12 years. Reports indicate he’s in poor, and possibly deteriorating, health. Many Palestinians—including his own allies and rivals—have begun to plan for the post-Abbas era. The events of the past month have Palestinians convinced that wide-scale, coordinated protests are the way forward. At some point, they’ll want a leadership that fully endorses it. – The American Interest
Turkish authorities on Thursday issued detention warrants for 35 people, including nine journalists, on suspicion of links to last July's attempted military coup, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. - Reuters
Turkish authorities have detained a suspected Islamic State militant of Russian origin after he allegedly planned to use a drone to bring down a U.S. plane at the Incirlik air base, Dogan News Agency said on Thursday. - Reuters


It is rare for a Taliban commander to sit for an interview, but this one spoke on the condition that his name or location not be made public, because he had recently defected from the insurgents’ ranks and his life was under threat. His account offered previously unreported insights into the final hours of Mullah Mansour’s life, and why and how he was killed, revealing a dangerously widening rift with his Pakistani sponsors. – New York Times
U.S. and Afghan military commanders battling the Taliban and the Islamic State are encountering an obstacle they never expected, sources close to them say: months of indecision by President Donald Trump on whether to commit thousands of additional American troops. - Politico
The Taliban have released 235 villagers held since the insurgents seized control of an area in northern Sari Pul province five days ago, Afghan provincial officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press
Ronald Neumann writes: Even a great effort to correct the mistakes of the past would not produce results on the battlefield for a year or more. Whether this can or should be done deserves serious debate. But that discussion should be based on a clear understanding of what has — and what has not — already been tried in Afghanistan. – Washington Post
South Asia
Pakistan’s ousted leader, Nawaz Sharif, began a homecoming journey on Wednesday, leaving for the eastern city Lahore along with thousands of his supporters in a bold display of political power. – New York Times
India is going ahead with the acquisition of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft with Russia after an internal committee of the Ministry of Defence recommended that the purchase of the aircraft will duplicate India’s plan to develop a homegrown advanced medium combat aircraft, according to an MoD official. – Defense News
India and China will have to resolve their prolonged military standoff in a remote Himalayan region through talks, the Dalai Lama said on Wednesday, ruling out the chance of war because it would be destructive to both parties. - Reuters
In the eyes of many Americans, China bears a huge responsibility for the North Korea crisis for failing to rein its aggressive and volatile ally in Pyongyang. But in Beijing, the story is told very differently. Here, a large slice of the blame goes to Washington for its consistently hostile attitude towards North Korea, which has only encouraged the regime to invest in and accelerate its nuclear weapons program. – Washington Post
Chinese scientists have sent the first quantum transmission from earth to an orbiting satellite, marking another key step in the creation of an “unhackable” global communications network. – Financial Times
Bill Gertz reports: Amid growing fears of North Korean nuclear missile threats, China recently showed off a new and more lethal long-range nuclear missile of its own. – Washington Times’ Inside the Ring
Korean Peninsula
Senior American officials sent mixed signals on North Korea on Wednesday as President Trump’s “fire and fury” warning rattled allies and adversaries alike, a sign of his administration’s deep divisions as the outcast state once again threatened to wage nuclear war on the United States. – New York Times
President Trump’s threat to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea sent a shudder through Asia on Wednesday, raising alarm among allies and adversaries and, to some observers, making the possibility of military conflict over the North’s nuclear program seem more real. – New York Times
North Korea said Thursday that it was drawing up plans to launch four intermediate-range ballistic missiles into waters near Guam in the Western Pacific to teach President Trump a lesson, after the president warned of “fire and fury” against the North if it persisted in threatening the United States. – New York Times
South Korea warned Pyongyang on Thursday that it would face a stern response from allied forces if it followed through on its threats to carry out a missile attack on a U.S. Air Force base in Guam. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
[Trump’s] ominous warning to Pyongyang was entirely improvised, according to several people with direct knowledge of what unfolded. In discussions with advisers beforehand, he had not run the specific language by them, though he had talked over possible responses in a general way. But the president’s ad-libbed threat reflected an evolving and still unsettled approach to one of the most dangerous hot spots in the world as Mr. Trump and his team debate diplomatic, economic and military options. – New York Times
A Canadian pastor who had been sentenced to hard labor for life in North Korea was released on humanitarian grounds on Wednesday, the North’s official media said. – New York Times
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump has to watch his words better after the commander in chief threatened North Korea in an escalating nuclear standoff. – Defense News
North Korea has been steadily assembling all the technologies it needs to put a nuclear warhead on a submarine-launched missile. – The Daily Beast
The Pentagon has prepared a specific plan for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea's missile sites should President Trump order such an attack. – NBC News
Amid growing missile threats from North Korea, American missile defenses based in Alaska, California, and Guam, as well as on Navy ships, are capable of knocking out North Korean nuclear missiles, according to military leaders and experts. – Washington Free Beacon
For months, national security experts have warned that the large number of unfilled positions at the State Department risked putting the United States in jeopardy in the event of a crisis. Now, with North Korea threatening war and a new US intelligence finding that Pyongyang has succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear bomb, a crisis has arrived, and President Donald Trump has yet to name a US ambassador to South Korea. – Buzz Feed
North Korea said it was considering launching four ballistic missiles to fall near US military bases on the Pacific island of Guam to “interdict” American forces, escalating tensions that US secretary of state Rex Tillerson had sought to ease. – Financial Times
Josh Rogin reports: Officials and experts are increasingly calling on the Trump administration to move forward with the tough measures against China that were always contemplated as part of its stated strategy of “maximum pressure” followed by engagement. Team Trump hasn’t gotten close to maximum pressure so far. The best way to move in that direction now is to sanction more Chinese entities that support the illegal and dangerous activities of the Kim Jong Un regime. – Washington Post
Editorial: Diplomacy works best when there is a credible stick to go with the carrots. The Trump Administration has the right idea, even if the President’s words lack the usual diplomatic politesse. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Susan Rice writes: Rational, steady American leadership can avoid a crisis and counter a growing North Korean threat. It’s past time that the United States started exercising its power responsibly. – New York Times
Robert Joseph writes: Until the Kim regime falls, the North will remain a dangerous enemy that needs to be treated as such. This will require skilled diplomacy, careful alliance management, robust efforts to highlight the brutality and gross human-rights violations of the regime, conventional defensive and nuclear-deterrent capabilities that the North will know not to challenge, and the deployment of truly effective missile defenses to protect American cities if deterrence fails. – National Review Online
Eliot Cohen writes: This could, in other words, all turn out much worse than even the president’s wary advisers, who know war (though far less ferocious war than this would likely be) may think. And if the war hype is all a Trump fake, it will be shown to be such. And as is usually the case with Trump fakes, others will pay the bill while he continues to golf. – Defense One
Evelyn Farkas writes: President Trump has a chance now to simultaneously apply all four prongs of a strategy — deterrence, pressure, diplomacy and incentives — to not only contain the threat from North Korea, but also pave the way for economic reform and real change for the North Korean people. That is something only a superpower, working with it allies and even adversaries and competitors like Russia and China, can do. – New York Times
Eli Lake writes: As the world ponders the meaning of President Donald Trump's threat of "fire and fury" on North Korea, it's worth asking why his predecessors never took those steps to stop its nuclear program. – Bloomberg View
Peter Huessy writes: Chinese actions or relative inaction become clear as part of a broader strategy. The Trump administration’s nuanced strategy combining diplomacy, economic sanctions, and the threat of military force makes sense as well. Will China’s 100-year marathon strategy remain on schedule or will the values of liberal democracies prevail? – Real Clear Defense
Southeast Asia
A 100-foot statue depicting a Chinese deity was covered with an enormous sheet this weekend in East Java Province, Indonesia, after Muslims threatened to tear the colossus down amid mounting ethnic and religious tensions across the country. – New York Times
A U.S. Navy destroyer carried out a "freedom of navigation operation" on Thursday, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials told Reuters. - Reuters
Japan's army will give thousands of helicopter parts to keep Philippine military choppers airborne, helping Tokyo gain clout with Manila in a contest with China to secure influence over the strategic South China Sea nation, four sources said. - Reuters
Malaysia's armed forces said on Thursday they had received no offer from China to buy advanced rocket launchers and a radar system to be based at the southern tip of the Southeast Asian country, rebutting media reports. - Reuters
Cambodia jailed a political analyst for 1-1/2 years on Thursday, for accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party of orchestrating the 2016 murder of a prominent government critic. - Reuters
Nina Hachigan writes: If ASEAN reaches its full potential, it will be able to have a strong hand in writing the rules that will govern Asia in the 21st century. And if the United States returns to its traditional role as a leader in Asia and a defender of international law and universal rights, it will be able to partner with ASEAN on that important project. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Ahmet Yayla writes: The Australian suspects are instructive. The men arrested and charged, Khaled Khayat and Mahmoud Khayat, are brothers. They were reportedly recruited by another brother, Tarek Khayat, who is an ISIS commander in Syria. Looking for these kinds of needles in the haystack is tiring work, but that is the essential job of intelligence agencies. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


It may be hard to believe but the future of the Air Force may depend on three turboprop planes and a $20 million spec-built attack jet. They are the entries in what the service calls the Light Attack Experiment, a back-to-the-future attempt to rekindle the sort of innovation and fast cycle times that used to mark the development of Air Force fighters and bombers, before the current age when it takes 15 to 20 years to design and buy a new aircraft. – Breaking Defense
The War
U.S. pilots flying combat sorties against Islamic State and al-Qaeda offshoots may soon be directed to hit “pop-up” targets -- such as fleeing vehicles, ambushes and attempts to plant roadside bombs -- through streamlined planning tools crafted in Silicon Valley. - Bloomberg
Nuclear Weapons
A broad overhaul of the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been under way for half a decade, aiming to replace the planes, missiles and submarines the U.S. military would use to deliver nuclear weapons to enemy targets. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Former Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes on Wednesday called President Trump's claims to have already modernized the U.S. nuclear arsenal "alarming" amid rising tensions with North Korea. – The Hill
President Donald Trump’s tweet Wednesday that America’s nuclear arsenal is “now stronger and more powerful than ever before” is debatable. His claim of the credit is entirely unjustified. – Associated Press
Missile Defense
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Army soldiers of the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade from Fort Bliss, Texas, conducted a successful missile defense test using the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. – Scout Warrior
Lockheed Martin is studying several new air and missile defense systems, from an all-new six-foot rocket to a ship-launched version of the Patriot missile, a top executive told reporters here. In keeping with the military’s emphasis on multi-domain operations that attack old problems from new angles, Lockheed is even looking at launching its Patriot PAC-3 MSE from an aircraft. – Breaking Defense
When simulating missile attacks from North Korea or Iran, the U.S. military says its defense system and network of radars allow it to successfully track and destroy incoming warheads. But test conditions do not accurately mimic those of wartime and critics are skeptical the country can truly defend itself, even after spending $40 billion over 18 years of research and development. - Reuters


The United States made a commitment to guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity when it gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994. Providing defensive weapons to Ukraine will honor that commitment and raise the cost of the war for Moscow. Over time, that may help persuade the Kremlin to withdraw from the Donbas. Even if it does not, it will force Moscow to waste additional resources in Ukraine and make them think twice about challenging us in the Baltics, where our NATO commitments would compel us to respond more forcefully. Providing defensive weapons to Ukraine actually decreases the odds of a dangerous US-Russian confrontation. – Atlantic Council
A Russian surveillance plane soared through secure airspace over Washington on Wednesday, presumably collecting intelligence as it traveled near the Pentagon, the Capitol and other government buildings, two U.S. officials said. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
John McLaughlin writes: Today’s challenge is not how to see Russia crushed again, as it was when the Soviet Union collapsed; it’s about constraining its worst tendencies as it revives. That requires showing unrelenting firmness on what matters most to the United States, creating space for like-minded Russians to push for integration into the global system and in the meantime remaining alert for issues on which American and Russian interests converge enough to permit at least limited cooperation. – New York Times
Garry Kasparov writes: It’s not yet time for Putin and Trump to end their romance. Trump is still the Kremlin’s best hope for creating havoc in Washington and damaging American credibility abroad. Trump is still unable to criticize Putin, partly because his ego prohibits him from acknowledging that hacking by a hostile foreign power helped him get elected. Trump and Putin may not have the same agenda, but they do share at least one goal: to put as much power as possible into Trump’s hands. – Washington Post
The man suspected of deliberately ramming a car into a group of soldiers in a Paris suburb, injuring six, is an Algerian national in his mid-thirties, officials said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Short-range air defense is starting to build up again in Europe roughly a year after the U.S. Army Europe Command commander began beating the drum for the capability. – Defense News
The State Department on Wednesday scolded Russian President Vladimir Putin for visiting a Russian-occupied Georgian region, calling the trip "inappropriate." – The Hill
Ivan Krastev writes: What makes Mr Orban’s Hungary an unlikely role model is the fact that while the prime minister is preoccupied with fighting Brussels and Berlin, hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens have decided to leave the country in the last decade. A country that holds ever-decreasing appeal to its own people will struggle to position itself as the model of Europe’s future. Fears of Mr Orban are legitimate, but also overblown. – Financial Times


United States of America
Investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, recently searched the Northern Virginia home of President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for tax documents and foreign banking records, a sign that the inquiry into Mr. Manafort has broadened, according to a person familiar with the matter. – New York Times
Latin America
The U.S. government expelled two Cuban diplomats in May, after Americans working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana suffered unexplained physical ailments, the State Department said Thursday. – Washington Post
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., responded to "incidents" in Cuba that led to two Cuban embassy officials being forced to leave the United States, saying the Cuban government's harassment is not new and "shows the extent the Castro regime will go." – Washington Examiner
Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) took a key step on Wednesday toward allowing non-party members, such as Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade, to run for president in next year's election. - Reuters
The U.S. Treasury Department Wednesday placed sanctions on eight officials associated with Venezuela’s new constituent assembly, alleging they are aiding in what Washington said are dictatorial moves by President Nicolás Maduro. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Inflation in Venezuela's crisis-hit economy quickened to 248.6 percent in the first seven months of the year, the opposition-led congress said on Wednesday in the absence of official data. - Reuters


West Africa
The leader of Senegal's main opposition group said on Wednesday it would not participate in any future elections because the parliamentary polls that delivered a large majority to the ruling coalition were a "masquerade". - Reuters
Twenty people escaped custody after assaulting police officers at the courthouse in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan, justice official said on Wednesday, the latest in a series of attacks on police in the West African country. - Reuters
East/Central Africa
Kenya's election commission dismissed claims on Wednesday by opposition leader Raila Odinga that its systems and website had been hacked to produce a "fictitious" lead for Odinga's long-time rival President Uhuru Kenyatta. - Reuters
Six Red Cross volunteers were killed in an attack on a health center in southeast Central African Republic on August 3, the aid organization said in a statement on Wednesday. - Reuters
Southern Africa
After narrowly winning a no-confidence motion that would have brought his presidency to an abrupt and humiliating end, Jacob Zuma was quick to hail the vote as a victory for his African National Congress…But it was a victory that threatens to come at a cost for the ANC. The narrowness of the vote exposed the depth of division in the ruling party – Financial Times
South Africa's opposition called on Wednesday for parliament to be dissolved and a national election held, a day after its no-confidence motion in President Jacob Zuma was defeated. - Reuters
Zimbabwe's cash-strapped government plans to build a $1 billion university named after 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe, the higher education minister said on Wednesday, a move that was quickly criticized by the opposition as a waste of resources. - Reuters

Trump Administration

Tom Barrack, a real estate investor and a close friend of President Donald Trump’s, is in talks to become ambassador to Mexico, according to three White House officials and advisers familiar with the matter. - Politico

Democracy and Human Rights

Editorial: China’s Great Firewall, a massive system of Internet filters and blocking, has long had a crack in it. The firewall prevents most users inside China from accessing platforms outside the country, such as Facebook, Google and Netflix, in keeping with China’s desire to censor what can be seen and read. But popular software known as virtual private networks, or VPNs, permit a user inside China to tunnel through the firewall. Now the crack is being gradually cemented up. – Washington Post


Jim Hanson and Brad Patty write: The State Department traditionally hires academically inclined people who come from a fairly narrow collection of universities and think tanks. This makes sense as many of the skills and knowledge necessary to be a successful Foreign Service officer are nurtured in these circles. The department, however, could also use the kind of people who know how to do direct diplomacy under fire, and who are comfortable in muddy boots. A perfect collection of those have served in U.S. Army Special Forces. – National Review Online

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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