The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2017
AFTER PURGE IN RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA WARNS IRAN OVER ‘ACT OF WAR’

A sweeping roundup this weekend of more than five dozen princes, ministers, and prominent businessmen in Saudi Arabia marked a dramatic escalation in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to consolidate power and accelerate far-reaching change in the kingdom.

Saudi officials said the crackdown stemmed from a probe aimed at stamping out corruption. But analysts said some of the arrests seemed aimed at removing rivals, having netted some of the most widely known people in the country, including Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, an international tycoon who is one of the richest men in the world; Prince Mitaab bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard; and Adel Faqih, the economy minister.

“This is a crucial turning point,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution and a former Central Intelligence Agency officer. “Saudi royal politics have gone from consensual to an unstable blood sport.”

Three White House advisers, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, returned just days ago from the latest in at least three high-level Trump administration visits to Saudi Arabia this year. The trip had been unannounced, and reports have since surfaced of Kushner strategizing with Mohammed until the early hours of the night.

On Sunday, as the kingdom digested news of the arrests, another Saudi prince -- Saudi Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, who was a son of the prince who was pushed aside by Mohammed in 2015 -- was killed in a helicopter crash near the kingdom’s border with war-torn Yemen. It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the crash.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah also accused Saudi Arabia of forcing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to quit. Hariri stepped down in a televised broadcast from Saudi Arabia on Saturday, denouncing Hezbollah and its Iranian backers, and saying he feared for his life. But the chief of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said it was a Saudi decision “imposed” on him. BBC News, Reuters

Early Monday, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen closed off the land, sea and air ports to the Arab world’s poorest country after a rebel-fired ballistic missile on Saturday targeted Riyadh, blaming the launch on Iran and warning it could be "considered as an act of war." The Saudi coalition accused Iran of supplying Yemen's Houthi rebels and their allies with the missile.

The Saudi-led coalition launched a wave of airstrikes — starting overnight and continuing until noon Sunday — on the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, apparently in response to the ballistic missile. It also threatened Iran with a possible retaliatory strike. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera
Related:
The Atlantic: Saudi Arabia’s Very Public, Very Risky Palace Intrigue
Los Angeles Times: An Arrest in Saudi Arabia Could Be Felt as Far as Silicon Valley and Wall Street
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REPORT: MUELLER HAS ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO BRING CHARGES AGAINST FLYNN
Federal investigators have gathered enough evidence to bring charges in their investigation of President Donald Trump's former national security adviser and his son as part of the probe into Russia's intervention in the 2016 election, according to NBC News. Mueller is reportedly applying renewed pressure on Flynn following his indictment of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The special counsel’s investigators are speaking to multiple witnesses in coming days to gain more information surrounding Flynn's lobbying work, including whether he laundered money or lied to federal agents about his overseas contacts, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. NBC News
Related:
Washington Post: At Least Nine People in Trump’s Orbit Had Contact with Russians During Campaign and Transition

TEXAS SHOOTING LEAVES AT LEAST 26 DEAD
The gunman who killed 26 people Sunday at a Texas church was discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct, according to court documents. Authorities identified Devin Patrick Kelley, 26 years old, as the shooter. He was clad in black and wearing a ballistic vest when he opened fire at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, authorities said. Twenty people were injured in the attack.

Kelley fled the scene and was later found dead in his vehicle, police said. Police were investigating the circumstances of his death.

Kelley served in the U.S. Air Force but was court-martialed in 2012 and ultimately received a “bad conduct discharge,” according to court records. He was sentenced to confinement for 12 months and a reduction in rank to E-1. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed that Devin P. Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge in 2014.
Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for two counts of assault on his spouse and on their child, Ms. Stefanek said. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

PENTAGON RELEASES MARINE GENERAL HELD AT GUANTANAMO
Under pressure from a federal court, the Pentagon on Friday released a Marine Corps general who was put under house arrest for disobeying what he said was an illegal order that would compromise a fair trial for a Guantanamo detainee facing a potential death penalty. Brig. Gen. John Baker, the chief defense counsel for the military commission system at Guantanamo Bay, had been sentenced to 21 days’ detention and a $1,000 fine by a military judge angry that he allowed civilian defense attorneys to resign from a case. They withdrew after reportedly discovering the government secretly had been monitoring their communications, including legally-privileged exchanges with their client, but the reason remains classified.

The Defense Department released Gen. Baker a day after his attorneys filed a petition with the U.S. District Court arguing the military judge had no authority to punish the Marine officer. Wall Street Journal
Related:
Miami Herald: Federal Judge Blocks Military Judge from Having U.S. Marshals Seize Defense Attorney
New York Times: Following Trump’s Lead, Republicans Grow Quiet on Guantanamo

BERGDAHL AVOIDS PRISON TIME; TRUMP CALLS SENTENCE A ‘DISGRACE’
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his Army base in Afghanistan in 2009 and was held captive by the Taliban for five years, received no prison time for desertion or endangering troops, but was ordered by a military judge on Friday to be dishonorably discharged from the Army. Military prosecutors had called for 14 years of jail time.

President Trump, who has labeled Sergeant Bergdahl a “dirty rotten traitor,” called Friday’s sentence “a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.”

The presiding judge did not explain his reasoning for the sentence, which will be reviewed by Gen. Robert B. Abrams, who convened the court-martial and has the power to lessen the punishment. New York Times, Washington Post
Related:
CNN/Peter Bergen: Justice Was Served in the Bergdahl Case


U.S. LAUNCHES FIRST AIRSTRIKES AGAINST ISIS IN SOMALIA
The United States conducted two separate airstrikes targeting ISIS militants in northeastern Somalia for the first time on Friday, US Africa Command said in a statement. While the results of the strikes are still being assessed, Africa Command said “several” terrorists were killed. The strikes marked the first time the U.S. has targeted ISIS in the country. CNN, The Hill

ISIS PUSHED FROM LAST IRAQI STRONGHOLD
ISIS was pushed from Qaim on Friday, the terror group's last major stronghold in Iraq, according to the office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The leader released a statement congratulating Iraqis “in the wake of heroes taking control of Qaim and liberating it in record time.”

The news came on the same day that Syrian government forces, supported by intense Russian airstrikes and Iranian-backed militias on the ground, drove the militants from the last few neighborhoods they controlled in the eastern provincial capital of Deir al-Zour. The Islamic State now maintains just a few pockets of western Anbar Province in Iraq and somewhat larger patches in Syria, where it controls about a third of the desert province of Deir al-Zour, including a string of small towns and villages, and an oil field. CNN, New York Times

INTERNATIONAL COURT SEEKS PROBE INTO POSSIBLE U.S. WAR CRIMES IN AFGHANISTAN
The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court said Friday she is seeking an investigation of alleged war crimes committed in the war in Afghanistan, an unprecedented probe that could involve U.S. troops. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement that a preliminary examination found “a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity” were committed in Afghanistan after U.S.-led troops moved in following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Once the prosecutor submits her investigation request to the court, which is based in the Dutch city of The Hague, it’s then up to the tribunal’s judges to decide whether to open one. Bensouda’s office said her request will be filed publicly “in the days to come.”

An Afghanistan probe would be exceptional because up until now all ICC trials have dealt with alleged crimes in Africa. The only case currently under investigation outside Africa is in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Associated Press

REPORTS SUGGEST DOZENS OF CIVILIANS KILLED BY AIRSTRIKES IN AFGHANISTAN
Lawmakers from the northern province of Kunduz said they have received conflicting reports of civilian deaths during a weekend ground and aerial offensive by Afghan and U.S. forces against Taliban insurgents. The Afghan government and the U.S. military in Afghanistan on Sunday said they were assessing the reports.

Some unconfirmed reports put the toll of the attack, in the Char Dara district, at nearly 60. Washington Post

SOLDIERS IN NIGER WERE TARGETING MILITANTS IN MALI
The four U.S. soldiers killed last month in an attack were helping track and fight Islamist militants along the Mali-Niger border in the hours before their death, according to the nation’s defense minister and a wounded Nigerien soldier who survived the attack.

The accounts raise questions about the Pentagon’s assertions that the American and Nigerien troops were on a low-risk reconnaissance mission and that chances of contact with militants were unlikely. They were, instead, operating in a dangerous and complex battle zone, where attacks happen frequently. U.S. troops are in Niger to train and advise, military officials have said, not to engage in combat missions. Washington Post
TOP OP-EDS
Guantanamo is where justice goes to die: “That Gen. Baker would find himself under house arrest at Guantanamo on the day after a terrorist attack in Manhattan is mere coincidence,” writes Phillip Carter in Slate.com. “However, it highlights the enormous disconnect between the show trials being conducted at Guantanamo and the real trials being conducted in federal courts around the country to prosecute and imprison terrorists, like Sayfullo Saipov, the man accused of mowing down eight pedestrians on Halloween. It is truly a tale of two systems: the best of legal systems, on display every week in federal courthouses, where processes unfold neatly and along well-worn lines established by centuries of statute and precedent; and the worst, on display at Guantanamo, where a dispute over government surveillance of defense counsel has resulted in a Marine general being detained (and released two days later) and civilian counsel being threatened with the same fate.”

After ISIS, what comes next? “Over four gruesome years, ISIS swallowed up large areas of Iraq and Syria, taking control of oil fields and using beheadings, rapes and other cruelties to terrorize populations,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “Now, the degradation of the group has allowed Iran, Russia and others to scramble for advantage. The anti-ISIS coalition is fracturing, reviving divisions and creating conditions that could allow the extremists to regroup. And American leaders seem to have no clear plan to manage this instability or to capitalize on their military success.”

Iran and al Qaeda: Best of frenemies: “Last month President Donald Trump caused a minor stir in his speech on Iran policy by discussing that regime’s connection to al-Qaeda,” writes Eli Lake in Bloomberg.com. “He said ‘Iranian proxies’ provided training to al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He said Iran hosted high-level al-Qaeda operatives after the Sept. 11 attacks, including Osama bin Laden's son. His critics pounced. But it turns out Trump was closer to the mark than his detractors.”
EDITOR'S PICK

EVENTS
UNDERSTANDING PROXY VIOLENCE IN THE ARAB WORLD AND BEYOND: 
THE ROLE OF STATE AND NON-STATE ACTORS
Moderated by Peter Bergen
Monday, Nov. 20, 7PM
Fordham Law School
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