Friday, September 20, 2019

Pentagon Won’t Blame Iran for Saudi Attack until Assessment Concludes

The Pentagon is holding off on assigning blame to Iran for an attack last weekend on Saudi oil refineries because “we’re not going to get ahead” of an ongoing assessment by Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said Thursday. In a meeting with reporters, Jonathan Rath Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, said the United States would defer to Saudi Arabia and allow them to announce their conclusion of who was behind the attack. Senior national security officials reportedly met on Thursday to refine a list of potential targets to strike in Iran, should President Trump order a military retaliation for the attack, officials said. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. are set to present the updated options to Trump at a National Security Council meeting scheduled for Friday, a senior U.S. official said.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, warned in an interview Thursday of “all-out war” in the event of U.S. or Saudi military strikes against his country. He again denied that Iran was involved in the attack and said that Yemen’s Houthis, who claimed responsibility, have stepped up their military capabilities and were capable of conducting an operation at this level of sophistication. However, Zarif was unable to provide proof that Houthis launched the drones and missiles. “I cannot have any confidence that they did it because we just heard their statement,” said Zarif. “I know that we didn't do it. I know that the Houthis made a statement that they did it.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration issued visas to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and the country’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to attend the UN General Assembly next week in New York, U.S. and Iranian officials confirmed. However, the United States refused visas for some members of the Iranian delegation that had planned to travel to New York, according to sources.
Military Times, New York Times, CNN, Financial Times
Wall Street Journal: Pentagon Weighs Sending More Military Assets to Mideast
Reuters: Pompeo Says U.S. Wants Peaceful Resolution After Attacks on Aramco Facilities


‘Urgent concern’ about the President: “It’s not every day that a whistle-blower in the intelligence community files a complaint about the president of the United States… Maybe there’s not that much to the complaint; we can’t know yet,” writes the Editorial Board of the New York Times. “While the lawyers battle over who is authorized to withhold what from whom, it’s worth making two observations: first, that the intelligence community’s watchdog… was alarmed enough that he thought it necessary to inform Congress. Second, that the administration is doing whatever it can to keep the complaint from becoming known, even behind closed doors.”

Putin is trolling the United States in the Persian Gulf: “Russia’s response to the recent drone attack on Saudi Aramco oil facilities speaks volumes about its place in the Middle East. Had the crisis occurred several years ago, few would have cared what Moscow thought about Gulf affairs. But now, thanks to its military intervention in Syria, Russia is seen as a power broker,” writes Dimitar Bechev in Foreign Policy. “If the Russian president had said that Russia is ‘locked and loaded’ to respond to Iran’s apparent aggression in Saudi Arabia last weekend, as U.S. President Donald Trump did, he would probably mean it.”

Whatever Iran’s role in the Saudi attack, the regional status quo is unsustainable: “Whether or not Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabia, this situation presents a double-edged sword for Tehran: the effects of th
e attack and what it potentially signals about Iranian power could bolster Tehran’s position ahead of potential talks at the UN General Assembly,” writes Mahsa Rouhi for The Guardian. “Alternatively, there is the risk of serious escalation – and at the very least, the possibility that the prospect of a return to the negotiating table, and ultimately relief from sanctions, will be undermined.”


The Center on National Security is proud to announce the launch of our weekly forum Vital Interests: U.S. Foreign Policy and the 2020 Election. Take a look at our first volume featuring Jacob Sullivan and Col. (ret.) Liam Collins.

Editor's Picks


Schiff threatens legal action over whistleblower complaint against Trump: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) on Thursday threatened legal action against the Trump administration over its refusal to turn over a whistleblower complaint that reportedly involves Trump’s interactions with a foreign leader. The escalation came after the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, was blocked from sharing details with the panel about the whistleblower complaint, according to several lawmakers who attended a classified briefing Thursday with Atkinson. The Department of Justice reportedly played a key role in the decision to withhold the complaint from Congress, Schiff said on Thursday, adding that lawmakers did not know yet if the White House was involved. Ukraine is reportedly at the center of the complaint, according to people familiar with the matter. Politico, Reuters, Washington Post

Secret FBI subpoenas obtain personal data from more companies than previously disclosed: The FBI has used secret subpoenas to obtain personal data from more companies than previously disclosed, newly released documents show. The requests, which the FBI says are critical to its counterterrorism efforts, have raised privacy concerns for years but have been associated mainly with tech companies. The documents show that the practice encompasses scores of banks, credit agencies, cellphone carriers, and universities. The demands can scoop up a variety of information, including usernames, locations, IP addresses, and records of purchases. They don’t require a judge’s approval and usually come with a gag order. Fewer than 20 entities, most of them tech companies, revealed that they’ve received the subpoenas, known as national security letters. New York Times

DOJ won’t answer whether it turned down indictment of McCabe: Lawyers for Andrew McCabe asserted Thursday that the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office is refusing to say whether a grand jury declined to indict the former acting FBI director and complained of inappropriate media leaks they claimed could only have come from the Justice Department. McCabe’s attorneys, Michael R. Bromwich and David Schertler, said that they were “considering a range of options in response to that lack of information and the troubling events of the past week.” Washington Post, Politico

New Jersey man arrested for allegedly spying for Hezbollah: A New Jersey man, Alexei Saab, was indicted Thursday on charges he supported Hezbollah by scouting possible targets for an attack. Saab reportedly trained with Hezbollah operatives overseas and surveilled multiple locations in the United States, the FBI said. Saab joined Hezbollah in 1996 in Lebanon where he observed and reported on the movements of Israeli troops, according to the indictment. Federal prosecutors said he continued to receive training in Lebanon and surveilled dozens of locations in New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., and other cities. ABC News, Boston Globe


DHS formally backs off plans to deport critically ill migrant children: The Trump administration formally backed away from plans to deport critically ill migrant children in a letter sent to the House Oversight Committee on Thursday. In the letter, the Department of Homeland Security said that it is “resuming its consideration of non-military deferred action requests on a discretionary, case-by-case basis.” The administration had announced in August it would shut down the medically deferred action program, which allowed families of critically ill children to receive care in the United States without fear of deportation. Families had been told the program was being terminated and that they had 33 days to leave the country. NBC News

CBP to begin screening migrants, rather than asylum officers: Customs and Border Patrol agents, rather than asylum officers, are reportedly beginning to screen migrant families to determine whether applicants qualify for U.S. protection. The first CBP agents arrived last week to start training at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, the nation’s largest immigrant family detention center,. Border Patrol agents began training to conduct asylum interviews in late April, but this is the first time that agents have deployed to family detention facilities. Los Angeles Times

Closed Florida detention center for migrant children costs $720,000 per day: The Trump administration has spent more than $33 million in 46 days to keep a detention center in Homestead, Florida, up and running, even though no children are housed there, according to federal officials. On Wednesday, Jonathan Hayes, the Acting Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, testified at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing that the Homestead center, which officially closed on August 3, costs $720,000 a day. This amounts to $600 a day for each of 1,200 empty beds. When children are present at the facility, the cost is $750 a day per child. Miami Herald

Washington state sues Trump to block Navy money for border wall: Washington state’s attorney general sued Trump on Thursday over his plan to shift more than $3.6 billion in military construction funding to help build a border wall. In Washington state, Trump’s plan would divert $89 million from a pier project at a submarine base west of Seattle. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Trump and other administration officials, saying it was a “misuse of his presidential emergency powers to accomplish an ideological political goal.” Navy Times
Wall Street Journal: Congress Considers Sidestepping Debate Over Border-Wall Funding


Saudi-led coalition launches military operation north of Hodeidah in Yemen: The Saudi-led coalition on Friday launched a military operation north of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah against what it described as “legitimate military targets.” The coalition said it had destroyed four sites used to assemble remote-controlled boats and sea mines in an effort to  help protect the freedom of maritime navigation. The Houthi rebels in Yemen, which claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attacks on Saudi oil facilities, said that the coalition had breached a UN ceasefire and troop redeployment agreement reached in Sweden last year. Reuters
New York Times: Attacks Expose Flaws in Saudi Arabia’s Expensive Military
Just Security: Saudi Oil Attacks Raise Questions About Nature of Yemen Conflict and Legitimate Military Targets

U.S. cuts $100 million in aid to Afghanistan, citing corruption: The State Department cut $100 million in aid for Afghanistan on Thursday as the Trump administration’s chief peace negotiator briefed House lawmakers on the failed efforts to strike a peace deal with the Taliban. The funding was slated for a hydroelectric project to provide power to the cities of Kandahar and Ghazni in southern and southeastern Afghanistan. The dam project will continue but without the American funds, “given the Afghan government’s inability to transparently manage U.S. government resources,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a written statement.
New York Times

Dozens of Afghan civilians killed in separate attacks: At least 30 people were killed and 28 wounded on Thursday in an alleged U.S. drone attack in Nangarhar Province, according to local Afghan government officials. They said some of the victims had gathered to harvest pine nuts at the time of the attack. Separately, at least 22 people were killed and 90 wounded in a suicide truck bombing claimed by the Taliban at a hospital in Zabul Province, officials said. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press

Al-Qaeda, ISIS report attacks in Burkina Faso: Over the past few days, both al-Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and ISIS’s West African Province (ISWA) have claimed deadly assaults in Burkina Faso. JNIM claimed responsibility for September 12 raids on Burkinabe military positions in Nassoumbou and Baraboule. This follows another JNIM statement on August 31 claiming a raid on a Burkinabe military barracks near Djibo. Meanwhile, ISIS officially claimed a deadly assault on a military base in Koutougou last month that killed at least 24 soldiers. Long War Journal


France, Italy call for new system to redistribute migrants: France and Italy are calling for a new system to automatically redistribute migrants across the European Union as the number of people entering Europe surges. “The European Union hasn’t shown enough solidarity with countries handling first arrivals,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday. The current system, he added, was particularly unfair on Italy. Italy’s new coalition government, which took office last week, signalled a change of approach to migration after permitting 82 migrants to disembark on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa over the weekend. BBC News
Financial Times: Macron’s Hard Line on Migration Alarms Rights Groups

Amnesty accuses Hong Kong police of arbitrary arrests, torture: Amnesty International accused Hong Kong police on Friday of torture and other abuses in their handling of more than three months of pro-democracy protests, but the police say they have shown restraint on the street in the face of increased violence from protesters. Police have responded to demonstrators with tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, and several live rounds fired in the air. They have also been seen beating protesters on the ground with batons.

U.S. unlikely to impose sanctions on Turkey over Russian defense purchase: Turkey does not expect President Trump him to impose U.S. sanctions on Ankara after its decision to purchase a Russian missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said on Wednesday. “My expectation is [that sanctions] would not be implemented,” the senior official told reporters in Washington. Ankara and Washington have been in dispute over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system from Russia, which the United States says is incompatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighter jet that Turkey was also planning to purchase and in which it had been a production partner. Last week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration was considering imposing sanctions related to Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s, but that no decisions had been made. Reuters

France says ‘no reason’ to reconsider granting Snowden asylum: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Thursday he saw no reason to reconsider France’s 2013 decision to deny Edward Snowden asylum, days after the former NSA contractor said he would be interested in relocating to France. Le Drian said that when Snowden first asked for asylum in 2013, the French government felt it was “not appropriate” and that nothing has since altered that view. France 24

UK Supreme Court to rule next week on PM Johnson’s suspension of parliament: Britain’s Supreme Court aims to deliver its ruling early next week on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully when he suspended parliament for five weeks in the run-up to Brexit, the president of the court said on Thursday. If the ruling goes against Johnson, he could be compelled to recall parliament ahead of schedule, giving the legislature additional time to challenge his plan to lead Britain out of the European Union on October 31 with or without a divorce deal. Reuters, New York Times


McConnell backs $250 million in election security funding: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday expressed support for providing states with an additional $250 million in election security funding, after more than a year of opposing making the funding available. The additional funding, McConnell said, “will bring our total allocation for election security — listen to this — to more than $600 million since fiscal 2018.” The money was quickly approved by the Appropriations Committee later on Thursday. Washington Post, New York Times, McClatchy
Los Angeles Times: States Try to Combat Election Interference as Washington Deadlocks
CNN: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Meets With Trump During Washington Visit

Gantz declares win, rejects Netanyahu’s call for negotiations in Israel’s election: Israel’s former military chief Benny Gantz declared victory on Thursday in Israel’s election. He rebuffed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s calls for a power sharing agreement and vowed to lead a broad coalition from across Israel’s political spectrum. Netanyahu conceded Thursday that he would be unable to form the government he had campaigned for, but insisted he would lead a unity government with Gantz’s Blue and White party. Gantz hasn’t received the go-ahead to form a government from Israel’s president, but appeared to have a slight edge in unofficial results with 98 percent of the vote counted.
Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, New York Times

Protesters reject Algerian election announcement: Hundreds of Algerians marched on Tuesday against an election called for December, chanting “we will not vote until the regime men are removed.” Mass protests broke out in February of this year, forcing the President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to stand down in April, and have continued every week since then. During the spring and summer, the government detained a host of senior figures on corruption charges, but it has also started to put more pressure on protesters. Army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Saleh has for months pushed for an election, and on Sunday, interim president Abdelkader Ben Salah said it would take place in December. Reuters

Political outsiders advance to run-off vote in Tunisia presidential election: Two political outsiders will compete in a run-off vote to become Tunisia’s next president after they topped the first round of voting on Sunday. Kais Saied, an independent candidate and law professor, won a surprising victory with 18.4 percent of Sunday’s vote. He was followed in second place by the jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui, who received 15.6 percent of the vote. They defeated 24 other candidates for the presidency, including Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and former interim President Moncef Marzouki. BBC News

Europe’s far-right seeks return to power in Austria vote: One in five Austrians intends to support the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) — one of Europe’s oldest far-right movements — in an election on September 29, five months after a corruption scandal that cost FPÖ its former leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, and ended its 18 months in government. It would make the FPÖ the likeliest choice to govern as a junior coalition partner with the moderate conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) of former chancellor Sebastian Kurz. He is expected to return to the chancellery with 35 percent of the vote. Financial Times



For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

Center on National Security
Fordham University School of Law
150 W. 62nd St. 7th Floor
New York, NY 10023 US
Copyright © 2019 Center on National Security, All rights reserved.

*|SHARE:facebook|* *|SHARE:twitter|* *|SHARE:linkedin|*