Houthi missile misses Mecca; Iran launches rocket into space; Russia ejects US staff after sanctions bill; Fake cops buy $1.2m in Pentagon weapons; and just a bit more...

The Houthis in Yemen fired a missile near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, late last night. Agence France-Presse: “The missile was intercepted 69 kilometres (43 miles) south of the city in western Saudi Arabia, the coalition said in a statement, calling it ‘a desperate attempt by Shiite Huthi rebels to disrupt Hajj,’ which begins at the end of August.” More here.

The Saudis also blocked four oil tankers from arriving to the Houthi-held Yemeni port of Hodeidah, on the Red Sea, just last week, the UN says. “The four ships were carrying just over 71,000 metric tons of fuel, which represents over 10 percent of Yemen's total monthly fuel needs. It was not immediately clear why the tankers were denied access to the port.” More here.  

Iran just sent a satellite-carrying rocket into space, Reuters reported. The U.S. State Department responded by alleging the test breached UN protocols curbing Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

Meanwhile in Washington on Thursday, “Derek Harvey, the head of Middle East affairs on the National Security Council, was removed from his post,” The New York Times reported in a wider piece about President Trump’s desire to find Iran in violation of the nuclear deal struck during the Obama administration. “Mr. Harvey was known to be especially hawkish about Iran’s role in the region, and he was appointed by the previous national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Mr. Harvey was widely reported to have been at odds with General McMaster, the current national security adviser, on Middle East policy.” More here.

From Defense One

Flow of Foreign Fighters to ISIS Stopped, Trump Tactics Working, McGurk Says // Patrick Tucker: In four key areas, the Trump administration is taking the fight to ISIS in a way that Obama did not, to great effect according to the policy head who worked under both.

Pentagon Tightens Rules After Fake Cops Buy $1.2M in Weapons // Caroline Houck: A sting operation run by the Government Accountability Office revealed a number of loopholes that bad actors could use to buy excess military arms and equipment through the 1033 program.

Which Cyberattacks Should the United States Deter, and How? // Michael Sulmeyer: In theory, there is no reason why the principles of deterrence should not apply to cyberspace. However, there are a number of reasons why it does not work in practice.

This week’s Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Classified projects fuel Northrop growth; Pentagon craves artificial intelligence; Crunching budget numbers and a lot more.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD 103 years ago: the Great War. Have something you want to share? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)

The U.S. military says it’ll wait for more guidance before moving on Trump’s transgender ban. Military Times: “All transgender U.S. servicemembers will continue to be treated with respect, but DOD will eventually implement President Donald Trump’s policy which may ban their service, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph F. Dunford said Thursday.” More, here.

Senate passes new Russian sanctions bill with a veto-proof majority, The Wall Street Journal reported. What’s inside: “legislation [that] would tighten restrictions on the extension of credit to Russian entities and mandate sanctions on those deemed to be undermining cybersecurity as well as those engaging in significant transactions involving the Russian defense and intelligence sectors.”
The outlook: “Should the bill become law, the president would have to notify Congress if he wants to lift sanctions on Moscow. Congress then would have 30 days to pass a resolution of disapproval to stop the president. Should Mr. Trump veto that resolution, Congress would have 10 days to override the veto.” More here.
In response, Moscow this morning says the U.S. will have to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia by between 200 to 300 people, Reuters reports. “Russia told the United States on Friday that some of its diplomats had to leave the country in just over a month and said it was seizing some U.S. diplomatic property as retaliation for what it said were the proposed illegal U.S. sanctions.” That’s a short and direct story, but you can read the rest of it, here.
For what it’s worth: the reduction in staff would bring the U.S. level with the number of Russian diplomats allowed in America, at 455, NYTs adds. Also part of the deal: the U.S. giving up two diplomatic facilities in Russia, like Russia was ordered to do with the Maryland and New York properties in late December.

President Trump’s ISIS war envoy says the Raqqa offensive is “40 percent finished.” That’s just one of several metrics to show that under the Trump administration the U.S.-led coalition is accelerating the demise of ISIS by changing strategies and doubling down on others — according to Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, speaking at the Middle East Institute on Thursday. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has more on McGurk’s comments, here.  
The Syrian army continues its march toward ISIS-held Deir ez-Zour, Syria, south of Raqqa, Reuters reported in a short hit Thursday. “The advance, to within four km (2.5 miles) of the town of Maadan, crossed the provincial boundary between Raqqa and Deir al-Zor for the first time from the west, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.”

Iraqi Kurds have a message for the U.S.: You cannot stop our upcoming independence vote, U.S. News reported Thursday.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was just removed from office, NYTs reports. The move follows “accusations of corruption, delivering a ruling that is likely to shift the country’s tumultuous political balance and deal a serious blow to the legacy of a man who helped define the past generation of Pakistani politics.”
The names being tossed around for his replacement: “Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the speaker of the national assembly; Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the minister of petroleum; Khurram Dastgir Khan, the commerce minister; and Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the defense minister.” More here.
Extra reading: Reuters retraces the events that led to Sharif’s ouster, here.
Al-Qaeda in Kashmir? The announcement came Thursday via a group calling itself the Global Islamic Media Front, announcing a new branch to fight in the contested territory claimed by both India and Pakistan, the Associated Press reports.

The U.S. Navy’s Super Hornets and Air Force B-1B bombers are getting new missiles, Breaking Defense reports after “contractor Lockheed Martin announced an $86.5 million contract to build the first 23” Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles, LRASMs.

The USS Fitzgerald collision in mid-June? Repairs to the ship “will easily be more than the $250 million the U.S. Navy paid to repair USS Cole (DDG-67) after it suffered a 2000 terrorist attack in Yemen,” U.S.Naval Institute News reported Thursday.

“Get out,” the U.S. State Department tells the family members of its employees stationed in Venezuela, WSJ reported Thursday. “The announcement, contained in a travel warning for the country, said that the State Department will be limiting movement of the employees who remain in Caracas and advises all Americans against traveling to the country due to 'social unrest, violent crime and pervasive food and medicine shortages.' The move comes a day after the Trump administration imposed sanctions against 13 Venezuelan officials for alleged corruption, human-rights violations and undermining the country’s democracy. Venezuela faces a vote on Sunday to elect an assembly tasked with rewriting the country’s constitution. Venezuela’s opposition coalition is boycotting those efforts.” Story, here.
Want to understand more about Venezuela? The Washington Post filed this good explainer from Caracas.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!