Today's D Brief: More Gulf states warm to Israel; USAF recruiting dips; Mystery drones buzzed THAAD site; DFCs for wildfire missions; And a bit more.
Today at noon ET: President Trump will host Israeli, Emirati, and Bahraini officials for diplomatic signing statements. More than 700 guests will converge “on the South Lawn to witness the sealing of the agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and between Israel and Bahrain,” AP reports in a preview of the White House’s main item of business.
“The agreements won’t end active wars but will rather formalize the normalization of the Jewish state’s already warming relations with the two countries,” AP’s Matt Lee writes. Reuters reports: “The deals make [Bahrain and the UAE] the third and fourth Arab states to take such steps to normalize ties since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.”
“A seismic shift in the region” could soon follow, especially if Saudi Arabia joins in, AP reports, noting, “The specific contents of the individual documents to be signed were not known ahead of the ceremony.”
With an eye to November, Reuters writes, “the accords could help shore up support among pro-Israel Christian evangelical voters, an important part of his political base.” More here.
By the way: “When Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, it secured the second largest military aid package in the Middle East after Israel, which continues today,” write former U.S. Ambassador to the UAE Barbara Leaf and Dana Stroul, both presently with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in War on the Rocks. “When Jordan made peace with Israel in 1994, the announcement came along with debt relief and the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft — and, like Egypt, Jordan remains a top recipient of American assistance.”
The big problem: “[I]f each normalization agreement brings new requests for ever more sophisticated U.S. military hardware, Washington may find itself in an escalating — and unsustainable — cycle of supplementing and upgrading support, technology, and other military offsets to Israel.” More from Leaf and Stroul, here.
Another problem: how to keep Israel’s military advantage, known as its Qualitative Military Edge, or QME, as required by U.S. law, write Derek Chollet and Andrew J. Shapiro in Defense One. Part of the solution, they write, will be reanimating White House-Congress cooperation on arms exports. Read, here.
Related reading: Get a better handle on the U.S.-UAE military relationship and what Bill Hartung of the Center for International Policy views as the “potential impacts of a strengthened UAE-U.S.-Israel alliance” on the future security of the Middle East and North Africa — in spite of Iran via this CIP analysis (it’s a PDF) from February 2019. The title: “Little Sparta: The United States-United Arab Emirates Alliance and the War in Yemen.”
From Defense One
Air Force General Defends Plans for Mixed F-35, F-15 Fleet // Marcus Weisgerber: Top generals are expected to discuss the service’s future fighter force in upcoming meetings.
Defense One Radio p. 75: The next big thing(s) in unmanned systems // Defense One Staff : 'Where does the human stand here?'
Selling F-35s to the Middle East was Never Going to be Easy // Derek Chollet and Andrew J. Shapiro: To do it, and preserve Israel’s advantage, Trump must reinvigorate the consultative arms sales process with Congress.
The Fog of the Pandemic Is Returning // Alexis C. Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic: Millions of coronavirus tests may be happening without their results being made public.
How Putin Got Into America’s Mind // Dominic Tierney, The Atlantic: He learned the art of destabilizing his opponents from the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1916, the tank made its ineffectual combat debut about halfway through the nearly five-month stalemate we now call the Battle of the Somme.
Seven California Army National Guardsmen were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses Monday in Sacramento, Calif. The medals were in response to “their dangerous rescue of hundreds of Mammoth Pool campers trapped by the Creek Fire” two weekends ago, McClatchy’s Tara Copp reported Monday.
In other wildfire news: Bad timing for rotary assistance. The Oregon National Guard sent six new firefighting Chinook helicopters to Afghanistan this spring, Fox reported Monday. “The new F-model CH-47 Chinook helicopters – equipped with water buckets and used to fight crippling forest infernos – were sent to the long-running battleground as part of the potential Afghanistan drawdown mission.”
However, those Chinooks aren’t the only tools the Guard has for fighting fires, Oregon Guard PAO Maj. Stephen Bomar explained to Fox. "We now have eight Blackhawks available, six dedicated to Bambi bucket water drop operations, and two available for search and rescue,” Bomar said. “We also currently have two UH-72 Lakotas assisting officials with fire mapping to keep track of the fires.”
Fox points out that equipment is hardly the same since “Black Hawks, while faster, are significantly smaller thus can carry less in terms of water loads – 600 gallons compared to a Chinook's 2,000, and 10 individuals contrasted to 44.” As well, “The Lakota functions primarily for search and rescue.” And at any rate, state officials can formally request more assets from from other states, if needed. More from Fox, here.
It appears the U.S. carried out another R9X drone strike in Syria on Monday, this time on a Hyundai Santa Fe in Idlib City’s al-Qusur district, the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister flagged Monday on Twitter.
UN investigators say Syrian troops are responsible for “enforced disappearance, torture, sexual violence and deaths [of captives while] in custody,” all of which “amount to crimes against humanity.” That’s according to the UN International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and its new 25-page report.
“Men, women and children died while buying groceries in crowded markets,” the report’s authors write. “Looting and appropriation of private land” by Turkish-backed forces was also “rife, particularly in Kurdish areas. Not only individuals have come under attack, but also whole communities and cultures.” In addition, “Satellite imagery shows how invaluable UNESCO heritage sites have been destroyed and looted.” Find those five images in the annex to this new report (PDF), here.
So, what to do now about Syria? Here are a few of the report’s recommendations:
- A “nationwide ceasefire” would go a long way toward easing the suffering of all Syrians, the UN says in its conclusions.
- The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces should “make further efforts to end child recruitment by the Syrian Democratic Forces-affiliated Kurdish People’s Protection Units and Women’s Protection Units.”
- Prisoner releases would be a merciful move, too, the authors write — especially since the coronavirus has swept through Syria.
- And all countries still need to take back their foreign fighters, “in particular children with their mothers, in accordance with the best interests of the child.” And for what it’s worth, the U.S. military’s inspector general for the ISIS war said in August it has a “detainee crisis” on its hands as approximately 2,000 foreign fighters remain in SDF custody.
China is collecting data, social media posts of prominent Americans and military members. “The Zhenhua database purports to offer insights into foreign political, military and business figures, and details about countries’ infrastructure,” the Washington Post reports.
BTW: The U.S. government just launched its new Chinese-language network “Global Mandarin,” the BBC’s Zhaoyin Feng noticed Monday on Twitter.
And in the contested Himalayas, Chinese troops are allegedly “laying a network of optical fibre cables” near a mountainous flashpoint with India, “suggesting [the Chinese] were digging in for the long haul despite high-level talks aimed at resolving a standoff there,” Reuters reported Monday.
Small quadcopters buzzed U.S. anti-ballistic missile batteries on Guam last year. The Drive offers what few details emerged from a FOIA request, and suggests that cheap drones could be used to deactivate “an advanced anti-ballistic missile system that protects America’s most strategic base in the entire region.”
The episode may be “the most outstanding reminder of how the Pentagon's fixation on high-end threats, and the huge gold plated weapons programs that are put into play to counter them, have left even those very capabilities remarkably vulnerable to far less advanced attacks,” write Tyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevethick. Read on, here.
Speaking of small-drone incursions, the brand-new episode of Defense One Radio goes deep just why commanders are already terrified of the threat — and of what’s around the corner. Listen, here.
Air Force active duty recruiting has taken a big hit during the pandemic, Air Force Times reports. Last fiscal year, the service added "34,660 active-duty officer and enlisted airmen," AFT's Stephen Losey reports. This fiscal year, the number is about 7,000 fewer — with "27,611 active-duty airmen, including 26,373 active-duty enlisted" so far.
For the record: The 27,611 number is the service's revised recruiting goal. And this year, "The Air National Guard is also going to fall short of its authorized levels in 2020 due to its extended coronavirus response," Losey writes. Read on, here.
Venezuela says it captured another American “mercenary,” this time allegedly plotting “to blow up power plants and oil facilities,” the Washington Post reported Monday. According to Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab, the captured American is Matthew John Heath. The Post notes “Saab did not provide evidence for the claims.” State-run TV, however, “broadcast images of weapons allegedly seized in the plot, including a grenade launcher, an Uzi submachine gun and packets of C4 explosives,” along with “a grainy image of what appeared to be a copy of a U.S. passport.”
Heath was allegedly “detained in a car loaded with weapons and cash on a highway in the Venezuelan state of Falcón,” according to Saab, who claimed Heath “entered the country illegally from Colombia with the aid of his Venezuelan co-conspirators.”
Reminder: “In May, two former U.S. Green Berets — Airan Berry, 42, and Luke Denman, 34 — were detained on the Venezuelan coast in connection with a ragtag raid aimed at capturing or ousting the autocratic leader,” the Post writes. Read on, here.
A top HHS official accused CDC scientists of “sedition” and told supporters to buy ammunition in an unfortunate, paranoid rant posted to Facebook Sunday. The New York Times called his video “outlandish” and full of “false accusations.” But it was also a video in which the official said his “mental health has definitely failed” amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
His name: Michael Caputo, and he’s the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. There, he “coordinates the messaging of an 80,000-employee department that is at the center of the pandemic response, overseeing the Food and Drug Administration, the C.D.C. and the National Institutes of Health,” the Times writes.
“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” Caputo said in the video, in which he described “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.”
“If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get,” he warned. “When Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” Caputo added.
Worth noting: “Caputo has a history of making inflammatory remarks on social media,” CNN reports, noting that its “KFile reported earlier this year that he made racist and derogatory comments about Chinese people, accused Democrats of wanting the coronavirus to kill millions of people and accused the media of intentionally creating panic around the pandemic to hurt Trump in a series of now-deleted tweets.” Oh, and “Caputo also made a slew of crude and sexist comments toward women in a series of now-deleted tweets.” More here.
Related: The former senior CIA official once in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden has spent the summer “calling for the slaughter of his fellow Americans” in blog posts and podcasts, The Daily Beast reports. “Counterterrorism experts have long since written [Michael] Scheuer off as a crank. Yet Scheuer’s advocacy of political violence looks disturbingly like a harbinger. Trump’s one-time consigliere Roger Stone urged Trump to declare martial law and jail his critics if he loses the November election…
“And over the weekend, Trump endorsed federal agents shooting dead a suspect in the killing of a right-wing protester. ‘That’s the way it has to be, there has to be retribution when you have crime like this,” he told Fox News, echoing a point he made earlier in the summer.’” Read on, here.
South Dakota’s attorney general, an Army reservist, killed a pedestrian with his car, investigators say. Jason Ravnsborg was driving home from a GOP fundraiser when he struck what he thought was a deer, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said Sunday. But then the body of 55-year-old Joseph Boever was found at the scene, AP reports. The Department of Public Safety is investigating.
Ravnsborg is an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who has deployed three times for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, has seen combat, and has received the Bronze Star, according to his bio.
Lastly today: A Trump campaign ad used a picture of Russian military jets. “Support our troops” read the words beneath silhouettes of armed soldiers and Russian MiG-29 combat jets — as confirmed by Arthur Zakirov, who created the stock image, which was purchased through Shutterstock for use by the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign, Politico reported. The ad appeared online from Sept. 8-12.
“Today you hear about the Kremlin’s hand in U.S. politics. Tomorrow you are this hand,” Zakirov joked to Politico, adding that he saw the situation as “pretty funny.” Neither the campaign nor the RNC would comment.