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Blackwater USA – Daily Brief

Iran

  • A senior U.S. official told CBS that the recent attack on Saudi oil assets was directly approved by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, under the condition that it was done in a way that gave Iran plausible deniability of responsibility (though strong evidence against Iran is making it pretty hard for it to deny involvement).
  • The CBS article pasted below has a lot of good tea on the U.S. government’s current understanding of the incident and its evolving plans to react/retaliate.
  • Pres. Trump’s messaging got a little bit tougher: he said it was “looking like” Iran was responsible, and tweeted that “I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!”—but he stopped short of publicly accusing Iran of the attack or threatening military action.
  • SecState Pompeo, speaking from Saudi Arabia, called the attack an “act of war,” and said the U.S. was seeking to build a coalition of partners to pressure Iran.

IS

  • Prosecutors say the American Airlines mechanic accused of sabotaging a passenger plane was motivated by ties to IS, rather than frustration over stalled union negotiations (as he’d initially claimed): he lied about visiting his IS-linked brother in Iraq in March, and sent a “disturbing” IS assassination video to a friend with a message supporting attacks against non-Muslims.

Israel

  • Israel’s centrist Blue and White party appears to have snagged one more Knesset seat than PM Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party—32 vs. 31 seats. That means neither party has enough seats for a majority, and they’ll have to work out some kind of power-sharing “national unity” government.
  • That’s bad news for Netanyahu, who will have to fight to stay in power. Blue and White’s Benny Gantz said he’s open to a deal with Likud, but only if Netanyahu is excluded.

Afghanistan

  • Americans For Prosperity—a grassroots organization backed by billionaire Charles Koch—started a two-week TV advertising campaign lobbying Pres. Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and restart negotiations with the Taliban.
  • A Taliban truck bomb near an NDS office in Zabul killed at least seven—and probably far more.

U.S.

  • Pres. Trump named former hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien as his new National Security Advisor.

Guyana

  • Exxon announced a 14th find in the offshore Stabroek block in Guyana on Monday—the same day Tullow announced its second find in the Orinduik block.

Belt & Road

  • Niger and China announced an ambitious plan to build a 2,000-km (1,250-mile) pipeline from southeast Niger to the port of Seme in Benin. The $4.5 billion project, which is backed by the China National Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Corporation (a CNPC subsidiary), will give Niger an alternative to shipping crude through unstable parts of Chad.

DRC

  • DRC’s military killed Rwandan Hutu FDLR leader Sylvestre Mudacumura during a raid in Rutshuru, North Kivu. Mudacumura was wanted by the ICC for his FDLR’s periodic war crimes, and both Rwanda and DRC have been chasing him for decades.
  • Quartz reports that the measles outbreak in DRC has now killed over 3,000 people in 2019 alone—compared with only 2,074 deaths from the ongoing Ebola outbreak. The Director-General of the WHO has tried—rather unsuccessfully—to draw attention to measles in DRC, but efforts to contain the measles virus are meeting the same roadblocks as the fight against Ebola: deep mistrust and resistance to foreign health workers.

Venezuela

  • Pres. Maduro’s government definitely seems to be softening its rhetoric. Yesterday, VP Delcy Rodriguez called on the U.S. “to restore diplomatic contacts and dialogue with the government.” That may mean we’ll see the ongoing secret talks the U.S. is holding with Maduro officials come into the light.

Other News

  • A fire broke out at a Quranic boarding school near Monrovia, Liberia, leaving at least 27 people—mostly children—dead. The fire appears to have been caused by an electrical problem.

Saudi oil attack was approved by Iran’s supreme leader, U.S. official says (CBS)

The recent attack on Saudi oil facilities was approved by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, but only on the condition that it be carried out in a way that made it possible to deny Iranian involvement, a U.S. official told CBS News.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday displayed wreckage of what it said were Iranian cruise missiles and drones. The circuit boards can be reverse engineered to determine the exact route the weapons flew. But U.S. officials said the most damning evidence is still unreleased satellite photos showing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard making preparations for the attack at Ahvaz Air Base in southwestern Iran.

From there, the weapons flew through Kuwaiti airspace some 400 miles to their targets in Saudi Arabia. The satellite photos were of no use in stopping the attack since their significance was not realized until after the fact. “We were caught completely off guard,” one U.S. official said.

The Saudis showed grainy surveillance video of the incoming Iranian drones but none of the actual detonations that one U.S. official described as “a tidal wave of flame.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, called it an “act of war.” But President Trump said he’s in no rush to respond.

“There’s plenty of time to do something dastardly things. We’ll see what happens,” he said.

General Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, has asked permission to send three more batteries of anti-aircraft missiles to help Saudi Arabia protect its oil facilities. McKenzie has also drawn up plans for retaliatory strikes against Iranian oil facilities and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

When President Trump was briefed on the military options, he insisted Saudi Arabia would have to contribute to any retaliatory strike. He’s scheduled to meet again with his national security advisors on Friday.