12 January 2020

Return of the Hashishin (Assassin) Cult?: Wider Implications of the Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities

Maj Gen P K Mallick, VSM(Retd)

The attack on Saudi oil installations has large scale implications for the hydrocarbon supply to the world specially for countries like China, India and the Asian giants of Japan and South Korea. The Strait of Hormuz becomes critical for energy imports of these countries.

The Middle East has become the world’s most polarized region. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran exploit the Shiite-Sunni rift to mobilize their respective constituencies. Iran’s military strategy is to keep tensions at a low level and avoid a direct confrontation with the U.S. Even if neither side wants to fight a war it could still happen due to miscalculation and missed signals. A minor clash can lead to a regional conflagration with devastating effects for Iran, the U.S. and the Middle East. India has to remain sensitive to the happenings in the Gulf region. India spent $111.9 billion on oil imports in 2018-19. Saudi Arabia is the second-largest supplier of crude oil and cooking gas to India. Every dollar increase in the price of oil raises the import bill by around Rs10,700 crore annually.

This Monograph tries to provide how the attack took place, its effect on world economy and oil market, effects on various stake holding countries and their reactions, military implications and India’s concerns..

Where U.S. troops are in the Middle East and Afghanistan, visualized

By Miriam Berger
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U.S. soldiers with their gear head to a waiting bus Jan. 4 at Fort Bragg, N.C., as troops from the 82nd Airborne Division are deployed to the Middle East as reinforcements in the aftermath of the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. (Chris Seward/AP)

Iran has promised severe revenge for the United States’ killing of Qasem Soleimani, the country’s powerful military commander. Across the Middle East, these threats of confrontation have put on high alert the bases, ports and other installations where U.S. troops are based or pass through.

On Friday, the Pentagon announced that it was sending an additional 3,500 troops to the region, while troops in Italy were put on standby, according to defense officials. The troop escalation came just days after President Trump ordered an additional 750 U.S. soldiers to the Middle East and 3,000 more to be on alert for future deployment, after pro-Iranian forces stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as part of a worsening cycle of violence.

The Mistaken Memo That Turned The Pentagon On Its Side


PENTAGON: A day after the Iraqi parliament voted to begin the process of kicking US forces out of the country, a leaked draft memo from the US military command in Baghdad set off a scramble in the halls of the Pentagon. Staffers, reporters, the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs all publicly struggled, in real time, and sometimes together, to understand what was happening.

In a remarkable afternoon even by the current chaotic standards, the memo from Brig. Gen. William Seely, commanding general of Task Force Iraq in Baghdad, to the Iraqi military command offered, “we respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.” Given the wishes of the local government, Seely said, Iraqis can expect increased US helicopter traffic around Baghdad as the US begins “repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement.”

The memo began flying around Twitter in the early afternoon, leading some to declare it a fake and others to conclude the US was planning a quick pullout from Iraq even before the Iraqis formally ordered it. Pentagon staffers were just as confused, and printed-out black and white copies pulled from Tweets were soon flying around the E-Ring. Officials in Baghdad soon confirmed it was real.

Iranian and American Strategies After Soleimani

By George Friedman

Iran has expressed outrage at the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, and has announced a resumption of its nuclear enrichment program, but little in the way of reprisals has actually taken place.

For the United States, the goal of killing Soleimani was to break the Iranian sphere of influence. Its method for doing so has been partly political and partly military. Politically, it has tried to influence some groups with looser ties to Iran. Militarily, it has sought to use air power to destroy key installations. The air campaign is likely to continue in Iraq as Israel attacks in Syria. The U.S. is likely unprepared to act in Lebanon but may continue to support Saudi and Emirati forces in Yemen. In other words, the U.S. was in the process of initiating its offensive against Iran, and that has a long way to go before achieving desired ends. The killing of Soleimani is a step, not closure.

For Iran, the killing opens the door to political maneuver at a time when it badly needs some room. Many U.S. allies, some involved in the nuclear talks that spawned sanctions, have condemned the American action. Resuming the nuclear program is designed to create further opposition to U.S. action, since the U.S. will be blamed for the restart. Iran’s goal will be to create a divide between the U.S. and countries like Germany and France, and use that to isolate the U.S. and create an opening that could lead to the collapse of sanctions. A terrorist action against civilian targets cuts against this strategy.

Soleimani’s Ultimate Revenge

William J. Burn

The death of Qassem Soleimani is a sobering blow for the Iranian regime. Soleimani embodied everything the regime wanted to project about itself—influence, ruthlessness, agility, confidence. He kept Iran’s enemies awake at night, and his theocratic masters sleeping soundly in a world of real and imagined threats at home and abroad.

For years, Tehran’s leadership talked fatalistically about Soleimani as a “living martyr,” but it surely did not anticipate President Donald Trump’s audacious targeted killing. Now the Iranians will seek vengeance—methodical, cold-blooded, and nasty. They will look to avoid an all-out war with the United States that they cannot win. But they will also look to turn a tactical blow into a strategic boon.

Unlike the Trump administration, which cannot reconcile its desire to get tough on Iran with its desire to leave the region altogether, the Iranian regime has a strategy, tethered to the realities, dysfunctions, and limits of the Middle East. Its tactics are often ugly; its capacity for misreading the terrain is sometimes self-defeating; and the pain and stupidities it inflicts on so many across the region, let alone its own people, can be horrific. But it does connect its means to its desired ends: keeping the clerics in power, keeping its imperial project in the region alive, and keeping sworn enemies, including America, off balance and out of its neighborhood.

Containing Tehran: Understanding Iran’s Power and Exploiting Its Vulnerabilities

Following the U.S. killing of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), the United States and Iran are involved in an escalating conflict. What is badly needed now is a coherent long-term U.S. strategy to deal with Iran in ways that protect U.S. national security and leverage U.S. partners. The United States’ “maximum pressure” campaign has not led to a change in Iran’s behavior—at least not yet—though U.S. sanctions have severely damaged Iran’s economy.

As this report highlights with new data and analysis, the IRGC-QF has supported a growing number of non-state fighters in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—including nearly a 50 percent increase since 2016. Thanks to Iran, these forces are better equipped with more sophisticated weapons and systems. This report also uses satellite imagery to identify an expansion of IRGC-QF-linked bases in countries like Iran and Lebanon to train non-state fighters. Iran has constructed more sophisticated and longer-range ballistic and cruise missiles and conducted missile attacks against countries like Saudi Arabia. In addition, Iran has developed offensive cyber capabilities and used them against the United States and its partners. In the nuclear arena, Iran has ended commitments it made to limit uranium enrichment, production, research, and expansion—raising the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons.

What Is Iran Thinking Now?

By Edward Joseph

Somewhere in Tehran, a team of strategists is sifting through options for Iran’s response to the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Each incendiary tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump further concentrates their minds. They will have two distinct aims: to avenge the general’s assassination -- and to be seen doing so -- and to advance Iran’s broader strategic objectives. Which of the options that they produce will Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ultimately choose? Will he scale the ladder of escalation to war with the United States? Will he race to develop a nuclear weapon? What indicators have we gleaned so far that might penetrate the visceral anger and shed light on Iran’s strategic calculus?

Here are ten points worth bearing in mind as we consider what Iran might be thinking. 

Iran knows what Soleimani was up to

In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 3 strike, President Trump tweeted, “Soleimani got caught!” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mike Esper, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley have all insisted that the slain general was actively planning an attack on Americans -- an attack that may have been imminent. Are they telling the truth? Or is this another misleading pretext used to rationalize an attack? 

America Might Not Go to War with Iran, But Israel Might

by Dov S. Zakheim
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While Americans are agonizing over the wisdom of killing Iranian Quds Force leader Qassim Suleimani, and debating how to respond to the likelihood of Iranian retaliation, Israelis are unabashedly delighted that the man who has coordinated both Hezbollah and Syrian militia attacks on their territory is no longer alive. Both the Israeli leadership, notably Naftali Bennett, the newly appointed hard-line minister of defense, and Israeli politicians across the political spectrum—with the notable exception of some Arab leaders—have welcomed the death of a man whom they have considered Israel’s most dangerous arch-enemy.

For their part, the Iranian regime has blamed Israel as much as the United States. So too has Hassan Nasrallah who leads Hezbollah, Iran’s collaborator in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. It is noteworthy that a former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohsen Rezaee, who previously had asserted that Israel had provided the United States with information regarding Soleimani’s whereabouts, stated at a memorial for the Iranian general that Iran could avenge his death by targeting Tel Aviv and Haifa. Moreover, Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s former deputy and now his successor, has a history of anti-Israel pronouncements. And the Tehran Times, which slavishly follows the government line, headlined a report with “Pompeo indirectly confirms Israel’s involvement in assassinating General Soleimani.”

Asian Countries Brace to Evacuate Workers in Iraq, Iran

By Jim Gomez

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military to prepare to deploy its aircraft and ships “at any moment’s notice” to evacuate thousands of Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran should violence break out, reflecting Asia’s growing fears for its citizens in the increasingly volatile Middle East.

Other Asian nations with large populations of expatriate labor may face similar decisions amid the rapidly escalating tensions between the United States and Iran following last week’s U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

South Korean government ministries have discussed strengthening protections for the nearly 1,900 South Koreans in Iraq and Iran. Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said India wasn’t planning to evacuate any citizens from the volatile region “yet.”

Duterte held an emergency meeting with his defense secretary and top military and police officials Sunday to discuss the evacuation plans.

How Trump made the decision to kill Suleimani

by David S. Cloud

When President Trump’s national security team came to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Monday, they weren’t expecting him to approve an operation to kill Gen. Qassem Suleimani.

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had gone to Palm Beach to brief Trump on airstrikes the Pentagon had just carried out in Iraq and Syria against Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia groups.

One briefing slide shown to Trump listed several follow-up steps the U.S. could take, among them targeting Suleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with the discussions who was not authorized to talk about the meeting on the record.

Unexpectedly, Trump chose that option, the official said, adding that the president’s decision was spurred on in part by Iran hawks among his advisors.

That meant the Pentagon suddenly faced the daunting task of carrying out Trump’s orders.


The title above comes from Andy Greenberg’s January 3, 2020 article he posted to the technology and security publication, WIRED.com. For Mr. Greenberg’s full article, I refer you to WIRED.com. As is well known, Iran has a very sophisticated and diverse offensive cyber capability; and, one way Tehran could strike back at the U.S. for the Soleimani hit is via the cyber domain. As Mr, Greenberg notes, Iran “has spent years building their cyber capability to execute not only the mass-destruction of computers, but potentially more advanced — albeit far less likely — attacks on Western critical infrasrtructure, like power grids and water systems.”

“Cyber is certainly an option, and it’s a likely one for Iran,” said Airane Tabatabai, a political scientist at the Rand think tank who focuses on Iran. “Tabatabai points to the asymmetric nature of a conflict between Iran and the U.S. military,” Mr. Greenberg wrote. Iran cannot directly confront the U.S. militarily in any significant, consequential way, thus Tehran is most likely to srike back at the U.S. in an unconventional/asymmetric way such as cyber, and/or through their proxies in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere. Israel is also a likely target.

“The most likely form of cyber attack to expect from Iran will be one it has launched repeatedly against its neighbors in recent years: so-called wiper malware designed to destroy as many computers as possible inside target networs,” Mr. Greenberg wrote. “Iran has used wipers like Shamoon and Stone Drill, to inflict waves of disruption across countries in the Middle East, starting with an attack in 2012 that destroyed 30,000 Saudi Aramco computers. Adn, in 2014, Iranian hackers hit the Las Vegas Sands Corporation with a wiper, after owner Sheldon Adelson suggested a U.S. nuclear sttrke against Iran.”


The following are the EXSUMS from each of the author’s separate essays in the report.

The targeting of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force and arguably the second most powerful man in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a major blow to the Islamic Republic of Iran. His death will likely result in a devastating chain of suspicion and insecurity in Iran’s nodes of power.
The targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani was a major blow to the Islamic regime in Tehran. Soleimani misperceived and miscalculated Donald Trump’s intentions, took his aggressive designs a step too far, and crossed the American president’s red lines.
In terms of influencing Middle Eastern strategic developments, Qassem Soleimani can probably be considered “the man of the decade.” Skillfully using his unique preeminence within the Islamist regime, he exploited the so-called “Arab Spring” to revitalize Tehran’s imperialist ambitions, personally overseeing the regime’s effort to create a “Shiite Crescent” and expand Iranian influence across the region. His

Thousands of Marines Sail To Middle East; Iraqis Vote To Eject US Troops


WASHINGTON: In a remarkable few hours, Iraq’s parliament voted Sunday to remove US forces from the country over the killing of Iran’s Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad two days earlier. The US also suspended its efforts in Iraq to hunt ISIS fighters and to train Iraqi forces.

That drama unfolded as thousands of US paratroopers, Marines, and US warships flowed into the region.

Just hours before the Iraqi vote, during which lawmakers chanted anti-American and pro-Iranian slogans, the American command in Baghdad announced a halt to all operations in the country. “We are now fully committed to protecting the Iraqi bases that host Coalition troops,” the command said after several rocket attacks struck US positions Saturday. “This has limited our capacity to conduct training with partners and to support their operations against Daesh and we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review.” The Iraqi vote to expel was a non-binding resolution so nothing has to happen right away and it may be an indication that leaders are signalling to the Iraqi people that they care but need American and allied forces for other reasons.

While events play out in Baghdad, 3,000 US paratroopers are moving into Kuwait, and a potent force of roughly 2,500 Marines is steaming through the Mediterranean, capable of arriving in the Middle East within days. We don’t know their position, unsurprisingly.

The US Recently Made a Smart Move Toward Iran. Killing Soleimani Wasn’t It


As the New Year begins, it is abundantly clear that Washington’s policies designed to bend Iran to its will have failed. Yet Tehran’s’s recalcitrant responses have similarly failed to improve its own security, and the disastrous prospect of open war has drawn closer with recent events. This is truer than ever with the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, a leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Trump administration had taken a step in the right direction with its recent focus on Iran’s proxies; it would be wise to return to this course.

Since April, when the State Department designated the IRGC and its special operations component, Soleimani’s Quds Force, as foreign terrorist organizations, the United States and its allies have endured a series of setbacks and human losses. Iran seized a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, very likely attacked a Saudi oil facility, and shot down a U.S. drone. On Dec. 27, Iranian proxy Kata’ib Hizballah killed a U.S. citizen and wounded at least four others in a rocket attack in Iraq. Yet the year was hardly an unbridled success for Iran’s leaders. Protests have ungirded the regime at home and abroad, where its proxies in Lebanon and Iraq have suffered political setbacks.

Who’s Next? Trump Crossed a Line with Soleimani’s Assassination

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The Iranian was much more than a general. Who else is the U.S. president willing to kill?

There’s a reason why the United States never just killed Nikita Khrushchev. Or Fidel Castro. Or the ayatollah. In simplest terms: if we kill them, we make it easier for others to do the same to us.

By his title, Qassem Soleimani — the recently deceased leader of the Quds Force, the special ops component of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — may not have ranked among those heads of state. But in Iran, the Middle East, and the Muslim world, he was much more than a mere general. That’s true in the Pentagon as well. “Suleimani is arguably the most powerful and unconstrained actor in the Middle East today,” retired Gen. Stan McChrystal wrote in Foreign Policy a year ago. In August 2018, U.S. Central Command’s Gen. Joe Votel said, “Wherever you see Iranian activity, you see Qasem Soleimani, whether it is in Syria, whether it is in Iraq, whether it is in Yemen, he is there and it is the Quds force, the organization which he leads.” So killing him was not like killing, say, Votel’s successor U.S. Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke, who leads U.S. Special Operations Command, or even Russia’s military chief of staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov. In the eyes of many, Soleimani was far more.

So now that President Trump has crossed that line, who’s next?

The Choice That’s Coming: An Iran With the Bomb, or Bombing Iran

By Philip Gordon and Ariane Tabatabai

The Trump administration may find itself facing the very dilemma the nuclear deal was designed to avoid. 

Mr. Gordon is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Ms. Tabatabai is a research scholar at Columbia University. 

The costs of the United States’ targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, are mounting beyond the already significant risks of Iranian retaliation and subsequent military confrontation.

On Sunday, Tehran announced that it will cease to honor all “operational restrictions” imposed by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which aimed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

While Iran has not announced what, if any, specific nuclear activities it intends to resume, its decision to remove the restrictions on its uranium enrichment, production and research could soon pose a challenge for the Trump administration at least as great as retaliation against the assassination.

Silence Falls on Iran’s Protest Movement

By Nahid Siamdoust

With the United States and Iran on the brink of war, regime change advocates are celebrating the assassination of the Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani as the beginning of a democratic Iran. Royalist expatriate talk shows briefly circulated rumors that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had died of a heart attack, readying the ground for people to rise up to change the face of Iran. After all, the street protests that washed over Iran this past November had unleashed the most widespread and deadly unrest the country had seen since the 1979 revolution.

But if anyone is expecting an inspirational people’s movement to rise up, the music shows otherwise. One might have expected the recent protests to come with an outpouring of revolutionary music. After all, in the absence of a free public culture, music has become an important mode of political expression in modern Iran, as I demonstrated in my book, Soundtrack of the Revolution. Famous Persian classical songs, including “From the Blood of the Youth Tulips Have Sprung,” fueled the uprising against the shah’s security state, and just a decade ago, musicians in Iran revived such hits as “The Winter Is Over” and “My Primary School Mate” to give beat to the Green Movement uprising.

What the Soleimani killing means for the Iran nuclear deal

By Abbas Milani

Supporters of Lebanon's Iran-allied Hezbollah movement vowing revenge at a mass rally and televised speech by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in tribute to Qassem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the predominantly Shia Muslim Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), who were killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad. 

First came President Trump’s decision to have the United States unilaterally leave the multilateral 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). It was followed by the policy of “maximum pressure” on the Iranian economy; the rash but momentous decision to assassinate Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Brigade and easily the second most powerful man in Iran; and the controversial presidential tweet threatening that if Iran took retaliatory action, the United States had already identified 52 targets in Iran, including cultural sites. When Iran’s supreme leader and other Iranian officials threatened harsh retaliation on US military sites, President Trump—taking a page out of his playbook with North Korea—reiterated that should Iran take any action against US assets, he would hit Iran “harder than they have ever been hit before!”

Conflict with Iran Could Be Inevitable after Killing of General

by Maximilian Popp
U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted he does not want war with Iran. Now, with the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, that conflict could be inevitable. It is the price for instinctual foreign policy devoid of experts.

Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Thursday night.

He wanted to do everything differently, using deals instead of alliances, pressure instead of strategy. Even among Donald Trump's critics, there were many who long thought it might be a bad way to approach foreign policy. After all, preceding U.S. presidents had all struggled for years to find solutions to the same set of apparently insoluble crises: Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea.

Donald Trump made a complete break with traditional U.S. foreign policy. He got rid of the experts in the State Department and discarded the tools of diplomacy --negotiations, trade-offs and the weighing of interests. The guiding principle was "disruption." Trump claimed that he could solve conflicts purely with his charisma and his imagination. After all, didn't the tech companies in Silicon Valley likewise remodel the world with their innovations?

Top Five Steps Trump Has Taken To Prepare The U.S. Military For Whatever Comes Next

Loren Thompson

Last week’s domestic reaction to the killing of Iran’s top military commander was predictably partisan and speculative. Nobody can say for sure what will happen next in the Persian Gulf—just as we don’t know what lies ahead on the Korean Peninsula, in Eastern Europe, or in the Horn of Africa.

In such circumstances, the only prudent posture for America’s military is to be prepared for a diverse array of challenges. That is the vector President Trump put military plans on when he took office. Whatever you may think of Trump the man, he installed a highly capable defense team that systematically addressed military deficiencies inherited from the Obama years.

The Obama Administration badly misread global security trends, failing to anticipate Russia’s military resurgence, the rise of ISIS, and various other challenges. As a result, Washington took a number of steps such as the drawdown of forces in Europe and Iraq that later looked misguided. It fell to Trump to reverse course and revitalize the nation’s defense posture.

Britain Stumbles Toward an Exit From the EU

Three years after British voters narrowly voted to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum, Boris Johnson assumed the office of prime minister amid a political environment characterized by anger, turmoil and confusion. But despite initial stumbles that led some observers to predict he would suffer the same dismal fate as his predecessor, Theresa May, Johnson managed to deliver on his promise to renegotiate the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the European Union. His subsequent decisive victory in December’s parliamentary elections, built in part on successfully wooing traditional Labour party voters, gave Johnson the ample majority he needed to see his deal through.

Despite Johnson’s December triumph, Brexit has been a disaster for the country’s two main political parties. The referendum outcome immediately brought down the Conservative government of former Prime Minister David Cameron, who had called for the vote in the first place. His successor, May, was felled by her inability to get the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with Brussels through Parliament, mainly due to opposition by extremist Brexiteers within her own Tory ranks. For his part, Johnson achieved what May couldn’t, arriving at a Brexit deal that a majority of Parliament could agree on—and then building on that majority in December. But now he will own the consequences of having delivered Brexit.

Gas Line, Q4 2019

Gas Line is a quarterly publication that looks at major news stories in global gas—ranging from project development to markets and geopolitics. My goal is not to cover every story but to draw connections between stories across time and space in order to shed light on the major themes that will drive global gas markets in the years ahead. My main takeaways from this quarter:

Crisis Averted—Sort of

The bottom line: These past few months have shown that European gas security, in the old sense, is now largely a Washington obsession and a transatlantic issue. Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement before December 31, thus averting another gas crisis. At the same time, the United States imposed sanctions on Nord Stream 2, and Allseas, the contractor laying the pipeline for the project, suspended its operations. Yet prices at TTF, the main European hub in the Netherlands, averaged 37 percent lower in December 2019 than in December 2018—which did not exactly signal a crisis.

The backstory: The transit contract that allowed Russian gas to reach Europe through Ukraine was expiring on December 31, and this date has long been feared in Europe—any failure by the two sides to reach an accommodation could have disrupted gas flows to Europe. There were many issues complicating a settlement: Ukraine was hoping to bring its legislation in line with European rules; there were outstanding legal claims between the two sides; for a few years, Ukraine had ceased to buy gas from Russia directly; the prospect of Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream hung over the proceedings, a reminder that Ukraine’s transit role was likely to shrink over time; and, of course, hostilities between the two countries were ongoing, just as a new president in Ukraine became the focal point for the impeachment of President Trump.

Hypersonic Missiles Are a Game Changer

By Steven Simon

Last week, President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced the deployment of the Avangard, among the first in a new class of missiles capable of reaching hypersonic velocity — something no missile can currently achieve, aside from an ICBM during re-entry.

Such weapons have long been an object of desire by Russian, Chinese and American military leaders, for obvious reasons: Launched from any of these countries, they could reach any other within minutes. No existing defenses, in the United States or elsewhere, can intercept a missile that can move so fast while maneuvering unpredictably.

Whether or not the Avangard can do what Mr. Putin says, the United States is rushing to match it. We could soon find ourselves in a new arms race as deadly as the Cold War — and at a time when the world’s arms control efforts look like relics of an inscrutable past and the effort to renew the most important of them, a new START agreement, is foundering.

US Government To Restrict Sale of AI for Satellite Image Analysis


The use of machine learning and AI to analyze satellite images could revolutionize the way governments, militaries, investors, and researchers track changes in the world around them. But if you’re a U.S. maker of such software, it’s about to become harder to export your products.

The federal rule change, published on Monday, affects software “‘specially designed’” to train deep learning neural networks “on the analysis of geospatial imagery.” The software would be classified as a dual-use technology under the Wassenaar Arrangement, subject to many of the same restrictions for exporting arms. The rule will go into effect in 60 days, though the public may submit comments on the rule for another 60 days after that.

The rule affects software that would “provide a graphical user interface that enables the user to identify objects (e.g., vehicles, houses, etc.) from within geospatial imagery” and that “Trains a Deep Convolutional Neural Network to detect the object of interest from the positive and negative samples; and identifies objects in geospatial imagery using the trained Deep Convolutional Neural Network.” 

An Assessment of the National Security Impact of Digital Sovereignty

By Kathleen CassedyIan Conway

Kathleen Cassedy is an independent contractor and open source specialist. She spent the last three years identifying, cataloging, and analyzing modern Russian and Chinese political and economic warfare efforts; the role of foreign influence operations in gray zone problem sets; global influence of multi-national entities, non-state actors, and super-empowered individuals; and virtual sovereignty, digital agency, and decentralized finance/cryptocurrency. She tweets @Katnip95352013.

Ian Conway manages Helios Global, Inc., a risk analysis consultancy that specializes in applied research and analysis of asymmetric threats. Prior to conducting a multi-year study of political warfare operations and economic subversion, he supported DoD and homeland security programs focused on counterterrorism, counterproliferation, hard and deeply buried targets, and critical infrastructure protection.

Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title: An Assessment of the National Security Impact of Digital Sovereignty

Future Military Leaders Need Interdisciplinary Educations

By Vice Admiral Ann Rondeau, U.S. Navy (Retired)
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“Today’s security environment merits a different approach. Strategic frameworks must align to the realities of strategic environments. You can’t impose a strategy on a strategic environment; you need to derive strategy from it.” 

– Vice Admiral T. J. White, Commander Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. Tenth Fleet, at 2019 Naval Postgraduate School Fall Graduation

There is a false choice in front of the Navy regarding educating its future leaders—does it teach strategy or just science and technology? At the graduate school level, does it choose STEM majors over strategy majors? These “either-or” questions derive largely from a persistent bias that these areas of study are separate matters for the professional mind. Yet, the applied intellectual activity of naval leaders is fundamentally a hybrid of both, so a “both-and” approach is more useful. Invention and innovation in propulsion technologies and systems over the centuries have had an enormous impact on maritime capability and the strategic positioning of naval forces.