Fdd's overnight brief

June 3, 2020

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran is rolling back coronavirus restrictions as it attempts to revive its battered economy, despite a surge in new infections that has driven daily cases back toward the country’s peak in late March. – Wall Street Journal

An Iranian scientist detained in the United States was flown back to Iran on Tuesday, a possible precursor to a prisoner exchange between the countries despite their intensifying hostility since President Trump took office more than three years ago. – New York Times

The return of an Iranian scientist who was imprisoned in the U.S. isn’t part of a prisoner-swap deal between the two countries, Iran’s state TV said on Tuesday, citing foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi. – Bloomberg  

The Islamic Republic customs data for the first two months of the new Iranian calendar year (beginning March 20, 2020) shows that the country’s non-oil exports fell 49 percent to $ 4.3 billion. – Radio Farda 

In a thread of tweets on Tuesday, the Persian-language Twitter account of the U.S. Department of State refuted Iran’s accusations of suppressing protesters and preventing the media from reporting it. – Radio Farda 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says he will visit Iran shortly to sign cooperation agreements in energy and other sectors after Iran sent five fuel tankers to the South American country. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Iran is using the killing in the United States of an African-American man at the hands of a white policeman and the angry wave of protests it has caused as a propaganda tool to settle scores with Washington, which has imposed a campaign of “maximum pressure” on Tehran that includes crippling economic sanctions. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

A chess official in Iran says the Islamic Ministry of Sports has pressured him to resign from all his sports activities because his daughter “had not respected the so-called Islamic dress code”. – Radio Farda

Charlie Gao writes: Ironically, while the Nader has become a sign of the IRI’s influence, the design was originally commissioned by the Iranian Shah government from a West German firm, according to a released report by the U.S. Army National Ground Intelligence Center. The IRI’s military presumably liked the design and continued production post-coup, and now Naders are found as common aid, given out to feed the plethora of RPG launchers in the region. – The National Interest 


Russian warplanes carried out early Wednesday the first airstrikes in three months on the last remaining rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria, opposition activists said. There was no immediate word on any casualties. – Associated Press

Sebastien Roblin writes: Virtually all the state actors in the region find it more expedient to remain locked in perpetual small-scale warfare than to take on the political risks of negotiating in good faith with their adversaries—a move which could delegitimize them with their own allies. […]As a result, ongoing hostilities between Syria and Israel appear to be indefinitely sustainable. – The National Interest 

Bassam Barabandi writes: In the end, it appears that a war by the regime against the people of Daraa is coming, as it will either be supported or ignored by the powers at play. However, the different needs of these forces will define the length and extent of this new war, which may be limited in order to prevent a new displacement to Jordan—displaying the failure of Russia, the regime, and Iran to take control of Daraa. Even so, this escalation can and should be stopped. Especially in light of the coronavirus outbreak now spreading in Syria, all active parties in Syria must stop using the language of war and abide by their commitments with regard to southern Syria. – Washington Institute 

Danny Makki writes: Syria today is fixed on a path of growing economic hardship, with no clear end in sight. The situation in Lebanon is unlikely to improve anytime soon and the chances of a rapprochement with the West are limited, so everything points toward a long impasse. With the Caesar sanctions looming, Damascus’ economic problems may only get worse before they get better. – Middle East Institute  


Political relations between Israel and the Palestinians are stalled. The Palestinian leadership refuses to meet with U.S. officials. Israelis are suspicious of European motives, and other potential intermediaries, like the Russians, are focused elsewhere. So it is the lone figure of Mladenov who is often seen shuttling between the sides. – Washington Post

A U.S. court has ruled that Iran and Syria are liable for compensation for American citizens wounded and killed in a series of attacks by Palestinians in Israel, including the killing of a U.S. Army veteran. – Associated Press

A Syrian national working as a shepherd in Lebanon who was shot by IDF soldiers after he infiltrated over the Lebanese border into Israel was transferred to the Red Cross in Lebanon through the Rosh Hanikra border crossing on Tuesday, according to an IDF statement. – Jerusalem Post 

Norway, which chairs a group of international donors to the Palestinians, urged Israel on Tuesday not to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. – Reuters 

An Israeli Merkava tank was photographed stationed in close proximity to Lebanese soldiers and United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeeping forces on Tuesday, after two of the tanks crossed the technical fence near the border, according to Lebanese reports. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel will not apply its sovereignty to Palestinian towns within areas that it plans to annex in the West Bank, and as such, Palestinians – including those living in the Jordan Valley – will not be granted Israeli citizenship, American and Israeli sources said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Security chiefs will convene Wednesday for a key discussion to prepare for various scenarios if parts of the West Bank are annexed next month, as currently planned. – Times of Israel

The Trump administration will take active steps to prevent the International Criminal Court for targeting American soldiers, Israel, and other US allies, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. – Arutz Sheva 

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) successfully tested on Tuesday its latest ballistic missile, the Israeli news site Walla reported. – Algemeiner

Five suspects are on trial in Jordan for allegedly plotting to carry out suicide attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank, according to a report by AFP. – Agence France-Presse

Israeli annexation of portions of the West Bank would have grave consequences for its ties with the Hashemite Kingdom, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Furthermore, providing a new communications system for militaries requires solving three challenges: lack of infrastructure when deployed in the field, the need to operate in severe conditions, and the need to ensure security amid threats of electronic warfare tactics, according to Rafael. Those challenges have been addressed with the Israel Defense Force, which the company hopes will be a selling point for foreign militaries seeking similar upgrades to communication technology. – C4ISRNET

Arabian Peninsula

International donors pledged about $1.35 billion in humanitarian aid for Yemen on Tuesday, far short of the $2.4 billion the United Nations had said was needed to pull a country shredded by years of war, hunger and disease from the brink of further disaster. – New York Times

The United Nations said ahead of a pledging conference for Yemen on Tuesday that 30 of 41 major aid programmes in the war-torn country would close in the next few weeks without funding. – Reuters 

A Yemeni journalist was shot dead Tuesday in the southern port city of Aden, security officials said. Armed men opened fire on Nabil al-Quaety, a video journalist and photographer who contributed to Agence France-Presse, outside his home in Aden’s Dar Saad district, the officials said. – Associated Press

Khalil al-Anani, Courtney Freer, Marwan Kabalan, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, and Karen E. Young write: For the Gulf states, finding the energy to continue the dispute, either through subterfuge and disinformation or direct conflict, becomes more trying. There are simply larger problems for the region to confront. There will certainly be competition for influence in a number of second order-of-influence places, from Libya to Somalia. But in a place where the Gulf’s influence might matter most, as in Lebanon, none of the GCC states has been eager to engage or commit resources. – Arab Center Washington DC 

Middle East & North Africa

The U.S. military is ending a decadeslong practice of designating the Middle East as a region safe enough for the families of American service members to live, a signal that the U.S. is scaling back part of its presence in the region, officials said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal

The United Nations said Tuesday it expects “things to get moving in the next few days” following the agreement by Libya’s warring parties to resume cease-fire negotiations following days of heavy fighting.- Associated Press

Jonathan Fulton writes: U.S. pressure to reject China could now force several Middle Eastern countries into difficult alignment choices, as great power rivalry once again threatens to turn the region into a theater of competition. Here’s what you need to know about how U.S. allies are likely to react to the escalating tensions between the United States and China. – Washington Post

Steven Kenney and Ross Harrison write: To avoid the worst outcomes for an already fraught region, there is no substitute and frankly no alternative to some form of cooperation among regional actors, and ideally international actors as well. With the Middle East likely to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis more fragile and potentially explosive than before, a cooperative architecture that can build regional resilience is an imperative. Policymakers should look at some of the scenarios outlined above as both a wakeup call and an opportunity to move toward such an architecture. – Middle East Institute 

Sardar Aziz writes: Against this complex backdrop, it becomes clear that the Kurdistan region, like the rest of Iraq, requires some kind of decentralization, even if different parties have not yet agreed on what form this decentralization will take. […]For the international community, including the United States and other international powers that have attempted support the security apparatuses in the region, decentralization should be guided in a way to unify the region and establish a more coherent governing system. This might serve as a way to overcome the divisions in Iraqi Kurdistan and make it a more reliable regional partner. However, for decentralization to occur, a number of steps within a realistic time frame are required. – Washington Institute 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It appears the ethnic-cleansing in Afrin will continue until there are few minorities left. Shrines of the Yazidi faith have also been destroyed and desecrated, similar to how ISIS destroyed them in Iraq. The targeting of women will also continue, because there are no strong groups to prevent it or any authorities that enforce the protection of women’s rights in Turkish areas of control. – Jerusalem Post

Mieczysław P. Boduszynski and Christopher K. Lamont write: The story of Japan’s relations with Libya provides a window into how Japan has successfully cultivated ties with countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Relationship-building coupled with reassurances that Japan is interested in more than just oil has been a central element of Japan’s approach to the region since the days of Nakatani’s visits to Arab capitals. – Middle East Institute 


One of Australia’s biggest states is pushing ahead on an infrastructure deal with China as ties between Beijing and the federal government are at a low, raising concerns that Chinese money may end up funding projects that are a national-security risk. – Wall Street Journal

China’s state media have carried prominently images of the recent unrest in the U.S., the police response and President Trump’s threat of force against protesters, while Chinese diplomats are using the events to counter criticism of Beijing’s efforts to stamp out demonstrations in Hong Kong. – Wall Street Journal

As protests over police violence engulf hundreds of cities in the United States, China is reveling in the moment, seizing on the unrest to tout the strength of its authoritarian system and to portray the turmoil as yet another sign of American hypocrisy and decline. It is a narrative that conveniently ignores many of the country’s own problems, including its history of ethnic discrimination, its record on human rights and its efforts to suppress protests in Hong Kong. – New York Times

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday marked this week’s anniversary of China’s deadly 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square — a day after federal forces used tear gas to clear peaceful protesters from a park in front of the White House. – Associated Press

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the United Kingdom stands ready to open the door to almost 3 million Hong Kong citizens, as the city’s leader arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for meetings on a planned national security law that has many worried about their future. – Associated Press

The death of a doctor at Wuhan’s “whistleblower hospital” has prompted a wave of anger at hospital authorities for not protecting frontline health workers in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. – The Guardian 

Throughout January, the World Health Organization publicly praised China for what it called a speedy response to the new coronavirus. It repeatedly thanked the Chinese government for sharing the genetic map of the virus “immediately,” and said its work and commitment to transparency were “very impressive, and beyond words.” – Associated Press

Taiwan called on China on Wednesday to apologise for the bloody 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing, a call dismissed as “nonsense” by China’s foreign ministry. – Reuters

Charles Dunst writes: Beijing has proved that it will readily disregard its partners’ sovereignty whenever Chinese interests are on the line. Global leaders must now realize that when the domestic rubber meets the road, China will not hesitate to intervene — its promises be damned. – Washington Post  

Joseph Bosco writes: Perhaps some day “President” Xi will demonstrate the same political courage that President Tsai has shown twice by taking her case to the Taiwanese people and respecting their judgment.  President Trump also relies on the democratic process to pursue his vision of America’s future, and, like Tsai, is willing to have the American people judge his record and decide whether they want to continue with his leadership. He might want to suggest that his Chinese friend give it a try. After all, Xi is supremely convinced that only he is fit to govern China and that the Chinese people must surely agree, so Trump might ask him, “What do you have to lose?” – The Hill 


A bomb exploded inside a mosque in the Afghan capital Kabul on Tuesday killing two people, including the mosque’s prayer leader, and wounding two others an official said. – Associated Press

A roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday killed nine passengers travelling on a bus through Kandahar province, a spokesman for the provincial governor said. – Associated Press 

Joe Lieberman and Jack Keane write: Mr. President, please do not impose an unnecessary defeat on U.S. forces, engage in a humiliating surrender, and retreat from an important front against some of our deadliest foes. […]we can and should remain there as long as we need to, at the small force levels required, to protect Americans from those who would kill us. You have rightly made that the mission of our troops in Afghanistan and everywhere they are deployed. Let them carry out that mission. – Washington Post  

J. Alexander Thier writes: The administration should put forward a “Plan Afghanistan” that will provide the tools Afghanistan needs to become more stable and prosperous while preventing a catastrophic collapse that could lead to atrocities, a massive humanitarian crisis and flight, and the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations taking root. […]We may actually be in a rare moment where the right set of decisions could change the course dramatically for the better. After all the lives lost and resources invested, it would be a disaster to let the opportunity go to waste. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

South Asia

The U.S. government’s move to launch a trade investigation into a digital services tax adopted by several countries including India should not be construed as a move of aggression against New Delhi, a senior Indian government source said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Alphabet Inc’s Google has taken down an Indian mobile application from its app store that allowed users to remove other Chinese apps from their phones[…]. The app, “Remove China Apps”, had become top trending free app on Google’s mobile app store in India with more than five million downloads since late May. Its popularity rose amid calls for a boycott of Chinese mobile apps in India during a Himalayan border dispute between the two nations. – Reuters 

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has received an invitation from U.S. President Donald Trump to attend the next Group of Seven summit, India’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a senior congressional leader have reprimanded China for bullying behaviour towards India during a military standoff on their disputed border. – Reuters 

China and India, two nuclear-armed powers with a combined population of 2.7 billion, have been gathering thousands of troops at a disputed border in a remote area of the Himalayas. […]The newest tensions along the 3,488 kilometer (2,167 miles) un-demarcated border come at a time of growing Chinese assertiveness in matters of sovereignty and as India grapples with a worsening coronavirus outbreak and an economy in crisis. – Bloomberg 


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged Wednesday to overhaul immigration rules to grant almost three million Hong Kong residents a pathway to British citizenship, a response to Beijing’s move to impose a far-reaching security law here that many fear will dismantle the city’s political freedoms. – Washington Post 

In a strategic setback for China, the Philippines government reversed itself Tuesday and said it would maintain a longstanding military pact with the United States that President Rodrigo Duterte has criticized as unfair. – New York Times  

North Korea is reopening schools and restarting cross-border trade with China as it eases measures to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to state media, independent news reports and people familiar with the situation, signaling confidence in its efforts to defeat the virus. – Washington Post 

For decades, the U.S. has guaranteed freedom of navigation in Asia’s waters, patrolling the seas with a view to maintaining the principle that no sovereign state shall suffer interference from another. China’s growing military prowess, combined with a dogged assertiveness over its territorial claims, is testing the old ways and providing a potential flashpoint for the two powers, increasingly at odds over issues from cybersecurity to Covid-19. That tension is felt most keenly in the South China Sea. – Bloomberg 

The Pentagon said on Tuesday that it had accepted a proposal from South Korea for it to temporarily fund thousands of Korean workers at U.S. bases who were put on unpaid leave this year. – Reuters  

A Myanmar court on Wednesday denied bail to a Canadian Christian preacher who held church services in defiance of a ban on gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that led to infections in dozens of people including himself. – Reuters 


Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, in a phone call with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, invited him to a military parade in Moscow’s Red Square on June 24, the ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposal to invite Russia to an expanded Group of Seven summit later this year raised more questions than it provided answers, but that its diplomats would seek clarification from Washington. – Reuters 

President Vladimir Putin approved a strategic document on Tuesday naming the creation and deployment of anti-missile and strike weapons in space as one of the main military threats to Russia, the RIA news agency reported. – Reuters  

The European Union on Tuesday rejected any suggestion that the Group of Seven advanced economies could be expanded to include Russia and warned Washington that it could not change the rules for the group on its own. – Reuters


The European Union will try to convince Boris Johnson to forge a compromise later this month in an attempt to stop the U.K. from breaking away from the bloc without a trade deal. – Bloomberg 

The European Union is pressing for a global deal to eliminate tariffs on pharmaceuticals and medical supplies in an effort to guard against the kind of supply-chain shock triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. – Bloomberg 

Brussels is seeking new powers to review and potentially block takeovers of European companies by rivals deemed to have received unfair support from a foreign government, according to plans seen by the Financial Times. The proposals, which have not yet been finalised, will intensify efforts by the EU to rein in perceived unfair competition from China and elsewhere. – Financial Times

The Northern Ireland assembly has unexpectedly voted in favour of calling for an extension to the Brexit transition period, arguing that the UK government cannot impose complex border checks down the Irish Sea while Britain is occupied with the coronavirus crisis.  – The Guardian

Serbia has become the latest country to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. – Algemeiner


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday gave his backing to the head of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina, in his re-election bid despite allegations of improper conduct. […]The United States, AfDB’s second-largest shareholder after Nigeria, is demanding a new independent investigation, saying it has reservations about the integrity of the banks process. – Reuters  

Sudan on Tuesday swore in a new defense minister more than two months after the death of the former defense chief and amid tensions with neighboring Ethiopia. – Associated Press 

Islamic extremists chased Adama Drabo and his family from their land in western Burkina Faso, forcing them to abandon a year’s worth of crops. – Associated Press

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the relevant departments were in contact with Angola over its request for debt relief. – Reuters

Edith L. Bartley writes: Clearly, Sudan must pay significant compensation before it can be removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list, and the proposed diplomatic settlement of our claims by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is an important step. We support those efforts and look forward to the day when all victims and families — Americans, Kenyans and Tanzanians — can look back on these years of struggle and pain with pride for contributing to this noble achievement. – Washington Post 

Latin America

The Trump administration Tuesday tightened its web of sanctions around the Maduro regime in Venezuela, blacklisting four companies allegedly involved in the country’s oil sector. – Wall Street Journal

Venezuela’s government has signed an agreement with the opposition-led National Assembly to work with the regional arm of the World Health Organization to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said on Tuesday. – Reuters  

Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit, a part of the finance ministry tasked with combating and preventing money laundering, said Tuesday it had asked banks to freeze nearly 2,000 accounts allegedly linked to the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel. It is the latest sign of Mexico’s commitment to step up its fight against organized crime after U.S. President Donald Trump backed off from his threat to designate Mexican cartels as terrorist groups. – Reuters 

Left-wing Ecuadorean firebrand Rafael Correa made throwing the “Yankees” out of Ecuador a campaign promise in 2006. But one of South America’s worst coronavirus outbreaks has his successor welcoming U.S. military assistance and promising defense purchases, however unlikely. – Washington Examiner

North America

U.S. allies expressed solidarity with Americans protesting the death of George Floyd, while rivals seized on violent clashes to criticize official U.S. responses to the unrest and question Washington’s global leadership. – Wall Street Journal

In interviews and posts on social media in recent days, current and former U.S. intelligence officials have expressed dismay at the similarity between events at home and the signs of decline or democratic regression they were trained to detect in other nations. – Washington Post

Former president George W. Bush addressed the nationwide protests in a solemn yet hopeful statement Tuesday, commending the Americans demonstrating against racial injustice and criticizing those who try to silence them. – Washington Post

Gambia’s government called on Tuesday for a credible and transparent investigation into the shooting death of one of its citizens by U.S. police in the state of Georgia last Friday. – Reuters 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that Canadians are watching what’s unfolding in the United States with “horror and consternation” and he paused for 21 seconds when asked about U.S. President Donald Trump and the use of tear gas against protesters to clear the way for a photo opportunity. – Associated Press


China’s Huawei Technologies acted to cover up its relationship with a firm that had tried to sell prohibited U.S. computer gear to Iran, after Reuters in 2013 reported deep links between the firm and the telecom-equipment giant’s chief financial officer, newly obtained internal Huawei documents show. – Reuters

Two major Canadian wireless companies said they will build out their next-generation 5G wireless networks with equipment from European providers, sidelining China’s Huawei Technologies Co. – Bloomberg

China is using telecoms giant Huawei to try to drive a wedge between Britain and the United States, Republican senator Tom Cotton told British lawmakers on Tuesday. – Reuters

A massive cyber-attack has exposed the personal information and credit card numbers of hundreds of Israeli citizens, a cyber-security company stated on Tuesday. – Algemeiner 


The Pentagon plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funding to support vulnerable manufacturers of submarine torpedo tubes, aircraft engine parts and hardened microelectronics that were hit by closures or other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. – Defense News 

Outraged Democrats plan to use the massive defense budget and policy bill to fight President Donald Trump’s push to use the U.S. military to quell days of riots, and they may seek defense cuts to do it. – Defense News  

A federal watchdog found that poor planning by the Department of Defense has blurred the department’s understanding of the risks and costs associated with upgrading the system that routes internet traffic across the globe, known as Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). – C4ISRNET 

The Air Force will dole out up to $950 million over the next five years to develop and enable its Joint All Domain Command and Control concept, according to a May 29 contract announcement. – C4ISRNET 

The Columbia ballistic-missile submarine program has seen some COVID-19-related challenges – including difficulties conducting oversight audits to ensure suppliers can keep to the tight schedule that has no room for further delays – but the program executive officer is confident that the prime shipbuilder is managing the situation and keeping the program on track. – USNI News 

A team of 10 Marines is mulling how to take major technology developments and apply them to the combat missions, as part of a Naval Postgraduate School-hosted series of online TED talk-styled presentations. – USNI News  

Trump Administration

Russian spy services had just carried out a complex campaign to disrupt an American presidential election. But the man who was set to become the White House national security adviser, speaking to Russia’s ambassador, referred to that effort only as “the cyberstuff.” – New York Times

The Trump administration has announced an investigation into a string of countries that are adopting digital services taxes, including the UK, Italy, Brazil, Indonesia and the EU as a bloc, which could lead to new punitive tariffs by Washington and exacerbate global trade tensions. – Financial TImes

US President Donald Trump signed a new executive order on Tuesday that boosts American efforts to promote religious freedom internationally by providing a $50 million annual budget for educational, training and advocacy programs. […]The order places additional focus on the Special Watch List of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) — those countries “which require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments.” – Algemeiner

Katrina Manson writes: Washington joined the UK, Australia and Canada to criticise Beijing for undermining the “one country, two systems” framework meant to determine Hong Kong’s future for 50 years after its handover from British rule in 1997. The countries, which share a common language and history of UK rule, are members of the Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing organisation (the fifth member being New Zealand). […]Along with America’s effort to force public discussion of Hong Kong at the UN Security Council last week, which China scuppered, it also marked a rare collegiality from an administration that has snubbed multilateralism. – Financial Times