Fdd's overnight brief

April 14, 2020

In The News


Even as both face the same invisible enemy in the coronavirus pandemic, Iran and the United States remain locked in retaliatory pressure campaigns that now view the outbreak as just the latest battleground. – Associated Press

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela were unjust in a telephone call with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday and called for the two countries to cooperate together within the OPEC+ group. – Reuters

A Luxembourg court has blocked a long-running US request to transfer $1.6 billion of dollars in Iranian assets to victims of the September 11 attacks, an official statement said on Monday. – Agence France-Presse

An outspoken cleric who supervises Iran’s Qods Force says the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is Washington’s agent, assigned to culturally infiltrate the clergy-dominated country. – Radio Farda


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz are struggling to agree on terms for a unity government, leaving the country in political limbo and raising the specter of another do-over general election, as the nation grapples with a coronavirus lockdown. – Wall Street Journal

The Hamas terror group is demanding that Israel release 250 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for information on two Israeli captives in the Gaza Strip and on the remains of two IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, according to a Lebanese news report on Tuesday. – Times of Israel

A pro-Israel group is warning Israeli leaders that reports of planned annexations of parts of the West Bank would cause “long-term damage” to the US-Israel alliance. – Times of Israel

Senior Palestinian officials refused on Monday to back down on accusations that Israel has been responsible for intentionally spreading the coronavirus in the West Bank, after Jerusalem called such claims “incitement” and warned of significant consequences for repeating them. – Times of Israel

According to the “Securitists” (Bitkhonistim) movement, the Palestinian Authority is “persecuting” Palestinian Authority (PA) Arab farmers who want to work on Jewish-owned farms in the Jordan Valley, in an effort to damage Jewish settlement in the Jordan Valley region even though this results in the loss of livelihood for the Arabs concerned. – Arutz Sheva


For Iraq, one of the biggest obstacles for public health officials fighting the coronavirus is the stigma associated with illness and quarantine. […]In contrast to many Western countries, where celebrities have acknowledged having the disease, and even neighboring Iran, where senior political figures announced they were ill with the virus, there is only one instance in Iraq of a politician or prominent figure admitting to being infected. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that his country welcomes an apparent agreement among Iraq’s Shia, Sunni and Kurdish groups to form a new government, adding it would need to be capable of confronting the coronavirus pandemic, helping the economy and bringing arms under control. – Reuters

The UAE on Monday welcomed the appointment of new Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Al Kadhimi. – The National

On April 9, 2020, Rudaw TV (Iraqi Kurdistan) aired a report in which the reporter interviewed ISIS women at the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria. One of the women[…] said that coronavirus has not infected them because they fast, pray, are pious, fear Allah, and follow Islam in the path of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. She emphatically stated that coronavirus does not infect true Muslims, that it infects only infidels and oppressors, and that any Muslims who have died from coronavirus had been infected because they weren’t true Muslims. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Arabian Peninsula

The oil-rich monarchies of the Persian Gulf have long relied on armies of low-paid migrant workers from Asia, Africa and elsewhere to do the heavy lifting in their economies, and have faced longstanding criticism from rights groups for treating those laborers poorly. – New York Times

The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s internationally recognised government accused Houthi rebels of breaking a ceasefire on Monday. – The National

Nadwa Al-Dawsari writes: The Houthis’ lack of interest in halting their military operations inside Yemen puts Marib at grave risk, threatens to further destabilize Yemen, and could displace millions of civilians in the midst of a potential COVID-19 outbreak, defeating the very purpose of the cease-fire. While pressure should continue on all sides to stop the fighting, the use of force might be necessary to protect Marib against the Houthis’ incursion and Yemen from the spread of coronavirus. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

One year after an offensive was launched against the Libyan capital Tripoli, Libya’s war is intensifying, and hundreds of thousands of civilians are besieged amid increased shelling and massive water and electricity cuts. – Washington Post

Forces aligned with Libya’s internationally recognized government seized two towns west of the capital Tripoli on Monday after heavy clashes and drone strikes, military sources and residents said. – Reuters

Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday passed a law that will allow the release of tens of thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding in jails and protect detainees from the coronavirus, but which critics slam for excluding those jailed on terrorism charges. – Reuters

Tobias Schneider and Theresa Lutkefend write: Britain, France, and other states should advocate for sanctioning the Syrian regime and suspending its privileges as a full member of the OPCW in line with the “collective measures” provision under Article XII of the Chemical Weapons Convention. […]The same governments, in coordination with regional partners such as Turkey and Israel, should reiterate and clarify their redlines regarding CW use in Syria and follow through swiftly and consistently in case of any violations. – Washington Institute

Leila Gilbert writes: The reality is that COVID-19 may become as threatening to life in northeastern Syria as the relentless attacks by Turkey’s well-armed troops. Those who become sick enough to need medical care – and especially the critically ill – will face nearly insurmountable obstacles. A few may be transferred to Damascus, but there will be many fatalities. […]In the meantime, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not cease his aggression against the Christians and Kurds in the region. He will continue to maim, kill and destroy. And he will do so until he is powerfully and permanently stopped in his tracks. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korea ​fired several short-range missiles off its east coast on Tuesday, a day before South Korea is scheduled to hold elections for its 300-seat Parliament. – New York Times

He once ranked among North Korea’s diplomatic elite, whose job it is to promote the interests of one of the world’s most repressive communist states. Today, Thae Yong-ho is standing for election in one of South Korea’s richest and swankiest constituencies, in what must rank as one of the most dramatic political transformations of the modern age. – Washington Post

South Korea heads to the polls on Wednesday to vote in parliamentary elections, making it the first country with a major coronavirus outbreak to hold nationwide elections since the pandemic began. – TIME

Khang X. Vu writes: North Korea’s claim of zero COVID-19 cases helps the country carry on with a sense of normalcy. The Worker’s Party of Korea—in its report earlier this year—emphasized the need to prioritize economic self-sufficiency as the United States refused to lift sanctions. The party also implied resuming nuclear and missile testing as well as unveiling a “new strategic weapon” to deter U.S. aggression in 2020. […]Maybe Vietnam and North Korea have succeeded in containing the virus much earlier than other Asian countries thanks to police-state institutions. But, it’s a puzzle and, when assembled, the numbers have to tell a story. With Vietnam, it is one of legitimacy. With North Korea, it is one of normalcy. – War on the Rock


As China in March became the first major country to recover from the coronavirus outbreak that spread from central city of Wuhan, its officials kicked off another campaign: to heal its tattered international image. – Washington Post

While China struggles elsewhere to polish its image tarnished by its initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak, Beijing has no problem maintaining its hard-won influence in Eastern Europe, where it battles for clout with the EU as well as with Russia in countries like Serbia. – Associated Press

A Chinese ship embroiled in a standoff with Vietnamese vessels last year has returned to waters near Vietnam as the United States accused China of pushing its presence in the South China Sea while other claimants are pre-occupied with the coronavirus. – Reuters

Taiwan’s largest carrier, China Airlines, has become the latest focus of political angst on the island about identity and its relationship with China amid the coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

Sino-African relations have been plunged into crisis after African officials reacted furiously to allegations that their nationals were being routinely discriminated against in Guangzhou, southern China, as alleged potential “carriers” of coronavirus. – Financial Times

China has imposed restrictions on the publication of academic research on the origins of the novel coronavirus, according to a central government directive and online notices published by two Chinese universities, that have since been removed from the web. – CNN

Several Republican lawmakers are pushing for more aggressive punitive measures against China in retaliation for the spread of coronavirus, even as the Trump administration has carefully avoided threatening consequences for Beijing’s early obfuscations of the virus’s origins and seriousness.  – Defense One

China’s top agency overseeing Hong Kong said lawmakers blocking action by the local legislature were potentially violating their oaths, in a signal that Beijing was losing patience with the months-long legislative logjam. – Bloomberg

South Asia

The chief U.S. negotiator and the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan held talks on Monday with Taliban officials in Doha on a prisoner release dispute that helped stall U.S.-led peace-making efforts, a Taliban spokesman said. – Reuters

Pakistan on Monday summoned an Indian official to protest over cross-border shelling from its neighbour that it said had killed a child and wounded four civilians. – Reuters

Marvin G. Weinbaum writes: To fend off the Taliban in their unrelenting attacks countrywide, government fighters have remained heavily reliant on American airpower. The continued willingness of the U.S. to provide the needed tactical support has led the Taliban to declare that the Doha accord had been breached. While neither side is inclined to allow an agreement in which both are so heavily invested to fall apart, prospects for peace in Afghanistan appear as distant as ever despite all the recent diplomatic activity. – Middle East Institute


When the State Department designated a Russian white-supremacist group, the Russian Imperial Movement, as a terrorist entity, some supporters saw it as an honor, almost like a coming-of-age moment. […]The terrorist designation marks a U.S. shot across the bow on Russian authorities’ relative tolerance of RIM and an associated paramilitary training operation outside St. Petersburg. – Washington Post

President Vladimir Putin said on Monday Russia might need to call in the army to help tackle the coronavirus crisis and warned the contagion was getting worse after the number of confirmed cases rose by a record daily amount. – Reuters

Russia’s sovereign wealth fund will continue to invest in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development programme, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya channel on Monday cited the head of the fund as saying. – Reuters

Mason Clark and Aidan Therrien write: Putin’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is focused on shaping reality to conform to his desired narrative. The Kremlin is restricting the free flow of information on COVID-19, jailing doctors, and obfuscating its public infection numbers to support Putin’s central narrative that COVID-19 will affect Russia less than much of the world. The Kremlin is additionally testing new methods of societal control as part of its efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. The Kremlin will retain these improved authoritarian tools for use against future opposition. – Institute for the Study of War


French President Emmanuel Macron announced a month-long extension of the country’s nationwide lockdown, prolonging measures to fight the new coronavirus into mid-May, as Italy and Spain—two of the nations hit hardest by the pandemic—signal that drastic restrictions on their populations also would continue as the spread of the virus slows. – Wall Street Journal

The European Commission has imposed excessive provisional anti-dumping duties on some Chinese stainless steel products, China’s steel industry association said on Monday. – Reuters

Swiss federal prosecutors have filed charges against an Iraqi man accused of operating as a recruiter and trafficker for Islamic State, who has been held pending trial since May 2017, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Quentin Lopinot writes: Like many other public policies, European defense will be severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. But the crisis is likely to make it even more obvious that Europeans need to cooperate with one another and take on more responsibility for their own security. Governments have the difficult task of responding to the urgency of the immediate situation without losing sight of the mid- to long-term challenges that await Europe. – Centre for Strategic and International Studies

The Americas

Only a month ago, President Nicolás Maduro seemed to be consolidating his autocratic rule. The opposition was fading into irrelevance, international pressure was waning and the country’s devastating economic woes were finally easing, if only a bit. Then, suddenly, a global pandemic shut down what’s left of the economy, the collapse of global oil prices wiped out Venezuela’s main remaining economic lifeline and the United States mounted a determined, new effort to oust Mr. Maduro. – New York Times

Editorial: President Trump has been chasing a diplomatic victory, and he got one this weekend when he brokered a deal between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia to limit their production that may also limit the bloodbath in the U.S. shale patch. – Wall Street Journal

Ryan Berg writes: Lifting press restrictions, releasing political prisoners, halting free giveaways to Cuba, and establishing a timetable for free and fair elections—the Maduro regime could agree to all of these immediately. Sanctions relief for Venezuela is entirely possible, but it must be paired with a feasible path toward democracy to truly end the national nightmare and bring lasting relief to the Venezuelan people. – The Hill


The Department of Defense is behind on several internal cybersecurity initiatives, years after some were expected to be completed, Congress’ watchdog agency has found. – Fifth Domain

The chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has teamed up with the chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee to demand answers from the Federal Communications Commission on whether reallocating a band of spectrum will damage the Global Positioning System, or GPS, as the Pentagon claims. – C4ISRNET

The COVID-enforced shift to “maximum telework” has forced the Defense Department to update its information technology so that more employees can work remotely — and push critical communications to the front lines faster. – Defense One

Google and Apple have clarified that governments won’t be able to mandate the use of their contract-tracing technology for tracking the coronavirus, which the companies announced last week. – Business Insider


The Pentagon on Monday announced a $415 million contract for 60 machines that will stretch the use of dwindling N95 masks, allowing the scarce personal protective equipment to be disinfected and reused up to 20 times. – The Hill

The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said Monday that his panel plans to investigate the coronavirus epidemic’s origins as well as the responses from the U.S. government and World Health Organization (WHO). – The Hill

The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group is done with its deployment but will remain at sea off the East Coast of the United States, in an effort to keep the crew healthy from the COVID-19 pandemic and ready to take on missions if needed. – USNI News

Jared Brown writes: As the last two months have made painfully clear, the United States was poorly prepared for this crisis. Despite attempts by Congress to stimulate better executive branch planning, the nation was not prepared to use tools of the Defense Production Act to respond in a timely fashion. […]Like I did after the H1N1 pandemic, I find myself hoping that our nation will learn from this current catastrophe and, moving forward, better prepare ourselves for the risks to come. – War on the Rocks

Bryan Clark writes: With defense budgets flattening and likely to decrease in a post-COVID-19 environment, the U.S. Navy cannot afford to continue playing “little kid soccer” in ASW, with multiple aircraft or ships converging to track and destroy submarines before they can get within missile range of targets like aircraft carriers or bases ashore. The Navy should instead increase the use of unmanned systems in ASW across the board, which cost a fraction to buy and operate compared to their manned counterparts. – Defense News