Fdd's overnight brief

April 16, 2020

In The News


A group of 11 Iranian naval vessels made “dangerous and harassing” maneuvers near U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf near Kuwait on Wednesday, in one case passing within 10 yards (meters) of a Coast Guard cutter, American officials said. – Associated Press

With performance halls closed and many isolated in their homes as a result of the Mideast’s worst virus outbreak, Hosseini and other Iranian musicians now find performance spaces where they can. […]Their impromptu concerts draw applause and offer hope to their listeners, even as public performances still draw hard-line scrutiny in the Islamic Republic. – Associated Press

The death toll in Iran from the coronavirus pandemic is likely nearly double the officially reported figures, due to undercounting and because not everyone with breathing problems has been tested for the virus, a parliament report said. – Associated Press

Iran said Wednesday the world is learning that the United States “kills people”, after President Donald Trump suspended US funding for the World Health Organization amid the coronavirus pandemic. – Agence France-Presse

U.S. opposition to opening new avenues of funding for Iran and China is preventing the International Monetary Fund from deploying a powerful tool to help countries fight the economic impact of the coronavirus, according to two sources familiar with the matter. – Reuters

The International Monetary Fund is still assessing Iran’s request for $5 billion in emergency financing in a process which is taking time partly because of the IMF’s limited engagement with Tehran in recent times, a senior IMF official told Reuters. – Reuters

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) unveiled Wednesday what it claimed was an Iranian-made smart system that can identify coronavirus in the environment instantly. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran is aware the US navy has suffered recent challenges with the coronavirus outbreak aboard a carrier in the Pacific. It may want to test US resolve. Sending eleven IRGC vessels to conduct “dangerous and harassing approaches” within 10 yards would imply that Iran is trying to provoke an incident. – Jerusalem Post


Russia and Turkey held a fourth joint patrol in Syria’s Idlib region, the RIA news agency cited the Russian Reconciliation Centre for Syria as saying on Wednesday. – Reuters

Two missiles from an Israeli drone targeted a four-wheel-drive vehicle carrying two members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Wednesday near the Syria-Lebanon border, but neither person was hurt, a member of the militant group said. – Associated Press

Syria’s close ally Russia clashed with European nations in the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday over a report from the global chemical weapons watchdog blaming the Syrian air force for a series of attacks using sarin and chlorine on a rebel-held town in 2017. – Associated Press


Israel’s parliament speaker Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu missed a deadline to form a unity government on Thursday, prolonging the country’s unprecedented political crisis. – Agence France-Presse

Right-wing opponents of a Palestinian state are harming Israel’s chances of applying sovereignty to the settlements in Judea and Samaria, Efrat Council head Oded Revivi told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Authority is using children to spread messages of its violent struggle with Israel and its goal of destroying the country, to publicly mock US President Donald Trump, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) wrote in a press release on Tuesday. The PA also said that Palestinian children should embrace death if it means “liberating” Jerusalem. – Jerusalem Post

Progress has been made on a possible prisoner swap deal with Hamas, according to Hebrew media reports on Thursday that cited both Palestinian and Israeli sources. – Times of Israel

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Palestinian Authority (PA) rose on Tuesday to 287, said PA cabinet spokesman Ibrahim Milhem. Milhem also lashed out at Israel and accused it of being responsible for the coronavirus spreading in PA-assigned territories of Judea and Samaria. – Arutz Sheva


Baghdad, a city of about seven million, is usually a cacophony. The infrastructure is dilapidated and litter lies in heaps, but the city had been defiantly alive. […]Even in the worst days of the 2003 war, when the Americans were bombing, it was hard for people to stay inside. But the invisible enemy of the virus has hit people’s nerves differently. – New York Times

The Geneva-based agency, in a statement naming Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan, called for authorities in the volatile region to prepare for a “potentially devastating aftermath” and a “socio-economic earthquake”. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iraq is in the middle of a political crises and has a difficult time rallying any international support to protest Turkey’s attacks. The coronavirus crises leaves Iraq vulnerable and the US-led Coalition is repositioning troops and withdrawing from bases, meaning Iraq will have even more struggles ahead, in addition to dealing with Turkey’s attacks. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

The kingdom is attempting to reshape its oil-dependent economy—the Middle East’s biggest—by boosting the private sector, but it still depends on energy sales to fund its budget. Last month, it waged an oil-price feud with Russia that sank the price of crude and left a huge hole in its finances.. – Wall Street Journal

Qatar detained dozens of migrant workers and expelled them last month after telling them they were being taken to be tested for the new coronavirus, human rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Bobby Ghosh writes: The coronavirus has made landfall in Yemen. The nation at the heel of the Arabian Peninsula, destitute even before it was destroyed by five years of war, now confronts a crisis that has confounded the world’s wealthiest, most peaceful countries. […]At a minimum, the U.S. needs to reverse its cruel and potentially disastrous decisions to cut off not just funding for the World Health Organization but also much of its direct aid to Yemen. – Bloomberg


The United Nations mission in Libya Wednesday condemned rising violence in the North African country, after forces loyal to a unity government this week retook towns west of Tripoli. – Agence France-Presse

More than 50 migrants from Eritrea and Sudan disembarked in Libya’s capital Wednesday after spending hours on a coast guard vessel off Tripoli and were detained by local authorities, the U.N. migration agency said. – Associated Press

Libya’s internationally recognized government, in the west, imposed a 24-hour curfew for 10 days effective from Friday, April 17, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) said in a statement. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

After agreeing to allow the evacuation of Israeli citizens from the country due to the coronavirus outbreak, Morocco subsequently blocked the evacuation after Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to evacuate both their citizens from the country on a joint flight without first consulting with Morocco, according to Army Radio. – Jerusalem Post

A cartoon published by the newspaper on April 15 to mark the 45th anniversary of the civil war in Lebanon features a portrait of a man whose face is covered with a keffiyeh headdress next to an image of the virus. […]The Hamas statement said the cartoon “fuels racist sentiments” and comes at a time when Lebanese and Palestinians are cooperating to defeat the coronavirus. – Jerusalem Post

On March 23, 2020, a video titled “Hagia Sophia Mosque Sound Allah Call to Prayer 23/03/2020” was uploaded to YouTube. The video, which has the logo of the İhlas News Agency, shows two men inside the Hagia Sophia reciting the Islamic call to prayer as well as verses from the Quran. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Einat Levi writes: Israel-Morocco relations over the past year emphasize the gap between the limited scope of formal cooperation and the depth and warmth of the civic and cultural ties between the people. The civic ties are occurring on a parallel cultural space and mostly based on shared Moroccan culture and values. […]If Israel wishes to promote such warm civic ties with other countries in the region, an important insight that can be learnt from the Israeli-Moroccan case, is that it goes from the bottom up. To do so, Israel must first find the MENA region within itself. – Jerusalem Post

Manjari Singh writes: Jordan’s early response and implementation of severe laws and containment policies can be justified given the many challenges facing the country even before the epidemic. […]For a country with such social, economic, and environmental stresses, the coronavirus could serve as a wake-up call, triggering the switch from its existing crisis adjustment policy to a robust crisis management and alleviation policy. Such changes can only be implemented through political will—and the risks either way are unavoidably substantial. Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

President Moon Jae-in’s governing party in South Korea won a landslide in parliamentary elections on Wednesday, as he leveraged his surging popularity over his country’s largely successful battle against the coronavirus to increase his political sway. […]In South Korea, elections typically have been decided by regional loyalties​, ideological differences over North Korea or issues like the economy and corruption.​ – New York Times

A former senior North Korean diplomat won a constituency seat in South Korea’s parliamentary elections, the first such achievement among tens of thousands of North Koreans who have fled their authoritarian, impoverished homeland. – Associated Press

On Tuesday Seoul said Pyongyang had fired several cruise missiles towards the sea, in what analysts saw as a demonstration of the breadth of its arsenal. But state media on Wednesday carried no reports about any launch — also a departure from the normal pattern. – Agence France-Presse

President Trump’s pressure campaign against North Korea has received a most unusual kind of reinforcement: the novel coronavirus. – Washington Examiner

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has announced a plan to boost import substitution efforts across a selection of key military development programmes. – Jane’s 360

Four top Democrats are raising “serious concerns” about the Trump administration not reaching a cost-sharing agreement with South Korea for U.S. troops based there. – The Hill


China might be secretly conducting nuclear tests with very low explosive power despite Beijing’s assertions that it is strictly adhering to an international accord banning all nuclear tests, according to a new arms-control report to be made public by the State Department. – Wall Street Journal

As China tames the coronavirus epidemic now ravaging other countries, its success is giving rise to an increasingly strident blend of patriotism, nationalism and xenophobia, at a pitch many say has not been seen in decades. […]In recent days, African residents have reported being evicted from their homes and hotels, after five Nigerians there tested positive for the virus. – New York Times

The U.S. military and intelligence community are investigating the theory that the novel coronavirus may have originated from an accidental contamination from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, rather than from a wet market, as has been widely speculated. – Washington Examiner

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official has denounced a report suggesting that Chinese President Xi Jinping and senior officials delayed informing the country of how serious the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic was, sitting on the news for six days while millions travelled domestically and internationally. – Newsweek

China is still withholding information related to the coronavirus needed to inform the global response, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a television interview on Wednesday, as he called on Beijing to share its data. – Reuters

A Chinese government survey ship embroiled in a standoff with Vietnamese vessels moved south near Malaysia, shipping data showed Thursday, amid accusations that China is using the pandemic to assert its presence in the South China Sea. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his government is trying to determine whether the coronavirus emanated from a lab in Wuhan, China, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Beijing “needs to come clean” on what they know. – Reuters

The world must hold the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party accountable for covering up information about the coronavirus, former Canadian justice minister and current chairman of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights Irwin Cotler said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

A government spokesman says China is “seriously concerned” about President Trump suspending funds for the World Health Organization over a failure to accurately report data from China. – New York Post

In fact, China has claimed that not a single member of its 2 million strong People’s Liberation Army has contracted COVID-19, a virus that was started in China and has infected 2 million people worldwide. The fantastical claim is being labeled an implausible narrative that scientists and scholars find bogus and warn is a classic and transparent tactic meant to intimidate regional rivals. – Fox News

Editorial: China seems to have something to hide, and we must find out what it is. The coronavirus has killed tens of thousands of people in the United States, poleaxed the nation’s economy, and subjected our citizens to social isolation and unprecedented lockdowns. Pursuing the truth with an open mind is the least of our obligations. –  Washington Examiner

Rebeccah Heinrichs writes: Even as the U.S. prioritizes ending the virus, it’s vital for the American government and media to deny China the benefit of its lies and misinformation. Importantly, there have been bright highlights of blockbuster reporting, some of which have been referenced in this piece. But the bottom line is that the Chinese Communist Party is not a trustworthy partner in this fight. Xi’s party should be sidelined and should pay a high price for the origination, spread, downplaying, cover-ups, and continued lying about COVID-19 that continues to this day. – Washington Examiner

Kristine Lee writes: Covid-19 has shown the folly of expecting international organizations to stand up to China when the world’s leading democracy abdicates its global leadership. Countries are thirsting for meaningful alternatives to Chinese leadership, and would rally behind the United States if decides to reengage with the U.N. The first step, of course, would be to restore funding to the WHO. – Politico


India has brought charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the chief of a Muslim seminary for holding a gathering last month that authorities say led to a big jump in coronavirus infections, police said on Thursday. […]The headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat group in a cramped corner of Delhi were sealed and thousands of followers, including some from Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh, were taken into quarantine after it emerged they had attended meetings there in mid-March. – Reuters

A US military reconnaissance jet was reportedly spotted flying near Taiwan’s airspace — the 12th time in the past three weeks that American military planes had been detected near the area. – New York Post

As the largest Muslim-majority nation and a developing, postcolonial state, Indonesia has been a prime recipient of the full spectrum of Saudi proselytisation – known as dawa, the call to Islam. And while investments peaked in absolute terms at least a decade ago, as they did in most of the Muslim world, their effects continue to reverberate. – The Guardian

China’s most senior official in Hong Kong said on Wednesday the city should work to introduce national security legislation “as soon as possible” as violent protests last year had undermined its rule of law, prosperity and stability. – Reuters

China has removed Yang Jian, vice director of its Hong Kong liaison office from post, the state council said on Wednesday. The liaison office, which reports to the State Council, or cabinet, is a platform for Beijing to project its influence in the city. – Reuters

Joseph Bosco writes: The perfect candidate is Dr. Christine Ding-ping Liu, director of the Epidemic Intelligence Center at Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control, who detected and reported to the WHO the ominous signs from Wuhan. It would be fitting to replace someone who did almost everything wrong during the pandemic with a person who did everything right. – The Hill


The United States Navy said that an American aircraft was intercepted by a Russian SU-35 in an “unsafe” maneuver. – Washington Examiner

Russia on Wednesday condemned U.S President Donald Trump for cutting funding to the World Health Organisation, saying his decision was selfish and hurt a body that many countries were looking to for leadership amid the coronavirus crisis. – Reuters

Russia carried out a test of an anti-satellite missile on Wednesday, the U.S. military said, calling it an example of the threats the United States faced in space. – Reuters

Not only was the anti-Trump dossier fueled by Russian disinformation, but the FBI knew it was likely tainted at the time the bureau was citing the document to obtain secret spying warrants on a Trump campaign figure, according to information declassified Wednesday from an inspector general’s report. – Washington Times

Joshua Yaffa writes: This new multilateral oil pact, forged with unprecedented U.S. involvement, would seem to be a new form of energy diplomacy with potentially deep implications, at a time when the global economy is facing great turbulence and a likely recession. But the truth is that the deal may prove little more than a short-term measure—and Russia, the country that, more than any other, provoked the standoff, may end up looking like a gambler who greatly overplayed his hand. – New Yorker


Shorn of any bravado, her announcement seemed again to make Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, a de facto leader on the Continent and something of an example for Western nations looking to navigate the tricky course of rebooting economic activity and fighting the virus. – New York Times

French President Emmanuel Macron says he hopes that “in the coming days” the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council can discuss and endorse U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a cease-fire to all conflicts in the world in order to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. – Associated Press

NATO is stepping up efforts to help allies to help each other tackle coronavirus and to stop the pandemic from becoming a security crisis, the head of the alliance has said. – Sky News (UK)

Britain and the European Union agreed dates for three, week-long negotiating rounds to reach a post-Brexit deal on their future relationship, a joint statement said on Wednesday, with a high-level review of progress in June. – Reuters


The world’s richest countries agreed Wednesday to freeze poor nations’ debt obligations, shortly after nearly 20 European and African leaders made a joint appeal for a massive international effort to boost Africa’s coronavirus response, saying that “only a global victory that fully includes Africa can bring this pandemic to an end.” – Associated Press

South Africa is resilient enough to overcome the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as long as its policies are recalibrated toward economic growth once the crisis has passed, according to the International Monetary Fund. – Bloomberg

Officials with U.S. Africa Command are disputing news reports that a civilian was killed during a “precision airstrike” near Jamaame, Somalia, this month, saying the reports are based on propaganda from a terrorist group. – Military.com

Dayo Israel writes: There is only one way to help nations in Africa overcome this double bind: and that is to write-off the huge and unrelenting debt burden they have built up under decades of Western-financed structural adjustment packages that have enforced austerity at the expense of the most vulnerable. […]Addressing the COVID-19 crisis, in short, requires a new global partnership. – Washington Examiner

Latin America

After a heated confrontation with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro last month over his lackadaisical approach to the coronavirus, governors in the South American country have since pulled back, wary of losing vital federal aid in the efforts to control COVID-19. – Associated Press

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday that the United Nations has been slow in ensuring fair prices and equal access to medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

A group representing U.S. manufacturers on Wednesday told Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador that an economic shutdown due to the novel coronavirus could weaken North America’s response to the pandemic. – Reuters


The United States accused North Korea on Wednesday of employing an array of old and new forms of cyberattacks to steal and launder money, extort companies and use digital currencies to gain cash for its nuclear weapons program. – New York Times

Smartphone software makers Alphabet’s Google and Apple will have to convince the public that any contact tracing technology to track who has been exposed to the new coronavirus will not lead to a violation of their privacy, Senator Richard Blumenthal said on Wednesday. – Reuters

This Telegram channel has several thousand members, and a shares operational security tips with its followers. […]Last month, the group released a guide to using cryptocurrencies that promotes neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideology and notes the utility of cryptocurrency amid the coronavirus pandemic. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Tom Rogan writes: Huawei, China’s telecommunications/signals intelligence service, scored a win on Tuesday when it secured the appointment of Sir Michael Rake to its British executive board. […]Considering that Chinese signals and cyber-espionage is a primary tool of Xi Jinping’s grand strategy to displace the liberal international order, we can be confident Rake’s help in extending that track record won’t be good for Britain. – Washington Examiner


The Navy is looking into whether it can reinstate Capt. Brett E. Crozier, who was removed from command of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt after he pleaded for more help fighting a novel coronavirus outbreak aboard his ship, Defense Department officials said on Wednesday. – New York Times

The Pentagon’s inspector general on Wednesday said it could not determine whether the White House influenced the award of a $10 billion contract to Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) over Amazon (AMZN.O) after several officials said their conversations were privileged “presidential communications.” – Reuters

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday said the aircraft carrier that docked in Guam after hundreds of sailors were infected with the coronavirus could be back at sea “in a few weeks.” – The Hill

As the coronavirus spreads through the ranks of the Defense Department, one major challenge that has emerged for the Pentagon is how much information to divulge about the health of the troops. – Roll Call

Long War

On the day Burkina Faso reported its first coronavirus death, militants killed four men in a northwestern village. A few evenings later, as four government ministers tested positive for the virus, attackers torched a national park office and kidnapped a forest ranger. And as confirmed cases multiplied into hundreds, gunmen abducted a rural town’s head nurse, stole military gear in violent raids and executed several soldiers. – Washington Post

Terrorist groups all over the world are watching for an opening due to the pandemic. For instance Chad is wavering in support of anti-terror operations in the Sahel. […]ISIS is taking advantage, launching more attacks north of Baghdad near Kirkuk. – Jerusalem Post

Alex Thurston writes: Meanwhile, negotiations can produce some good in and of themselves. […] France could also improve its public image, especially in northern Mali, by showing its own willingness to make compromises in the service of peace. If French authorities surprise Malians by showing some flexibility, that decision could counter the image of “occupying Crusaders” even if the dialogue ultimately fails. – War on the Rocks

Trump Administration

The head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday lamented the U.S. decision to halt funding for the U.N. agency, promising a review of its decisions while sidestepping President Donald Trump’s complaints about its alleged mismanagement, cover-up and missteps. – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Wednesday to shut down Congress so he could fill vacancies in his administration without Senate confirmation, saying he was frustrated lawmakers were not in Washington to vote on his nominees for federal judgeships and other government positions. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: Trump is correct that the WHO has failed to perform one of its most important functions: Serving as the world’s early-warning system for new infectious diseases. But his anger is misdirected. It is China that is still not being fully transparent about the outbreak. […]The result is that, for the moment, the WHO is being punished for China’s deceptions. – Bloomberg