Fdd's overnight brief

April 20, 2020

In The News


The Iranian armed forces have acquired three bomb-carrying drones with a range of 1,500 kilometers (932 miles), Defense Minister Amir Hatami said on state television on Saturday. – Reuters

Iran allowed some businesses in the capital Tehran to re-open on Saturday as the country’s daily death toll from the new coronavirus fell to 73, its lowest in more than a month. – Reuters

Iran has extended furloughs for prisoners for another month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday, as the Islamic Republic endeavours to stem the spread of the new coronavirus in its crowded jails. – Reuters

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned the United States about its military activities in the Gulf on Sunday, adding that their navy had as a result increased patrols, which would also secure the passage of Iranian ships and combat fuel smuggling. – Reuters

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has accused the United States of giving a false account of a recent encounter between the two states’ navies in the Persian Gulf, after Washington blamed Iranian vessels for harassing its ships. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday he would be willing to provide aid to Iran to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic if Tehran requested it. – Reuters

Tehran City Council Chairman Mohsen Hashemi says the number of those infected with the new coronavirus in Iran is “much higher” than the official figures released by the government. – Radio Farda

President Donald Trump on Saturday openly challenged reporting of coronavirus statistics in China and Iran as the U.S. death toll climbed to 38,000 – almost doubling over the prior seven days. – U.S. News & World Report

Mehdi Khalaji writes: Coronavirus came to Iran at a time when the Islamic Republic is at one of its lowest points since its inception four decades ago. The regime has suffered critical blows to its ideological legitimacy, revolutionary popularity, practical efficiency, economic structure, pan-Islamist foreign policy, and aspirations for regional hegemony. Yet despite all these challenges and the overwhelming effects of COVID-19, the Islamic Republic could readily endure for many more years—though perhaps not without substantially shifting its nature. – Washington Institute


Israel on Saturday accused the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah of attempting to violate Israeli sovereignty and said it would complain to the UN Security Council, a day after the army reported damage to the border fence. – Times of Israel

It’s almost as if Israel and Hezbollah both don’t want to spiral into a war during the deadly coronavirus pandemic, choosing instead to send warnings to each other: We are watching you. – Jerusalem Post

Amos Harel writes: Israel and Hezbollah have a long history of exchanging such messages. […]But as opposed to ordinary times, the tension is palable now that all sides are preoccupied with other troubles. Iran, as noted, has been hit hard by the coronavirus (with the number of dead much higher than the official toll of 5,000 that the regime cites). Lebanon is mired in a severe economic crisis, exacerbated by the damage of the pandemic. Israel too has little patience for taunts that could lead to escalation. – Haaretz

Matthew Levitt writes: Hizbullah financing in Europe has not diminished since the EU’s partial designation of the group in July 2013. While some of the cases discussed here predate the designation, many came afterwards. The designation empowered EU member states to do much more regarding Hizbullah terrorist operations, but less so when it comes to the group’s financial activities. Unless a given action is explicitly tied to Hizbullah’s terrorist or military activities, it is not covered under the designation. – Washington Institute 


So her organization, which runs women’s centers in the area, launched a project sewing homemade face masks to distribute in the midst of Idlib’s humanitarian crisis, one of the worst in the world. This pocket of rebel-held territory in northwestern Syria is home to over 3 million people, half of whom have been displaced from elsewhere in the country, according to United Nations estimates. – Washington Post

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is scheduled to travel to the Syrian capital on April 20 for talks with President Bashar al-Assad, according the Iranian Foreign Ministry. – Radio Farda

After nine years of war, Syria is broken into three rival parts unable to work together and ill-prepared to cope with the coronavirus, an enemy that knows no conflict lines. – Associated Press


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump have spoken on the phone, discussing the coronavirus pandemic, bilateral relations and regional developments. – Associated Press

Turkish authorities blocked Saudi and United Arab Emirates news websites on Sunday, days after the sites of Turkey’s state broadcaster and news agency were blocked in Saudi Arabia. – Reuters

Bobby Ghosh writes: The economic news remains grim: In March Turkey posted its biggest monthly budget deficit, with tax deferrals shrinking government revenue. As the U.S. and European countries keep extending their lockdowns, the outlook for the mainstays of the Turkish economy, manufacturing and tourism, are worsening. The pandemic is forcing leaders everywhere to overcome old anathemas. Erdogan may not be able to remain an exception for too long. – Bloomberg


Ayman Haj Yahya was named on Sunday as the Israeli citizen indicted for spying for Iran earlier in April. – Jerusalem Post

The Hamas terror group warned Sunday that Israel will be responsible for the consequences unless more medical equipment for dealing with the coronavirus is brought into the Gaza Strip. – Times of Israel 

The Mossad is also purchasing medical equipment now, or so say the headlines, reports and numerous statements to the media. According to one statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Mossad is assisting Yad Sarah. These reports make quite a few people in the Mossad uncomfortable, accustomed as they are to operating quietly under the radar. – Haaretz

The Strategic Affairs Ministry has in recent days been pushing an initiative to draft youth in Israel and around the world into a campaign against the surge in antisemitism witnessed online due to the coronavirus pandemic. – Jerusalem Post

Dexter Van Zile writes: The BDS campaign, which the ADL has declared antisemitic, falsely portrays the refuge for one half of the world’s surviving Jews as a marauding apartheid nation acting out a script of white privilege — as if Israel has not said yes to numerous peace offers, as if Arabs do not serve in its Knesset and Supreme Court, and as if Arabs do not enjoy more rights in Israel than they do in Arab-majority countries. BDS is not a bandwagon to join. It’s a crazy train to stay away from. – Algemeiner

Yoni Michanie writes: Whether you agree or disagree with Israel’s security apparatus in the West Bank, it is fundamentally unethical to hold Jews in America accountable for a foreign government’s security considerations. It’s even more unethical when considering that American Jews will not have to experience the potential waves of Palestinian terrorism that could follow if Israel were to dismantle its security establishment in the disputed territories. IfNotNow’s rhetoric, if left ignored, will undoubtedly contribute to the rise of antisemitism in America. Equally important, it will perpetuate Palestinian suffering by refusing to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for their decades-long violation of human rights against their own people. – Algemeiner

Arabian Peninsula

For years, she was a rare princess from Saudi Arabia who spoke her mind to the world[…]. And she got away with it — until she disappeared last March. This week, the princess, Basmah bint Saud, a daughter of Saudi Arabia’s second king, confirmed what had long been suspected: A statement on her Twitter feed said that she was being held in a notorious prison in Saudi Arabia without charge, and that she was in urgent need of medical care. – New York Times

The U.N. Security Council on Friday endorsed the secretary-general’s call for the warring parties in Yemen to immediately stop fighting and focus on reaching a peace agreement and countering the outbreak of the new coronavirus. – Associated Press

Yemen’s rebels on Sunday detained a former culture minister and writer who was a vocal critic of their rule, his family and lawyer said. – Associated Press


Forces aligned with Libya’s internationally recognised government said they had advanced on Saturday on Tarhouna, a key support base for their eastern-based rival Khalifa Haftar. – Reuters

A full-throttled military intervention by Turkey could have turned the tide in Libya’s civil war, in a striking development that’s gone largely unnoticed by a world marshaling resources to fight the coronavirus. – Bloomberg

United Arab Emirates-based companies shipped nearly 11,000 tonnes of jet fuel to eastern Libya, the stronghold of the renegade general Khalifa Haftar, in a suspected violation of an international arms embargo, according to documents seen by the Financial Times. – Financial Times

Middle East & North Africa

Iraq will allow the Reuters news agency to go back to work after its license was suspended earlier this month over a report that the government was underreporting coronavirus cases, the news agency said Sunday. – Associated Press

The U.N. children’s agency appealed Monday for an additional $92.4 million to help fight the coronavirus pandemic in the Middle East and North Africa, a conflict-battered region with the highest number of children in need anywhere. – Associated Press

The U.S. released video showing American F-15s supporting an Iraqi aerial and ground bombardment of a large number of ISIS fighters south of Kirkuk, Iraq. – Military Times 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea on Sunday denied President Trump’s assertion that its leader, Kim Jong-un, had sent a letter to him, and suggested that Mr. Trump was using his vaunted relationship with Mr. Kim for “selfish purposes.” – New York Times

North Korea has developed increasingly sophisticated hacking capabilities that have enabled it to steal from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges and evade international sanctions, according to a new United Nations report. – Wall Street Journal

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s absence from an important anniversary event this week rekindled speculation over his potential health problems, analysts said on Friday. – Reuters

U.S. Forces Korea has banned a U.S. contractor from access to any U.S. military installations in Korea — after the contractor failed to comply with an order to quarantine following exposure to COVID-19, the command said. – Military Times

Experts say North Korea’s reluctance to admit major outbreaks of disease, its wrecked medical infrastructure and its extreme sensitivity to any potential threat to Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian rule means that Pyongyang is likely handling the current coronavirus pandemic in the same manner. This has led to widespread skepticism over the nation’s claim to have zero infections. – Associated Press

Anthony B. Kim writes: From a foreign policy perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic shows why the United States should be in the business of preserving and advancing freedom, civil society, and other democratic values in practical partnerships with like-minded and willing allies, such as South Korea. […]Throughout many trying and challenging times over the past several decades, South Korea has demonstrated its willingness and capacity to be a true ally for America. That enduring alliance and partnership should continue to be based on shared and cherished values more than ever, not be relegated to “transactional relationships.” – The Daily Signal


An influential Senate panel is calling for stricter oversight of Chinese telecommunications companies operating in the U.S., after an investigation found years of weak supervision by regulators threatens national security. – Wall Street Journal

The United States called on China on Saturday to stop “bullying behaviour” in the South China Sea and said it was concerned by reports of Beijing’s “provocative actions” aimed at offshore oil and gas developments in the disputed waters. – Reuters

As President Donald Trump announces a halt in World Health Organization funding, accusing it of kowtowing to China over the coronavirus outbreak, Beijing is building on a well-established strategy of leveraging its global standing wherever the US lets go of the wheel. – Agence France-Presse 

A top Wuhan laboratory official has denied any role in spreading the new coronavirus, in the highest-level response from a facility at the center of months of speculation about how the previously unknown animal disease made the leap to humans. […]He said U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, and Washington Post journalists were among those “deliberately leading people” to mistrust the facility and its “P4” top-level-security pathogen lab. – Bloomberg 

Australia on Sunday added to growing pressure on China over its handling of the novel coronavirus, questioning its transparency and demanding an international investigation into the origins of the virus and how it spread. – Reuters 

Editorial: The United States and China need to cooperate to deal with the pandemic and its aftermath; China is critical in the global supply chain for drugs and personal protective equipment, and is an economic superpower. China and the rest of the world must also confront infectious disease together, not use it to score points. But no one should conclude that China’s authoritarian model is one to be emulated. The model — deception, coverup and rewriting history — is part of the problem, not the solution. – Washington Post

Steven Lee Myers writes: The state’s efforts to bolster Mr. Xi’s standing at home are undercutting any good will that China had generated by sending experts and medical supplies to countries on the newest front lines of the pandemic. […]Under Mr. Xi, the government does not simply want to manage the worst international crisis in decades but also have foreign leaders play a part in shoring up the Communist Party at a time when it has faced intense public discontent over its handling of the outbreak. – New York Times

Jeffery A. Green writes: As distressed companies desperately look for funding and investment, the U.S. needs to send a message that financial exploitation by China will not be tolerated, especially if it involves companies working in industries critical to national security and our broader industrial base. […]For millennia, Chinese dynasties have employed the tactic of looting a burning house as they vanquished enemies all around them. America must act before we become China’s latest victim. – Defense News

Capt. David Geaney writes: If China’s expanding ring of influence and military footprint in the South China Sea are not effectively countered, then the U.S. will lose significant influence in Asia and have difficulty countering further Chinese economic and military adventurism, putting key allies and interests at risk. – Defense News 

Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Lance Gooden write: How we choose to treat the Chinese government in the wake of this crisis will define foreign relations in the post-coronavirus era. If we grow to understand how the COVID-19 crisis escalated from a regional outbreak into a global tragedy, we may be able to prevent the disastrous consequences of future pandemics. By unleashing the investigatory power of our legal system, we can discover the truth, prepare for the future, and ensure the American people get the answers they deserve. – Washington Examiner

H. R. McMaster writes: Without effective pushback from the United States and like-minded nations, China will become even more aggressive in promoting its statist economy and authoritarian political model. For me, the state visit to Beijing—and exposure to China’s powerful combination of insecurity and ambition—reinforced my belief that the United States and other nations must no longer adhere to a view of China based mainly on Western aspirations. If we compete aggressively, we have reason for confidence. China’s behavior is galvanizing opposition among countries that do not want to be vassal states. Internally, the tightening of control is also eliciting opposition. – The Atlantic

Bradley A. Thayer and Lianchao Han write: If the liberal world order is to be preserved and protected, it is incumbent upon the United States to defend the international order against China’s ambitions. An element of this defense must include calling to account those in the West who caused us to be in our current situation, especially those who proclaimed themselves to be “strategists” who advanced and supported China’s ambitions. – The Hill 

Bradley A. Blakeman writes: America’s freedom to invent and to fail is our greatest strength. As long as China continues to limit its own innovation and invention, it is at a huge disadvantage to America and the West. We have to assume this will change in time, but this time is still ours to lead. Our goal is to continue to make the list of great inventions. The coronavirus has exposed China and given America a huge wake-up call. – The Hill

Alex Gallo writes: Without the U.S. government shaping both the economic incentive structures for these companies as well as changing the way it communicates its moral role in the world, U.S. tech companies may inadvertently choose China over the U.S. — putting at risk a U.S.-led 21st Century. – The Hill


At least 40 staff members in Afghanistan’s presidential palace have tested positive for Covid-19, Afghan officials said on Sunday, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to isolate himself and manage the country’s response to the virus — amid a raging war — largely via video conference. –New York Times

The United States is considering pulling back front-line C.I.A. personnel from bases in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials, as part of the American government’s effort to further reduce violence in the country in the wake of its landmark peace agreement with the Taliban. – New York Times

The last community of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan is seeking asylum in the U.S. after suffering an attack by Islamic State extremists, posing a test of the Trump administration’s pledge to protect and support religious minorities world-wide. – Wall Street Journal


Hong Kong police arrested 14 activists on Saturday, part of a response to the semiautonomous city’s pro-democracy protest movement. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration on Saturday condemned Hong Kong’s arrests of 15 activists, including veteran politicians, a publishing tycoon and senior barristers, describing them as “inconsistent” with China’s international commitments. – Reuters

Vietnam protested on Sunday at China saying it had established two administrative units on islands in the South China Sea, in Beijing’s latest move to demonstrate its assertiveness in the disputed waters. – Reuters

Militants armed with assault rifles attacked a Pakistani army security post in a former Taliban stronghold in the country’s northwest early on Monday, triggering a shootout that killed a soldier, the military said. Five insurgents were also killed, it said. – Associated Press

Editorial: The Communist Party’s coronavirus deception is turning Western opinion against China, and the Hong Kong roundup underscores that the regime is a threat to free people. – Wall Street Journal


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed arms control and other issues Friday as Moscow has signaled readiness to include some of its latest nuclear weapons in the last remaining arms control pact between the two countries if Washington accepts the Kremlin’s offer to extend it. – Associated Press

A Russian fighter came within 25 feet of a Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft over the in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, U.S. 6th Fleet announced. – USNI News

The Trump administration and Russia are blocking efforts to win binding UN security council backing for a global ceasefire to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives worldwide. – The Guardian


European leaders anxious to reopen their societies are counting on mobile phone tracking technology to help keep the novel coronavirus in check, but they face a formidable obstacle: convincing their privacy-conscious citizens to use the tools. – Washington Post

Czech lawmakers took aim on Friday at the government’s decision buy protective equipment from China to limit the coronavirus outbreak and called for the next batch of supplies to come domestically or from closer to home. – Reuters

EU plans for a trillion-euro economic recovery fund risk becoming snarled in the political wrangling over its forthcoming seven-year budget, underscoring the bloc’s challenges in seeking a route out of the coronavirus-induced slump. – Financial Times 

Michael D. Brasseur, Rob Murray, and Sean Trevethan write: Our economy, our data and its infrastructure still need protecting, now more than ever. This effort strives to accelerate maritime unmanned systems into NATO’s arsenal to patrol the vast swaths of ocean and offset evolving threats. Success will be seen because it is being built on allied nations’ shared values and norms, the same values and norms that NATO leaders recognized in London last year. – Defense News


The United States military is sharply reducing its emergency casualty evacuation services in West Africa, raising concerns that American troops on missions there could be left vulnerable if they run into trouble at a time when violence is surging in that corner of the continent. – New York Times

With Africa’s most poverty-stricken economies pushing for debt relief as they struggle with the fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic, a tussle is brewing between developed nations, private investors and the continent’s largest creditor: China. – Wall Street Journal

A group of 44 suspected members of Boko Haram, arrested during a recent operation against the jihadist group, have been found dead in their prison cell, apparently poisoned, Chad’s chief prosecutor announced Saturday. – Agence France-Presse 

Gunmen killed 47 people in attacks on villages in the northwestern Nigerian state of Katsina in the early hours of Saturday, local police said. – Reuters

William Upton writes: This is a two-fold opportunity: first, to make clear that the return of the $300 million is conditioned upon Buhari’s transparecy and safeguards against corruption, and second, for Congress to take a stand and defend Christians in Nigeria, and to investigate and sanction those whose negligence and malevolence has allowed such unimaginable suffering to take place. – Washington Examiner

The Americas

At least 16 people were killed in a shooting rampage and manhunt in rural Nova Scotia, police said Sunday, the deadliest such attack in Canadian history. – Washington Post

U.S. adversaries are probing America’s defenses as the world is preoccupied with the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. In the past two weeks, Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have all moved to test Washington in the sea, in the air and on land as U.S. forces have become more restricted in movement amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19. – The Hill

Canada’s Trudeau says Canada and U.S. have agreed to keep border closed to nonessential travel for another 30 days. – Associated Press

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said it would be “irresponsible” to call for National Assembly elections amid the coronavirus outbreak. He spoke in an interview on state television. – Bloomberg


As hospitals face a surge in patients and critical equipment shortages stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, they are increasingly becoming the target of hackers who see health care facilities as easy prey. – The Hill

The United States is concerned by the threat of a cyber attack against the Czech Republic’s healthcare sector, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday, adding that anybody engaged in such activity should “expect consequences.” – Reuters

A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit from Twitter pushing the Justice Department to allow the company to reveal surveillance requests it had received, ending a six-year legal battle between the tech behemoth and the government. – The Hill

The Federal Communications Commission has enough votes to approve a long-standing application from Ligado Networks to operate in the L-band spectrum, overriding concerns from the Department of Defense and other government agencies which were worried the company’s plan will cause damage to the Global Positioning System, sources said April 17. – C4ISRNET

A federal judge will allow the Department of Defense to reconsider certain aspects of its enterprise cloud procurement despite opposition from Amazon, according to a court decision filed April 17. – Federal Times

Evelyn Douek writes: The platforms are revealing their far-reaching power in other ways. For some time before the pandemic, members of Congress and regulators around the world had been attacking major internet companies over their data-collection and data-sharing practices. Yet in recent weeks, Facebook and Google have presented their troves of hyper-detailed data as a boon to disease researchers and have unveiled new products that employ user information to help document the pandemic’s spread and organize response efforts. […]But this still leaves very real questions. Unlike most countries’ emergency constitutions, those of major platforms have no checks or constraints. – The Atlantic


NASA announced on Friday that it has set May 27 as the target launch date for sending two astronauts to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, aboard a rocket built by the company SpaceX. – New York Times

The Air Force is promoting nearly 400 officers to the ranks of major, lieutenant colonel and colonel, according to a promotion list released this week. – AirForce Times

An Intelsat satellite has successfully returned to operations following the first commercial docking of two spacecraft on orbit in February, according to a April 17 announcement. – C4ISRNET

Long War

Troops on the trail of the leader of the Islamic State in the Philippines clashed Friday with his insurgents, setting off an hourlong firefight that left 11 soldiers dead, the military said. – New York Times

Police have arrested a 20-year-old man in Cardiff under the Terrorism Act. – BBC

Jonathan Spyer writes: The ongoing, slow-burning ISIS insurgency in this area is proof that the “victories” in the wars in Syria and Iraq have resolved little. […]The coronavirus offers a window for ISIS to increase the tempo of its activities. But with or without the pandemic, the ‘ghost caliphate’ is here to stay. – Jerusalem Post