Fdd's overnight brief

April 21, 2020

In The News


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that American pressure on Iran in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic was “inhumane”, according to a statement on the official presidency website. – Reuters

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani discussed international and regional developments on Monday in a telephone conversation, Kuwait’s state news agency (KUNA) reported. – Reuters

Iran has increased the range of its naval missiles to 700 kilometres (435 miles), the head of the Revolutionary Guards navy said on Monday, according to the Fars news agency. – Reuters

Shopping malls and bazaars reopened in Iran on Monday despite warnings by some health officials that a new wave of coronavirus infections could ripple through the Middle Eastern country hardest hit by the pandemic. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran is threatening the US in the Persian Gulf through new harassment of US naval vessels and messages demanding the US leave the region. It is part of Tehran’s Middle East game plan to try to remove the US from Iraq and Syria while also carrying out pinprick threats in the Gulf. Iran has harassed US ships in the Gulf for decades but the new rhetoric is designed to turn up the heat on this front. In Syria Iranian media is also messaging against the US, claiming the US “trains terrorists.” – Jerusalem Post


Together with more than a dozen other witnesses, Mukdad will testify before a German court in the trial of Anwar R., a former member of Syria’s secret police suspected of overseeing the abuse of detainees at a notorious jail near Damascus known as Al Khatib, or Branch 251. – Associated Press

Syrian air defences responded to an Israeli aerial attack on the city of Palmyra in eastern Homs province in central Syria and downed several “hostile targets”, state media said on Monday. – Reuters

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif wore face masks on Monday for their meeting in Damascus where they said the West was exploiting the coronavirus pandemic for political ends, state media said. – Reuters


For weeks President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has presented Turkey’s performance in handling the coronavirus as one of the world’s most successful, as he maintained strict control over information about the outbreak. – New York Times

Turkey’s plans to switch on its new Russian missile defence systems have been delayed by the coronavirus outbreak but it does not intend to reverse a decision which has raised the threat of U.S. sanctions, a senior Turkish official said. – Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the Syrian government was violating a ceasefire in the northwestern Idlib region, warning that Damascus would suffer “heavy losses” if it persisted. – Reuters

Turkey continues to pursue “illegal expansionist plans” in the east Mediterranean by again attempting to drill for gas in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights, the Cypriot government said Monday. – Associated Press


Israel’s rival political leaders broke the country’s unprecedented political impasse Monday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and challenger Benny Gantz announced a deal to join forces and form an emergency unity government. –  Washington Post

A newly formed Israeli government is laying the groundwork to enact the first steps of President Trump’s Middle East peace deal, announcing plans to discuss annexing parts of the West Bank by the summer. – The Hill

Antisemitic hate speech has risen dramatically since the start of the coronavirus crisis and must be rejected, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief said. – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official condemned on Monday pro-Palestinian social media users for vilifying the Jewish state amid the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic. – Algemeiner

An anti-Semitic website that is now shut down offered users the opportunity to trade a cryptocurrency called the “HoloCoin,” a reference to the Holocaust, in which Jews and the ashes of Jews burnt can be purchased or sold. – Israel Hayom

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s government is facing rare resistance to one of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s signature projects, as members of a tribe in the kingdom’s northwest say they won’t leave their homes to make way for a new megacity, according to residents there and rights activists. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump said on Monday that his administration was considering the possibility of stopping incoming Saudi Arabian crude oil shipments as a measure to support the battered domestic drilling industry. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia extended on Monday the suspension of praying in the Grand Mosque and Prophet’s Mosque during the fasting month of Ramadan to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques’ Affairs said on Twitter. – Reuters

Behind a Saudi-Russian truce to stabilise oil markets with a record output cut, market players are seeing the two production heavyweights still trading blows in the physical market. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia put to death 184 people in 2019 – a record number for the kingdom – despite a decline in executions worldwide, Amnesty International says. – BBC

Gulf stock markets fell on Tuesday and the Saudi currency dropped in the forwards market, after U.S. crude oil futures collapsed below $0 on a coronavirus-induced supply glut. – Reuters


Hundreds of Tunisians who were stranded in Libya after the borders were closed over the coronavirus crisis reached a Tunisian frontier post on Monday, Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said. – Reuters

The United Nations on Monday warned of rapidly escalating violence and a worsening humanitarian crisis in Libya, which it said could amount to war crimes. – Associated Press

Libya’s UN-recognised government claimed to be on the brink of breaking General Khalifa Haftar’s year-long siege of Tripoli after an offensive backed by Turkish forces succeeded in capturing several key towns. – Telegraph

Middle East & North Africa

Across the Muslim world, the fasting month of Ramadan that begins this week will be unlike any other in memory as the coronavirus pandemic alters the rituals and rhythms of centuries-old traditions and practices. – Washington Post

Yemen’s rebels released on Monday a former culture minister and writer who was a vocal critic of their rule, his lawyer said, a day after his arrest. – Associated Press

Millions of children in the Middle East will become poorer as their caregivers lose jobs from lockdowns aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus across the region, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF). – Reuters

Editorial: While Iran seemingly accepted Al-Kadhimi’s designation in Iraq, it will continue to obstruct his task of forming a government. In its efforts to do so, Iran will use stalling tactics, and threaten that if the new PM fails to oust U.S. troops from Iraq through diplomatic channels, Iran’s proxies will resort to force once again. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Michael Rubin writes: The Arab Spring caught leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria by surprise. Certainly, their intelligence services had reported on dissatisfaction, but their leaders had no idea of how deep the malaise was.[…] Press criticism may make leaders and their closest advisors uncomfortable, but it should not if they are capable, have confidence in their own abilities, and desire the best for their society. – Kurdistan Times

Korean Peninsula

South Korea said on Tuesday it was not true that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un was gravely ill, contradicting U.S. media reports, though his absence from recent public events has sparked speculation about his health and refocused attention on his eventual succession. – Washington Post

Industrial Bank of Korea, one of South Korea’s largest banks, will pay $86 million to settle U.S. and New York state criminal and civil charges it allowed an illegal transfer of more than $1 billion to Iran that violated U.S. sanctions. – Reuters

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Tuesday the government would make every effort to gather information and analysis following media reports regarding the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. – Reuters


White House adviser Peter Navarro charged on Monday that China may be withholding data about early coronavirus infections because it wants to win the commercial race to create a vaccine. – Reuters

The United States on Monday called on China to allow freedom of movement to prominent rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, whom it said has been released after five years of unjust detention, the U.S. State Department said in a statement. – Reuters

New Indian rules to ensure scrutiny of investments from companies based in neighbouring countries, especially during the coronavirus outbreak, will also apply to Hong Kong, two senior government sources told Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

Yasmeen Serhan writes: While this widespread dependence on China could limit the degree of criticism Beijing gets in the short term, that does not mean it is impervious. Reports of faulty test kits and defective masks have already proved a blow to China’s diplomacy, as a number of countries are opting to reject Chinese-made equipment. – The Atlantic


The constitutional crisis engulfing Hong Kong expanded dramatically on Tuesday as the Chinese government voiced its support for the seizure of more than a dozen pro-democracy activists and asserted Beijing’s “rights and responsibilities to maintain the constitutional order” in the city. – Washington Post

The Australian government said on Monday that Google and Facebook would have to pay media outlets for news content in the country, part of an emerging global effort to rescue local publishers by moving to compel tech giants to share their advertising revenue. – New York Times

Across Asia, home to about half of the world’s Muslims, the coming Islamic holy month of Ramadan is on a collision course with the coronavirus pandemic as clerics call on the faithful to cram into mosques. – Agence France-Presse

China on Tuesday offered strong support to the Hong Kong government’s decision to arrest 15 activists, and said certain “radicals” in the city were blind to the interference of outside forces, in pointed reference to Washington and London. – Reuters


Something, it appears, had gone terribly wrong in the battery compartment as the sub made its way through Russian waters 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the First of July.[…] The only thing more mysterious than what exactly went wrong that day is what the sub was doing in a thousand feet of water just 60 nautical miles east of Norway in the first place. – New York Times

The Russian energy ministry has told domestic oil producers to reduce oil output by around 20% from their average February levels, two industry sources told Reuters on Monday, which would bring Moscow in line with its commitment under a global deal. – Reuters

The U.S. ambassador in Moscow accused Russian authorities on Monday of making a mockery of justice after he was turned away for a second time from what he called a “secret” trial behind closed doors of an ex-U.S. Marine charged with espionage. – Reuters

Russia’s ministry of defence said on Monday it had ordered thousands of troops into a two-week quarantine after a vast Red Square military parade in Moscow they had been rehearsing for was called off because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

Russia on Monday disputed the U.S. Navy’s account of an “unsafe and unprofessional” incident Sunday in which a fighter jet from Moscow intercepted an American spy plane over the Mediterranean Sea. – The Hill


European Union leaders meeting are on Thursday expected to defer a final decision on how to finance the bloc’s economic recovery in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, diplomats and officials said. – Reuters

Anti-Israel activists disrupted a Zoom meeting by the Israeli Embassy in Berlin commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day by posting pictures of Hitler and shouting antisemitic slogans, according to Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff. – Jerusalem Post

Italy will present a plan this week to ease its rigid lockdown, joining Germany, France and Austria in pursuing a gradual return to normality as coronavirus infection rates fall and pressure mounts to reopen businesses. – Bloomberg


Burkina Faso’s security forces reportedly killed 31 unarmed men in the country’s north earlier this month, according to a report on Monday by Human Rights Watch. – Associated Press

Lesotho’s government has agreed with South African mediators and political parties to implement a “dignified retirement” for prime minister Thomas Thabane, a joint statement said on Monday, signalling stepped up efforts to end a political crisis. – Reuters

More than half of Africa’s 54 nations have ordered total or partial lockdowns, shuttering millions of stores, restaurants, hair salons and factories that lack the cash buffers they need to keep paying staff and eventually reopen. – Bloomberg

The Americas

Government officials said Monday they would move ahead with plans to issue the world’s first “immunity passports,” cards that would allow people who have recovered from the novel coronavirus to return to work, over the concerns of physicians who warned that much about covid-19 immunity remains unknown. – Washington Post

The daughter of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán is doing well by doing good. While her father serves a life sentence in a super-maximum security prison in Colorado, Alejandrina Guzmán is distributing food and other supplies in packages bearing her father’s likeness to the poor and elderly in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro discussed cooperation between the two countries amid the coronavirus pandemic over the phone on Monday, the Kremlin said in a statement. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump said on Monday he will suspend all immigration into the United States temporarily through an executive order in response to the coronavirus outbreak and to protect American jobs. – Reuters


Two U.S. warships are operating in the South China Sea, the Navy said on Tuesday, with three regional security sources saying they were near an area of a standoff between China and Malaysia. – Reuters

The Pentagon is extending military travel restrictions through June, indicating a concern that the coronavirus remains a threat to troops even as the Trump administration pushes for some states to begin opening up in May. – Associated Press

The continued flow of various weapons to the Pentagon during the pandemic will depend to a surprising degree on Mexico, the U.S. neighbor frequently criticized by President Trump. – Defense One

An internal Office of the Secretary of Defense assessment calls for the Navy to cut two aircraft carriers from its fleet, freeze the large surface combatant fleet of destroyers and cruisers around current levels and add dozens of unmanned or lightly manned ships to the inventory, according to documents obtained by Defense News. – Defense News

The U.S. Defense Department expects to see a three-month delay across the majority of its Major Defense Acquisition Program portfolio as the result of workforce and supply chain issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. – Defense News

The Pentagon will ask for billions of dollars in the next version of a stimulus package to help defense contractors hit by closures or other effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer said Monday. – The Hill

The Army on Monday resumed sending new recruits to basic training, albeit with stipulations, after a two-week pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. – The Hill