Fdd's overnight brief

April 28, 2020

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


The United States faces a tough, messy battle if it uses a threat to trigger a return of all United Nations sanctions on Iran as leverage to get the 15-member Security Council to extend and strengthen an arms embargo on Tehran, diplomats said. – Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized the need to cooperate in the battle against the new coronavirus outbreak and to expand trade ties in a call on Monday, according to Iran’s official presidency website. – Reuters

The American naval coalition in the Gulf creates insecurity, the Iranian military said in a statement on Monday, according to the official IRNA news agency. – Reuters

Iran says all but one of its international borders have reopened to trade as it seeks to revive economic activity and ease coronavirus restrictions. – Financial Times

France on Monday condemned Iran over the executions this month of two young offenders who it said where minors at the time of their crimes, accusing Tehran of violating its international obligations. – Agence France-Presse

Shortly after, on April 22, 2020, a broad coalition of international human rights organizations and the Vice President of the European Parliament published an open letter calling for the immediate release of Iran’s female prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, who have been left out of the recent mass furloughs during the Covid19 pandemic. – Forbes

The Trump administration is working on new efforts to “enforce and expand” its maximum pressure campaign on Iran in the wake of increased military threats, including Tehran’s launch last week of a spy satellite. – Washington Free Beacon

An official of the Iranian Customs on Sunday confirmed that a fourth consignment of pharmaceutical ingredients purchased from Germany worth around 259,000 euros (about $280,000) has been delivered to Iran. – Radio Farda

How will the US “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran be able to continue if a major UN arms embargo against it expires in October?[…] US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his staff leaked to the media that they intend to claim to the UN Security Council that Washington can still push to extend the UN conventional-arms embargo. – Jerusalem Post

The head of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps drone unit gave a candid and long interview about Iran’s new success with drone technology over the weekend. Col. Akbar Karimloo spoke at length regarding new “stealth” drones and the array of vehicles now at his fingertips for waging war across the region. – Jerusalem Post

Iran’s military said Monday that it will never be a source of conflict in the Gulf, in an apparent bid to ease tensions after several high-seas incidents involving US forces. – Agence France-Presse

David Albright writes: Starting by verifiably ending Iran’s centrifuge program is the easiest way to head off a dangerous, costly nuclear arms race that Iran cannot win but would forever enshrine it as an international pariah subject to a growing number of sanctions and likely enemies. Given Iran’s hugely uneconomic centrifuge enrichment program, one posing an unacceptable security risk to the region and the world and spurring other countries to proliferate, the international community’s most sensible option is to collectively insist on its end. – Institute for Science and International Security

Kevjn Lim writes: Many aspects of Iranian engagement with the Eurasian Economic Union seem paltry, but the bloc offers a semblance of assured trade, diplomacy, and counter-Western alignment that could still be meaningful to Tehran amid multiple crises. – Washington Institute


Two senior army officers and a political official have been killed in southern Syria this month, the highest-profile assassinations in a spate of murders that have exposed President Bashar al-Assad’s struggle to maintain control of the country’s war-torn south. – Financial Times

The official military Spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve denied a report on Monday by the Syrian state news agency SANA that had claimed that two US soldiers went missing after their vehicle was attacked by unknown assailants. – Jerusalem Post

Kann News said that the target of the attack in Syria attributed to Israel yesterday was an advanced weapon shipment Iran had been transferring to Syria. – Arutz Sheva


Turkey has detained 402 people in the past 42 days for allegedly sharing “false and provocative” social media postings concerning the coronavirus outbreak, officials said Monday. – Associated Press

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday threw his weight behind Turkey’s top Muslim cleric, who caused a storm by claiming homosexuality “brings disease and causes this generation to decay.” – Associated Press

President Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey will send medical gear including protective suits and masks to the United States on Tuesday to help its efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak. – Reuters


Israelis stood in silence — many on the balconies of their homes due to coronavirus restrictions — on Monday night as a one-minute siren sounded nationwide to mark the start of the annual Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. – Algemeiner

The United States said Monday it was ready to recognize Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank but asked Israel’s government to also negotiate with the Palestinians. – Times of Israel

A military drone crashed in the Gaza Strip following a technical error on Monday. – Haaretz

Matthew Salter, formerly of the Bank of Israel, has been appointed the new United Kingdom trade attaché to Israel. He will replace Barry Grossman OBE, who recently retired from the position at the British Embassy. – Jerusalem Post

The possible collapse of the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty and potential destruction of a stable regional ally, the Hashemite Kingdom, is one of the stronger arguments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex West Bank settlements this year. – Jerusalem Post

Amos Harel writes: The story didn’t really end with the withdrawal. Nothing ever ends like that. Four months later the Second Intifada erupted in the territories. Some on the Israeli right said Palestinian confidence had been bolstered by the demonstration of IDF weakness in withdrawing from Lebanon.[…] Six years later came the Second Lebanon War: More historic speeches, another vigorous invasion followed by another exit with our tails between our legs. As though we haven’t learned or forgotten a thing. – Haaretz


Iran-backed groups in Lebanon and Iraq have mounted highly publicized campaigns against the new coronavirus as they seek to bolster their reputations and regain their footing after coming under pressure from popular protests. – Wall Street Journal

When the American tanks first rolled into Baghdad, I hadn’t heard of such strict curfews either. But now, as a 29-year-old Iraqi, I’m seeing events outside my window that feel like deja vu. – Washington Post

The Kurdistan autonomous region of Iraq is threatened by low oil prices as Iraq’s central government remains in crisis and budget debates continue. Baghdad is supposed to provide the Kurdish region a seventeen percent share of the Iraqi budget but has systematically cut it since 2014, alleging that crises in Baghdad and the war on ISIS made it difficult to pay the Kurds their fair share. – Jerusalem Post


The decline of the Lebanese pound to record lows against the U.S. dollar points to a “negative performance” by the central bank and the governor is responsible, but not on his own, the deputy leader of Hezbollah said, according to media reports. – Reuters

The facades of several banks were smashed with at least one set on fire as protests fuelled by Lebanon’s economic crisis turned violent in the northern city of Tripoli overnight, a witness said. – Reuters

A protester was shot and killed during unrest in the Lebanese city of Tripoli overnight, security and medical sources said on Tuesday, as an economic crisis brought demonstrations back onto the streets. – Reuters

Lebanese banks have set an exchange rate of 3,000 pounds per dollar for withdrawals from U.S. dollar accounts for this week, two banking sources said on Monday – around 50% weaker than the currency’s official pegged value. – Reuters

Arabian Peninsula

A declaration of self-rule by the most influential Yemeni southern separatist group has triggered concerns that Yemen’s conflict could escalate just as the United Nations is seeking a nationwide cease-fire to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. – Washington Post

Saudi Arabia’s state grain buyer SAGO said on Monday it bought 60,000 tonnes of Ukraine wheat from investment firm SALIC, marking its first purchase from agricultural investments overseas aimed at enhancing the country’s food security. – Reuters

A period drama about the trials of a Jewish midwife airing on Saudi-controlled MBC for Ramadan has drawn both criticism as an attempt to promote Arab “normalisation” with Israel and praise for a rare exploration of the Gulf’s social history. – Reuters

Editorial: Mohammed bin Salman would have it both ways: free to brutally suppress all independent voices in the kingdom while reaping credit at home and abroad for reforms he dispenses as a benevolent despot. It’s not a workable strategy in the 21st century, as the continued stagnation of the Saudi economy demonstrates. MBS’s crimes deeply overshadow his concessions to modernity; unless the 34-year-old ruler quickly changes course, they will subvert all he seeks to accomplish. – Washington Post


Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter on Monday declared a landmark United Nations-brokered agreement to unite the country “a thing of the past,” and pledged his authorities would move toward creating a new government. – Associated Press

Libya’s eastern-based military leader Khalifa Haftar said on Monday his Libyan National Army (LNA) was accepting a “popular mandate” to rule the country, apparently brushing aside the civilian authorities that nominally govern eastern Libya. – Reuters

Russia described a power grab by Libya’s eastern-based military leader Khalifa Haftar, whom Moscow supports, as “surprising”, state news agency RIA reported on Tuesday, citing a foreign ministry source. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East should be used to boost growth, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) official said on Monday, as regional economies struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and the crippling impact of lower oil prices. – Reuters

On March 16, 2020, Dar Al-Ifta, Egypt’s official fatwa-issuing body, published a report on fatwas (religious rulings) issued across the Muslim world regarding the coronavirus pandemic. The fatwas reviewed in the report were collected by the Global Fatwa Index, a body established by Dar Al-Ifta in 2018 to fight extremist fatwas in the Muslim world. – Middle East Media Research Institute

For several years, French-Tunisian cleric Hassan Chalghoumi, a mosque imam in the town of Drancy near Paris, has attended memorials on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, as well as  events promoting friendship with the Jewish community and interfaith dialogue. This year, since public Holocaust Day events have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Chalghoumi marked Holocaust Day with a message on his Facebook account, accompanied by several images. – Middle East Media Research Institute

King Abdullah II writes: In the Middle East, we realized that we had to take a different approach in the fight against terrorism. […]Covid-19 is a threat that confronts every leader. But if we wish to defeat it, we must do what seems counterintuitive: Put politics and popularity aside. – Washington Post

Korean Peninsula

While Kim Jong Un’s two-week absence has inspired speculation and rumors that he is gravely ill, he is not the first member of North Korean’s ruling elite to disappear from public view. – Associated Press

Kim Jong Un may have missed a key holiday on April 15 because of concerns over the coronavirus, not because he is ill, South Korea’s minister for North Korean affairs said on Tuesday. – Reuters

However, the limitations of foreign insight into Pyongyang’s inner workings have been exposed by the weeks-long absence of Mr Kim. Unconfirmed reports of life-threatening health issues, have sparked global intrigue and raised fears of instability in the volatile, nuclear-armed state. – Financial Times


Days after President Trump announced he would freeze U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, China made a very different statement: a $30 million pledge to the group. Trump and his allies argue the WHO’s response to the novel coronavirus has been ineffectual and “China-centric” — and some outside the administration agree. – Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that China could have stopped the coronavirus before it swept the globe and said his administration was conducting “serious investigations” into what happened. – Reuters

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Monday accused China of sending low-quality and even counterfeit coronavirus antibody testing kits to the United States and of “profiteering” from the pandemic. – Reuters

China will speed up the development of key technologies and improve its capability to handle emergencies in response to the coronavirus pandemic, state television reported Monday, quoting a top-level meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping. – Reuters

China has criticised India’s decision to stop using Chinese testing kits for the novel coronavirus because of quality issues as unfair and irresponsible in the latest strain in their ties. – Reuters

Editorial: Dr. Tedros has deflected criticism of his leadership by accusing the Taiwanese government of condoning racist attacks against him. […]Recently evidence emerged that Africans in Guangzhou, China, have been evicted from their homes and rejected by businesses as coronavirus-fueled xenophobia spreads. Governments across Africa have expressed concern, but Dr. Tedros has been quiet. Many of the world’s viruses originate in China, and WHO understandably needs to maintain a relationship with the country. But its preferential treatment for Beijing has endangered lives in China and beyond. – Wall Street Journal

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: China has plenty to gain from lending a hand to its friends battling the coronavirus in Africa. Contrary to some perceptions, that won’t mean opportunistic grabs in oil, copper or arable land. The biggest prize for Beijing is political capital. – Bloomberg

Heather A. Conley, Jonathan E. Hillman, Donatienne Ruy, and Maesea McCalpin write: As China’s funding for infrastructure and other investments expands along its Belt and Road Initiative, its economic and political influence is growing in the Western Balkans, a strategically contested area on the European Union’s periphery. – Centre for Strategic and International Studies


President Donald Trump has pushed his military and national security advisers in recent days to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan amid concerns about a major coronavirus outbreak in the war-torn country, according to two current and one former senior U.S. officials. – NBC News

After years of persecuting Afghanistan’s religious and ethnic minorities, the Taliban are now trying to win over and recruit from the Shiite Hazara community ahead of intra-Afghan peace talks. – The National

More than 500 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in the first three months of the year as violence raged even after an agreement between the United States and the Taliban on withdrawing foreign forces, the United Nations said on Monday. – Reuters

Daniel Depetris writes: The poll from CVA reconfirms what many of us have long known: US veterans are just as fed up with the war as their president is. In fact, given their sacrifices, it’s highly likely that they are even more frustrated with the status-quo. The only question left outstanding is this: Why is Washington hesitating to finally do what the American people are clamoring for and end the war? – Business Insider


A music video produced by China to promote its support for neighbours battling the coronavirus has backfired in the Philippines, attracting a flood of public criticism and an online petition that is fast attracting signatures. – Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday he was aware of reports on the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and was paying close attention to developments. – Reuters

Australia has been described as “gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe,” by a Chinese state media editor as Beijing criticised calls for an inquiry into the coronavirus origin as “political manoeuvring,” further straining ties with Canberra. – The Guardian

Daniel Moss writes: While officials around the world weigh how quickly to reopen parts of the economy, the damage from containment efforts will persist. The recovery path from the global financial crisis was consistently weaker than central bankers figured. In the pre-pandemic era, it was hard enough for Kuroda to hint at rolling back support measures without markets gyrating. Now that the BOJ is wading deeper into the fabric of Japanese economic life, that task will only get tougher. Kuroda himself may not have to worry about it, but he’s not leaving his successor much of a road map. – Bloomberg

Jeffrey Becker writes: As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has a chance to re-emerge as a leader and a valued ally and partner. The Indo-Pacific region is an ideal place to start. It is the Pentagon’s priority theater; a place where America can both learn and apply its own knowledge and logistics; and a region where swift action is needed to counter China’s own attempts to extend its influence amid the pandemic. – Defense One


The Russian embassy in Prague has formally protested to the Czech Foreign Ministry over a media report claiming that Russian spies may have plotted to poison the mayor of Prague and another local official whose recent actions have angered Moscow. – Associated Press

Russia overtook China in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, when its tally climbed above 87,000, as pressure rose on the government to consider easing lockdown restrictions for businesses to help shore up the rattled economy. – Reuters

Russia’s ambassador to Denmark has accused Washington of provoking confrontation in the Arctic in order to achieve dominance in a region where Moscow has invested heavily. – Reuters

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have agreed to hold an online five-way summit, proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Interfax news agency reported. – Reuters


The British government insisted Monday that it won’t extend the deadline for striking a post-Brexit deal with the European Union, despite the upheaval caused by the coronavirus. – Associated Press

Defense experts are concerned that Europe’s newfound commitment to joint defense spending may be cast aside as the European Union diverts cash into economies hammered by the coronavirus lockdown. – Defense News

The mayor of Prague has said he is under police protection from a “risk to my life”, with one Czech investigative outlet reporting he had been targeted in a Russian poisoning plot. – The Guardian

Luke Coffey writes: The economic, security, and political importance of the Black Sea and the broader region is only becoming more important. With Russia increasing its military capability in the region, now is not the time for NATO to grow complacent. – Middle East Institute


The Pentagon acknowledged on Monday that an American military strike in Somalia more than a year ago killed two civilians and injured three more. – New York Times

Burundi’s political parties started campaigning for next month’s presidential elections on Monday despite opposition accusations of intimidation and the ongoing global coronavirus crisis. – Reuters

Joe Parkinson and Benoit Faucon write: The crash in oil prices and the economic fallout from the coronavirus together pose what could be an existential threat for Africa’s largest economy and biggest crude producer. – Wall Street Journal

North America

U.S. House Of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Joe Biden for president, joining a list of top Democrats to back the former vice president since he emerged as the party’s presumptive nominee to take on President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election. – Reuters

The rout in US oil prices gained momentum on Tuesday as concerns over storage capacity prompted fears the American crude benchmark could again plummet into negative territory. – Financial Times

Mexico’s state oil firm Pemex on Monday detailed measures aimed at mitigating the effects of a steep drop in oil prices, saying it would prioritize lower-cost production that would allow the government to comply with its “international commitments.” – Reuters

Latin America

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Monday appointed a close ally who is accused by the U.S. of drug trafficking to lead the nation’s decaying oil industry amid tightening international sanctions, nationwide fuel shortages and plunging crude production. – Wall Street Journal

The spreading specter of the new coronavirus is shaking Latin America’s notoriously overcrowded, unruly prisons, threatening to turn them into infernos. – Associated Press

Following the collapse of the Boeing Co (BA.N) takeover deal, Brazilian jetmaker Embraer SA (EMBR3.SA) should look to partner with China for its mid-range passenger plane unit, Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourao said on Monday. – Reuters

A Supreme Court judge on Monday authorized an investigation of allegations that Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro tried to interfere in the work of the country’s federal police force for political motives, the top court said on its website. – Reuters

Brazilians are split on impeaching President Jair Bolsonaro despite a majority believing accusations by the former justice minister that Bolsonaro tried to interfere with the federal police’s work for political gain, a poll conducted on Monday showed. – Reuters

Boeing’s termination of a $4.2 billion deal for a majority stake in Embraer’s commercial aviation business could have widespread implications on the Brazilian firm’s flagship military aircraft. – Defense News


Brussels wants more power to audit how tech companies harvest and use consumer data, as the EU prepares to launch a consultation on its flagship digital platform regulation. – Financial Times

The Federal Communications Commission still has data flowing through its network without proper encryption, according to an April 24 report from the Government Accountability Office. – Fifth Domain

The targeting of US public health institutions by North Korean, Russian and Iranian hackers has prompted five senators to write to senior cybersecurity personnel to ask them to put in place a range of protective measures during the coronavirus pandemic. – Jerusalem Post

Vanessa Molter, Renee DiResta and Alex Stamos write: But currently, social media companies are allowing themselves to be used as a mouthpiece for Beijing. If countries do not want to allow their citizens to engage freely online, they should not get the benefit of using platforms committed to free expression for the distribution of mis- and disinformation. – Washington Post


The United States said on Monday it will impose new restrictions on exports to China to keep semiconductor production equipment and other technology away from Beijing’s military. – Reuters

The COVID-19 outbreak on Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG-100) has resulted in 47 sailors testing positive for the virus, with two sailors flown to shore to receive treatment, the Navy reported Monday morning. – USNI News

Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) departed Bremerton, Wash., on Monday for its final pre-deployment training event, in what is the Navy’s first real test of its plan to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among deploying crews. – USNI News

After a nearly-month-long mission helping New York in the COVID-19 pandemic fight, hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) will leave its temporary berth – likely for its Virginia homeport – and prepare for a possible assignment elsewhere. – USNI News

Global defense spending hit $1.917 trillion in 2019, a 3.6 percent increase over previous year figures and the largest increase in one year since 2010, according to the annual report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. – Defense News

Though the Pentagon is hunting for billions of dollars in a future package to combat the coronavirus pandemic, it looks like the next massive relief bill will be swamped in a partisan fight. – Defense News

Ten Democratic senators accused Defense Secretary Mark Esper of leading a “disjointed and slow” Pentagon response to the coronavirus crisis that has passed the buck to lower-level commanders, confused U.S. troops and their families, and put their health second to the military’s ability to fight. – Defense One

The National Reconnaissance Office is writing new interface standards to ensure its data will be compatible with the Department of Defense’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control system. – C4ISRNET

Lockheed Martin will perform the first phase of satellite integration on Project Blackjack for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. – C4ISRNET

The Pentagon’s fight with the Federal Communications Commission over satellite company Ligado’s spectrum use is basically over, keen observers say, heralding greater use of the finite resource to expand broadband access. – Defense One

Mackenzie Eaglen writes: Employees need to know the work is there, their safety is a priority and their jobs are safe. If the Pentagon and primes don’t take care of their suppliers and subcontractors, the defense-industrial base will contract again, losing crucial skills and talents permanently — and possibly seeing those companies bought up by China. – Defense News

David Barno and Nora Bensahel write: We will one day look back upon this pandemic as a major inflection point in U.S. history. In the same way that the end of the Cold War ushered in a decade of peacekeeping operations, and the Sept. 11 attacks led to the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the pandemic will lead to a new era focused more on domestic rebuilding and resilience than external threats. Pentagon leaders need to start thinking now, even while the pandemic continues to tear through the fabric of the country, about how to adapt to these trends so they can best position the U.S. military for the very different environment of the years to come. – War on the Rocks

Long War

A car rammed two police motorcyclists in a Paris suburb on Monday, police unions said, leaving one of the officers in an artificial coma in hospital because of his grave injuries. – Reuters

An Israeli court has ordered the Palestinian Authority to pay nearly $150 million in damages to the families of people killed in militant attacks. – Associated Press

Martin Skold writes: COVID-19 is only going to throw gasoline on an already raging fire. At present, Afghanistan’s legitimate government is on the verge of infighting: President Ashraf Ghani and his opponent in the last election, Abdullah Abdullah, are disputing its result in the midst of a pandemic, with Taliban attacks escalating and Afghan forces attrited, defecting, and in retreat. – War on the Rocks

Trump Administration

U.S. President Donald Trump’s pause in holding White House coronavirus briefings only lasted the weekend as he took center stage in the Rose Garden on Monday to promote what he called a major expansion in testing for the virus. – Reuters

President Trump drew attention to reports that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is blocking the release of witness interview transcripts from the panel’s investigation into Russian election interference. – Washington Examiner

Earlier this month, the Senate Republican campaign arm circulated a memo with shocking advice to GOP candidates on responding to coronavirus: “Don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban — attack China.” – Politico