Fdd's overnight brief

April 7, 2020

In The News


Two dozen former diplomats and national security leaders from the United States and Europe called on the Trump administration Monday to ease sanctions against Iran as part of the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. – Washington Post

French President Emmanuel Macron called on Iran to respect its nuclear obligations in a conversation with President Hassan Rohani, adding that this was the moment when the international community must come together to fight the coronavirus. – Reuters

Iran will never ask the United States for help in the fight against the new coronavirus, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has approved the withdrawal of one billion euros from the country’s sovereign wealth fund to help fight the coronavirus epidemic, President Hassan Rouhani’s official website said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran’s parliament reconvened on Tuesday for the first time since Feb. 25, when it shut down due to the new coronavirus, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. – Bloomberg

The U.S. State Department says that humanitarian goods, including medicine and medical supplies, are exempt and not subject to any trade restrictions. Yet years of punitive measures have turned Iran into a commercial pariah for most foreign banks and companies. – Bloomberg

The spread of the coronavirus in the Middle East has brought “more reason and logic” to Iran’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday. – Bloomberg

Iran is watching closely as U.S. and Taliban negotiate an end to America’s operations in Afghanistan. If the expected withdrawal of significant U.S. forces destabilizes Afghanistan, how much influence will Tehran assert its influence over its neighbor to the east? – Defense News

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday said that friendly countries should pressure the United States to lift its “cruel and one-sided” sanctions against Iran as the country struggles to curb the coronavirus outbreak, the Xinhua news agency reported. – Arutz Sheva

Fox News senior strategic analyst Gen. Jack Keane on Friday highly recommended that President Trump keep sanctions in place against Iran during the coronavirus pandemic. – Fox News

Based on the latest estimates, about half a million people in Iran are suffering from COVED-19, a member of the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce has disclosed. – Radio Farda

A group of 24 senior diplomats and defence officials, including four former Nato secretary generals, have urged Donald Trump to save “potentially hundreds of thousands of lives” lost to coronavirus across the Middle East by easing medical and humanitarian sanctions on Iran. – The Guardian

Bobby Ghosh writes: Biden’s call for sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic is, likewise, unburdened by concern for the millions of people who daily suffer the consequences of Iran’s destructive policy. While stating that the regime “continues to act provocatively in the region” — a most generous characterization of its participation in, say, the Syrian genocide — he makes no demand on Tehran to cease and desist, to demonstrate the same humane consideration for other peoples that it is asking for its own. – Bloomberg


A United Nations investigation into attacks on humanitarian sites in Syria concluded in a report released on Monday that the Syrian government or its allies had committed most of them — but failed to name Russia, the most important of those allies, as a perpetrator. – New York Times

It is “highly probable” the government of Syria or its allies carried out attacks on three healthcare facilities, a school and a refuge for children in northwest Syria last year, according to a summary of an internal United Nations inquiry seen by Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

Syria is dragging its feet on releasing prisoners under an amnesty declared by President Bashar al-Assad, raising fears of mass infections if the new coronavirus spreads through its overcrowded jails, rights groups said on Monday. – Reuters


If Israel finds a vaccine for coronavirus, boycotters can still take it, Omar Barghouti, founder of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement said on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on Monday regarding the global coronavirus crisis and how their countries could work together to combat it. – Algemeiner

The AFRHSN Medical Mission, a Palestinian American initiative based in the San Francisco Bay Area, has donated much-needed equipment to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry in the face of the global coronavirus crisis. – Ynet

An Argentinean journalist apologized after saying that the coronavirus was created by rich Americans and Israelis during a prime-time news program. Tomás Méndez, host of the popular ADN Tv, said on Wednesday that “bats are not responsible for the coronavirus, humans are.” – Arutz Sheva


Rockets landed near a district in Iraq that houses workers for foreign oil companies on Monday, including U.S. oil service company Halliburton, but caused no damage or casualties, oil and police sources said. – Reuters

Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on Monday warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” from the coronavirus as the government in Baghdad offered to transfer funds to citizens stranded abroad. – The National

Inside an operational command room at Ain al-Asad air base, which is lined with maps of past missions against the Islamic State, three American radio operators stand at their desks.[…] But since U.S. drones killed Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani and his ally Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in early January, there has been a pause as the withdrawing Americans focus on protecting their own troops. – Foreign Policy

On April 4, 2020, eight factions of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) issued a joint statement, accusing the Iraqi-designated P.M. Adnan Al-Zurfi of being an “American agent,” and threatening to increase attacks against U.S. forces if Iraqi lawmakers approved his cabinet. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Prosecutors revealed new details of alleged bribes paid to FIFA executive committee members to gain their votes for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup and charged a pair of former 21st Century Fox executives with making illegal payments to win broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. – Associated Press

Across the Middle East and parts of South Asia, bereaved families have faced traumatic restrictions on burying their dead amid the pandemic. Religion and customs that require speedy burials in the largely Muslim region have clashed with fears of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and government-mandated lockdowns. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia appears to have taken advantage of flaws in global telecommunications networks to track the movement of its citizens traveling in the United States, according to millions of data requests leaked to the Guardian and published last week. – Foreign Policy

Simon Henderson writes: Like any particularly watchable television, the main characters are the backbone of the series: Russian President Vladimir Putin versus Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, aka MbS. President Trump has yet to play a leading role, but this is likely to change this week, probably as a consequence of a further dip in oil prices despite last week’s partial recovery. – The Hill


Renewed attacks on China by a member of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s inner circle soured diplomatic relations again on Monday as the education minister accused Chinese medical equipment makers of profiteering from the coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

China is facing a wave of coronavirus infections from Russia, with more than half of the country’s total imported cases in the past two days coming through its northeastern land border. – Bloomberg

John Yoo and Ivana Stradner write: Seizing Chinese property would allow the United States to finally use international law to its advantage.[…] Let the Chinese Communist Party try to claim, outside its own borders, just as it does within them, that it can deny common sense and blame the very victims of its wrongdoing for the worst public-health catastrophe in a century. – National Review


The Taliban on Tuesday broke off talks with the Afghan government on a prisoner exchange, a main step in peace talks being brokered by the United States after it agreed on a troop withdrawal pact with the militants. – Reuters

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will on Tuesday declare a state of emergency in parts of the country, including Tokyo, over a spike in coronavirus infections. – Agence-France Presse

Donald Trump said he was unaware Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had banned the export of a drug that the U.S. president believes is effective against coronavirus, and said he asked Modi for a supply of the medicine. – Bloomberg

Taiwan barred all official use of Zoom, becoming one of the first governments to impose an outright ban on the popular video-conferencing app over security concerns. – Bloomberg

Farahnaz Ispahani writes: The Pakistani government, responding to international outrage at the court decision, has announced that it will go into appeal and will not free Mohammed. But those who know how things in Pakistan really work know that the stage has likely been set for another murderer’s freedom. – Washington Examiner


Russia’s prime minister on Monday issued an unusual rebuke to regional governors for closing their borders after some regions, including Chechnya in the south, imposed tough restrictions against the coronavirus. – Reuters

Timofey V. Bordachev an associate professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and the academic director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies (CCEIS) is convinced that the liberal world order and particularly the EU that epitomized it “has completely disintegrated”. In an article that he wrote for Russia in Global Affairs, Bordachev does not share some of his compatriots’ sense of satisfaction at the liberal world order’s comeuppance. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Jeffrey Mankoff writes: Thus far, Russia has skillfully balanced its Syrian ally and Turkish partner. Absent a fundamental shift such as Turkey pulling out of the S-400 deal, Moscow will try to maintain that balancing act as long as possible. However, miscalculations are possible. Russia and Turkey’s continued ability to manage their respective regional ambitions — in Syria and beyond — will be a crucial determinant of whether their entente endures. – War on the Rocks


The United States had no knowledge of a shipment of face masks bound for Germany that officials in Berlin have accused it of diverting from an airport in Bangkok, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Thailand said. – Reuters

Ramy Aziz writes: Libya has particular importance for Italy given the two countries’ close proximity and Italy’s colonial past in the country.[…] At present, Italy supports the UN-backed Al-Wefaq government. In contrast, Russia has given major support to General Haftar with France also standing in contrast to Rome’s position, Italy may increasingly concede its current position, especially given its failed efforts to mediate the conflict. – Washington Institute

Heather A. Conley writes: Should the European Union not be able to enforce its trade and strict fiscal rules and debt mutualization occur, would Germany or other states wish to remain in this very different union? The European Union has faced many tests before. Yet the coronavirus will test everything we have come to understand about Europe over the last 70 years. – Center for Strategic and  International Studies


Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad who was convicted of crimes against humanity, was freed from his prison cell for 60 days for humanitarian reasons. – New York Times

The International Monetary Fund said in a blog on the outbreak’s impact on Africa last month that “social distancing” was not realistic for the most vulnerable, and the notion of working from home was only possible for the few. – Reuters

Peter Sands writes: The stakes are extraordinarily high. Meeting the challenge of Covid-19 will require decisive action and true leadership from Africa’s leaders at regional and national level, as well as within communities. It will require equally decisive and rapid action from global leaders and global institutions. – The Telegraph

The Americas

A rabbi who survived a violent antisemitic attack in New Haven last week praised the swift response of the police officers who arrived to assist him as he lay battered on the ground. – Algemeiner

As the coronavirus pandemic shuts down Colombia’s flights, borders and economy, some Venezuelan migrants say they see little choice but to return home — where they may face still worse economic devastation and a crumbling health infrastructure. – CNN

Ontario, the most-populous province in Canada, complained on Monday the United States had blocked the export of more than 3 million face masks it bought to fight the coronavirus outbreak, while Ottawa said it was pressuring Washington to release the gear. – Reuters


U.S. spy agencies, already challenged in their missions relating to foreign-election meddling and North Korea’s weapons programs, and by a U.S. president who sometimes dismisses their work, face a new obstacle: the coronavirus. – Wall Street Journal

The Navy is going to extend an investigation into the circumstances around a leaked message from the commander of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) to service leadership sounding the alarm his sailors were at risk from an “accelerating” COVID-19 outbreak on the aircraft carrier. – USNI News

The Army commands in charge of acquisition and modernization are taking it day-by-day as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens in the United States, but so far see minimal impact to production lines and modernization efforts underway. – Defense News

The Space Development Agency plans to award contracts for a mesh network in space this August, with the expectation that an initial batch of 20 satellites will be placed on orbit during summer 2022. The agency expects to release a request for proposals for the contracts May 1. – C4ISRNET

Experts say the ubiquitous videoconferencing tools bear some risk of accidentally exposing mundane details, and even inviting a new wave of deep fakes. But the risks can be managed. – Defense One

Doyle Hodges writes: Regardless of the merits of to whom or how Crozier’s letter was sent, Modly’s remarks do not reflect credit on his leadership.[…] His remarks are likely to deepen any mistrust created by Crozier’s firing, and reinforce the notion that the choice to do so was based on retribution, not judgment. Modly’s words and actions have made the crisis of trust and confidence in Navy leadership more acute. – War on the Rocks