Fdd's overnight brief

August 18, 2020

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


US intelligence agencies assessed that Iran offered bounties to Taliban fighters for targeting American and coalition troops in Afghanistan, identifying payments linked to at least six attacks carried out by the militant group just last year alone, including a suicide bombing at a US air base in December, CNN has learned. – CNN

The cargo of four tankers seized by the United States last week en route to Venezuela was no longer Iranian property, Iran’s oil minister said Monday, insisting that the U.S. had no right to confiscate the shipment in international waters. – Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates’ agreement to normalise ties with Israel was a “sovereign decision” that was not directed at Iran, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said on Monday. – Reuters

China welcomed on Monday to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposed summit of world leaders to avoid “confrontation” over a U.S. threat to trigger a return of all U.N. sanctions on Iran. – Reuters

Alex Vatanka writes: And yet, a recent uptick in interest among countries around the Caspian Sea in pan-regional economic projects is both undeniable and driven by a fast-changing geopolitical environment where Iran and Russia still believe they have a fair amount to gain from closer cooperation. This reality could soon be more visible should various plans to better connect the region and facilitate trade start to take shape around the Caspian Sea. – Middle East Institute


Four suspects belonging to Lebanon’s armed Shi’ite movement Hezbollah have been tried in absentia by the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon for the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafik al Hariri. The verdict is due on Tuesday. – Reuters

Lebanese President Michel Aoun dismissed as “impossible” the chance that a vast explosion in Beirut’s port this month was caused by a blast from a deposit of Hezbollah arms, but said that all possibilities would be investigated. – Reuters

Israel’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations filed an official complaint with the Security Council on Monday after Hezbollah terrorists allegedly slipped over the border from Lebanon last month. – Algemeiner


A Turkish military vehicle was hit by a blast on Monday during a joint Russian-Turkish patrol in northwest Syria’s Idlib region, the RIA news agency cited Russia’s defence ministry as saying. – Reuters

Two U.S. helicopters on Monday attacked a Syrian army checkpoint in northeastern Syria near the Kurdish-held city of Qamishli, killing one soldier and injuring two others, state media said. – Reuters

U.S. troops and Syrian Democratic Forces exchanged fire with pro-Syrian regime troops Monday, but there were no U.S. casualties. – Military Times


The announcement that Israel and the UAE would exchange ambassadors and forge tourism, business and security ties has won overwhelming support among Israelis. But as Israeli officials prepared to travel to the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, to negotiate details of the new relationship, it has become clear that the future of West Bank annexation — now halted under the deal — remains unresolved and much disputed, threatening to sow tensions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political base. – Washington Post

A knife-wielding man wounded an Israeli policeman in the Old City of Jerusalem and was shot dead by an officer on Monday, a police spokesman said. – Reuters

From a proposed rail link to the Gulf from the Israeli port of Haifa, to quick-hop direct flights from Tel Aviv, the prospect of formal relations with the United Arab Emirates is stirring excitement in Israel. – Reuters

Israel has not softened its opposition to any U.S. arms sales to the United Arab Emirates that could diminish its military superiority as part of the U.S.-brokered normalisation of their ties, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel is preparing for direct flights, over Saudi Arabia, to the United Arab Emirates as part of its normalisation deal with the UAE. – Reuters

For eager Israelis, anticipation is mounting that Dubai’s glitzy Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, will soon join the ranks of the Pyramids in Egypt and the ancient ruins in Jordan’s Petra as a once-forbidden destination now within reach. – Associated Press

President Reuven Rivlin on Monday extended an invitation to the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates to visit Israel, after the two countries agreed on normalization. – Times of Israel

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke by phone on Monday with his Omani counterpart, Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, in the wake of the normalization agreement reached by the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates last week. – Algemeiner

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Sky News Arabia on Monday that the normalization accord reached last week with the United Arab Emirates would “ultimately lead to peace with the Palestinians.” – Algemeiner

The United States will not consent to Israeli annexations in the West Bank for “some time,” preferring to focus on the Israel-UAE normalization deal and wider regional peacemaking, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said on Monday. – Reuters

The Hamas terror group reportedly told Egyptian mediators visiting the Gaza Strip that violence on the border with Israel will continue unless a new understanding is formed on conditions in the Palestinian enclave. – Times of Israel

The Israeli military sees its Ground Forces — tanks, infantry, combat engineering and artillery — as in desperate need for a makeover if it is to be prepared for the types of battles it is likely to encounter in future wars. – Times of Israel

The Palestinians will boycott next year’s world fair in Dubai over the United Arab Emirates’ opening of diplomatic relations with Israel, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced Monday. – Times of Israel

But there was no such condemnation from Mohammad Dahlan, the former Fatah chief and preventive security head in Gaza and an ex-PA security minister, who has lived in the Emirates since he was expelled from the West Bank in 2011 following a bitter and bloody political dispute with the current Palestinian Authority leadership. – Times of Israel

Israeli aircraft carried out airstrikes on targets in the Gaza Strip in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning, hitting Hamas targets and infrastructure. The strikes landed near the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, according to Palestinian reports. – Jerusalem Post

The agreement to formalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates did not include allowing the latter to purchase F-35 fighter jets, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday, following reports to the contrary. – Jerusalem Post

Kuwait has indicated it would be the last country to normalize relations with Israel, according to a report on Sunday in the Al-Qabas daily newspaper. – Jerusalem Post

The Trump administration is considering ways to make its Middle East peace plan binding on future presidential administrations, according to a report by Israel Hayom Tuesday morning. – Arutz Sheva

Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the Mufti of the Palestinian Authority, issued an Islamic fatwa (ruling) which bans prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque or visiting the site if it was the result of the agreement which normalizes ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. – Arutz Sheva

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner said Monday it would be in Saudi Arabia’s interest to normalize ties with Israel as the United Arab Emirates has agreed to do. – Arutz Sheva

Since the UAE announced it was normalizing relations with Israel in preparation for signing a peace agreement with it, many articles have appeared in its press defending the agreement and stressing its advantages. The articles stated that, after long years of war and conflicts, the agreement can bring hope, peace, prosperity, stability and development to the region, and that the advantages of peace are certainly preferable to the harm caused by the conflict.  The UAE and its press also stressed that the agreement is compatible with Islam, which underscores the value of peace. – Middle East Media Research Insitute

David Makovsky writes: Other domestic lessons for Israel’s political players bear mentioning as well. Groups across the political spectrum became strange bedfellows in blocking annexation; this opposition came at a key juncture and was amplified by the Trump administration’s pressure for Israeli consensus. Moreover, the settler leadership must now question its apparent overreach. If Netanyahu did not fear his base, he likely could have reached a compromise with the White House and implemented partial annexation before the UAE deal emerged. – Washington Institute

Haviv Rettig Gur writes: Palestinian leaders and activists may gall at the prospect, but the Emirati initiative demonstrates one thing above all: if they wish to change Israeli policy and behavior, they must convincingly explain to Israelis that a withdrawal is not the catastrophe-in-waiting that so many expect. The Palestinians must give the Israelis something to lose, or rather something to gain that might justify the risk of abandoning some significant portion of the West Bank highlands to — not to belabor the point — a people that declares itself their bitter foes. – Times of Israel


Chevron Corp. CVX 0.47% is in talks to invest in a major Iraq oil field, according to Iraqi officials, part of a string of prospective deals with U.S. companies signaling confidence in that country’s energy industry despite years of instability and start-and-stop foreign investment. – Wall Street Journal

Iraq has reached an agreement with Norwegian shipbuilder Batservice Mandal over the construction of two oil tankers with capacity of 30,000 tonnes each, Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Dana Stroul and Bilal Wahab write: Yet despite these challenges, and for the first time in many years, the U.S. vision for Iraq aligns with that of the Iraqi people and their new leadership—for a new political direction that puts a premium on respect for the state as an umbrella for ethnic and sectarian identities. By fostering internal stability, political inclusiveness, and economic resiliency, this shared vision could help make Iraq an even more valuable strategic partner of the United States. – Washington Institute


A lawsuit brought by a U.S. citizen who alleges he was tortured while held for 21 months as a political prisoner in Egypt should depend on whether the International Monetary Fund decides the lead defendant has diplomatic immunity, the plaintiff’s lawyers and supporting members of Congress said. – Washington Post

Egyptian mediators were in the Gaza Strip on Monday in an effort to reduce tensions and prevent a new cross-border conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, but departed without appearing to have secured a resolution. – Associated Press

Egypt and Iraq are taking action to clear dangerous chemicals being stored at ports after a massive explosion in Beirut’s port this month. – The National

Saudi Arabia

The UAE’s decision to normalise ties with Israel could propel Saudi Arabia to deepen its furtive relations with the Jewish state as Riyadh seeks to entice investments to fund an ambitious economic transformation, analysts say. – Agence France-Presse

Saudi Arabia’s Jazan civil defence said on Monday that a military projectile was fired by Yemen’s Houthi group at a border village, causing no casualties or injuries, Saudi state TV said on twitter. – Reuters

In his August 15, 2020 column in the Saudi London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, senior Saudi journalist Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the daily’s former editor-in-chief and former director-general of the Saudi Al-Arabiya channel, expressed his support for the UAE-Israel normalization agreement and for every Arab country’s right to establish relations with Israel. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stressed the need for an immediate end to the blockade of oil facilities in Libya at a meeting in Tripoli on Monday. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan discussed the conflicts in Libya and Syria in a telephone call on Monday. – Reuters

Turkey and Qatar’s defence ministers and Germany’s foreign minister visited the Libyan capital Tripoli on Monday amid efforts to secure a ceasefire in the divided country, Libyan and Turkish media reported. – Reuters


With China closing in on a coronavirus vaccine, Beijing’s top officials and some of its drugmakers have begun promising early access to countries of strategic interest as it seeks to shore up its global standing after a pandemic that has strained geopolitical ties. – Wall Street Journal

Russia and China are partnering to reduce their dependence on the dollar — a development some experts say could lead to a “financial alliance” between them. – Financial Times

Australia has appealed China’s prohibitive tariff on barley shipments from the world’s third-biggest exporter of the grain, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters, as Australian farmers scramble to find alternative markets. – Reuters

China said on Tuesday it has begun an anti-dumping probe into imports of Australian wine in a move that will likely worsen tensions between the two countries and knocked a fifth off the market value of Australia’s biggest winemaker. – Reuters

China’s vaccine specialist CanSino Biologics Inc has won a patent approval from Beijing for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate Ad5-nCOV, state media reported, citing documents from the country’s intellectual property regulator. – Reuters

The staff of the Chinese consulate in Houston that was ordered shut by the U.S. government has returned to China. – Associated Press

A Uighur fashion model who filmed himself handcuffed to a bed in an epidemic prevention centre in Xinjiang was lawfully detained, Chinese officials have said. – BBC


The Afghan government said Monday it would not release the last 320 Taliban prisoners it is holding until the insurgents free more captured soldiers, defying a traditional council held last week and further delaying intra-Afghan talks sought by the United States. – Associated Press

Afghan officials say at least 10 people were wounded after a series of rockets hit residential and diplomatic areas in Kabul as the country celebrated the 101st anniversary of its independence. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Some Western nations including France and Australia have urged Afghanistan not to free all of a final batch of prisoners demanded by Taliban militants, officials said, posing a further possible complication to long-awaited peace talks. – Reuters

South Asia

Four Indian security forces and two militants were killed in related incidents in Kashmir on Monday, in one of the deadliest days in the disputed Muslim-majority region since its autonomy was ended last year. – Reuters

The Pakistani Taliban have brought two splinter groups back into their fold, they announced in a statement, days after the army said anti-militant operations nationwide had brought “hard-earned success”. – Reuters

Pakistan’s army chief met with senior Saudi Arabian officials in Riyadh on Monday in an effort to ease a row between the two countries over policy towards the disputed region of Kashmir. – Reuters


The Trump administration has taken action in recent weeks to strengthen United States relations with the democratic island of Taiwan and bolster its international standing. The efforts are aimed at highlighting a thriving democracy in Asia and countering China’s attempts to weaken the global diplomatic status of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory. – New York Times

North Korea will open a high-profile political conference on Wednesday to discuss unspecified “crucial” issues as it struggles to keep afloat a sanctions-ravaged economy hit further by its anti-virus efforts and devastating flooding. – Associated Press

Hong Kong Commerce Secretary Edward Yau told CNBC on Monday that rising U.S.-China tensions are ‘unhelpful’ and that he will take up with the U.S. government the matter of Hong Kong goods for export to the United States to be labelled made in China. – Reuters

Hong Kong’s leader said she’s having trouble using her credit cards after the U.S. imposed sanctions targeting Chinese officials and their allies in the city. – Bloomberg


Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, facing growing nationwide protests, said he was ready to share power, but only on his own terms, as the main opposition leader said she was ready to lead the Eastern European country. – Wall Street Journal

Israeli fighter jets on Monday landed in Germany for the first time, in a display of the two countries’ strong ties more than 75 years after the end of the Nazi Holocaust and as the German military is struggling with signs of rising far-right sentiment in its ranks. – New York Times

Cyprus on Monday criticised European Union partners over what it said was diffidence amounting to “a policy of appeasement” in dealing with Turkey, locked in a stand-off with Cyprus and Greece over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. – Reuters

As Belarus experiences spasms of mass protests and a brutal police crackdown, its giant neighbor Russia has been uncharacteristically low key in its response. – Associated Press

Vladimir Putin congratulated Lukashenko on his “reelection” on his Telegram channel: “I hope that your state activities will contribute to the further development of mutually beneficial Russian-Belarusian relations in all areas, deepening cooperation within the Union State, building up integration processes through the Eurasian Economic Union and the CIS, “Chechen boss Ramzan Kadirov also offered his heartfelt congratulations to Lukashenko for his “convincing victory”. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Russia and Belarus are conducting military exercises in multiple locations. Izvestia reported the Russian combined arms army (CAA), presumably the 6th CAA, of the Western Military District began large-scale exercises with 3,500 personnel in Leningrad Oblast on August 17. – Institute for the Study of War

Israel’s ambassador to Germany has bluntly told the country’s main far-right party that the Jewish state rejected its overtures and held it responsible for growing extremist violence. – Algemeiner


Sudanese security forces fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters, some burning car tyres, who gathered to mark the anniversary on Monday of a transitional power-sharing deal with demands for quicker political reform. – Reuters

The United States imposed sanctions on four Ugandans on Monday, including two judges, accusing them of participating in a fraudulent adoption scam, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement. – Reuters

A possible military mutiny was under way on Tuesday outside Mail’s capital Bamako, the Norwegian Embassy and a security source said. – Reuters

United States

A former C.I.A. officer was charged with giving classified information to the Chinese government, the Justice Department announced on Monday, the latest in a string of former intelligence officers accused of spying for Beijing. – New York Times

FBI agents on Monday arrested Puerto Rico Rep. María Milagros Charbonier after the legislator who once presided over the island’s House Ethics Committee was charged in a public corruption case that officials say also involved her son, husband and an assistant. – Associated Press

Daniel F. Runde writes: Overburdening and weakening USAID, the right agency for the job, in the middle of a pandemic is a terrible error. PIPER/PRO is bad development, bad public management, and will weaken our ability to respond to not only pandemics but also all development challenges. USAID should lead our global pandemic response maximizing our chances of not only beating pandemics but maximizing our chances of beating China in the global influence race. – The Hill

Eli Lake writes: This is the way a republic corrects the abuses of its intelligence community. It’s a process that Snowden ignored. If Trump pardons him, then the president will be helping to destroy institutions his attorney general is trying to reform. – Bloomberg


Canada’s embattled finance minister resigned from the cabinet and from Parliament on Monday, following reports of clashes with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and amid an ethics controversy involving a charity with ties to him and the prime minister. – Washington Post

Canada has released as much information as it legally can about the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, the government’s lawyers said on Monday, as she sought more confidential documents relating to her 2018 detention. – Reuters

Canadian immigration plummeted by almost two thirds in the second quarter as border restrictions remained in effect, threatening one of the country’s main drivers of economic growth. – Bloomberg


But when President Trump issued executive orders that could lead to a U.S. ban next month on two of the world’s most popular Chinese-made apps, TikTok and WeChat, the White House signaled a new willingness to adopt Beijing’s exclusionary tactics. – New York Times

The Trump administration on Monday took its harshest step yet to block Huawei’s access to semiconductor chips, in another sign of the complexity of severing the Chinese technology company from global supply chains. – Washington Post

Google has attacked a new Australian law forcing tech giants to pay local news outlets – saying it could threaten search services in the country. – BBC

As Lockheed Martin works on the U.S. Army’s first ground-based integrated signals intelligence, electronic warfare and cyber system, the company is placing a heavy focus on coalition interoperability. – C4ISRNET

Indian politicians are trading barbs over a media report that Facebook Inc’s content policies favoured Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, putting the social network at the centre of a political storm in its biggest market by users. – Reuters


The U.S. military has made about $2 million in condolence payments to civilians in Afghanistan over the past five years, according to Pentagon data that sheds new light on how officials have sought to address the impact of unintended injury and death in America’s longest war. – Washington Post

The U.S. Air Force said on Monday it was reviewing a report that a drone flew near President Donald Trump’s airplane on Sunday as it descended near Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. – Reuters

President Trump said Monday night that he rejected a proposal from the Pentagon to cut military health care by $2.2 billion during the pandemic. – The Hill

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Monday labeled the American Civil Liberties Union’s call to dismantle the department a political stunt based on misinformation.  – The Hill

Defense revenues of the top 100 defense companies in the world climbed for a fourth straight year, pushed upward by U.S. defense spending growth combined with strong foreign military sales. – Defense News

A research project funded by the U.S. Army has developed a new approach to manufacturing quantum computer chips, representing a significant step forward toward making quantum processors at the scale needed to deliver rapid processing capabilities to the battlefield. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Space Force hopes its prototype low-Earth orbit weather satellites will entice commercial businesses and allied nations to partner up on the project, reducing the cost of delivering critical weather data to the war fighter. – C4ISRNET

Admiral John Richardson, USN (Ret.) writes: America is a maritime nation. U.S. security, prosperity, and diplomacy have all been intrinsically connected to the sea. This is more true today than it was when the country was established, and the drafters of the next NDS will be well served to keep this fact in mind. As the United States faces the simultaneous challenges of a geostrategic shift and a technological revolution, the oceans—and the Navy’s ability to secure them—will be central to the nation’s future. – Center for a New American Security

Long War

Al-Shabaab militants’ deadly assault on a popular seaside hotel in Somalia’s capital has raised fresh questions about the threat posed by the terrorist group, despite a heightened U.S.-backed counterterrorism campaign in the Horn of Africa nation. – Wall Street Journal

Iraq’s prime minister said Monday ahead of a much anticipated trip to Washington that his country still needs U.S. assistance to counter the threat posed by the Islamic State group and that his administration is committed to introducing security sector reforms as rogue militia groups stage near-daily attacks against the seat of his government. – Associated Press

German authorities arrested a Syrian national Tuesday on suspicion he was a member of two militant groups that fought against the government of President Bashar Assad during the early stages of the conflict in Syria. – Associated Press