Fdd's overnight brief

August 19, 2020

In The News


After a resounding defeat in the U.N. Security Council, the United States is poised to call for the United Nations to reimpose sanctions on Iran under a rarely used diplomatic maneuver — a move that is likely to further isolate the Trump administration and may set off a credibility crisis for the United Nations. – Associated Press

Iran on Tuesday denied reports it paid Taliban fighters to target U.S. forces and allies in Afghanistan. In a statement carried by Iranian media, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh called the claims “entirely false” and said the U.S. tries to hide its “miscalculations” in Afghanistan by resorting to propaganda. – Associated Press

Iran’s clerical and military elite is turning up the volume of its rhetoric against a surprise agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Tehran’s arch-foe Israel to normalise ties. But the bark appears to be worse than the bite. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will likely travel to New York on Thursday to seek a return of all U.N. sanctions on Iran and meet with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, diplomats and a U.N. official said. – Reuters

The fate of a fragile 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers hinges on the result of the U.S. presidential election in November, not a planned U.S. bid this week to trigger a return of all U.N. sanctions on Tehran, said several Iranian officials. – Reuters

Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister has told Radio Farda that Kyiv most of all seeks the truth about the downing of its airliner by Iran and monetary compensation is a secondary goal. – Radio Farda

President Hassan Rouhani complained about excessive criticism of his administration by the state television and said that “too much criticism will disappoint the nation.” – Radio Farda

Fardin Eftekhari writes: Iran’s high leadership has come to a consensus on an eastward shift in its foreign policy, and Russia is a salient part of that. Recent indications suggest that, at least for now, the Russians do not want to enlarge their footprint in Iran. – Middle East Institute


An international tribunal convicted a member of Hezbollah of terrorism and homicide over the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 but acquitted three others and found no evidence that the militia and political group’s leadership was involved in the plot. – Wall Street Journal

Israel responded Tuesday evening to a UN-backed tribunal’s conviction of a Hezbollah member for involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, saying the terror group was behind both the attack and attempts to block a fair investigation of it. – Times of Israel

Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi on Tuesday accused the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah of preventing UN peacekeepers from carrying out their duties along Israel’s northern border. – Times of Israel


Jets believed to be Russian bombed several towns in rebel-held northwestern Syria in a new flare-up of violence since a Turkish-Russian deal that halted major fighting nearly six months ago, witnesses said. – Reuters

A Russian major-general died and three other servicemen were injured after a bomb exploded in the path of a Russian military convoy near Deir al Zor in Syria, the RIA news agency cited the defence ministry as saying on Tuesday. – Reuters

The U.S. lost two drones over Syria Tuesday after a midair collision, a defense official tells Military Times. Images of burning aircraft crashing to the ground were posted on Twitter Tuesday. There was speculation that the aircraft were MQ-9 Reapers — a remotely piloted aircraft used predominately as an armed hunter-killer drone, but also capable of surveillance and intelligence collection — and were shot down. – Military Times


There is an economic relationship; the murkier aspects have attracted the scrutiny of the U.S. Treasury Department. There is solidarity in their anti-U.S. rhetoric, even if the United States is a key trading partner of Turkey. The personal relationship between the leaders of Venezuela and Turkey is warm, partly forged by mutual words of support during domestic attempts to force them from power. – Associated Press

Cyprus said on Tuesday it was willing to engage with all its neighbours on defining maritime boundaries, amid a tense stand-off with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean over jurisdiction in the energy-rich waters. – Reuters

In an August 6 column titled “Ankara No Longer Accepts UAE’s Hostility As ‘Courage Of Ignorance” in the pro-AKP Daily Sabah, Turkish journalist Nur Özkan Erbay expanded on Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s warning to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in an interview on Al-Jazeera, in which Akar said: “Abu Dhabi has done things in Libya, in Syria, records are being kept of all of this. When the time and place comes, the account will be settled for all of this.” – Middle East Media Research Institute


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday that Palestinians were not concerned about the normalisation deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, referring to the accord as “nonsense”. – Reuters

Israeli war planes carried out series of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip late Tuesday night, after Palestinians fired a rocket and sent several arson balloons into Israel, sparking a series a fires, the Israel Defense Forces said. – Times of Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared Monday on Emirati television, as the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency met Tuesday with the UAE’s national security adviser. […]Netanyahu participated Monday in an unprecedented interview in which he expressed confidence that other Arab countries would seek to build ties with the Jewish state. – New York Post

President Donald Trump said Monday that he “moved the capital” of Israel to Jerusalem for evangelical Christians, who he says were more excited about it than Jewish people.  – Business Insider

David Makovsky writes: It is time for the Palestinians to get over their shock and begin to see the Israeli-Emirati breakthrough as a potential bridge to restart talks with Israel; after all, Netanyahu and Abbas have not publicly met since 2010. The Emirates’ close ties with Israel can be helpful. The old paradigm is dead. It needs to be replaced with an approach by the Palestinians that turns a crisis into an opportunity. – New York Daily News

Robert Satloff writes: For its part, Israel will enjoy substantial benefits from normal relations with the Emirates, both in terms of the bilateral opportunities that it can develop with the enterprising, welcoming people of an influential Gulf state that, like Israel, punches above its weigh on the international stage, and the potential follow-on impact of expanding ties with other Arab and Muslim nations. But formalizing ties with the UAE does not resolve or even fundamentally alter any of Israel’s other strategic challenges—whether it is the nuclear threat from Iran, the missile threat from sub-state actors on its borders, or the binational threat from the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians. – Times of Israel

Arabian Peninsula

Oman’s sultan has designated ministers of foreign affairs and finance, and a new central bank chairman, titles formerly held by the sultan himself, in a revamp that may signal a pick-up in reform momentum for the struggling oil producer. […]In a turbulent region, Oman has maintained its neutrality. It kept friendly relations with a wide range of regional actors including arch-foes the United States and Iran under the former minister responsible for foreign affairs, Yousuf bin Alawi. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia continued its silence on the deal by the United Arab Emirates to establish ties with Israel, as the kingdom’s cabinet issued a statement after its Tuesday meeting with no reference to the agreement. – Bloomberg

Hussein Ibish writes: A partnership with Israel fits into the Emirati doctrine. For Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and main author of the doctrine, Iran represents the greatest danger to the region, a view he shares with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Not only are the glittering cities of the UAE sitting ducks for Iranian missiles, the Islamic Republic’s ability (and frequent threats) to choke off the Straits of Hormuz threatens the economies of all the Gulf Arab states. – Bloomberg

Mordechai Chaziza writes: Last but not least, the prospect of Saudi Arabia developing its nuclear program with the assistance of China is likely to further inflame US-China tension at a time when the bilateral relationship is facing its most serious challenges in four decades. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Secret talks and quiet ties — that’s what paved the way for last week’s deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize relations. Touted by President Donald Trump as a major Mideast breakthrough, the agreement was in fact the culmination of more than a decade of quiet links rooted in frenzied opposition to Iran that predated Trump and even Barack Obama, as well as Trump’s avowed goal to undo his predecessor’s Mideast legacy. – Associated Press

The head of Lebanon’s customs authority was formally arrested on Monday after being questioned over the massive explosion in Beirut earlier this month, the state-run National News Agency reported. – Associated Press

The head of Israel’s foreign intelligence service Mossad met the national security adviser of the United Arab Emirates during a visit to Abu Dhabi, UAE state news agency WAM said on Tuesday. – Reuters

As the peace talks signal an end to years of covert trading, officials are working on all manner of agreements to bring cooperation into the open. Shortly after the announcement, an Emirati and an Israeli company said they would work together on coronavirus research, while Israeli telecommunications and airline firms have reached out to the UAE to establish commercial links. – Bloomberg

Forces loyal to Libya’s eastern commander Khalifa Haftar said oil ports closed since January can reopen, although it wasn’t clear if crude exports from the OPEC member would be allowed to resume. – Bloomberg

In an interview with the Associated Press on Monday, the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said he does not play the role of postman between the two diametrically opposed countries with close ties to Iraq. – Radio Farda

Daoud Kuttab writes: The attempts at neutrality by Jordan hide a much deeper unhappiness with the UAE move and the potential for further divisions in an already deeply divided Arab world. More importantly, the fact that the UAE move totally ignored Palestinians means that they and the Arab public will continue to simmer in anger over the lack of any just solution to the Palestinian problem, an issue of great strategic geopolitical importance for Jordan. – Middle East Institute


The Central Party School in Beijing, where Ms. Cai taught for 15 years until 2012, announced on Monday that she had been expelled from the Communist Party after she scathingly denounced both the party and Mr. Xi in recent speeches and essays. – New York Times

A senior ally of Chinese leader Xi Jinping called for a Mao-style purge of China’s domestic-security apparatus last month, saying it was time to “turn the blade inwards and scrape the poison off the bone.” The cleansing commenced swiftly. – Wall Street Journal

South Korea said China’s top diplomat plans to visit for talks with new national security adviser Suh Hoon this week, amid the coronavirus pandemic that undercut bilateral exchanges and stalled denuclearisation negotiations involving North Korea. – Reuters

President Donald Trump said he called off last weekend’s trade talks with China, raising questions about the future of a trade deal that is now the most stable point in an increasingly tense relationship. – Bloomberg


To pave the way for historic peace talks, the Afghan government is freeing thousands of Taliban detainees in phases, including men accused of one the deadliest attack in nearly two decades of insurgency: a 2017 truck bombing in Kabul that killed more than 150 people. – NPR

Bomb attacks in Kabul and northern Afghanistan on Wednesday killed at least four people and wounded 13, officials said. Two sticky bombs targeted government employees in the Afghan capital, killing two people, including a police officer, and wounding two others, police said. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: There is no legal reason why Trump, Pompeo, and Khalilzad should be pressing for the release of murderers. The letter of the U.S.-Taliban agreement does not require it. What is now occurring is the gratuitous betrayal of U.S. allies in a mad rush to appease a group that even U.S. intelligence has concluded has no interest in abiding by its commitments. – Washington Examiner


Kenneth Leung, 57, describes himself as “boring” and a “moderate.” […]Leung’s case epitomizes the new Hong Kong, where activities that were once permissible under the city’s laws now invite official retribution; even staying on the sidelines can be insufficient for some to avoid the ire of China’s Communist Party and its local proxies. – Washington Post

Sweden said on Tuesday it had temporarily withdrawn all its diplomats from North Korea, where its embassy also represents the interests of the United States and several other nations, partly due to issues linked to the coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer transited the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday following an exercise with Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces, U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement to USNI News. – USNI News

This year’s different. A sweeping national security law imposed by China in June and Covid-19 restrictions have rendered the pro-democracy movement’s tactics illegal, from public gatherings to certain online comments. That has left demonstrators seeking more creative methods, like supporting sympathetic businesses.  – Bloomberg


Russian President Vladimir Putin warned top European leaders against interfering in the political crisis engulfing Russia’s longtime ally, Belarus, as protests against its leader continued to swell. – Wall Street Journal

The United States and Russia concluded two days of arms control talks Tuesday with the two sides still at odds over the U.S. demand to include China in any new treaty but showing signs of a possible willingness to extend the existing New START deal, which expires next year. – Associated Press

A Russian court on Tuesday sentenced an anti-Kremlin activist to two years in prison for displaying a life-size mannequin of President Vladimir Putin in a striped prison jumpsuit on a street in the city of Perm. – Reuters

A Russian government plane used to carry senior government officials, including the head of the FSB security service, has made a quick flight to Belarus and back, landing in Moscow in the early hours of Wednesday, flight tracking data shows. – Reuters

Editorial: Robert C. O’Brien, the White House national security adviser, asserted recently that “no administration has been tougher on the Russians.” […]They have one colleague, however, who has displayed no toughness toward Russian leader Vladimir Putin: President Trump. Now would be a good time for him firmly to discourage any Kremlin military intervention in Belarus. – Washington Post

Editorial: Over the past 10 days, hundreds of thousands of people have poured on to the streets of Belarus, protesting the result of a rigged election and demanding an end to Alexander Lukashenko’s repressive 26-year rule. Europe and the United States should lend a hand. […]The uprising in Belarus is a test of the EU’s ability to take effective action. At stake is its vital interest in stability on its border — and the hopes of Belarusians to live in a real democracy. – Bloomberg

Leon Aron writes: Yet as startling as it might seem, the turbulence in Belarus also gives Russia’s president an opportunity — one he could seize with a high-stakes display of brazen military aggression that could go beyond merely cracking down in Belarus. Perhaps the most frightening scenario: an invasion of Lithuania. The Baltic republic, which shares a 420-mile border with Belarus, is a member of both the European Union and NATO. – Washington Post


German police are investigating a series of apparently deliberate crashes on a Berlin highway as a possible act of terror, authorities said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

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

A court in western Germany has convicted a 60-year-old Turkish citizen of membership in the banned Kurdish militant group PKK. – Associated Press

Lithuania’s parliament voted for economic sanctions against neighboring Belarus on Tuesday, saying the presidential election there mustn’t be internationally recognized. – Associated Press

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya appealed to European Union leaders meeting to discuss the crisis in her country to reject the presidential election victory claimed by longtime ruler Alexander Lukashenko. – Bloomberg

Brussels has rejected the UK’s opening demands for continued wide-ranging access to the EU for British truckers, setting the stage for a clash when Brexit trade negotiations resume on Wednesday. – Financial Times

In a videoconference on Wednesday, the bloc’s leaders will express strong condemnation of what they see as a blatantly fraudulent presidential election. They will also condemn security forces’ violent repression of protests against the official result, which awarded 80 percent of the vote to authoritarian incumbent Alexander Lukashenko. – Politico


Military officers who staged a coup in Mali that forced the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita pledged on Wednesday to form a civilian transitional government to quickly organize fresh elections. – Wall Street Journal

Israel and Sudan said Tuesday that they were working on an agreement to formalize relations, in the latest sign of warmer ties between Arab nations and a former enemy. – Wall Street Journal

Sudan’s Foreign Ministry rescinded its message in support of peace and reconciliation with Israel,  which led to speculation Monday that the countries could be on the verge of normalizing ties and establishing formal diplomatic relations. – Jerusalem Post

The Americas

The Trump administration is considering additional sanctions on Venezuela aimed at halting the remaining fuel transactions permitted with the South American nation, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

U.S. President Donald Trump’s bid to install a close ally to lead one of Latin America’s most important lenders received a boost on Tuesday, when 17 nations with most voting power at the bank opposed postponing its September election. – Bloomberg

Earl Anthony Wayne writes: Success will require strong political support, long-term vision and robust cooperation mechanisms. This approach can give a fresh start to tackling the deadly effects of transnational crime across Mexico and the United States. Leaders should put a comprehensive and dynamic strategy in place now. – The Hill


An information warfare project run by Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR) recently received hundreds of millions of dollars in new funds after a successful first 18 months, NAVWAR announced Aug. 17. – C4ISRNET

Following the first successful flight test for the initial set of updated airborne jamming pods, the U.S. Navy now expects to head toward simultaneous flight and chamber tests, with a decision for low-rate initial production in February 2021. – C4ISRNET

After nearly a decade of fits and starts, the Navy has quietly initiated work to develop its first new carrier-based fighter in almost 20 years, standing up a new program office and holding early discussions with industry, USNI News has learned. – USNI News

The Army wants ideas from defense firms on air-launched drones that can recon enemy air defenses and even deceive adversaries while working with the service’s futuristic helicopters from its Future Vertical Lift (FVL) effort. – Military.com

The Marine Corps is using its smaller-than-normal Australia rotation to test how it might dispatch tiny teams armed with unmanned tools to collect intel during future operations. – Military.com

The Missile Defense Agency is planning to develop a layered homeland intercontinental ballistic missile defense architecture, but it must clear a range of hurdles to get after an approach that addresses emerging threats and fills a gap while a next-generation interceptor is developed, according to the agency’s director. – Defense News

Mackenzie Eaglen writes: Pentagon officials have responded with said requested detail. It’s clear the defense, shipbuilding and aerospace industrial base — an “essential” workforce as designated by the Department of Homeland Security — is indeed in need of help. These critical firms need financial support to the tune of about $11 billion to support more than 100,000 direct jobs. Nor should the military have to take it out of hide, as suggested by some. – Defense News

Trump Administration

An exhaustive investigation led by members of President Trump’s own political party portrays his 2016 campaign as posing counterintelligence risks through its myriad contacts with Russia, eager to exploit assistance from the Kremlin and seemingly determined to conceal the full extent of its conduct from a multiyear Senate probe. – Washington Post

Former CIA Director John Brennan fumed about the announcement that the Senate Intelligence Committee found no evidence of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia. – Washington Examiner

One of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s top prosecutors distorted what the former FBI director testified under oath about President Trump’s written answers for the Russia investigation. – Washington Examiner

Eli Lake writes: Finally: It’s worth noting that, for most of the last two decades, the two men most responsible for protecting America from Russian threats are Robert Mueller and James Comey, who together directed the FBI from 2001 to 2017. It’s a pity that the FBI only got around to doing something about people such as Kilimnik and Deripaska — not to mention opportunistic Americans like Paul Manafort — until after the 2016 election. – Bloomberg