Fdd's overnight brief

August 21, 2020

In The News


Iran unveiled two new missiles Thursday amid fresh tensions with the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, demonstrating a development of an arsenal with sophistication and reach capable of threatening and deterring its foes across the region. – Wall Street Journal

All sanctions against Iran that were suspended under the 2015 nuclear deal will resume in 31 days under a process Secretary of State Mike Pompeo started Thursday, in a move that is exposing deep divisions between the United States and other countries on the U.N. Security Council and could spell the death of the landmark agreement. – Washington Post

Iran seized a United Arab Emirates-registered ship violating its territorial waters this week, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, adding that UAE coastguards killed two Iranian fishermen on the same day. – Reuters

Russia described statements by the United States on reimposing U.N. sanctions against Iran as absurd, adding that it has no legal or political grounds to do so, the RIA news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Thursday. – Reuters

Germany, France and Britain announced on Thursday that they reject the US initiative to initiate a “snapback” of the UN sanctions on Iran. – Arutz Sheva

Within days of his arrival, the Iranian-Canadian dual national and graduate of Tehran’s top Sharif University had been thrown in jail and was being pressured by Iranian security forces to become an informant. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) Chairman Senator Joseph I. Lieberman and CEO Ambassador Mark D. Wallace released the following joint statement today upon news that the U.S. intends to trigger the snapback mechanism which reimposes all international sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The U.S. retains the right to do so under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231. – United Against Nuclear Iran

Richard Grenell writes: Unfortunately, that’s where the wisdom of the Obama-Biden deal stopped. Everything else about the JCPOA has put American interests and security in jeopardy. Take, for example, the current dilemma. The revisionist terror regime that hangs gay people in public squares and boasts about its genocidal plans for the Jewish State is now closer to welcoming business from Chinese and Russian weapons dealers, while America’s European allies simply shrug. – The Hill


The United States on Thursday blacklisted senior Syrian government officials and leaders of several Syrian military units as Washington continues to impose sanctions aimed at cutting off funds for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. – Reuters

Syria has accused President Donald Trump of stealing the country’s oil, after U.S. officials confirmed that a U.S. company has been allowed to operate there in fields under the control of a Pentagon-backed militia. – Newsweek

Eva Kahan writes: Major tribal leaders in eastern Syria may break away from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which would severely jeopardize the anti-ISIS mission by fracturing the US partner force in Syria.  […]Tribal animosity toward the SDF has been building since mid-2019 due to the combined pressures of overlapping ISIS and pro-regime insurgencies as well as the SDF’s weak and under-resourced governance. The continued presence of SDF and coalition forces in Deir ez-Zour could become untenable if the SDF fails to find a compromise with increasingly fractured tribal elements. – Institute for the Study of War


Speculation has mounted that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will announce details of a major Turkish energy discovery in the Black Sea when he speaks later Friday, after vowing to deliver news ushering in a “new era.” – Bloomberg

The Navy’s second expeditionary sea base is starting training operations with regional partners off Greece this week, even as the Eastern Mediterranean has been a place of tension between NATO allies in recent weeks. – USNI News

Following an incident on August 11, 2020 in which a Turkish drone attack in northern Iraq caused the death of two Iraqi officers and an Iraqi soldier, the online Arab website Rai Al-Yawm, owned by senior Palestinian journalist ‘Abd Al-Bari ‘Atwan, posted an editorial which harshly criticized Turkey and its aggressive policy against Arab countries. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Michael Rubin writes: The danger has never been higher. With Washington distracted, Trump unpredictable, and Europe susceptible to Erdogan’s cynical refugee blackmail, Erdogan may believe that the time is now to seize Kastellorizo and other Greek islands. Should Trump lose, he may see the final weeks of his presidency as the best chance to act. Neither Trump nor Biden is ready; let us hope Greece is. Either way, a need to respond to war in the Eastern Mediterranean may soon grow to overshadow both the Trump and potentially Biden legacies. – Kathimerini


Israeli soldiers fired at Palestinians suspected of preparing to attack Israeli cars in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the military said, and Palestinian officials said a Palestinian teenager was killed. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the United States’ move on Thursday to restore all U.N. sanctions on Iran and called on world powers to support Washington. – Reuters

Palestinian militants fired 12 rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip overnight, nine of which were intercepted, and Israel responded with three airstrikes on targets linked to the territory’s militant Hamas rulers, the Israeli military said early Friday. – Associated Press

Israel is on course to establish diplomatic relations with “several Arab countries,” according to the top envoy for the United Arab Emirates. – Washington Examiner

Israel has called for the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon to be reformed, accusing it of “zero efficiency”, ahead of the renewal of the mission’s mandate. – Agence France-Presse

Eli Lake writes: Which highlights an irony about shifting alliances in the Middle East. By turning the UAE from foe to friend, Israeli is enhancing its national security. It may well be, however, that the price of that friendship will be the erosion of the military advantage its most important friend has provided Israel for nearly 50 years. – Bloomberg

Isaac Herzog and Michael Herzog write: If there is a lesson from millennia of Jewish history, it is to take the long, patient view and avoid forcing a hurried-up artificial endgame. Such an endgame will create not the utopia that its proponents envision, but rather a horrific dystopia. The Israel-UAE deal should put to rest such flawed paradigms. We believe that Israel must constantly pursue peace, if through incremental advances, while safeguarding its vital security interests and drawing on the changing winds in the region to keep open the window for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. – Washington Institute

Amos Gilad writes: The only way to maintain peace and long-term stability in the region is for Israel to prevent the sale of American-made F-35 fighter jets to any other Middle Eastern state, regardless of current or future relations. – Ynet


President Trump met with Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the Iraqi prime minister, at the White House on Thursday, continuing months of negotiations between the two governments over the presence of American troops in the country. – New York Times

The U.S. State Department said on Thursday it was outraged by the assassination of civil society activists in Iraq and by attacks on protesters in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra. – Reuters

Editorial: Some Republicans have lost interest in the Middle East as great-power competition increases. But the region is still a major oil producer and Iran a significant regional and terror-sponsoring menace. The partnership with Mr. Kadhimi could make it more stable so long as Mr. Trump avoids the kind of precipitous withdrawal he attempted in Syria. Add the new Israel-UAE accord, and the Administration’s firm anti-Iran posture in the Mideast seems to be paying off. – Wall Street Journal

Arabian Peninsula

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said it intercepted and downed a booby-trapped drone towards the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the state news agency said on Thursday. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates’ accord to normalise ties with Israel should remove “any hurdle” for the United States to sell the F-35 stealth fighter jet to the Gulf Arab state, a senior Emirati official said on Thursday. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirate’s minister of state for foreign affairs said on Thursday that his country’s new peace with Israel would be “warm,” but that its embassy will be in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. – Algemeiner

Bobby Ghosh writes: In either case, they have been making alternative arrangements to deal with the Iranian menace. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have both been splurging on the latest military hardware from the U.S. and Europe — and even China and Russia. And the new Emirati agreement with Israel was inspired in no small part by a desire to box in the Islamic Republic. The best the Trump administration can expect from its Arab allies if the snapback gambit fails is quiet commiseration. – Bloomberg

Yousef Al Otaiba writes: In the most tumultuous place on earth, the UAE and Israel will now try to defy this fate. […]This week, the gate was opened. And together, Emiratis and Israelis will now step through it. Like all journeys, there will be discovery and difficulty. At times, we may even argue about the direction. But the destination is as clear and as certain as ever – a more peaceful, prosperous and hopeful Middle East. – Ynet

Middle East & North Africa

Greece plans to ratify an accord on maritime boundaries with Egypt next week, its government said on Thursday, referring to a deal which has angered Turkey and highlighted overlapping claims over the east Mediterranean. – Reuters

Already scarred by Libya’s 2011 uprising and an Islamic State takeover, Sirte now finds itself not only at the centre of a civil war but also a focus of geopolitical enmities that span the region. – Reuters

Western intelligence agencies are questioning the veracity of Hezbollah’s insistence that it had nothing to do with the devastating explosion in Beirut’s port area earlier this month, a German news outlet claimed this week. – Algemeiner

Sarah Feuer writes: Whether the Egyptian government manages to elevate such reformist voices and develop a convincing alternative to Al-Azhar’s brand of conservatism remains to be seen. If it succeeds, however, it would likely bolster Egypt’s stability and advance the broader regional battle between moderate and extremist streams of Islamic thought—two outcomes in which Washington has a clear interest. Sisi’s government deserves much criticism for its human rights abuses and abysmal record on upholding basic democratic principles. But in the arena of religious reform, growing state control could be a step in the right direction. – Washington Institute


China on Thursday branded as “malicious slander” accusations from Taiwan about hacking attacks linked to the Chinese government, further adding to tensions between Beijing and Taipei. – Reuters

China denounced as slander on Thursday criticism of its ambassador to the Pacific nation of Kiribati over a picture of him walking on the backs of prostrate islanders that a top U.S. diplomat derided as unacceptable behaviour. – Reuters

The Trump administration on Thursday declined to acknowledge any plans to meet with China over the Phase 1 trade deal after the commerce ministry in Beijing said bilateral talks would be held “in the coming days” to evaluate the agreement’s progress. – Reuters

A former CIA officer and contract linguist for the FBI accused of giving China classified information must remain detained because the trained spy is an “extreme flight risk,” U.S. prosecutors said. – Associated Press

The Trump administration’s targeting of China’s biggest technology groups has prompted concerns of forceful retaliation against US businesses. – Financial Times

Lanhee Chen writes: President Trump’s foreign policy record boasts significant accomplishments and noteworthy gains. […]Another four years would allow the president to redefine America’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China fundamentally — tackling the single biggest geopolitical challenge America faces today. – Washington Examiner

William Morrissey and John Givens write: The United States should adopt a national strategy on standardization to advance its own interests — not because China already has one, and not as a counterpunch to Beijing. While China Standards 2035 is likely to be ambitious, it will not cover the gamut of rapidly transforming technologies. A defensive U.S. response could be undermined by the global rejection of efforts to simply keep China out. Any strategy should be focused on enhancing U.S. advantages and protecting the existing model. Standardization’s openness is both its success and its vulnerability. Ensuring that it remains open is a necessity. – War on the Rocks

Derek Scissors writes: In some cases, it’s a good thing for the Trump administration’s bark to be worse than its bite. But the gap between the administration’s China talk and China walk is large and growing. In 2021, this could become a serious policy problem for the US. In September and October, it could become a political problem for the Trump campaign. – American Enterprise Institute


President Donald Trump on Thursday vowed to retaliate if other countries were found to have offered bounties for attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but he gave no indication whether his stance toward U.S. intelligence reports outlining the bounties had changed. – Reuters

Afghan officials say Taliban militants have killed at least 18 people and wounded eight others in two fresh attacks in Takhar and Nangarhar provinces. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says that “all barriers and excuses have been removed” ahead of expected peace talks between the government in Kabul and the Taliban militants. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


China should not underestimate Taiwan’s resolve to defend itself, and China’s military threats will only cause Taiwan’s people to be even more resolute, the island’s defence ministry said in a new video responding to repeated Chinese threats. – Reuters

Hong Kong will suspend an agreement on mutual legal assistance with the United States, China’s foreign ministry said on Thursday, in a tit-for-tat response to Washington ending some agreements with Hong Kong. – Reuters

The presence of Chinese bombers on the disputed Paracel islands in the South China Sea “jeopardises peace”, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said on Thursday, in another sign of disapproval in the region of Beijing’s increased defence activities. – Reuters

If Joe Biden is elected U.S. president, American policy toward North Korea is likely to see less emphasis on personal dealings with leader Kim Jong Un, and more focus on allies and working-level diplomacy, campaign advisers and former officials say. – Reuters

The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest to Beijing over the Chinese Coast Guard’s move to confiscate equipment used by Filipino fishermen in the disputed South China Sea. – Bloomberg

Kim Jong Un has reportedly given his sister, Kim Yo Jong, partial authority to oversee “general state affairs” in order to ease the North Korean leader’s workload, according to South Korean intelligence. – CNN

The virus outbreaks since, which have made Okinawa the hotspot of Japan’s second wave of Covid-19, may not have been directly linked to the party — or the others like it held on the island that evening — but in the court of public opinion, it was the smoking gun. It has stoked anger within Okinawa, where the heavy presence of US military bases and the behaviour of the 20,000 marines and other military personnel stationed there have been a longstanding source of tension. – Financial Times

Hal Brands writes: We sometimes think of the U.S.-China competition as a fundamentally different kind of great-power contest, one whose outcome will be determined more by control of data than by control of strategic terrain. Yet it is also an old-fashioned military rivalry, with all the perils that entails. It would be catastrophic if the free world were to lose Taiwan. It might also be hard, costly and dangerous to keep it. – Bloomberg


After a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations of dissidents, journalists, defectors and opposition leaders in Russia and abroad over the past two decades, researchers have concluded the post-Soviet government has turned to its poison arsenal as a preferred weapon. – New York Times

Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, accused doctors of endangering his life by preventing his transfer out of Russia, suggesting on Twitter that they wanted to hinder an investigation into the incident by stalling “to wait until the poison in his body can no longer be traced.” – Washington Post

The alleged poisoning of a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin this week drew immediate rebukes from U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and will likely serve as another key test for President Trump’s relationship with the autocratic leader. – The Hill

Germany and France offered on Thursday to provide medical care on their soil for Russian opposition leader Alexander Navalny, who is gravely ill after aides said he was poisoned. – Reuters

Editorial: A Putin spokesman said the Kremlin is aware of Mr. Navalny’s condition and wishes him well. Such trolling is typical for the regime. The U.S. and Europe should demand an independent investigation and that Mr. Navalny be allowed treatment abroad. The Kremlin’s role may never be known. But we know Mr. Putin has nurtured a system in which no one is surprised to hear another opposition leader has been poisoned. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Many countries now have “Magnitsky” laws permitting sanctions against human rights abusers that they should use against any officials implicated in an attack on Mr Navalny. Leaders such as France’s Emmanuel Macron who have sought a “reset” with Russia should also be wary. Dialogue on issues such as nuclear arms is necessary. But anyone seeking to engage should have no illusions about the nature of the system Mr Putin has created. – Financial Times

Michael McFaul writes: American indifference to evil has consequences. It emboldens the villains and weakens the heroes. But sometimes presidents must say and do things — for example, to impose sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko for stealing an election in Belarus, to criticize Putin for aiding the Taliban, to signal solidarity with Navalny and offer assistance as European leaders have — not because these actions might be effective, but because they are right. In a world divided by good and evil, it’s time for America to get back on the right side. – Washington Post

Henry Foy and Max Seddon write: The enormous pro-democracy protests in Belarus against President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed election victory have created a quandary for the Kremlin and its longest but most problematic ally: how to maintain control when the dust settles, and through whom? […]But while Mr Putin may be willing to accept a democratic neighbour and a pause to his integration plans in exchange for no change to Minsk’s reliance on Moscow, the long-term impacts for the Kremlin could be deep. – Financial Times

George Barros writes: Putin has clearly decided to do more than just help Lukashenko crush his domestic unrest. He is also working to advance the narrative of a united Russian world defending itself against an aggressive, US-led NATO enemy. His efforts may have the unintended consequence of driving at least part of the Belarussian opposition into a pro-Western position.  But this information operation, combined with Lukashenko’s military deployments on the Polish and Lithuanian borders, increase the risk of a more serious Russia-NATO escalation pattern over time. – Institute for the Study of War

Amy Mackinnon writes: While Navalny has long been an irritant for the Kremlin, organizing large street protests and exposing high-level corruption by Russian officials, including former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, experts were skeptical that it would be in Putin’s interests to kill him. […]The timing of the incident makes the Putin theory seem especially unlikely—as the Kremlin juggles a large coronavirus outbreak, an escalating political crisis in neighboring Belarus, and unrest in the far-east region of Khabarovsk. – Foreign Policy


The United States backs independent international examinations of “electoral irregularities” in Belarus’ presidential election, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday, while implicitly warning Russia against intervening in the crisis. – Reuters

German federal police said on Thursday they had arrested a 55-year old former Yugoslavian man who was sentenced 23 years ago in Croatia for crimes against humanity but who never served his prison term. – Reuters

Belarus’s authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, rebuffed European efforts to mediate the conflict in the former Soviet republic and has refused to take calls from some Western leaders, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. – Bloomberg

Germany has welcomed military aircraft from Israel to its airspace for their first joint combat exercises in German territory, a milestone which both air forces praised Thursday as a sign of the intensive cooperation between the two countries. – Associated Press

Kori Schake writes: The fate of Belarus matters for our security, even if we in the West are hesitant to risk confrontation with Russia. We ought not to encourage pretenses of military support. But there are numerous ways to assist positive change that do not cede to Russia the power to determine Belarus’ fate. – Bloomberg


Fighting between Islamic extremist rebels and Mozambique’s army over a key port is threatening to disrupt the East African nation’s burgeoning natural-gas developments, including a multibillion-dollar project led by French energy giant Total SA . – Wall Street Journal

France will pursue its military operations in Mali against Islamic fighters despite the ousting of the country’s president two days ago by a coup, the French armed force minister said on Thursday. – Reuters

Somali pirates have hijacked a Panama-flagged ship, a regional official told Reuters on Thursday, the first successful hijack since 2017. – Reuters

The West African regional bloc that’s led efforts to bring stability to Mali has demanded that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita return to his post, days after he was forced to resign by a military junta that’s taken control of the country. – Bloomberg

Terrorists in the Sahel region of Africa are poised to take advantage of uncertainty in the American defense posture following a recent Defense Department announcement, but U.S. Africa Command shored up partners with a military equipment donation to Niger on Friday. – Washington Examiner 

A new investigation has found evidence that CNN journalists in the Central African Republic (CAR) last year were subject to constant surveillance by a team of Russian operatives. – CNN

The Americas

The Trump administration is tapping into more than $300 million in frozen Venezuelan government funds in an effort to give new momentum to its elusive goal of ousting President Nicolás Maduro. – Washington Post

The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is blocking U.S. citizens in the country from leaving, rebuffing efforts by Washington to arrange humanitarian evacuation flights, a State Department spokeswoman said on Thursday. – Reuters

Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Thursday that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration is looking to buy Iranian missiles and is handing over weapons made in Russia and Belarus to Colombian armed groups. – Reuters

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has subpoenaed a former State Department official linked to the controversial research dossier about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. – The Hill

Moises Rendon and Claudia Fernandez write: As the elections approach, the future of the Venezuelan opposition will depend on unity, both in Venezuela and abroad, for continued support for the interim government and the current National Assembly. Sooner or later, the Maduro regime, challenged and isolated from most of the world, will have to realize that the best possible outcome is to negotiate its exit from power and make way for free and fair elections. A concerted effort by the international community to continue challenging Maduro’s legitimacy is a necessary step in that direction. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


European Union privacy regulators are clashing over how much—if anything—to fine Twitter Inc. for its handling of a data breach disclosed last year, delaying progress of the most advanced cross-border privacy case involving a U.S. tech company under the EU’s strict new privacy law. – Wall Street Journal

The Justice Department on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision requiring U.S. President Donald Trump to unblock Twitter users from viewing his account. – Reuters

The Pentagon’s virtual cyber-training platform has been successfully integrated with operational tools that will be used during missions, according to Col. Tanya Trout, the outgoing director of the Joint Cyber Training Enterprise. – C4ISRNET

Kara Frederick, Chris Estep and Megan Lamberth write: By the end of September, one of two outcomes will likely take place: TikTok’s U.S., Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand operations will be purchased by an American company, or the app will be banned from operating in the United States. In either case, the United States will still need a clear, sustainable approach and framework to address similar challenges in the future and help rally likeminded countries to an alternative vision for digital freedom. The window to do so is closing. Given the rapid growth of one popular Chinese-owned app with profound security vulnerabilities, a more pernicious version of TikTok may already be on the way. – War on the Rocks


The U.S. Defense Department on Thursday said five U.S.-manufactured drones have been approved for purchase by the federal government starting in September, offering agencies a secure option after the use of China-made drones was banned. – Reuters

The U.S. Army’s future missile defense battle command system capped off a major test in the desert of White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, on Aug. 20 by nearly destroying two threat targets simultaneously. Completion of the test clears a challenging hurdle for the system as the service prepares to decide whether it is ready for production. – Defense News

Dickinson’s promotion signals a new era for Space Command, the military’s space operations arm established in August 2019, which will now have a commander solely dedicated to standing up a new unified command focused on protecting military space assets against new threats posed by Russia and China. – Defense News

The microelectronics industry is at an “inflection point, and the U.S. government must implement policies to entice companies to do more manufacturing within American shores, the Defense Department’s chief weapons buyer said Thursday. – C4ISRNET

To get to a layered, in-depth homeland missile defense system developing key networking and communications links between ballistic missile defense ships and at-shore installations is crucial, the head of the Missile Defense Agency said this week. – USNI News

The Navy has been procuring Virginia (SSN-774) class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) since FY1998. The one Virginia-class boat that the Navy is requesting for procurement in FY2021 would be the 33rd boat in the class. The Navy’s FY2020 budget submission had projected that the Navy would request two Virginia-class boats in FY2021. – USNI News

Maj. Gen. Matthew G. Glavy and Brett Goldstein write: This project should shape not only future Marine Corps efforts, but future Department of Defense projects for years to come. The team demonstrated a cost-effective, iterative procedure that can quickly field a precise capability needed to accomplish a task. Now is time to empower military talent to build the modern software development capabilities the Pentagon so desperately needs. There is much work to be done. – War on the Rocks

Long War

The brother of the suicide bomber who set off an explosion at a 2017 Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 people and injuring hundreds, was sentenced Thursday to a minimum of 55 years in prison. – Associated Press

The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday it will ask the nation’s top court to reinstate Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence for helping carry out the 2013 attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. – Reuters

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted operations of the Islamic State and Hezbollah, but intelligence experts say extremist organizations are building out their ranks and preparing for a comeback. – Washington Examiner