Fdd's overnight brief

August 25, 2020

In The News


The head of the U.N.’s atomic watchdog agency arrived in Iran on Monday to press for access to sites where authorities are thought to have stored or used undeclared nuclear material. – Associated Press

Iran won’t accept any additional demands beyond its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, the country’s top nuclear official declared Tuesday as the chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog was visiting Iran, the official IRNA news agency reported. – Associated Press

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeni Yenin is claiming that the data retrieved from flight P-752’s recorders verifies Iran’s responsibility for downing the plane on January 8, 2020 over Tehran, and called for the truth about the incident. – Radio Farda

The new spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry has characterized the normalization of the United Arab Emirates’ ties with Israel as “a scar on the face of the Muslim world.” – Radio Farda

The Iranian state funded and supplied various terrorist groups in order to kill and maim members of the U.S. armed forces in Iraq, dozens of wounded veterans say in a new complaint. Families of service members killed in attacks in Iraq are also among those who sued Iran and several agencies and state-controlled businesses in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Aug. 21. – Bloomberg

The Middle East needs an uprising similar to the Islamic Revolution in Iran that will unite the “resistance” of the Islamic community against a “culture of defeat” that has affected Arab regimes, Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s representative to Iran recently said. – Jerusalem Post


Demands from the U.S. Congress that Turkey give up its Russian-made air-defense capability before ties can improve were counterproductive and mask more serious flashpoints that must be resolved, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said. – Bloomberg

Greece’s navy and air force will conduct military exercises beginning Tuesday in the eastern Mediterranean near a contested area where Turkey is prospecting for oil and gas, authorities said, drawing an angry response from Turkey. – Associated Press

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday Turkey’s navy will not back down as Greece “sows chaos” in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where the countries have deployed frigates in an escalating rhetorical confrontation over overlapping resource claims. – Reuters

Malta’s foreign minister has urged talks to avert escalation in the eastern Mediterranean after Ankara mounted a new naval expedition to search for gas, while Greece and Cyprus pressed EU allies to impose more sanctions against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. – Financial Times

Turkey and Greece have announced they will conduct rival naval exercises off the Greek island of Crete on Tuesday amid rising tension over claims to gas and oil in the Eastern Mediterranean. – BBC

President Trump on Monday offered praise for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for releasing American pastor Andrew Brunson last year after imprisoning him for roughly two years on disputed charges. – The Hill

Aaron Stein and Robert Hamilton write: Turkey and the United States have significant political differences over events in the region, but the health of NATO collective defense matters more than bilateral spats between two longtime allies. Ankara risked the security of the F-35 program with its S-400 purchase. There is a pathway to try and overcome this issue, but it will require creative thinking to verify the non-deployment and highly circumscribed use of the S-400. The Pakistan F-16 model is a realistic option and could provide a way to overcome a problem that can be solved with a mixture of technical cooperation and an onsite presence. – War on the Rocks


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief coalition partner agreed Monday to delay a fateful budget vote, averting the collapse of their fractious alliance and preventing a fourth election in less than two years. – Associated Press

British foreign minister Dominic Raab will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week to press for renewed dialogue between their governments to pursue a negotiated two-state solution. – Reuters

The United States will ensure Israel retains a military advantage in the Middle East under any future U.S. arms deals with the United Arab Emirates, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday. – Reuters

Israel’s military said it bombed militant positions in the Gaza Strip early on Tuesday in response to incendiary balloons launched into southern Israel farmlands a day earlier. – Associated Press

Dr. Sufian Abu Zaida, a Fatah member close to Muhammad Dahlan and a former minister of prisoner affairs in the Palestinian Authority (PA), is known for his frequent criticism of PA President Mahmoud ‘Abbas and in the past was even suspended from Fatah for it. In an article published August 16, 2020 on the Samanews.ps website, he harshly criticized the Palestinian response to the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE, which took the form of curses, accusations of treason against the UAE, and the burning of the Emirati flag and pictures of Emirati leaders. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Hamas launched a war against Israel on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s orders, the Bulgarian Military reported, quoting Greece’s Pentapostagma. According to the report, the launch came while Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met with Erdogan in Istanbul. Haniyeh’s depity, Saleh al-Aruri, and Turkey’s Deputy Secretary of Intelligence, Kan Fidan, also attended the meeting, as did Erdogan’s chief aide Sefer Turan. – Arutz Sheva


As Beirut reels from the blast that killed more than 180 people and damaged thousands of homes in prime areas of the city, some buyers and real-estate brokers are seeking to exploit the devastation with cut-rate offers to buy property from distressed owners—deals that could ultimately reshape Beirut’s historic neighborhoods. – Wall Street Journal

Three weeks after a catastrophic explosion ripped through Beirut, killing nearly 200 people and rendering thousands homeless, the change many hoped for is nowhere in sight. Instead, activists said they are back to square one. – Associated Press

Shmuley Boteach writes: Hezbollah, the Iran-backed genocidal terrorist group and “the most formidable non-state actor in the world,” is known to use the Port of Beirut to receive weapons from Iran and to ship explosives to terrorist cells throughout the world. The most incriminating evidence lies in the fact that ammonium nitrate is Hezbollah’s chemical of choice when it comes to murdering Jews. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Arab countries to join the United Arab Emirates in forging formal ties with Israel, as part of a U.S. diplomatic push to align old enemies in the Middle East against a common rival in Iran. – Wall Street Journal

The cease-fire announced by Libyan rivals may finally unlock stalled talks to end a civil war which had shut oil fields and drawn in foreign militaries, according to the United Nations envoy leading peace efforts. – Bloomberg

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stood firmly behind U.S. efforts to sell advanced weaponry to the United Arab Emirates, while reassuring Israel it was committed to maintaining its qualitative military edge in the Middle East. – Bloomberg

Tunisia’s prime minister-designate Hichem Mechichi announced on Monday a cabinet of independent technocrats without parties, seeking to distance the government from political conflicts and focus on reviving the ailing economy. – Reuters

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and UAE Health Minister Abdul Rahman Ben Muhammad al-Avis agreed on Monday on the first act of health cooperation between the countries. – Jerusalem Post

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: Since the transitions to either peace or violence are a gradual process —rather than a one-time breaking point—the persistence of underlying grievances in these arenas and people’s strategies for coping with instability pushes a country to move into and out of violence. In MENA, the most recent violence expresses the explosion of unaddressed grievances around arenas that have been accumulating for decades, leading to the protracted conflicts in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Ami Ayalon and Shaul Chorev write: The conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean is indeed complex, and mistrust runs rampant among regional actors. Most likely a permanent solution is unreachable in the short run, though implementation of immediate confidence-building measures and de-escalation actions is imperative. Any small naval incident has the potential to start a war. – Jerusalem Post


Senior U.S. and Chinese officials said they were committed to carrying out the phase-one trade accord between the two nations, the two governments said, after the two sides discussed the pact Monday evening U.S. time. – Wall Street Journal

Mark Esper writes: These initiatives reflect America’s steadfast commitment to stand with our allies and partners against Beijing’s bullying, support the sovereignty of all nations, and defend the free and open international system that has fostered decades of stability and prosperity for billions. Yet the U.S. can’t shoulder this burden alone, and we continue to urge our allies to share it with us fairly and equitably as true partners. – Wall Street Journal

Zhou Bo writes: The Chinese army enjoys the convenience of geography, to say the least. Its navy also outnumbers the US navy in terms of warships and submarines, although the US fleet is more heavily armed. Admiral Philip S Davidson, commander of the US’s Indo-Pacific Command, has acknowledged that there is “no guarantee” the US would win a future conflict against China. – Financial Times

Jude Blanchette and Andrew Polk write: Fundamentally, efforts along these lines, and under the guise of the DCS, should be seen as part of China’s plan to push forward decoupling on its own terms. This further demonstrates that Chinese leaders are clear-eyed that bifurcation is not a question of if, but of when and how fast. The DCS was born out of a reaction to this diagnosis, and it is meant to posit a proactive strategy for China to shape the parameters of the divorce, not to shy away from it. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

South Asia

Pakistan has invited Taliban and Chinese leaders for talks in Islamabad to smooth the way for intra-Afghan negotiations aimed at bringing an end the 19-year war that’s ravaged Afghanistan. – Bloomberg

A wave of attacks across Afghanistan on Tuesday left at least 12 dead and wounded scores, officials said, including a Taliban truck bombing in the country’s north that targeted a commando base for Afghan forces. – Associated Press

A Taliban political team arrived in Pakistan on Monday as efforts appear to be ramping up to get negotiations underway between the Afghan government and the insurgents. – Associated Press


Brenton Tarrant, the white supremacist who massacred 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand last year, sat largely unmoved in a court here Tuesday as his surviving victims and relatives of those he slaughtered confronted him about how his actions had shattered their lives. – Washington Post

Thailand’s government has blocked a private Facebook group with more than one million members that discusses the country’s royal family, as the administration continues its crackdown on the growing protest movement calling for greater democracy and less power for the monarchy. – Bloomberg

Zoe Huang writes: The Senkaku Islands are a group of disputed islets in the East China Sea administrated by Japan but claimed also by mainland China as the Diaoyu Islands and Taiwan as the Diaoyutai islands. […]The “triple tango” between Beijing, Taipei, and Tokyo indicates that all three governments have been seeking a delicate balance in their foreign policy. Still, the readiness of local actors to embrace nationalist positions and the frequency of encounters between law enforcement and fishing vessels near the islands suggest that the risk of escalation will persist despite relatively reserved responses to recent developments. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Prominent Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was poisoned, Berlin’s Charité hospital said in a statement Monday, citing clinical results that contradicted Russian doctors and corroborated claims that an attempt had been made on the Kremlin critic’s life. – Washington Post

Russian government-supported organizations are playing a small but increasing role amplifying conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon, raising concerns of interference in the November U.S. election. – Reuters

United Aircraft Corporation has just released the first-ever footage of the maiden flight of a heavily upgraded Tupolev Tu-95MSM (NATO reporting name “Bear”). The first flight took place on August 22, 2020, at the Taganrog Aviation Plant, in Taganrog. The video shows the iconic Russian bomber (with its peculiar coaxial contra-rotating propellers) taxiing, taking off, performing a fly by and landing, reportedly after 2.5 hours of test flight. – Business Insider


Security forces in Belarus on Monday arrested two of the last high-profile opposition figures not already in jail for protesting against the country’s authoritarian president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko. The arrests came as a senior United States diplomat met with the embattled president’s most prominent opponent, who fled the country under duress earlier this month. – New York Times

Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded full transparency from Vladimir Putin’s government after a German medical team determined that Alexei Navalny, the Russian leader’s most prominent critic, was likely poisoned last week. – Bloomberg

Austria is expelling a Russian diplomat for breaching the Vienna Convention governing diplomats’ privileges and immunities, an Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Monday in what a tabloid newspaper reported as an economic espionage case. – Reuters

Russia’s embassy in Vienna protested on Monday over what it said was a groundless decision by Austrian authorities to expel a Russian diplomat, the TASS news agency reported. – Reuters

Denmark’s military intelligence head has been suspended after it was revealed the agency had broken laws and misled the intelligence watchdog. – BBC

Six people have appeared in court charged under the Terrorism Act. They were arrested as part of a major PSNI and MI5 investigation into dissident republican group the New IRA. – BBC


West African mediators suspended talks with Mali’s military junta Monday after failing to reach an agreement on who will lead the volatile country during a transitional back to democracy after last week’s coup and how long that process will take, a diplomat said. – Associated Press

Such accusations of extrajudicial killings, torture and unlawful detention by Burkina Faso’s military are mounting, as the ill-equipped and under-trained army scrambles to stem the spread of jihadist violence that’s ravaging the country. As attacks linked to Islamic militants increase, so does the army’s targeting of civilians perceived to support them, charge rights groups. – Associated Press

Mali’s military junta and regional mediators on Monday discussed the make-up and goals of an interim administration following an Aug. 18 coup, rather than the possibility of reinstating the ousted president, sources familiar with the talks said. – Reuters

At least 15 people were killed when gunmen attacked an area in southern Burundi, three local witnesses told Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

Abakar M. Abdallah and Jerry Gordon write: This alleged push by Israel for normalization with Sudan is in the myopic belief that geopolitical changes in the Arab Middle East also can be applied to the Sudan, and that it is in the interests of Israel to pursue normalization with the Transitional Sovereignty Council (TSC) government of Sudan in Khartoum. The reality is that the jihad campaigns waged against Sudan’s indigenous peoples following the military coup and jailing of long-term dictator former president Omar Bashir in April 2019 have not ended. – Jerusalem Post


TikTok sued the U.S. government on Monday, accusing the Trump administration of depriving it of due process when President Trump used his emergency economic powers to issue an executive order that will block the app from operating in the country. – New York Times

The U.S. military’s top cyber official is defending the government’s shift toward a more aggressive strategy in cyberspace, saying the mission has evolved over the last decade from “a reactive and defensive posture” to keep pace with sophisticated threats. – Associated Press

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a strategy Monday to defend U.S. 5G networks against threats. – The Hill

The U.S. Army is testing whether technologies developed in a lab to defend the tactical network and ensure safe data transfer can survive real-world conditions. – C4ISRNET


One of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reforms undertaken by the FBI is implementing more stringent requirements for asking whether a possible target has been a source for the U.S. government. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. Navy and partner nations have so far not encountered a Russian or Chinese maritime presence during the Rim of the Pacific 2020 exercise, according to a Navy official. – USNI News

Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) departed Bremerton, Wash., on Sunday bound for its new homeport in San Diego after completing a year and a half of maintenance, the Navy announced. Part of the 17-month dry dock repair period was to make the carrier ready for the Navy’s first F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter deployment that is planned for next year. – USNI News

The U.S. Army plans to field its “cloud in the sky” for the current aviation fleet by the end of fiscal 2024, according to the service’s Program Executive Office Aviation. – Defense News

The Army has awarded 10 contracts worth a total of $29.75 million to companies to provide mature technologies in the realm of Air-Launched Effects (ALE) for future vertical lift aircraft that are expected to come online around 2030, Army aviation officials have told Defense News. – Defense News

China and Russia already have weapons that can fire with reliability over hundreds of miles, leaving the United States to play catch-up in a new missile technology arms race. From course-correcting fuses for improved accuracy to honing 29-foot barrels to sustain the high temperatures and pressures of repeated fires, the Army has prioritized the development of long-range precision fire weapons. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. Navy says the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and its strike group entered the South China Sea earlier this month and have been carrying out air operations. – Associated Press

Jim Mitre and Andre Gellerman write: The Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) primary role in great power competition should be to deter war, not engage in daily competition. The consequence of losing a great power war is more serious than losing a gray zone dispute. Moreover, a credible conventional deterrent constrains gray zone actions by capping their escalation potential. – Center for a New American Security

Philip Zelikow writes: As experts debate what should come in 2021, it is a great time to reflect on Brent Scowcroft. For me anyway, perhaps the most eloquent tribute to Scowcroft was written by Janan Ganesh, in the Financial Times. His essay is titled, “The lost virtue of doubt.” In the 1970s and 1980s, historians like Ernest May thought it was time to recall Marshall’s example, very much including the China story. Perhaps today, at the beginning of the 2020s, there is fresh inspiration from recalling both the virtues in Brent’s beliefs, and the virtues in his doubts. – War on the Rocks

Long War

Police in Istanbul have detained a suspected Islamic State group militant who was allegedly planning a “sensational” attack in the city, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Tuesday. – Associated Press

A Syrian man has been arrested in Austria over an assault on the head of the Jewish community in Graz, the country’s second-biggest city, and is believed to have had an Islamic extremist motive, Austrian authorities said Monday. – Associated Press

Muslim militants allied with the Islamic State group set off a powerful motorcycle explosive followed by a suicide bombing that together killed 14 people on Monday, many of them soldiers, in the worst extremist attack in the Philippines this year, military officials said. – Associated Press

Editorial: A full ban on Hezbollah everywhere is long overdue. It is not only Israel that is at risk. Hezbollah’s terrorism – funded by its Iranian sponsors – affects the whole world. This is not just an Israeli concern. Terrorism cannot be tackled in halves, with artificial distinctions between “military” and “political” wings. The only way to stop Hezbollah is to universally recognize that it is a terrorist organization whose heinous acts cannot be tolerated anywhere in the world. – Jerusalem Post

Trump Administration

The New York attorney general’s office is investigating whether the Trump Organization and President Trump improperly inflated the value of Mr. Trump’s assets in financial filings, according to court papers made public Monday that seek to compel company executives to comply with subpoenas. – Wall Street Journal

Republicans nominated President Trump as their candidate at a scaled-back convention in North Carolina and Washington, with the president and his allies offering ominous warnings about electing Democrats in November. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s expected speech on Tuesday to the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem is drawing criticism for using official diplomatic travel to make a political statement in a presidential election year. – The Hill

A group of former Trump administration officials led by a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official who has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden are forming a group dedicated to defeating President Trump in November. – The Hill