Fdd's overnight brief

August 27, 2020

In The News


Iran agreed to allow United Nations inspectors access to two sites where it is suspected of carrying out illicit nuclear-weapons work in the past, bowing to months of pressure in a bid to salvage backing for the 2015 nuclear deal. – Wall Street Journal

If elected, a Biden-Harris administration would seek to “strengthen” President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and would “guarantee that Israel will always maintain its qualitative military edge,” the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, said Wednesday. – Algemeiner

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in an August 24, 2020 interview on Al-Alam TV (Iran) that Iran has 230 tons of heavy water, which he said is used for research. […]Kamalvandi said that Iran has over 1,000 tons of yellowcake and over 3 tons of uranium enriched to 4-4.1%, and he explained that this uranium stockpile is ten times larger than the amount agreed upon in the JCPOA. He also said that Iran can enrich uranium further if the need arises. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Iran is involved in a multi-day series of speeches and events linked to the month of Muharram and the Ashura holiday which commemorates the death of the Imam Hussein at the battle of Karbala. For many Shi’ites this period is one of intense mourning and emotion but the Iranian regime also seeks to hijack the events every year to connect them to current events, using the symbolism of martyrdom, battle and “uprising against oppression” to link Iran’s regional role to the historic Islamic period. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Rubin writes: A broader concern, however, is not only Iran’s provision of UAVs to proxy groups in Iraq and Lebanon but also its transfer of the capability to manufacture drones to them. This buys both Iran and its proxies plausible deniability as, when drones are utilized against US interests or those of US allies, there will be a question mark about who ordered their attack […]. Simply put, Iranian drones are here to stay. The threat they pose cannot be underestimated, and they will remain part of the operational environment across the Middle East for decades to come. – American Enterprise Institute


Israel’s military said it struck Hezbollah observation posts along the Lebanese frontier in response to overnight cross-border fire, adding to a recent flare-up of tensions between the two sides as Israel attempts to curb the activities of Iran and its allies in the region. – Wall Street Journal

Following a shooting incident on its northern border on Tuesday night, Israel is demanding that the UN Security Council make major changes to the mandate of the international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. – Algemeiner

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a stern warning to Hezbollah on Wednesday after an incident in which shots were fired toward IDF troops on the northern border with Lebanon. – Algemeiner

With 48 hours left to extend UNIFIL’s mandate in Lebanon, the US and Israel demand the UN Security Council reform the peacekeeping force, giving it greater freedom of movement and access to areas that are suspected of harboring terrorist activity. […]Israel and the United States have been jointly working on getting the United Nations Security Council to upgrade the mandate of the international peacekeeping force based in southern Lebanon, and provide it with greater authority in an effort to weaken Hezbollah. – Jerusalem Post

Since the blast at the port of Beirut, in which 177 people were killed and over 6,000 were injured, Lebanese figures have been expressing concern that one of Hizbullah’s arsenals across the country, some of which are situated in residential neighborhoods, might explode in a similar manner. These figures, including local council members in the Mount Lebanon Governorate, as well as the leader of Lebanon’s Christian community, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, demand that the state deal with these arsenals or even confiscate them before another disaster occurs. – Middle East Media Research Institute


A small number of U.S. troops were injured this week during a skirmish with Russian forces in northeastern Syria, American officials said on Wednesday, underscoring the risk of simmering tensions between the two rival powers in a hotly contested part of the country. – New York Times

U.S. troops in Syria were wounded this week when a Russian military patrol slammed into their vehicle, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, as Washington condemned the incident as a violation of safety protocols agreed with Moscow. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The whole situation in eastern Syria continues to limp along as it has over the last two and half years, lacking clarity. Overall though the role of the US diplomats who have been intensely pro-Ankara, to the extent that Ankara’s interests seem to come before the US role in Syria, have left confusion, instability and lack of faith in Washington’s commitment. – Jerusalem Post


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump talked on the phone on Wednesday to discuss bilateral and regional issues, including the Mediterranean, Erdogan’s office said. – Reuters

Turkey has given passports to a dozen Hamas members in Istanbul, a senior Israeli diplomat said on Wednesday, describing the move as “a very unfriendly step” which his government would raise with Turkish officials. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: After all, Erdogan is a cynic, not a partisan. He reprised the Svengali-role he exerted on Obama after Trump took office, and he clearly seeks to buy his way into any future administration. Just as Trump and his advisers should be held to account for their relationship with Erdogan and his businessman-proxies, it is time Biden recognize his campaign is also very much under an assault by those seeking to promote Erdogan at the expense of democracy and law. – Washington Examiner


President Mahmoud Abbas remains committed to the same strategy he has pursued for decades — seeking international support to pressure Israel to agree to a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast war. – Associated Press

Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, said on Wednesday that former US vice president and presidential nominee Joe Biden will not condition aid to Israel if he is elected. – Jerusalem Post

A Palestinian man stabbed an Israeli man to death outside the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva in a suspected terror attack on Wednesday afternoon, police said. – Times of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces soldiers raided the West Bank home of a Palestinian suspected of stabbing an Israeli man to death and began planning to demolish the structure, the military said Thursday. – Times of Israel

The Northern Command believes that the Hezbollah terrorist organization will continue to try to carry out attacks on the northern border, as the group’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is determined to kill an Israeli soldier in response to a member of the group being killed in Syria, Channel 13 News reported on Wednesday. – Arutz Sheva

The Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD) released the first imagery from the new Ofek 16 satellite on 25 August. The Ofek 16 was launched on 6 July and the IMOD said this is the first time it has released recent imagery from one of its satellites. – Janes

Areig Elhag writes: Therefore, Israel must actively seek friendship and a real relationship with all stakeholders in Sudan to guarantee that the Sudanese populace will not reject such a relationship in the future. Ignoring the civilian side of relations will not be in Israel’s future interests, especially as the Forces of Freedom and Change and the Assembly of Professionals, the primary incubator for Prime Minister Hamdok, have a large influence on the Sudanese populace. – Washington Institute

Herb Keinon writes: For many Israelis, the question of who should govern can be reduced to one overriding factor: Who can best keep me and my family safe? […]According to KAN’s Carmel Dangor, the last time Israel went 12 months without a civilian terror fatality was in 1964. But during that period, she noted, Israel lost 106 soldiers. While at first glance, this counting of terror fatalities and the months between attacks may seem insensitive and nothing less than macabre statistics, those figures go far in explaining why Netanyahu has been able to retain power for so long. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed regional stability and Gulf unity with Bahraini leaders on Wednesday, as part of a Middle East tour following an accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on normalising relations. – Reuters

US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday that “incredible positive conversations” were already underway over providing the United Arab Emirates with elite F-35 fighter jets and other military hardware after the Gulf state’s deal to normalize relations with Israel. – Times of Israel

Antisemitic tropes and beliefs are a “central element” of Qatar’s education of children from the age of 6 through to high school graduation, a new report disclosed on Wednesday. – Algemeiner

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Before the United Arab Emirates and Israel announced that they would normalize relations, the general trend of coverage of Israel in the Gulf states fit several narratives. Media mostly highlighted Israel’s role in confronting Iran and also Israel-Palestinian issues. Now that Israel is working more with the UAE officially, there will be more coverage of Israel, but that could come with a cost as media will also seek to expose Israeli actions that could be controversial. – Jerusalem Post

Bayly Winder writes: It is in America’s strategic interest for Oman to maintain its foreign policy independence. Oman does not host a U.S. military base or buy huge amounts of American weapons like some other GCC states, but it is a valuable regional player with an outsized impact. The sultanate has also been an important U.S. military partner of long standing, including hosting U.S. military facilities at Thumrait and Masirah Island and providing the U.S. Navy access to the ports of Duqm and Salalah. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

As Beirut reckons with the destruction, thousands of Lebanese in their teens, 20s and 30s — rather than government personnel — have shown up to put the most damaged neighborhoods back in order, shoveling, sweeping, feeding, fixing. […]Since the explosion, countries like Canada have been hit by a wave of applications from young Lebanese seeking to emigrate, officials say. – New York Times

A fugitive who was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment by a French court for his role in a chilling antisemitic attack on a young Jewish couple in Paris in 2014 was arrested in Algeria last month, according to French intelligence sources. – Algemeiner

French armed forces minister Florence Parly began a trip to Iraq on Thursday that the ministry said formed part of the country’s ongoing commitment to the fight against terrorism and its support for Iraq’s sovereignty. – Reuters

Michael Knights writes: Both the United States and Iraq face elections in the coming year, assuming Iraq can pull its early elections together before the 2022 scheduled polls. Whoever runs America or Iraq in 2022, last week’s visit is a good start towards a constructive national dialogue between two states that are undeniably blood brothers—different in so many ways, the ultimate odd couple, but tied together by a mutual effort to stabilize Iraq. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

The United States continues to pursue the complete and verifiable denuclearisation of North Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday. – Reuters

In a rare display of urgency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held his third high-level political conference in as many weeks, where he raised alarm about the nation’s coronavirus response and a typhoon forecast to hit the country early Thursday. – Associated Press

Bruce Klingner writes: North Korea is concurrently suffering from severe economic calamities due to international sanctions, self-imposed trade restrictions to stave off the coronavirus, and devastating monsoon rains damaging the agricultural heartland[…]. There has long been debate over the degree to which humanitarian disaster response assistance should be distinguished from large-scale food aid and economic development programs. The U.S. and other nations should be willing to provide immediate aid to ameliorate natural disasters that impact the populace while concurrently refraining from large-scale assistance that benefits the regime’s prioritization of the military over the needs of its citizens. – Heritage Foundation


The U.S. unveiled a set of visa and export restrictions targeting Chinese state-owned companies and their executives involved in advancing Beijing’s territorial claims in the contested South China Sea, a new challenge to China involving the strategic waters. – Wall Street Journal

China launched four medium-range ballistic missiles into the South China Sea on Wednesday amid broader military exercises by the People’s Liberation Army, according to a U.S. defense official who asked not to be identified. – Bloomberg

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is to meet Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi in Paris this weekend, said French government spokesman Gabriel Attal on Wednesday. – Reuters

China seems to be flexing its muscles the most in Southeast Asia, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday, especially in the South China Sea, where Washington is trying to counter Beijing’s disputed territorial claims. – Reuters

Chinese technology theft costs the American economy $225 billion to $600 billion annually in stolen trade secrets, pirated software and counterfeit goods, according to a new FBI report. – Washington Times

China may restrict American access to medical supplies in retaliation for intensifying U.S. regulations on Huawei, according to a prominent economist and Chinese Communist Party adviser. – Washington Examiner


In rewriting the facts this week of last year’s attack on pro-democracy protesters and subway commuters by a pro-Beijing gang, Hong Kong’s police covered all bases. They accused journalists of filming “just one side” of the melee (one reporter was, indeed, forced to shoot from the ground, where she lay hurt after being beaten by one of the attackers). – Washington Post

Vietnam on Wednesday accused China of violating its sovereignty by conducting military drills in a disputed part of the South China Sea and said Beijing’s actions were “complicating” negotiations on establishing a code of conduct in the region. – Reuters

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison will announce on Thursday legislation giving the federal government new powers to review and cancel any agreements that local authorities and public institutions make or have made with foreign governments. – Reuters

The United States military presence in Asia is needed as rivalry between Washington and Beijing intensifies, the Philippines’ foreign minister said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Hong Kong police arrested two opposition lawmakers on Wednesday over anti-government protests in July last year, one of whom was suspected of rioting during an incident in which he was attacked by a mob. – Reuters

The risk of accidental conflict is rising because of tension in the South China Sea and around Taiwan and communication must be maintained to reduce the risk of miscalculation, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Thursday. – Reuters

HSBC Holdings Plc has been accused by U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo of aiding the Chinese government’s clampdown on Hong Kong. – Bloomberg

A Hong Kong news website on Thursday said authorities had denied a visa for an Irish journalist in what press groups described as an alarming acceleration of a government clampdown on the media. – Agence France-Presse

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) revealed on 25 August that it has ordered an additional 21 CM-34 wheeled infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) to add to the 284 already being acquired for the Republic of China Army (RoCA). – Janes

Chinese authorities have arrested at least 10 people after intercepting a boat off the coast of the southern province of Guangdong, the provincial Coast Guard Bureau said in a post on its social media site. Hong Kong media, citing unidentified sources, said 12 people from the former British colony were arrested while sailing to Taiwan where they planned to apply for political asylum. – Reuters

Michael Mazza writes: Contrary to expectations, then, Taiwan’s demography-induced security challenges could lead to a more secure Taiwan—one with stronger international security partnerships that contribute to deterring Beijing. Taiwan’s demographic trends do not amount to a blessing in disguise. The country would be better served by a healthy demographic profile marked by a younger, growing population. But if Taipei meets the challenge head on, it can still ensure itself a bright future—one in which it maintains its independent, democratic, and prosperous existence. – Global Taiwan Institute


The Kremlin said on Wednesday Russia did not want the illness of opposition politician Alexei Navalny to damage ties with the West and that it was as keen as anyone else to find out what caused him to fall gravely ill. – Reuters

Rostec’s Kalashnikov Group unveiled the prototype of its new Spetsialnoye Korpusnoye Kolesnoye Shassi-568 (SKKSh-568) wheeled chassis for surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems as an alternative to mounting them on tracked vehicles at the Army 2020 defence exhibition being held in Kubinka near Moscow on 23–29 August. – Janes

Russia’s Almaz-Antey Corporation unveiled the new 51P6E2 10×10 mobile surface-to-air missile launch platform for the 98R6E Abakan non-strategic ballistic missile defence system at the Russian Federation Ministry of Defence’s Army 2020 International Military-Technical Forum, held in Kubinka, near Moscow between 23 and 29 August. – Janes

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Wednesday for an investigation into the circumstances behind Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s sickness, saying medical reports of a toxic substance in his body were credible. – Reuters


Greece, facing an escalating maritime dispute with Turkey, sought to show its determination by expanding its territorial waters in another direction: in the Ionian Sea, facing Italy. – Wall Street Journal

Dunn, 19, died of his injuries. The U.S. government asserted that the driver, Anne Sacoolas, was protected by diplomatic immunity. She left the country, with full knowledge of British and U.S. authorities. Now, in an exchange of letters revealed this week, top British authorities suggest that prosecutors are considering trying Sacoolas in absentia. – Washington Post

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas agreed with his Israeli counterpart Thursday that an effort must be made to extend a weapon embargo on Iran, while stressing Germany still sees the landmark 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers as the best way to prevent the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon. – Associated Press

France is joining military exercises with Italy, Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean amid a worsening dispute between Turkey and Greece over energy resources in the region, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Wednesday for a transparent investigation into what happened to Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, saying Britain would join international efforts to ensure justice is done. – Reuters

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that any attempt by the Belarusian government to use the Western alliance as a scapegoat and crackdown on protests was “wrong and unjustified.” – Reuters

Poland calls for the release of arrested members of Belarus’ opposition Coordination Council, Poland’s Prime Minister said on Wednesday, as Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko has accused the council of attempting to seize power. – Reuters

A U.N. judge cut short the closing remarks of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic on Wednesday as he appealed his life sentence for war crimes, including genocide, during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. – Reuters

In an interview, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius told POLITICO that the EU’s response to the crisis so far — including money for victims of repression and sanctions against senior Belarusian figures — has been sound, but the bloc’s reaction overall has been too slow and the risk of a stalemate is growing. – Politico

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi embarked on his first official visit abroad to Berlin on Wednesday, where he is set to meet with European Union foreign minister. – Jerusalem Post


The European Union has suspended training in Mali after the military coup this month that removed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita from power, officials said on Wednesday, while Germany acknowledged that some perpetrators had been trained in Europe. – Reuters

France’s foreign minister said on Thursday that the transition in Mali needs to be quick, but that the coup d’etat in the country would not stop French military operations targeting Islamist militants. – Reuters

Islamist militants killed at least 20 people during attacks on three villages in eastern Congo, the army and a local administrator said. – Reuters

West African leaders preparing to meet Friday to discuss the political crisis in Mali must address the threat to security posed by Islamist militants, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said. – Bloomberg

The Americas

A nephew of Venezuela’s first lady appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court an 18-year sentence for conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. Francisco Flores and his cousin, Efrain Campo, were found guilty in 2016 in a highly charged case that cast a hard look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist administration. – Associated Press

Venezuela’s electoral body once again extended a deadline for candidates to register for December’s congressional elections as the opposition failed to present choices. – Bloomberg

China said Wednesday it remains firm in its insistence that Canada make the first move to end the detention of two Canadians, following a meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers. – Associated Press


Hackers tied to the North Korean government are trying to rob banks across the globe by draining ATMs and initiating fraudulent money transfers, in an effort by the cash-strapped Pyongyang regime to fund its nuclear weapons program, multiple federal government agencies warned Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

Kevin Mayer, the chief executive of the Chinese-owned video app TikTok, said on Wednesday that he was resigning after the company came under sustained pressure from the Trump administration over its ties to China. – New York Times

With tensions swirling between the United States and China, along with the complexities of running a social media company, any large acquisition appeared too treacherous to navigate. So Microsoft discussed taking a small stake in TikTok and becoming one of the app’s minority investors, said four people briefed on the conversations. […]Yet what started as discussions about a small investment morphed into a big, messy, political soap opera. – New York Times

US information technology company CACI International are unveiling several upgrades to its SteelBox secure mobile communications software application for classified and controlled unclassified information (CUI). – Janes

Apple is making it harder for companies to track people’s data across apps — and Facebook says it could have devastating effects on part of its business. – Jerusalem Post


A deficit of ship repair capacity and an expected change in the Navy’s needs for large combatants versus smaller ones may force the entire industry to rethink their roles in construction and maintenance work going forward, a panel of officials said this week. – USNI News

The Navy’s plans to create tougher advanced-phase training events for surface ships are made possible by improvements in individual-level training for surface warfare officers and sailors, according to the officers that oversee the spectrum of surface training. – USNI News

The most advanced variant of the Patriot missile misfired during a major test of the U.S. Army’s air and missile defense battle command system, which involved tactical ballistic missile and a cruise missile targets, an Army official confirmed. – Defense News

Long War

And after murdering 51 Muslims during Friday Prayer at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last year, he told the police he wished he had killed even more. On Thursday, his campaign of hate finally ended: A judge in the resilient seaside city where he had waged his terrorism sentenced him to life in prison without any chance of parole. – New York Times

British authorities can share information with U.S. prosecutors about two members of a suspected Islamic State militant cell in Syria known as “The Beatles,” after a U.K. Supreme Court ruling that may lead to the men being tried in America. – Associated Press

A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment Wednesday against 21-year-old Dzenan Camovic for a knife attack on NYPD officers during a protest on June 3 in Brooklyn, an attack that prosecutors describe as ISIS inspired. – CNN

Trump Administration

Former FBI Director James Comey admits he is worried about the criminal inquiry into the Russia investigation. – Washington Examiner

The FBI’s counterintelligence division does not appear to have investigated national security risks connected to President Donald Trump’s foreign financial ties, the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday in a newly released legal analysis. – Politico

The intelligence community has seen no evidence that foreign powers intend to manipulate mail-in voting in the 2020 election, senior Trump administration officials said Wednesday, undercutting a claim by President Donald Trump that such fraud “will be the scandal of our times.” – Politico