Fdd's overnight brief

August 3, 2020

In The News


Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said in a televised address that Iran will expand its nuclear program and will not negotiate with the United States, doubling down on his defiance of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy. – New York Times

Iran on Saturday said it detained an Iranian-American leader of a little-known California-based militant opposition group for allegedly planning a 2008 attack on a mosque that killed 14 people and wounded over 200 others. – Associated Press 

The Tehran Stock Exchange closed at a record high on Sunday, crossing 2 million points for the first time, even as U.S. sanctions, unemployment, inflation and low oil prices batter the Iranian economy. – Associated Press

Iran has sanctioned Richard Goldberg, a former aide to John Bolton and a senior adviser at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. – Bloomberg

The foreign ministers of longstanding regional foes Iran and the United Arab Emirates agreed on Sunday that they would strive to cooperate during the COVID-19 pandemic. – Reuters

A wave of labor strikes has hit Iran on Saturday, August 1 in different sectors and plants, including Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane industrial complex, and more importantly in the oil and gas industry. – Radio Farda

Danny Danon, Israel’s outgoing ambassador to the UN, made his return to Israel several weeks ago after finishing his duties. Once he was done with his quarantine period, he reflected on his time at the UN. After which he warned that: “extending the arms embargo on Iran is the most urgent task.” – Jerusalem Post  


Harsh rhetoric from Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah appeared to threaten further conflict after border unrest this week, but experts predict both sides will try to avoid escalation. – Agence France-Presse

Zvi Bar’el writes: Hezbollah can no longer portray itself as Lebanon’s savior, because the enemy isn’t Israel, but a shortage of bread and gasoline. […]True, Israel is threatening the Lebanese government and demanding that it stop Hezbollah from conducting military operations against it. But it is more likely that villages in the south will be the parties that actually show Hezbollah the limits of its power. – Haaretz  

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: The lack of sufficient financial and sanitary resources such as hospital beds will also surely prevent the government from successfully managing a security crisis. Not to mention the current political leadership crisis that bodes nothing but bad news during wartime. Therefore, the decision to show restraint was the right call. But if Nasrallah is arrogant and irresponsible enough to retaliate, action must be taken. A preemptive strike is the best way to get rid of the organization’s missiles, thus eliminating the threat and creating a deterrence. And while this was not the right time, Nasrallah is sure to give us more opportunities in the future. – Ynet


The Israeli army said Monday that it had thwarted an attempt by a militant cell in Syria to plant explosive devices along its northern border with Syria. – Washington Post

Syria’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that an American oil company had signed an agreement with Kurdish-led rebels who control northeastern oilfields in what it described as an illegal deal aimed at “stealing” Syria’s crude. – Reuters  

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Anyone in the SDF watching this state of affairs couldn’t but wonder if US support for an oil deal reflects reality or yet another contradictory policy. With one hand, the US thus worked with the SDF to fight ISIS while sidelining them politically. Isolating them economically was the third way they were curtailed. – Jerusalem Post 


The contest over newfound gas riches in the Eastern Mediterranean has triggered a slew of rival maritime claims, pushing the region’s main powers—all of them America’s partners or allies—toward open confrontation. – Wall Street Journal

Egypt said on Saturday that part of a seismic survey planned by Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean potentially encroached on waters where Cairo claims exclusive rights. – Reuters

In a July 14 article titled “Can Hagia Sophia Unites Russians and Turks?”, Petr Akopov, a lead commentator for the Russian news agency Ria.ru, argued that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had freed Turkey from the militant secularism of Ataturk in the same way that Russia had been liberated from the militant atheism of Communism. […]Leading foreign policy intellectual Fyodor Lukyanov agreed. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Nick Danforth writes: In truth, Erdogan welcomes international condemnation. He draws strength from his constant sparring with domestic and foreign foes, and the battles over Hasankeyf and Hagia Sophia fuel his posture of indignation and grievance. […]The mystery is how long such victories will be enough for Turkish voters—and what Erdogan will do when they aren’t. – Foreign Affairs

Yochanan Visser writes: As for the Muslim world, Erdogan is trying to become the leader of the Ummah, the entire Islamic nation, and that’s why he dared to convert the Haga Sophia church into a mosque. That is also why he is vowing to launch a holy war on Israel under the pretext that the al-Aqsa mosque must be ‘liberated’ – Arutz Sheva 


The Israeli military said it intercepted a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip on Sunday night in a rare attack punctuating months of relative calm. – Associated Press

Israel Air Force jets struck several Hamas sites in the central and southern Gaza Strip early Monday morning after a rocket was fired from the coastal enclave towards southern Israel, as residents of the town of Sderot took in a Drive-Through movie. – Jerusalem Post 

Palestinians on Sunday condemned Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) for demanding that the US impose personal sanctions on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior PA officials. – Jerusalem Post 

A top Palestinian official for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, made a public statement on Saturday lauding the decision of 15 European countries to issue a formal diplomatic complaint to the Foreign Ministry over construction in the E1 area and Givat Hamatos. – Jerusalem Post 

The Kingdom of Jordan has requested that Israel “respect the sanctity” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the status quo, after it recently reopened to Muslim worshipers following a two-month hiatus amid coronavirus lockdowns. – Jerusalem Post  

A report that Iran had successfully hacked Israel’s railway infrastructure is not true, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The false report came out on Friday and was published on the Turkish Andoulu News Agency. – Jerusalem Post  

Alexander Goldenstein writes: To conclude: Israel was one of the first countries to recognize this Caucasian state shortly after it declared independence in 1991. Ever since Azerbaijan’s independence almost 30 years ago, relations between the Jewish state and a Shia Muslim one have grown and flourished. Both have to watch Iran closely; both have things the other wants. And the relationship has worked for decades. There is no reason to “rethink” this relationship, because frankly, it’s one of the best there is. – Jerusalem Post 


Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Friday called an early general election for June 6, 2021, roughly a year ahead of when it would normally be held. – Reuters

Jason Dominguez remembers vividly his last conversation with David Kreuter, as they were doing an overnight security watch from a rooftop in western Iraq. […]The Columbus, Ohio-based Reserve unit was among the hardest-hit of the war in Iraq, losing 23 men after 180 deployed in early 2005. They held a reunion in 2015, and another was planned this month but had to be canceled amid coronavirus restrictions. – Associated Press

Murad Ismael and Nadine Maenza write: The Iraqi government, with the support of the U.S. and the international community, must address issues that still remain in both Sinjar as well as the entire Nineveh Plains, home to Christians, Yazidis, and other religious communities in Iraq. Stabilization and economic prosperity should be a priority if we want to help Iraq build a just society where everyone is treated equally, especially the weakest. – Washington Examiner 


For days, rumours have been circulating that Yemeni mercenaries have left their own conflict for the one in Libya, joining an ever-growing international presence in the war-torn North African country. – Middle East Eye

The United Arab Emirates minister of state for foreign affairs said on Saturday that Turkey should stop interfering in Arab affairs, criticising comments on Libya made by Turkey’s defence minister. – Reuters

In the recent days, Saudi Arabia has made intensive efforts to coordinate with the Arab countries and form a uniform Arab position on the Libya crisis. Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan visited Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco and met with senior officials in those countries. His visits come against the backdrop the escalating hostilities in Libya. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country to open a nuclear power plant on Saturday, raising concerns about the long-term consequences of introducing more nuclear programs to the Middle East. – New York Times

Algeria’s president phoned his Turkish counterpart last month to secure the return of a fugitive military official who fled Algeria days after its powerful army chief died in December, a top Algerian security source said. – Reuters 

Egypt’s president has approved new legal amendments that further exclude any serious competitors from elections and give the military greater control over civilian affairs, a leading rights group said on Thursday. – Associated Press 

Yemen’s Houthi rebels claim they shot down a U.S.-made drone over the country’s northern border with Saudi Arabia. The kingdom and the U.S. military on Monday did not immediately acknowledge losing a drone. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Whether it can transform this into increased regional influence to compete with Iran’s slow digestion of Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen – and the Turkey-Qatar axis that seeks to export its brand of Muslim Brotherhood-infused extremism to places like Gaza, northern Syria and Libya – is the major question. – Jerusalem Post 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea’s economy grew 0.4% in 2019, the first time Pyongyang showed positive growth in three years, helped by construction activity and expanded agricultural output, South Korea’s central bank said. But North Korea watchers cautioned against reading this as a sign of a recovery for Pyongyang’s sanctions-hit economy. – Wall Street Journal

Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula ended more than seven decades ago, yet that legacy still roils everyday politics on both sides. […]Japan contends all claims were settled under a 1965 bilateral treaty and a fund set up in 2015. Seoul argues Japan hasn’t done enough. Some of Japan’s largest companies have been dragged into the fray, and the situation is affecting the two countries’ ability to cooperate on security and other issues. – Bloomberg 

Pacifist Japan took a step closer to acquiring weapons able to strike North Korea on Friday after a ruling party committee approved proposals to consider acquiring strike capability to halt ballistic missile attacks. – Reuters


The Trump administration announced sanctions Friday on a powerful government entity and two senior officials who have helped manage it, citing systemic human rights abuses against predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region in China’s far northwest. – New York Times

President Trump’s promise this week to bar the popular, Chinese-owned TikTok from operating in the United States is the latest move in his increasingly hostile posture toward Beijing that echoes a broader, anti-China stance within the Republican Party ahead of the November elections. – Washington Post

President Trump has blamed China for the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis, but as the White House looks to stabilize small businesses in the United States, the rescue effort has had an unintended beneficiary: Chinese companies. – New York Times

For weeks, as Beijing quickly drafted and imposed a stringent new national security law for Hong Kong, many in the territory feared the rules would be used to intimidate the opposition, but hoped they would not presage a broad crackdown. Now those hopes have been dashed. Brushing aside international criticism and sanctions, the Chinese government has used the letter and spirit of the law to crush Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition with surprising ferocity. – New York Times

China’s embassy in Germany condemned Berlin’s suspension of its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, a move Germany said was a response to the postponement of an election in the Chinese city. – Reuters 

Editorial: All of this violates the treaty China signed with the British in 1984 promising legal autonomy for Hong Kong until 2047. Hong Kong is dying as a free society, and America should offer its 7.5 million talented and entrepreneurial people a refuge with green cards and open arms. – Wall Street Journal

Jackson Diehl writes: If that election brings about a new U.S. administration under Joe Biden, a first order of foreign policy business will be a China reset. Only the fixing will need to be done not so much with Beijing, but with the would-be alliance against it that Trump has done his best to sabotage. – Washington Post 

James Stavridis writes: Pompeo may be right about China’s bad behavior, but he seems unaware that more cooperation a key to changing things. The alternative is stumbling into a new Cold War. – Bloomberg 

Ross Andersen writes: Walking in their midst, I kept thinking about the contingency of history: The political systems that constrain a technology during its early development profoundly shape our shared global future. We have learned this from our adventures in carbon-burning. Much of the planet’s political trajectory may depend on just how dangerous China’s people imagine AI to be in the hands of centralized power. Until they secure their personal liberty, at some unimaginable cost, free people everywhere will have to hope against hope that the world’s most intelligent machines are made elsewhere. – The Atlantic 


The Islamic State claimed responsibility for storming a major prison in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday in a surprise attack that freed prisoners. – Washington Post

Some of the most intense border clashes between Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent years left at least 15 civilians dead on the Afghan side on Thursday, officials said. – New York Times 

Afghanistan’s intelligence service said the country’s special forces killed a high-ranking official with the local Islamic State group affiliate in an operation in eastern Afghanistan. – Associated Press

The United States has proposed that hundreds of Taliban prisoners be transferred to house arrest in a supervised facility when they are freed from Afghan jails, three senior official sources said, a proposed solution for a deadlock that is holding up peace talks. – Reuters


Tokyo 2020 organisers on Monday unveiled the new schedule for the coronavirus-postponed Paralympics next year, with only minor modifications to the original calendar for the event. – Agence France-Presse

One of Australia’s most prestigious universities has been accused of censorship following its decision to delete social media posts promoting an article critical of Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong. – Financial Times 

Clara Ferreira Marques and Matthew Brooker write: Hong Kong’s rapid dismantling of its institutions has been unparalleled. Even Putin took years to mount his assault. Add in the background of a grim economic situation and the mishandling of a public health emergency, and the alarm among international businesses is only likely to grow. – Bloomberg  

Arye Gut writes: Relations between the two, as well as between Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani Jews, cannot be explained by simple mutual interest. Common values and common history permeate modern interstate relations. Both countries are enriched with human ties and determination to live in diverse and religiously tolerant societies. – Jerusalem Post 


The public dissonance between President Trump and his top national security team over Russia reached new heights in the past week. – Washington Post

The Russian defence ministry said it had sent an Su-27 fighter plane on Friday to intercept a U.S. surveillance plane over the Black Sea, prompting it to change course away from the Russian border, Russian news agencies reported. – Reuters 

Feeding incendiary documents to news outlets. Infiltrating activist groups. Sowing division and confusion. It might sound like a recap of Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 US election, but some of these same tactics were laid bare in a CNN television report on Soviet disinformation efforts back in 1983. – CNN

Robert C. O’Brien writes: No president since Reagan has shown such resolve to Moscow. Like Reagan, President Trump seeks another path with Russia — one in which Russia refrains from aggression abroad and becomes a friendly partner to the United States and Europe. In such a world, sanctions on Russia would be unnecessary, and trade between our countries would flourish. Russians, Americans and the world would all benefit from such a relationship. – Washington Post


As Belarusian state television aired footage of the arrests of 33 suspected Russian mercenaries near Minsk, the anchor explained why the men raised suspicions: They weren’t drinking alcohol or visiting entertainment spots and wore plain military-style clothing. […]The detentions on Wednesday have expanded an unusual run of tension between Belarus and Russia, once tight allies that have drifted apart as Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, tests policies independent of Moscow’s backing. – Washington Post 

France will push for financial sanctions under the EU’s 750 billion euro ($880 billion) coronavirus recovery fund against states that undermine fundamental human rights, its junior European affairs minister told the Financial Times newspaper on.ft.com/33iEmzj. – Reuters

The German defence minister said on Friday that she would hold talks after the summer with the premiers of states affected by U.S. plans to withdraw about 12,000 troops from Germany to see how the national armed forces can help those regions. – Reuters

Ukraine will ask Belarus to extradite 28 people, including nine Ukrainian citizens, whom Kyiv suspects of participating in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, reported the Interfax Ukraine news agency on Friday citing Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s office. – Reuters

Liz Truss, the UK’s international trade secretary, will express frustration at American officials this week over “punitive” tariffs levied on British goods in her first face-to-face meeting since negotiations for a trade agreement began. – Financial Times  

The United States will station a permanent garrison of troops in Poland, according to an agreement reached today between Washington and Warsaw. The announcement of the pact came just days after the Pentagon announced it was pulling 12,00 troops out of Germany. – Breaking Defense

Vladimir Kobets and David J. Kramer write: In a free and fair election, Belarusans would likely vote for a change in leadership and a shift in their country’s orientation toward the West. Neither Lukashenko nor Moscow wants that to happen. The stakes are high, and Western leaders should make clear that they stand for a free and fair process and with the people of Belarus, no matter what. – Washington Post 

Charlene Barshefsky writes: If Europe persists in its approach, US policymakers will have no choice but to treat it as a strategic threat. In the near term, it is difficult to imagine that the US will be able to strike a meaningful trade deal with the EU — a priority of both sides for many years — so long as the EU pursues the techno-nationalist moves aimed at the US. The Europeans need to reverse course before the economic and geopolitical damage cannot be undone. – Financial Times


Cities across Zimbabwe that had expected mass anti-corruption demonstrations were instead deserted on Friday as security forces deployed widely and police said that protesters would be “regarded as terrorists.” A prominent author and an opposition spokeswoman were among those arrested. – Washington Post 

Suspected militants from Islamist group Boko Haram killed at least 16 people and wounded seven early on Sunday in a grenade attack on a camp for displaced people in northern Cameroon, a local official said. – Reuters

U.S. Africa Command has been ordered to make plans to move out of its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, its commander announced in an early morning media release. – Military Times

The Americas

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Friday they were “extremely alarmed” by assertions that the American ambassador in Brazil had signaled to Brazilian officials they could help get President Trump re-elected by changing their trade policies. – New York Times

The Trump administration is willing to consider dropping its insistence on pursuing the death penalty to secure British cooperation in the prosecution of two admitted Islamic State detainees accused of involvement in the executions of American, British and other foreign hostages in Syria. – Washington Post 

The Supreme Court declined, 5-4, Friday to halt work on the border wall the Trump administration has been building without authorization from Congress, likely ensuring that more than 200 miles of the president’s signature project will be completed before litigation over its legality is resolved. – Wall Street Journal

US President Donald Trump called Sunday for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be re-sentenced to death after an appeals court overturned the death penalty. – Agence France-Presse

As the November 3 presidential vote nears, there are fresh signs that the American electoral system is again under attack from foreign adversaries. – Associated Press 

The affluent gated community of Basti Hills has long inspired speculation and envy among Iranians. Its name a tribute to California’s Beverly Hills, the development’s luxury mansions — complete with swimming pools, jacuzzis and stunning views over the surrounding mountains — are home to some of the wealthiest and best-connected figures in Iranian society. – Financial Times

U.S. officials frowned upon the opening of an Iranian supermarket in Venezuela’s capital, saying Thursday that any presence of Iran in the Western Hemisphere is “not something we look very favorably on.” – Associated Press

A coalition of political parties in Venezuela led by U.S.-backed Juan Guaidó said Sunday that it won’t participate in upcoming congressional elections called by officials loyal to President Nicolás Maduro. – Associated Press


The U.S. needs to coordinate with the international community in identifying and punishing those behind cyberattacks to deter future hacks, according to a co-chair of the Cyber Solarium Commission. – C4ISRNET

The congressionally chartered Cyberspace Solarium Commission told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the nation urgently needs a “continuity of economy” plan to guide recovery from a devastating cyber attack. – Breaking Defense 

Federal authorities say one of the gravest threats to the November election is a well-timed ransomware attack that could paralyze voting operations. The threat isn’t just from foreign governments, but any fortune-seeking criminal. – Associated Press  

China rejected on Friday charges that hackers linked to its government targeted biotech firm Moderna Inc, a leading U.S.-based coronavirus vaccine research developer, to steal data. – Reuters

The Trump administration will announce measures shortly against “a broad array” of Chinese-owned software deemed to pose national-security risks, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said. – Bloomberg  

Microsoft will continue to explore a purchase of Chinese-owned TikTok amid concerns about the popular video-sharing social network’s possible ties to the Chinese Communist Party, the company announced Sunday after CEO Satya Nadella spoke with President Trump. – Washington Examiner    

Tim Culpan writes: The idea that TikTok — without the U.K., India or dozens of other emerging markets — is worth $50 billion today is fanciful. ByteDance’s leadership can be sure that Nadella knows it, too. He has a fiduciary duty to his own shareholders to squeeze TikTok’s owners as hard as possible. After finessing regulators and stroking egos to get this deal done, Microsoft will rightfully expect a big discount. The size of which will prove Nadella’s worth and make this the deal of the decade. – Bloomberg 


The Defense Department announced Sunday that controversial nominee Anthony Tata has been appointed to fill the Pentagon’s No. 2 policy job, in a move that some members of Congress will see as circumventing the Senate’s confirmation process. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy is taking major steps in an attempt to shake off years of false starts and setbacks with the Littoral Combat Ship program, an effort Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said he’d oversee on his watch. – Defense News

The Army’s first iteration of new network tools, known as Capability Set ’21, was heavily influenced by existing network gaps identified by the 82nd Airborne on more than a year’s worth of deployments. – C4ISRNET

The Pentagon’s top IT official provided an update July 30 on a wide range of ongoing initiatives underway at the department as it continues to grapple with a remote workforce amid the coronavirus pandemic. – C4ISRNET

Up and coming U.S. government launch provider Rocket Lab says it has identified the anomaly behind a July 4 in-flight failure of one of its rockets, and the Federal Aviation Administration has cleared the company to resume launches, the company announced July 31. – C4ISRNET

The space economy continued its decade-long expansion in 2019, growing more than $9 billion to hit $423.8 billion, according to Space Foundation. This represents a 2.2 percent increase from the 2018 estimate of $414.75 billion. – Breaking Defense

Lt. Gen. David Deptula (ret.) and Douglas A. Birkey write: If past DoD budget cuts are any indicator, DoD budget “experts” will once again resort to their traditional monetary spreadsheets focused on unit cost and service-focused budget columns. Leadership from the very highest levels is crucial to ensure the very best options are preserved and prioritized. Joint cost-per-effect analysis is what will ensure a given amount of money will yield the most value at a time when it matters the most. – Defense News