Fdd's overnight brief

August 4, 2020

In The News


Boochani had been a journalist in Iran; now he started texting information about Manus to journalists. As he grew more bold, he moved on to writing his own dispatches in publications including The Guardian and giving speeches and interviews via livestream. He co-directed a documentary, using his phone to shoot intimate footage and interviews within the detention center’s walls. – New York Times Magazine

The United States and Iran will have a brief window between their upcoming presidential elections in which to ease dangerous tensions, according to a new report from a Washington think tank that proposes pathways for resuming talks on Iran’s nuclear program and regional security. – Reuters

Australia’s ambassador to Iran has met with a British-Australian academic reported to be serving a 10-year sentence for espionage and says she is in good health, Canberra said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A fire broke out at an Iranian industrial area near Tehran on Tuesday, Iran’s state TV reported, the latest in a string of fires and explosions, some of which have hit sensitive sites. – Reuters

The number of fatalities from coronavirus in Iran may have been almost three times larger than official counts, the BBC’s Persian news service said in a report based on data from an unidentified person close to the Iranian authorities. – Bloomberg

Iran’s main stocks index has swept to a new record high, driven in part by a push into equities among the country’s ordinary savers. – Financial Times

Burning American flags will help Iranians establish solidarity with the protesters in the US, a Tehran University professor said in an interview last month, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). – Jerusalem Post

Iranian positions near Albukamal, a key border city in Syria that is near Iraq, were hit by “unidentified jets,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. – Jerusalem Post

David Shayan writes: Most Iranians are not interested in the nuclear program, missiles and terrorism. Evidence of this can be found in their indifference to the mysterious explosions at Revolutionary Guards sites in Iran in recent weeks. However, when the Iranians know that someone in the West supports them, hope will arise. This is a window of opportunity to overthrow the regime in Iran and to establish peace with the Iranian people. We must not waste the opportunity without at least making the effort. – Jerusalem Post


Russian warplanes bombed Syrian rebel-held mountainous areas in the western coastal province of Latakia on Monday as Syrian government forces hit the area with artillery and rocket fire, an opposition group and a war monitor said. – Reuters

Syria’s air defenses on Monday intercepted ‘hostile targets’ above Damascus’ southwestern countryside, state media reported. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Russian forces regularly run into friction with US patrols in eastern Syria. In February 2018 Russian contractors even tried to attack oil fields near Deir Ezzor that were run by the SDF. Turkey’s Syrian rebel allies often cut water to half a million people near Hasakah. It’s hard to export oil under normal circumstances from poor, isolated and war-torn eastern Syria. Lack of water and several major countries all trying to undermine each other makes it even harder. – Jerusalem Post


As tensions remained high in the North, soldiers thwarted an attempt to place explosive devices near the Syrian border fence late Sunday night, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced Monday. – Jerusalem Post

The world’s largest plane — the Antanov An-225 Mriya — landed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday, delivering a cargo of American military “Oshkosh” trucks that were to be fitted with a pair of Iron Dome aerial defense batteries purchased by the US Army. – Algemeiner

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue of possible annexation of parts of the West Bank for the first time in weeks on Monday, asserting it remained on the government’s agenda. – Algemeiner

A total of 2.6 million Israelis — approximately 28% of the population — do not have access to adequate protection from rocket fire, according to a new State Comptroller’s report. – Algemeiner

Avi Berkowitz, the US administration’s envoy to the Middle East, is continuing to work on the implementation of US President Donald Trump’s peace proposal, including conducting meetings with interlocutors preparing for possible Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, according to a well-placed source. – Times of Israel

The Israeli property registry for the West Bank is hand-written with no complete back-up copy, even though land ownership is one of the key points of conflict between Israeli and Palestinians. This includes both recent land transactions and those from the Jordanian and British Mandate periods. – Jerusalem Post


Lebanon named the president’s diplomatic adviser as new foreign minister on Monday after Nassif Hitti quit the post, blaming a lack of political will to enact reforms to halt a financial meltdown which he warned could turn Lebanon into a failed state. – Reuters

Fifteen years after a truck bomb killed Lebanon’s former Sunni leader Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, triggering regional upheaval, a U.N.-backed court trying four suspects from Shi’ite Hezbollah delivers a verdict on Friday that could shake the country again. – Reuters

Zeina Karam writes: The words appear to have fallen largely on deaf ears. Lebanese politicians can’t agree on the size of the government’s losses, much less carry out reforms to end the corruption from which they profit. A complete breakdown of Lebanon threatens the wider region, potentially leading to security vacuums that could be exploited by extremists. – Times of Israel

Middle East & North Africa

A more aggressive, nationalist and religious Turkey is increasingly at odds with its Western allies over Libya, Syria, Iraq, Russia and the energy resources of the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s tilt toward strongman rule after 17 years with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the helm also has unsettled other NATO members. – New York Times

The trial opened Monday of Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni, who has become a figurehead of press freedom in the North African country, with the prosecution calling for a four-year prison term. – Agence France-Presse

Ethiopia may be running out of time to negotiate an agreement on the filling and operation of a mega-dam on the Nile River thats pitted the Horn of Africa nation against Egypt and Sudan, the U.S. State Department said. – Bloomberg

In a move that illustrates new levels of boldness, Russian fighters have seized one of the largest oil fields in Libya. The Es Sider oil field was one of the main economic pipelines for the Government of National Accord. Over the last seven months, the Libyan National Army (LNA) has held a stranglehold on oil exports.  – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korea is pressing on with its nuclear weapons program and several countries believe it has “probably developed miniaturized nuclear devices to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles,” according to a confidential U.N. report. – Reuters

North Korea is jump-starting the illegal export of coal after shutting down almost all shipments during the first few months of the year while it sought to block the spread of the coronavirus, according to a confidential United Nations report. – Bloomberg

Foreign aid groups struggling to protect North Korea from the coronavirus pandemic have been forced to borrow money from the government of dictator Kim Jong Un. The fallout from international sanctions has disrupted deliveries of medical supplies into the impoverished country and blocked the flow of funding to non-governmental aid organisations. – Financial Times

A South Korean court is set to start liquidating assets of a Japanese company to compensate Koreans conscripted to work during colonial occupation, straining ties between two key U.S. partners just as the Trump administration needs their help in countering China. – Bloomberg


China will take retaliatory measures if all Chinese journalists based in the United States are forced to leave the country, including targeting U.S. journalists in Hong Kong, Global Times Editor in Chief Hu Xijin said on Tuesday. – Reuters

China’s abuse of human rights and intensifying crackdown on Hong Kong will provoke a major international backlash, according to one of Beijing’s closest partners in Europe. “If China sticks to its new course, the Western world will react more decisively,” Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told local media. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: Compromise, put simply, is not a word in Xi’s little red rule book. HSBC had better wake up to this reality and more actively diversify out of Hong Kong and the Chinese market. It’s clear that Xi is committed to his pursuit of global hegemony. So at some point or later, HSBC’s customers outside China will force it to figure out that Xi’s price tag is too high. – Washington Examiner

Sheng Zhang writes: At this moment, the most important question about China’s future policies in the Middle East is not about this agreement itself, but about whether China will still be able to maintain a balanced stance between different blocs of regional actors as its engagements in the region deepens and enlarges. – Washington Institute

Michael Doran and Peter Rough write: As China works to make the Middle East a factor in the Western Pacific balance of power, the United States should respond by bringing the Pacific to the Middle East. China’s energy supply lines and its aspiration to become the dominant power in the Persian Gulf should become a regular and significant part of America’s discussions with its Pacific partners and India. The goal of this dialogue should be to arrive not just at a shared picture of the threat but also at strategies for assuring that China’s supply lines remain highly vulnerable. – Tablet Magazine


A sophisticated attack on a major prison in eastern Afghanistan that began Sunday night was finally shut down Monday evening, after scores were killed or injured and hundreds of prisoners escaped. – Washington Post

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a video meeting on Monday with the Taliban’s chief negotiator, Mullah Baradar Akhund, to discuss the state of the Afghanistan peace process, an insurgent spokesman said. – Reuters

Afghanistan will convene a grand assembly of elders, known as the loya jirga, in Kabul on Friday to decide the fate of hundreds of prisoners the Taliban insist should be released before entering peace talks with the government. – Reuters

South Asia

When Prime Minister Imran Khan boasted last year that Pakistan had one of the “freest presses in the world,” journalists were quick to object, saying that intimidation of reporters across the country was intensifying. It has only gotten worse since. – New York Times

Sri Lanka’s powerful, popular Rajapaksa brothers are likely to get strong support in parliamentary elections Wednesday that could add to their family political dynasty and their ability to amend the constitution – a prospect raising fears of weakening government institutions and the rule of law. – Associated Press

As Hindus prepare to celebrate the groundbreaking of a long-awaited temple at a disputed ground in northern India, Muslims say they have no firm plans yet to build a new mosque at an alternative site they were granted to replace the one torn down by Hindu hard-liners decades ago. – Associated Press


This month’s joint U.S.-Thai military exercises in Thailand have drawn criticism from Thais on social media after authorities announced that dozens of visiting American troops would be undergoing their mandatory 14-day quarantine in Bangkok hotels. – Reuters

France said on Monday it would not ratify a 2017 extradition treaty with Hong Kong after China introduced a controversial national security law for the global financial hub. – Reuters

China said on Monday Hong Kong will suspend its extradition agreement with New Zealand in response to Wellington suspending its existing extradition treaty with the city. – Reuters


A Russian diplomat said on Monday a group of more than 30 suspected Russian mercenaries detained in Belarus last week were only passing through Minsk and were on their way to an unnamed Latin American state. – Reuters

Weeks of anti-government protests in Bulgaria have eroded public support for the centre-right GERB government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, with opinion polls showing deepening political fragmentation amid concerns over corruption. – Reuters

Serbia has bought a new generation of medium-range, radar-guided surface-to-air missiles from China in a new sign of deepening cooperation between Beijing and Belgrade. – Reuters

The third round of negotiations entered its second week on Monday and the British government hopes to make headway across the board. But with former Vice President Joe Biden holding a commanding lead in the polls over Donald Trump, U.K. negotiators face the prospect of a change in the lineup of the opposing team before a final deal is struck. – Politico

A little over a month after he was booted from YouTube for consistently posting antisemitic content, the French comedian and agitator Dieudonné has been permanently banned from the Facebook and Instagram social media platforms for the same offense. – Algemeiner

Benjamin Silverstein writes: The NATO roadmap to better space security starts with defining a strategy and a concept of operations to reestablish an effective deterrence posture in space. Based on these developments, NATO will be able to focus joint training and exercises to enhance allied capacities to prevent, defend against, and recover from attacks on space infrastructure. In turn, these activities will demonstrate allied resolve to protect and leverage space systems in broader transatlantic security missions. – War on the Rocks

Tom Rogan writes: Roth’s words are also a rebuke to Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, both of whom have qualified their criticisms of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the lowest possible level. True, Roth isn’t the leader of his nation or an EU president. But he is a rising star on the German center-left, and his words offer an overdue jolt to the system. China has overplayed its hand, and Europe is finally waking up, albeit slowly. – Washington Examiner

The Americas

A review by the Justice Department and FBI of their practices for seeking approval of intelligence-related surveillance found that nearly all of the inaccuracies and omissions identified in a scathing internal watchdog report issued late last year were minor or involved paperwork problems. – Politico

Eli Lake writes: Second, and more important, a statement about the elections would strengthen the resolve of Venezuela’s neighbors that have supported Guaido’s elevation and Maduro’s ouster. For Latin American countries that have followed Trump’s lead, a faux election in December would be an attractive excuse to improve relations with Maduro’s regime. Biden should make it clear now that if he wins, they will be expected to stay the course that Trump set in 2019. – Bloomberg

Ben Cahill writes: The PPP/C has promised to review Guyana’s fiscal terms and renegotiate PSCs—but has stopped short of calling for retroactive changes to the Stabroek Block PSC. This seems to have reassured the project partners, but it is not impossible that Ali’s government will change tack. At a minimum, even as the political situation settles, it could take months to make key personnel appointments and review terms and regulations. These delays are no doubt frustrating for investors, but they could ensure more transparency and deliberation over oil sector governance at a critical period for Guyana. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


There is another message, too, which is that China’s Internet industry for the first time has attained the triple threat of engineering know-how, marketing sheen and multicultural sensibility to deliver not just a domestic but an international hit. So the battle over viral short-video app TikTok is not about its current reach to American teens, but the potential reach of this catchy communication format from China. – Washington Post

Washington’s ultimatum to the Chinese owner of TikTok—sell the app’s U.S. operations or leave the country—is hardening long-held suspicions in China that the U.S. aims to sabotage the country’s efforts to grow its technology, while raising concerns about the precedent it could set for Chinese companies with global ambitions as U.S.-China relations unravel. – Wall Street Journal

Documents on UK-US trade talks, leaked ahead of the 2019 general election, were stolen from an email account belonging to Conservative MP Liam Fox, it has emerged. – BBC

In recent weeks, several top IT officials have said on virtual events that their departments are discussing concrete steps to move toward zero-trust architectures and away from using the phrase as just buzzword for cybersecurity. Zero-trust is a network architecture that inherently distrusts the user and continuously verifies the identity of the user accessing data. – C4ISRNET


After years of working various jobs related to security cooperation, Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper took over the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency in August 2017. It was an appointment that coincided with a major push by the Trump administration to increase weapon sales as an economic driver. Three years later, as he gets ready to retire, Hooper sat down with Defense News for an exclusive exit interview. – Defense News

The coronavirus pandemic has caused another delay for the U.S. Army’s plagued M113 replacement program, which has struggled with manufacturing problems as the BAE Systems-made Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle entered low-rate initial production, according to the company’s second quarter fiscal 2020 earnings briefing released last week. – Defense News

The venerable U-2 took another step toward the Pentagon’s vision of 21st-century warfare, thanks to a recent demonstration in which it relayed sensor data from F-35 aircraft through Lockheed Martin communications gear to an Army missile-command system, company officials said Monday. – Defense One

The Army is developing long-range hypersonic and intermediate-range anti-ship weapons as key components of its emerging strategy in the Western Pacific, the service’s top officer said last week. – USNI News

American firm Raytheon Technologies and Israeli-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems have formed a joint venture to build the Iron Dome missile defense system in the United States, the companies announced Aug. 3. – Defense News

Col. Keith Zuegel (ret.) writes: The U.S. Air Force remains the world’s predominant air force; however, its dominance is endangered. Air superiority is not a birthright. The fledgling U.S. Space Force remains the world’s leader in military space; however, without resources and congressional focus, it will be challenged by other world powers. This is the fourth quarter of the budget season, so Congress should recognize and support both services now — before it’s too late. – Defense News

Trump Administration

State Department officials voiced concern over risks to civilians before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rammed through $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies, a former aide was quoted Monday as telling lawmakers. – Agence France-Presse

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wants a TikTok sale to Microsoft. But on Monday, Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro took to CNN to say the potential deal makes him uncomfortable, while President Donald Trump said a portion of any TikTok sale should go to the U.S. Treasury — a move critics likened to a “public shakedown.” – Politico

A Manhattan prosecutor’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s finances goes beyond ‘hush money’ payments during the 2016 campaign and includes allegations of bank and insurance fraud, according to a court filing Monday. – Politico