Fdd's overnight brief

July 14, 2020

In The News


Iran’s currency took another big hit on Monday, falling to 234,000 rials against the U.S. dollar despite official promises to prevent the further devaluation of the national currency. – Radio Farda

Iranian police are investigating after a fire broke out at an industrial complex in northeast Iran where gas condensate storage tanks are sited, one of which exploded, the Mehr news agency reported on Monday. – Reuters

Iran’s judiciary said it had executed an Iranian agent linked to the CIA on Tuesday, its news site Mizan reported. – Reuters

Tehran’s new military agreement with Damascus has strengthened Syria’s chances of receiving Iranian designed and produced air defense systems to boost the war-torn country’s inefficient and weak anti-air networks. – Radio Farda

A spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned on Monday that Iran would “react decisively” if it is found that a regime or government was involved in the explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility, according to the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar news. – Jerusalem Post

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) Chairman Senator Joseph I. Lieberman and CEO Ambassador Mark D. Wallace released the following statement on the fifth anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Tuesday, July 14: “Five years after the inking of the Iran nuclear agreement, known as the JCPOA, its flaws are more apparent than ever[…].” – United Against Nuclear Iran


A roadside bomb planted by Syrian militants detonated near a joint Russian-Turkish patrol in northern Syria on Tuesday morning, injuring three Russian soldiers, the Russian Defence Ministry said. – Reuters

Turkey and the European Union clashed on Monday over Ankara’s decision to change the status of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque and its continued energy exploration in disputed Mediterranean waters. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: At stake now is not preserving the traditional notion of sovereign immunity on relatively minor issues, such as collecting on diplomatic missions’ parking tickets or prosecuting diplomats for automobile accidents, but rather accepting that a head of state can order thugs and hit men to target Americans exercising their constitutional rights on their own soil. If the court fails to hold Turkey to account for its agents’ deliberate actions in Sheridan Circle, it will effectively greenlight future murder and mayhem on American soil. – Washington Examiner


Ten new joint US-Israeli projects, including the makers of an artificial-intelligence based genetic testing technology and an autonomous driving system for agriculture machinery, will get a total of $8 million in funding from the US-Israel Binational Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation. – Time of Israel

A Tel Aviv court rejected on Sunday a request to order Israel to revoke the export license of spyware firm NSO Group, whose software is alleged to have been used by governments to spy on journalists and dissidents. – Haaretz

A former Palestinian activist from the Gaza Strip who hacked a man to death on suspicion of collaboration with Israel more than 30 years ago was assassinated on Sunday night, sparking public outcry and calls for the execution of the perpetrators. – Jerusalem Post

As part of a 1.5 billion krona (164 million USD) aid plan, the Swedish government agency SIDA transferred the funds to the Palestine Solidarity Association of Sweden – an organization that openly supports the BDS movement that calls to boycott and impose sanctions on Israel due to the conflict with the Palestinians. – Ynet

With US initiatives gaining steam to form a Western coalition that will avoid using Chinese 5G technology and instead develop alternatives, Israel can play an active role and contribute advanced technological capabilities, said a report by The Institute for National Security Studies on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

A professor from King Saud University in Riyadh published an article in Hebrew in an Israeli academic journal, which is unprecedented, according to Tel Aviv University. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Authority has arrested several people who said they would favor Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, corroborating sources said, though Ramallah denies holding them. – Agence France-Presse

Lahav Harkov writes: With Iran and China working on a multibillion-dollar 25-year economic and security deal, Israel has many reasons to be concerned and even alarmed. […]This is especially clear when it comes to the bolstering of Iran’s military through cooperation with China. Any of the new resources directed to the Islamic Republic’s army can potentially – and likely will – be turned on Israel. – Jerusalem Post


The United Arab Emirates wants to see a return of Libya’s oil production as soon as possible but with safeguards in place to prevent proceeds from fuelling further conflict in the north African country, a senior Emirati official tweeted on Monday. – Reuters

Turkey dismissed prospects of any imminent ceasefire in Libya on Monday, saying any deal incorporating the conflict’s existing frontlines would not benefit the Ankara-backed Government of National Accord. – Reuters

A delayed audit of Libya’s central bank is now contributing to a devastating oil blockade, the latest twist to a regional proxy war launched by Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar against the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Two Bahraini men who say they were tortured into making false confessions were sentenced to death for the fifth time on Monday in what international rights groups called another stain on Bahrain’s record of imprisoning, torturing and executing government critics. – New York Times

The International Monetary Fund urged Lebanese authorities on Monday to unite around a government rescue plan and warned that attempts to lower losses from the financial crisis could only delay recovery. – Reuters

In an article he posted on his Facebook account titled “Facts Regarding the Superiority of the Jewish Mind over the Arab Mind,” Egyptian researcher and intellectual Ahmed Saad Zayed wondered why the Jews, who number only 14 million worldwide, “control the world,” while the Muslims, who number 1.5 billion, lag behind. – Middle East Media Research Institute

An intelligence official for the Houthi rebel group in Yemen claimed on Sunday that they have a “bank of vital and important targets” in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. – Jerusalem Post

A coalition of rights groups said Monday that “repression” and “intimidation” are threatening free speech in Lebanon, hit by an economic meltdown and months of angry protests. – Agence France-Presse

Michael Knights and Alex Almeida write: Washington should proactively remind the Kadhimi government that the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement is intended to help the country defend itself against all threats, not just IS. Although the thirteen-nation Military Advisor Group (MAG) is in Iraq purely for the campaign against IS, the U.S. embassy has a broader mission, including counterterrorism, intelligence cooperation, security sector reform, and the provision of U.S. military equipment through defense sales and no-cost transfers. – Washington Institute


The U.S. declared its formal opposition to a swath of Chinese claims in the South China Sea, in an unusually direct challenge to Beijing’s efforts to assert control in the strategic waters. – Wall Street Journal

China on Tuesday described a U.S. rejection of its maritime claims in the South China Sea as completely unjustified and accused the U.S. of attempting to sow discord between China and the Southeast Asian countries with which it has territorial disputes. – Associated Press

Professor Wang Yiwei, the Director of the Center for International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, China, said in a July 7, 2020 interview on CGTN Arabic (China) that the U.S. is trying to control other countries and to get them to cut themselves off from China even though they prefer to remain neutral. He said that a “globalization of Man” is taking place and that the WHO must enjoy higher global stature, which he said American withdrawal is preventing. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: This is one of those Trump-era diplomatic moves—like moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem or pulling out of failing arms accords—that a more risk-averse Administration would not have tried. China won’t be happy. Yet the decision brings official U.S. policy in line with international law and geopolitical facts. No matter who wins the White House this year, a key priority of U.S. foreign policy in 2021 will be deterring Chinese lawlessness and expansion. – Wall Street Journal

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Anastasia Lin write: Beijing’s efforts to force American companies to support and comply with its propaganda and deception campaigns and furnish information on Chinese dissidents are similarly inimical to vital American interests. Preventing Western companies from participating in Chinese propaganda campaigns would diminish China’s soft power and impair its ability to use economic blackmail as a tool of statecraft. – Wall Street Journal

Benjamin Brimelow writes: That said, it is important to bear in mind that China does not seek to challenge the US in a military conflict across the entire world or to become the same type of globally-based military as the US. Rather, it seeks to assert its authority in its home territory and waters. China has a massive advantage in that most of the likely conflict scenarios it faces would take place very close to its territory. This means China may not need the same level of competence as the US, as it will be able to bring more troops, ships and aircraft, and weapons to bear in a fight without facing the challenges of operating over distance. – Business Insider

South Asia

A Taliban attack on a government intelligence headquarters in northern Afghanistan killed 11 security forces and injured dozens of civilians, further straining a peace process meant to pave the way for a withdrawal of American troops. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has downgraded Pakistan’s air safety rating after the agency raised concerns about pilot certifications. – Reuters

Salvatore Babones writes: Much like Xinjiang but much less reported in the international media, China has turned Tibet into a virtual police state within the larger Chinese police state. China has also subordinated its genuine desire for friendlier relations with India to the all-important domestic goal of political control. It may be more than 800 miles from Lhasa to the LAC in Ladakh, but China isn’t taking any chances. As it has shown with the Hong Kong security law, the Communist Party is willing to pay any economic price to achieve its political goals. China will pay dearly indeed for picking a fight with India. But for China, money is no object with repression is the goal. – The National Interest


Defying warnings from local officials that the Hong Kong opposition’s unofficial primary vote could be illegal under a sweeping new security law, hundreds of thousands of people chose avowedly pro-democracy candidates to run in citywide elections this year, results released Monday showed. – New York Times

An American-British member of an advisory body to China’s sovereign-wealth fund has stepped down from her post due to concerns over Chinese restrictions on free speech, including Beijing’s controversial new national-security law for Hong Kong. – Wall Street Journal

The European Union and its member states will take coordinated action to respond to China’s tightening grip on Hong Kong, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said Monday, including looking at export bans for sensitive technologies, widening visa possibilities for the island’s citizens and reconsidering extradition arrangements. – Wall Street Journal

Top advisers to President Donald Trump have ruled out undermining the Hong Kong dollar’s peg to the greenback as they seek to punish China for infringing on the territory’s political freedoms, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

China’s projection of its military might into Asian waters and North Korea’s modernization of its ballistic-missile arsenal pose risks to Japanese and regional security, the Japanese Ministry of Defense said. – Bloomberg

China has described a primary by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy parties as a “serious provocation”, warning that some campaigning may have breached a tough new security law it imposed on the city – Agence France-Presse

In the autumn of 2015, on a mission to Beijing that would pave the way for President Xi Jinping’s triumphal state visit to the UK that October, George Osborne employed a phrase that has come to haunt Sino-British relations. […]Five years later, little remains of Mr Osborne’s glittering vision. Despite its straitened finances, the political shock of Brexit and a consequent need for global trade and investment every bit as urgent as Mr Osborne’s, Boris Johnson’s government is taking a much harder look at China. – Financial Times

China is beginning “mass production” of fifth-generation J-20B stealth fighter jets in a bid to seize control of the local airspace from neighboring U.S. allies. – Washington Examiner

Japan’s annual defence review accuses China of pushing its territorial claims amid the coronavirus pandemic and suspects Beijing of spreading propaganda and disinformation as it provides medical aid to nations fighting COVID-19. – Reuters

Armenia and Azerbaijan blamed each other Monday for skirmishes on their volatile border that has left four Azerbaijani soldiers dead and several troops wounded on both sides. – Associated Press

Greta Nabbs-Keller writes: As the strategic environment of the Indo-Pacific deteriorates, Australia’s relationship with Indonesia will assume even greater importance. Canberra must be ready to accept, however, that despite growing strategic convergence, its views will not always align with those in Jakarta, and there are relationship risks ahead that require policy consideration now. As a result, new and innovative modalities of cooperation with Indonesia and other regional states will need to be formulated and adequately resourced if Australia is to achieve its new strategic objectives in the Indo-Pacific. – War on the Rocks


Russia charged former military journalist Ivan Safronov with state treason on Monday, his lawyer said, accusations that have sent a chill through Russia’s media community which has protested over what it says is his unfair treatment. – Reuters

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday, the department said. A statement informing the press of the call included few details about what specifically was said. It did, however, mention that the two discussed Afghanistan, election security, and convening the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council for the U.N.’s 75th anniversary. – Washington Examiner

The Moscow-Beijing axis outwardly appears stronger as illustrated in a recent telephone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. In the conversation, Xi Jinping congratulated Vladimir Putin on the successful national vote on the amendments to the Russian Constitution. The two leaders noted this step’s importance for strengthening Russian statehood and the country’s stable socio-political development. – Middle East Media Research Institute

In an interview with the well-known Ukrainian journalist Dmitry Gordon, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist politician, who heads the “Liberal-Democratic” party in the Russian Duma (a party that he founded a few months prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union that has been called neither liberal nor democratic) made the following prediction: “It will be the end of America. It will be the end of Europe. Russian will rule the world because we have the strongest army in the world […].” – Middle East Media Research Institute


Poland’s nationalist President Andrzej Duda narrowly defeated his liberal challenger to clinch a second term, a razor-thin election whose results spoke to the European country’s intense political polarization. Mr. Duda, who received the support of President Trump during the campaign and is backed by the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice party, had received 51.21% of the vote with tallies in from 99.7% of polling stations, the country’s National Electoral Commission said Monday. – Wall Street Journal

French judges on Monday ordered two men to stand trial for the brutal 2018 killing of an elderly Jewish woman that prompted an outcry over a rise in anti-Semitic acts. – Agence France-Presse

A 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard has been charged with war crimes during the Holocaust in what could be one of the last cases of its kind, a German court said Monday. – Agence France-Presse

The UK government is preparing to change course over the role of Huawei in its 5G telecoms network. Six months after agreeing it could have a limited role, ministers look set to exclude the Chinese company, with no new equipment installed from next year. The move is in part a result of pressure from Washington. – BBC

A German government official has criticized bystanders for a “lack of civil courage” after a Munich rabbi was verbally accosted last week. – Algemeiner


The head of Somalia’s military escaped unhurt and one civilian was killed on Monday when a suicide attacker drove a bomb-laden car into a convoy in the capital Mogadishu, according to a military spokesman and an ambulance service. The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group said it was behind the attack. – Reuters

Police in Mali’s capital Bamako fired into the air on Monday to disperse protesters calling for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign, witnesses said, hours after the United Nations condemned the use of lethal force against demonstrators. – Reuters

Militiamen killed a United Nations peacekeeper from Rwanda and injured two others in an ambush on a convoy in northwest Central African Republic on Monday, the U.N. said. – Reuters

An alleged Islamist arrested in Mali is set to go on trial Tuesday at the International Criminal Court for orchestrating war crimes and crimes against humanity in the city of Timbuktu. – Voice of America

The Americas

Maduro has leveraged the failed mission as a propaganda coup, claiming it is evidence of an effort by the United States, Colombia and the Venezuelan opposition to kill him. Its action-movie details have provided him with a welcome public distraction from the country’s broken economy and spreading coronavirus outbreak. – Washington Post

As U.S. sanctions scare away the world’s largest shippers from Venezuela’s oil industry, new players are willing to brave the heightened risks and help keep socialist leader Nicolás Maduro afloat, according to a new report. – Associated Press

Far-right white nationalist Canadian politician Travis Patron – leader of the Canadian Nationalist Party – shared antisemitic rhetoric and conspiracy theories involving Jews to the political party’s official social media channels on Saturday – personally labelling the religious group a “parasitic tribe.” – Jerusalem Post

Veteran U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson plans to travel to Caracas to meet with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to discuss the status of several American citizens held as prisoners there, his foundation said on Monday. – Reuters


Spooked by a law that takes aim at Hong Kong’s previously unrestricted Internet, tech giants are scrambling for legal and expertise on how to navigate a market that has changed fundamentally. The Washington Post spoke to employees at several U.S. tech companies who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive political matters. At least one tech company has shelved plans for future investment in Hong Kong, a business consultant said. – Washington Post

Rear Adm. William Chase III has been selected to be the senior military adviser for cyber policy to the undersecretary of defense for policy as well as the deputy principal cyber adviser to the defense secretary, according to a July 13 news release from the Pentagon. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Secret Service last week announced it is merging its Electronic Crimes Task Forces and Financial Crimes Task Forces into a unified network dubbed the Cyber Fraud Task Forces, a move it attributed to the growing convergence of cyber and traditional financial crimes. – Reuters

Katherine Gronberg writes: Today, readiness also means forces have a comprehensive and automated way to monitor so they can instantaneously know whether and how malicious cyber activity may have denied, degraded, disrupted, deceived or even destroyed systems. By delivering unprecedented network awareness, automation of threat response and the reduction of cyber risk across the enterprise, C2C advances DoD enterprise cyber capabilities while meeting this timeless demand for informed decision-making and mission readiness. – C4ISRNET


The Navy announced several appointments today for high-level jobs, including a new director of warfare integration and a new commander of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command. – USNI News

The Air Force has officially placed an order for its first batch of F-15EXs, awarding Boeing a contract on Monday that puts a ceiling value for the entire program close to $23 billion. – Defense News

That scenario is similar to one the Air Force Research Laboratory plans to test this year using a Collaborative Small Diameter Bomb, one of the two munitions the Air Force is developing in the Golden Horde program. – Defense News

The amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, which burned through the night while in port in San Diego, was at the tail end of two years of upgrades supporting the integration of the F-35B, according to Navy documents. That means the Navy will now have fewer options to deploy the next-generation fighter in the Pacific. – Defense News

Four National Reconnaissance Office payloads will be launched into orbit July 15, continuing the agency’s efforts to leverage the small commercial launch market for its missions. – C4ISRNET

Josh Campbell writes: As a first step, NATO should establish oversight on the readiness of national forces allocated to the “Four Thirties.” Then, the alliance should adopt additional strategies that support tactical readiness for these forces by standardizing training methodologies and establishing their wartime task organization before a crisis starts, not after. Given the challenges associated with NATO’s land component, the alliance should start with member states’ armies rather than the other services. – War on the Rocks

Long War

Facebook accounts linked to the Islamic State group (ISIS) are still finding ways to evade detection on the social media platform, a new report claims. – BBC

Police detained two Algerian citizens in an anti-terrorism operation in Spain’s second largest city Barcelona on Tuesday morning, the regional Catalan police force said. – Reuters

A Lebanese man accused of financing Hezbollah was freed from jail in the United States last month as a result of indirect contacts between Tehran and Washington that are expected to yield more releases, three senior Middle East officials said. – Reuters