Fdd's overnight brief

July 15, 2020

In The News


Iranians from all walks of life — teachers, doctors, designers, cooks, actors, directors, artists, homemakers, bloggers — have taken to social media with a message for the government: Stop the executions. – New York Times

Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Tuesday it was soon to blame human error for the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger airliner near Tehran in January, challenging the findings of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization (CAO). – Reuters

Iran has claimed that Switzerland delivered a message from the United States “to demand Iran not to give a response” to the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, confirming months-long speculation about the Swiss diplomatic channel. – The National Interest

A provincial official in Iran has said that ignoring the impact of sanctions on the country’s economy is “the wrong approach” and he emphasized that sanctions “have broken the back of the economy.” – Radio Farda

Iran’s head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force  Esmail Ghaani slammed the US and Israel and  said both countries  would be punished and that only “difficult” days were ahead. He praised a fire aboard a US ship, the Bonhomee Richard as divine punishment. “America lit a fire and today is on fire.” – Jerusalem Post

Iranian media have been caught lying to cover up the true locations of the mysterious explosions which have rocked the Islamic Republic in recent weeks. – Arutz Sheva


Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin has acknowledged in private conversations that no attention is currently being given in Washington to Israeli plans to annex up to 30 percent of the West Bank, according to a Tuesday Army Radio report. – Times of Israel

At least one gunshot was fired from a passing car at a military post in the northern West Bank on Tuesday night, the Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday. – Times of Israel

A senior Hamas commander who purportedly defected to Israel provided it with “sensitive intelligence” about the terror group’s operations, anonymous sources told Saudi network Al Arabiya. – Times of Israel

Finance Minister Yisrael Katz ordered an immediate halt to the provision of budgetary assistance to nonprofits and social organizations assisting illegal infiltrators, following the report on Arutz Sheva which revealed that far-left organizations plan to take advantage of the new aid and receive budgets from the state. – Arutz Sheva


An Egyptian dissident whose online videos ignited a flurry of rare antigovernment protests last year is fighting against extradition from Spain, as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt campaigns to silence his most vocal critics abroad. – New York Times

A major fire broke out after a leak of oil from the Shuqair-Mostorod pipeline next to a busy highway in a Cairo suburb on Tuesday and 17 people were injured, authorities said. – Reuters

A prominent Egyptian journalist who had been jailed on charges of broadcasting false news has died of Covid-19, raising fears that the pandemic may be spreading undetected in Egypt’s notoriously crowded prisons. – The Guardian


The Houthi rebel group in Yemen arrested Jews in the Kharif District of the ‘Amran Governorate northwest of Sana’a as part of “ethnic cleansing” efforts as well as looting money from various sects and groups, according to the Egyptian Al-Mesryoon newspaper. – Jerusalem Post

Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly Ethiopians, are stranded in Yemen and at least 14,500 have been rounded up and forcibly transferred internally amid fears migrants contribute to the spread of COVID-19, the U.N. migration agency said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Iran has been closely watching the use of drone and missile attack combinations being used by its Houthi allies in Yemen. This week, the Houthi rebels announced yet another new type of ballistic missile, showing footage of drones and other weapons they have used in recent years. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

The U.N.’s highest court for disputes between countries sided with Qatar on Tuesday in its legal fight with several Gulf states that imposed an air blockade against Doha. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Competition (GAC) said on Tuesday it had permanently canceled the license of Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports, which has been barred from broadcasting in the kingdom since mid-2017 due to a dispute with Qatar. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates has postponed the launch of its mission to Mars for a second time due to weather conditions at the launch site in Japan, the government’s communications office said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The United Nations has raised “serious concerns of structural racial discrimination against non-nationals” in World Cup host nation Qatar, in a highly critical report to be presented to the UN human rights council this week. – The Guardian


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed in a phone call to work more closely in Libya to ensure lasting stability in the country, the Turkish presidency said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Libya’s eastern-based parliament has called for Egypt to directly intervene in the country’s civil war to counter Turkish support for the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in the capital Tripoli. – Reuters

Geoffrey Aronson writes: The battle for control of Libya’s destiny now features a strategic démarche by Turkey, in support of the GNA, to defeat a working alliance linking Egypt, the UAE, France, and Russia to the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Hifter. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Eighteen major US Jewish organizations in the United States called on the US on Tuesday to exert pressure on Jordan’s King Abdullah to extradite Ahlam Tamimi, the Jordanian terrorist who orchestrated the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two American nationals. – Times of Israel

Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party Ennahda, the biggest party in the parliament, decided on Wednesday to withdraw confidence from the government, a senior official in Ennahda told Reuters. – Reuters

Facing a worsening economic crisis and with little chance of Western or oil-rich Arab countries providing assistance without substantial reforms, Lebanon’s cash-strapped government is looking east, hoping to secure investments from China that could bring relief. – Associated Press

Korean Peninsula

A South Korean city that is home to the largest U.S. overseas military base has asked for coronavirus tests on American soldiers before they arrive, amid concerns over a recent spike in imported cases, officials said on Wednesday. – Reuters

South Korea imports no Iran crude oil for June and a year ago, preliminary data from Korea Customs Service showed on Wednesday. The world’s fifth-largest crude buyer imported a total 10 million tonnes of crude last month against 11.5 million tonnes imported a year ago, the data also showed. – Reuters

A U.S. airman who went missing last week returned “on his own volition” to Osan Air Base nearly a week after he was reported absent from his unit, a spokesman said Wednesday. […]Wing commander Col. John Gonzales expressed gratitude to U.S. security forces teams, South Korean police, community partners and people on base “for quickly coming together and helping us locate him safely.” – Stars and Stripes


More than a dozen scientific papers published by Chinese researchers in internationally peer-reviewed journals are being withdrawn after an investigation this month highlighted the apparent reuse of images across more than 100 academic articles, amid increased concern about scientific integrity raised by the fight against the coronavirus. – Wall Street Journal

Beijing officials said a round of unofficial legislative primaries held by Hong Kong’s political opposition over the weekend “blatantly challenges” a new national security law, as pro-democracy candidates are positioned for a strong showing in elections this fall. – Wall Street Journal

For years, officials and historians have dismissed the idea that a new Cold War was emerging between the United States and China. The contours of today’s world, the argument went, are simply incomparable to the decades when the United States and the Soviet Union squared off in an existential struggle for supremacy. – New York Times

China’s commerce ministry said on Tuesday that the United States’ “warning” to U.S. companies working in the western Xinjiang region had destabilised the global supply chain. – Reuters

The Trump administration plans to soon scrap a 2013 agreement between U.S. and Chinese auditing authorities, a senior State Department official said, a move that could foreshadow a broader crackdown on U.S.-listed Chinese firms under fire for sidestepping American disclosure rules. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday shut the door on “Phase 2” trade negotiations with China, saying he does not want to talk to Beijing about trade because of the coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

China’s ambassador to Britain said the decision to strip Huawei equipment out of the country’s 5G network was disappointing and wrong and called into question Britain’s openness to foreign investors. – Reuters

President Donald Trump on Tuesday ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to punish China for what he called “oppressive actions” against the former British colony, prompting Beijing to warn of retaliatory sanctions. – Reuters

China’s government has warned it will protect Chinese companies after Washington said enterprises may face legal trouble if they help carry out abuses in the Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang. – Associated Press

The U.S. will no longer remain on the sidelines when China uses “gangster tactics” to get its way in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday. – USNI News

Joseph Bosco writes: Those measures would reduce Beijing’s capacity for domestic oppression and international aggression. It also would pave the way for a vigorous information campaign by the revitalized U.S. broadcast agencies to bring liberating truth about their communist rulers to the Chinese people. It would be the West, then, that would win “Cold War II” without fighting. – The Hill


The New York Times said Tuesday it will transfer some of its staff out of Hong Kong because of the uncertainties about practicing journalism in the Chinese territory under its newly imposed national security law. – Associated Press

A brutal day of hand-to-hand combat on the India-China border last month may accomplish what years of Pentagon and White House outreach has struggled to achieve: draw the U.S. and India closer militarily. – Bloomberg

The Tokyo Olympics may have to be postponed again if the novel coronavirus mutates into a stronger pathogen, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a prominent Japanese government adviser, said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Chinese coastguard and navy ships intruded into Malaysian waters in the disputed South China Sea 89 times between 2016 to 2019, and often remained in the area even after being turned away by the Malaysian navy, the government said in a report on Tuesday. – Reuters

China will sanction Lockheed Martin for involvement in the latest U.S. arms sale to Chinese-claimed Taiwan, Beijing said on Tuesday, adding tension to its troubled relationship with the United States. – Reuters

Young activists and localist candidates dominated Hong Kong’s unofficial pro-democracy primaries over the weekend, with hundreds of thousands of people voting despite warnings the election could violate the territory’s new security law imposed by Beijing. – Associated Press

Armenia and Azerbaijan forces fought Tuesday with heavy artillery and drones, leaving at least 16 people killed on both sides, including an Azerbaijani general, in the worst outbreak of hostilities in years. – Associated Press

U.S. policymakers are warning Armenia and Azerbaijan to stand down after fourteen people died in a deadly border clash between the two post-Soviet republics. – The National Interest

China’s new security law has sent a chill through Hong Kong’s schools and universities with many teachers fearful the city’s reputation for academic freedom and excellence is now at risk. – Agence France-Presse

Nathan Law, one of the most prominent leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and who fled to the UK last month, has called on western countries to impose sanctions on Chinese officials. – Financial Times

Gregory B. Poling writes: But in the long term, if successfully couched within a broader policy combining pressure on Beijing and greater international coalition building to support Southeast Asian parties, it could help steer China toward a compromise that the international community could live with. And that ultimately is the best chance to peacefully manage the South China Sea disputes. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, Russia’s septuagenarian nationalist firebrand, long functioned as a safety valve for public discontent, corralling protest votes but then supporting President Vladimir V. Putin at key junctures. Now, he says, the Kremlin treats his party “like idiots.” – New York Times

Russian authorities on Tuesday demanded prison terms for three members of a youth group charged with creating an extremist organization, in a case that elicited public outrage and has been seen as politically motivated. – Associated Press

Russia’s Gazprom is committed to supply as much as 130 billion cubic meters of gas (bcm) to China annually in the longer term, a company official told a conference call on Tuesday. – Reuters

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Tuesday he still expected support from Russia’s space corporation in its Artemis moon program despite Moscow’s space chief slamming the U.S.-led lunar effort. – Reuters

Maxim A. Suchkov writes: When the time came for Moscow to state its official position on the Turkish government’s decision vis-à-vis Hagia Sophia, the aforementioned factors played a role. But they were superseded by the considerations of other players whose position is even more important to Ankara, namely the United States. – Middle East Institute


Zoran Zaev, the front-runner in a general election on Wednesday in North Macedonia, got more done during his 30 months as prime minister than most Macedonian politicians did in the nearly 30 years since the country won independence from Yugoslavia. – New York Times

Eleven European foreign ministers have reportedly asked the European Union to provide them with a list of possible actions that can be taken if Israel’s government moves ahead with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, in a bid to add heft to threats of “consequences” that members of the bloc have already brandished in front of Jerusalem. – Times of Israel

Britain is likely to agree a new trade deal with the European Union but agreement could come as late as December, just weeks before its EU exit transition ends, Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Greece on Tuesday described Turkey’s decision to convert the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to a mosque as “unnecessary and petty” and called for tougher European Union action over Ankara’s gas exploration activities in the Mediterranean. – Reuters

The European Union has decided to drop Serbia and Montenegro from its safe list of countries from which non-essential travel is allowed, and did not even discuss including the United States given its sharp rise in coronavirus cases, EU officials said. – Reuters

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he saw “very difficult hours ahead” as he visited his Swedish counterpart Stefan Lofven for talks ahead of an EU summit to agree stimulus measures to boost pandemic-hit European economies. – Reuters

A German state’s police chief stepped down Tuesday over a scandal involving a left-wing lawmaker who received threatening emails after someone accessed her personal details on a police computer. – Associated Press

The speaker of the Catalan regional parliament demanded Tuesday that the Spanish government launch an official investigation into reports that his cellphone was the target of espionage, allegedly by Spanish security services. – Associated Press


Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have failed to reach agreement at a new round of talks hosted by the African Union to regulate the flow of water from the giant Blue Nile hydropower dam built by Addis Ababa, the three countries said. – Reuters

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has fired 850 workers, many of them from refineries, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, an oil union said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A United Nations commission of inquiry warns that it will take more than a new president to reverse the trend of repression in the East African country of Burundi. – Associated Press

Latin America

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is traveling to three of Mexico’s most violent states this week to counter what many call a “hands-off” strategy toward drug cartels that has exacerbated tensions with state governors. – Associated Press

Mexico’s government said on Tuesday it had sent a plane to Spain to facilitate the extradition of former Petroleos Mexicanos boss Emilio Lozoya, who is wanted on corruption charges that could engulf leaders of the prior administration. – Reuters

Ryan C. Berg writes: Defeating the political juggernaut of Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo, and their cronies in Nicaragua will require considerable effort, finesse, and organization. (My forthcoming report for AEI outlines a detailed strategy for doing so.) This is especially true in a country where, as the result of a dirty political deal known as “El Pacto,” candidates can win the presidency well short of a majority in the first round. – American Enterprise Institute


Chinese companies such as TikTok-owner ByteDance have been asked by India to answer 77 questions about their apps that have been banned by New Delhi, including whether they censored content, worked on behalf of foreign governments or lobbied influencers. – Reuters

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain’s 5G network by the end of 2027, risking the ire of China by signalling that the world’s biggest telecoms equipment maker is not welcome in the West. – Reuters

Google, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft have refused to agree to a proposal that would give Hong Kong regulators access to customer banking records, putting the companies on a collision course with city authorities. – Financial Times

The Army has started teaching 100 civilian employees new IT skills as part of a training program designed to retrain the service’s civilian personnel, the service’s top IT official said July 14. – C4ISRNET


Authorities have confirmed 36 more coronavirus infections at Camp Hansen on Japan’s Okinawa, taking to 136 the tally at U.S. military bases on the island, Kyodo News said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The U.S. Space Force squadron charged with operating the military’s most secure communications satellites has received a new advanced terminal that has been in development for years. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Air Force’s top acquisition official hopes money will materialize for small launch providers whose Defense Production Act contracts were withdrawn earlier this month due to a lack of funding. – C4ISRNET

Maj. Gen. John Morrison is slated to become one of the Army’s top IT officials following a reorganization of the service’s chief information office, a Senate committee spokesman told C4ISRNET. – C4ISRNET

The House Appropriations Committee approved separate measures to end the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations, which underpin U.S. counterterror operations ― the latest attempt by lawmakers to curb President Donald Trump’s war-making powers. – Defense News

Pentagon leaders need “around $10 billion” in the next pandemic aid package to cover defense contractors’ coronavirus-related costs, according to a top defense leader. – Defense News

Japan accepted delivery of its first Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey on Friday, making it the first nation outside the U.S. to own and operate the tiltrotor aircraft. – USNI News

The Navy has awarded a contract for the first unmanned surface vessel it will design and build on its own, a key milestone for the eventual family of unmanned systems that will be a key component of the future surface fleet, according to a Monday contract announcement from the Pentagon. – USNI News

Sailors and firefighting crews are still battling two “major” fires aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), three days after a fire sparked and quickly spread throughout the amphibious assault ship, Navy officials said on Tuesday. – USNI News

The U.S. Air Force has awarded a contract to acquire its first fourth-plus-generation F-15EX fighter aircraft from Boeing Co. – Military.com

The day the fire broke out on a Navy amphibious assault ship in San Diego, Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck said he was confident the Bonhomme Richard would sail again. But as the fire rages in both ends of the amphib two days later, Sobeck, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, is less confident about the vessel’s salvageability. – Military.com

A Marine master sergeant blasted his way into a building filled with at least eight Taliban fighters in an attempt to save an Afghan comrade during an hours-long fight in which he braved point-blank gunfire and grenade blasts, earning him the nation’s third-highest valor award. – Military.com

Raytheon has selected Orolia to provide a critical time and frequency system to the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor the company is building for the U.S. Army, Orolia announced July 8. – C4ISRNET

Trump Administration

U.S. President Donald Trump said that he was responsible for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to ban Huawei from Britain’s 5G network from the end of 2027, a remark China said proved London’s move was about politics rather than security. – Reuters

In a stunning reversal of policy, the Trump administration on Tuesday abandoned a plan that would have forced out tens of thousands of foreign students following widespread condemnation of the move and pressure from colleges and major businesses. – Reuters

After months of silence, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman has joined his twin brother Alexander in speaking out about how the two were treated by President Donald Trump. – Politico