Fdd's overnight brief

July 17, 2020

In The News


The US has “several” intelligence indications that Iran has put portions of its air defense system on “high alert” in recent days, following unexplained explosions at key facilities tied to the country’s military and nuclear programs, according to a US official who is closely tracking developments. – CNN

Iran is under pressure to halt the executions of three men arrested during anti-government protests in 2019, after the country’s Supreme Court upheld their sentences. – CNN 

Iranian security forces fired tear gas on Thursday to disperse demonstrators gathered in the southwestern city of Behbahan, witnesses told Reuters, and there was a heavy presence of forces in other cities. – Reuters 

Hospitals in Iran face acute shortages of medical personnel and beds as the country tackles a powerful second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior official of Tehran’s anti-coronavirus task force said on Thursday. – Reuters

Iran promised on Friday to deal “decisively” with further protests over economic hardship, a day after security forces fired teargas to disperse demonstrators in the southwestern city of Behbahan, Reuters reported. – Jerusalem Post

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has produced a 40-episode documentary on former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani who was killed by a US drone in Baghdad on January 3, along with Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. – Jerusalem Post

There is no shortage of front page-worthy news in Iran these days. The country is in the midst of the worst economic crisis in its history, it is battling a horrendous pandemic, it has weathered a series of mysterious explosions and continues to hang political prisoners, leading to protest and dissent. – Iranwire 

The recent wave of currency devaluation continued in Iran forcing the national rial into a new low of 240,000 against the U.S. dollar on Thursday. – Radio Farda

US sanctions are taking a bite though. Dozens of vessels now avoid places like Venezuela, with captains fearful of being sanctioned -and innocent crew, who may not even know the destination of their tanker, end up in the middle, as in the case of the Gulf Sky. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: There is a hide-and-seek game playing itself out today as countries under sanctions, such as Iran, seek to hide the cargo being put onto tankers. Using satellite images and transponders, as well as other methods – those like Madani are helping identify the real amount of oil being exported. This can involve tens of millions of barrels being illicitly moved around the world.

Amos Harel writes: Having China clearly at its side would ease the economic pressure on Iran. In more extreme circumstances, the Chinese-Iranian alliance could serve as a counterweight to American-Israeli friction with the Iranian regime over its nuclear program. In a theoretical scenario in which the recent moves continue to escalate, Beijing’s potential response would have to be taken into account to a greater extent. – Haaretz 

Michael Sexton and Alex Vatanka write: And here lies the toughest challenge for the authorities in Tehran: If the CIA and Mossad were behind these latest attacks, how might they look to escalate this campaign? It seems highly likely that few, if any, of the acts of sabotage so far have been carried out by means of cyber attacks. That means there are Iranians inside the country that are central to the staging of these attacks and involved in physically planting explosives at selected sites. Not only does that signal resourcefulness, but it also suggests unprecedented risk-taking by the U.S. and Israel. – Middle East Institute  

Lawrence J. Haas writes: Facing an emboldened Iran, America’s regional allies likely won’t stand put. Among other things, we should expect more sabotage at Iranian nuclear sites of the kind we’ve seen in recent weeks, though the source of these disruptions remains unclear.The larger question, however, is whether Washington can craft a grand strategy that can counter the coming global developments which will position Beijing and Tehran to expand their influence and undermine the West. On that score, the jury is still out. – Newsweek


A Turkish court sentenced German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel in absentia on Thursday to jail for 2 years and 9 months for terrorism propaganda, his lawyer said, in a case that has strained ties between Ankara and Berlin. – Reuters  

When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reopens Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia for prayers next week, it will be the crowning symbol of his mission to reassert Turkey’s role as a Muslim power on the global stage. Yet Turkey’s rarely seemed more alone. – Bloomberg 

American NASA scientist Serkan Golge, 40, returned to his Houston home earlier this month after years of languishing in a Turkish prison – a pawn in what U.S. officials characterize as Ankara holding political prisoners. – Fox News 



After months of buildup, Israelis and Palestinians had come to think of July 1 as “annexation day,” when Israel would proceed with its plan to formally absorb Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank into Israel proper. – Washington Post

An influential American commentator has sent shock waves through the Jewish establishment and Washington policy-making circles by breaking a long-standing taboo: He has endorsed the idea of a democratic entity of Jews and Palestinians living with equal rights between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, arguing that a two-state solution — Israel and Palestine — is no longer possible. – Associated Press 

Israel is combining the capabilities of several elite units under one roof as part of its multiyear plan to prepare the military for future warfare. […]Air Force Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said Israel is facing an era of regional change amid the coronavirus pandemic, what Israel calls “third circle” threats from Iran, and continued operations to prevent Iranian arms trafficking to Hezbollah. – Defense News 

An Israeli court rejected on Thursday an appeal by Islamic leader Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, upholding a 28-month sentence handed to him by a lower court for praising a 2017 shooting attack that killed two Israeli police officers. – Haaretz

The United States has asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep alive the prospect of a Palestinian state as he considers West Bank annexation, a senior official said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

A cyber-attack targeted two Israeli water infrastructure facilities, with the Israeli Water Authority confirmed on Thursday. – Ynet

Muhammad Al-Hindi, head of the political arm of the Islamic Jihad in “Palestine”, said on Thursday that the Palestinian Authority is under serious scrutiny in light of the Israeli “annexation plan”. – Arutz Sheva

The Palestinian Authority is “rewriting history as it happens” to claim that Israeli soldiers ‘executed’ a terrorist who committed a ramming attack which left a soldier injured last month, according to a report by Palestinian Media Watch. – Arutz Sheva

Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu writes: Should resumption of the Association Council meetings depend on the annexation issue? The demand for the EU to reconvene the council is a substantive one. […]The Israeli government and the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council have grown accustomed to the absence of a regular, established diplomatic dialogue between them. Such a dialogue could well be tough for both sides and critical in nature, but it must take place. – Jerusalem Post

Yaakov Katz writes: Reports that China is now striking a strategic deal with Iran underscores the problem. It’s not hard to imagine that if one of the Chinese groups wins the upcoming Tel Aviv tender, some of the NIS 15 billion Israel pays will simply move from a bank account in Beijing to one in Tehran. […]That alone should be sufficient reason to stop outsourcing state infrastructure to a foreign country, but if it’s not, the deal with Iran should make clear what is happening. This isn’t about Israel doing a favor to the US, which is in a trade war with China. It is about protecting Israeli national security. – Jerusalem Post

Herb Keinon writes: The Palestinians did put Israel to a test with the Second Intifada, and Israel, true to Barak’s word, did stand together and triumph. But that trial fundamentally changed and shifted this country’s political playing field, and the origins of that shift can be traced back 20 years to the failure of the Camp David summit. – Jerusalem Post


The practice contributes to Iraq’s bizarre energy paradox: A country with some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves faces a chronic power shortage and frequent blackouts. To feed its gas-powered electricity plants during the long, hot summers, it has to import gas, which it buys primarily from Iran. – New York Times

France’s foreign minister warned of the persistent threat from the Islamic State group in a visit to Iraq on Thursday, his first official trip outside the European Union since the coronavirus pandemic erupted. – Associated Press

Michael P. Brill writes: Events during the Baʿthist period were formative in shaping the ideological and political worldview of most if not all of them. At the same time, the legacies of dictatorship combined with the consequences of the U.S.-led invasion have cast a long shadow over Iraqi politics since 2003. Historical memory of the Baʿthist period continues to hold potential for either political weaponization or reconciliation. At long last, the remaining balance of official documentary sources for either endeavor will be back in Iraq. – War on the Rocks  

Bilal Wahab writes: Although the U.S. government must remain unequivocally supportive of free speech and press in Iraq, it can still help Baghdad counter militia propaganda, buttress Iraqi sovereignty, and protect U.S.-Iraq relations. Doing so is especially important now that the bilateral strategic dialogue is being reset. – Washington Institute


While beating on the drums of war for years by Lebanon’s Hezbollah has driven major foreign investors out of Lebanon, the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has called for turning to China to rescue the country’s failing economy. This comes while Hezbollah has opposed taking loans from the International Monetary Fund to save Lebanon’s economy. – Radio Farda  

As she was describing her year of abuse – physical, mental, sexual – it was so clear: the young black woman sitting opposite me was a slave. […]The word is Arabic for “sponsorship”. The system is legal and common across the Middle East, providing middle class and rich families with domestic workers. But it is a scheme rotten to its core. The workers have no rights under local laws. – Sky News (UK)  

Hezbollah sidelines the Lebanese state and “declares war and peace where it chooses,” the leader of the Maronite church said in an interview Thursday, in the latest of a string of tirades against the Iran-backed group. – Alarabiya 

Ali Hashem writes: However, there are still options to consider limiting Iran’s reach in Lebanon. A different U.S. approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict would help. […]Lebanon should not be squeezed and suffocated through a pressure campaign that will only make the Shiites more Shiite and less Lebanese—and the Sunnis, Druze, and Christians, too. It will be tempting for them to take the easier route and leave the country. For individuals, it may be easier to flee. But a nation can’t flee itself. – Foriegn Policy

Gulf States

Think of Yemen, and war, starvation, disease and poverty come to mind. Now add another attribute: a rusting, neglected 1,188-foot tanker moored off the country’s western coast, laden with roughly 48 million gallons of oil, at risk of sinking or even exploding at any time. – New York Times

The United Nations envoy on Yemen called on Thursday for a transparent investigation into air strikes that killed at least 11 civilians in al-Jawf province, saying resurgent violence is complicating U.N.-led efforts to end the five-year war. – Reuters  

The International Monetary Fund did not recommend the decision taken by Saudi Arabia to triple value-added tax this month, an official said, cautioning against increasing consumption taxes in the Middle East amid the coronavirus-driven downturn. – Reuters 

The embassy of Yemen in Washington quoted incorrect reports in various news outlets on Wednesday with tweets about false accusations about Jews in order to harm their Iranian-backed enemies, the Houthis. – Jerusalem Post 


Europe can do more in Libya by designating Russian military contractor Wagner Group and calling out Moscow and other countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Egypt that are violating a U.N. arms embargo, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Egypt will not stand idle in the face of any direct threat to Egyptian and Libyan security, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday, after lawmakers allied to commander Khalifa Haftar urged Cairo to intervene militarily in Libya’s civil war. – Reuters  

Sasha Toperich and Michael D. Barbero writes: The success of HCS elections is a small example of how democracy-building can be achieved in Libya on a national scale. The road to a stable, peaceful and democratic Libya remains uncertain with many obstacles. However, the recent actions of the High Council of State provide a positive indicator of what is possible. – The Hill 

Jonathan Spyer writes: Still, the Turkish-Egyptian standoff before Sirte indicates that the old divide that has dominated Middle East politics for so long – between generals and Islamists – remains pertinent. Now, however, this contest has moved from the public squares of the Arab Spring to the state-to-state level. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Jordan’s top court has dissolved the country’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Islamist movement, an official said Thursday, citing the group’s failure to “rectify its legal status”. – Agence France-Presse 

The senior spokesman of Iran’s Armed Forces has insisted that only eight Iranian servicemen have been killed in Israeli airstrikes against Iranian military bases in Syria in recent years. – Radio Farda 

David Ignatius writes: One reason it’s so hard for the United States to leave this region is that there’s always a new crisis. That may be happening again with the recent attacks on Iran’s centrifuges at Natanz and missile-testing sites. Iran blames Israel, and at some point, said McKenzie, “my experience with Iran tells me they will respond.” My takeaway from McKenzie’s survey of the region: The recipe for a sustainable U.S. presence in the Middle East is small numbers, low casualties, good partners and adversaries who frighten their neighbors. – Washington Post

Korean Peninsula

After North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its own soil last month, plunging relations with South Korea to a diplomatic nadir, a conservative activist lawyer in the South decided that one person was responsible: Kim Yo-jong, the only sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. So he filed a lawsuit against Ms. Kim. – New York Times 

A unit of a U.K. tobacco firm agreed to pay a $666,000 penalty to resolve criminal charges that it facilitated sales to North Korea, in the first such case against a company for violating U.S. sanctions on Pyongyang. – Wall Street Journal 

Jessica Lee writes: Ultimately, it is in the United States’ long-term interest for allies to manage their own affairs rather than be subject to the whims of Washington policymakers. This need is even more pronounced in the era of a global pandemic, where America’s inability to control the coronavirus has cast serious doubts about the United States’ global leadership. The question is whether Park’s suicide will inadvertently empower an ideological shift away from a South Korea-first foreign policy toward a U.S.-dominant, militarized foreign policy of the past. – Foreign Policy


Accusing American firms of engaging in “corporate appeasement” of the Chinese Communist Party, Attorney General William P. Barr called on the private sector on Thursday to get tougher in resisting what he portrayed as corrupting efforts by China to cheat and bully its way into taking over the global economy. – New York Times

As the Trump administration weighs a travel ban against the members of the Chinese Communist Party and their relatives, it is considering cutting off a vast sector of Chinese society — 92 million people — that often defies stereotypes, including those who walk the halls of power in Beijing, supervise China’s schools and run major companies. – New York Times 

On Monday, it was the South China Sea. On Tuesday, it was Hong Kong. On Wednesday, Huawei and human rights. The Trump administration appears to be accelerating a push to define China as a strategic threat, a worrying trend for the country’s leaders as the ambitions of a rising economic and military power collide with America’s. – Associated Press

The New York Times’s 1619 Project is an attack on “the American way of life” that aligns with the Chinese Communist Party, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. – Washington Examiner

‘It’s not China’s maritime empire’: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Monday declaration on China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea has set the stage for a new effort by the United States to rally other nations in the Indo-Pacific region to join in confronting Beijing. – Washington Examiner 

President Xi Jinping pledged to provide a better business environment for foreign firms as the U.S. pushes to rewire supply chains in Asia and Chinese companies come under increased scrutiny abroad. – Bloomberg 

Ian Johnson writes: Some critics of China claim that engagement was always a naïve dream and, as evidence, point to the fact that China hasn’t become more liberal. But most realists knew that democratization was at best a distant objective; the main idea was that pragmatic engagement would be more productive than blind confrontation. – New York Times

Tom Rogan writes: The Federalist’s Emily Jashinsky has examined the Hollywood issue in detail. But we should note that these Chinese communist efforts don’t take place in a vacuum. They fit with China’s broader economic and territorial imperialism, a strategy which, playing off Woodrow Wilson’s famous words, Barr rightly noted intends to “overthrow the rule-based international system and to make the world safe for dictatorship.” – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: The absolutism is clear. Contrary to Xi’s claims that the party serves the people, what we see here is the belief in the unitary party as an end in itself. The people have no utility except as servants to the party. Think carefully about the contrast between Xi’s regime and democracy. In political ideology and impulse, Xi’s China is far closer to the Oceania of George Orwell’s 1984 than many realize. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: Well, the truth of the matter is that unless one believes Angela Merkel’s lectures will corral Chinese imperial designs, America needs allies to help deter and, if necessary, defeat Xi Jinping’s great imperium. After years of appeasement under former British Prime Minister David Cameron, we should be grateful our closest ally is finally stepping up to the plate. – Washington Examiner

Bradley A. Thayer writes: It is not too late for the United States to act. The United States can remain dominant because of its relative power advantages anchored on its impressive military, economic, technological and “soft power” capabilities. If U.S. primacy is to be preserved and protected, it is incumbent upon the United States to defeat China’s ambitions. This requires embracing the strategic principles necessary to win an intense security competition with China. – The Hill 


A Pentagon report on Thursday harshly criticized a $174 million American drone program that was meant to give Afghan forces an advantage over the Taliban but has instead shown few gains. – New York Times 

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said on Thursday that he is backing President Trump’s effort to pull troops out of Afghanistan. – Fox News

Michael Rubin writes: The Afghanistan conflict, already America’s longest war, is a quagmire because neither Democrats nor Republicans maintain the will either to confront the Taliban’s foreign backers or to make the military decisions necessary to turn the tide against the Taliban. Trump may want to withdraw before the presidential election this November so he can say he ended a “forever war.” […]But U.S. actions in Afghanistan (and the flippant, if diplomatic, statements such as Hoffman’s) create a credibility gap that ultimately erodes America’s diplomatic standing at a time when it already appears to be in free fall. – Washington Examiner

South Asia

But all that ended abruptly on June 29, when India’s government banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese-owned apps, calling them a threat to India’s security and sovereignty. The order came amid heightened tensions between India and China after their soldiers had brawled on the two countries’ unmarked border high in the Himalayas earlier in the month. – NPR 

Sumit Ganguly writes: Instead of dwelling on the history of past disagreements with the United States, relying on a questionable arms transfer relationship with Russia, and hoping for an end to Chinese aggressiveness, India needs to firm up the budding strategic partnership with the United States. This will not only ensure access to vital U.S. weapons technology but also secure its support in protecting India’s national security interests. – Foreign Policy 

Noah Smith writes: Increasing U.S.-India FDI would yield multiple benefits. In addition to making both countries money and aligning the interests of the two nations even further, making India a richer, more advanced and more powerful country would strengthen it as a bulwark against Chinese domination of Asia. India is already taking various steps to try to attract more U.S. direct investment; now the U.S. needs to do its part. – Bloomberg  

Aman Thakker writes: The violent clashes between India and China will likely be a turning point for relations between the two countries, reinforcing India’s desire to deepen ties with key partners to balance against China. In this context, while India may take an even more assertive stance against China, it may look to engage more with the United States. […]The path forward, therefore, will require both sides to optimize existing elements and open new areas of cooperation, while overcoming those irritants. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Trump administration’s assertive new policy in the South China Sea is putting Southeast Asian nations on the front line of a growing dispute between the United States and China — regardless of whether they can stand up to Beijing. – Washington Post  

At least three providers of virtual private networks, which let internet users circumvent censorship and protect their privacy, are suspending their Hong Kong operations, citing concerns over Beijing’s new national-security law for the city. – Wall Street Journal 

China accused the United States of “gangster logic” after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law in response to Beijing’s imposition of new security legislation on the former British colony. – Reuters 

President Donald Trump’s move to end Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law will hurt the country’s business interests and deepen pessimism about the Asian financial hub’s future, the American Chamber of Commerce’s local branch said. – Bloomberg  

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has replaced the long-time Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov with Ceyhun Bayramov amid an escalation of the conflict with neighboring Armenia. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

Jeffrey W. Hornung writes: The suspension of Aegis Ashore opened a much broader discussion about what kind of military capabilities Japan wants to operate and what type of power it wants to become. This is not to say that consideration of strike capabilities is wrong. But there is a lot of homework Japan has yet to do, not least clearing up what adversary it is planning its deterrent posture around. If Japan moves forward and acquires strike capabilities, the result will be a very different Japanese defense posture and a U.S.-Japan alliance transformed from its shield-and-spear relationship into one of two spears, albeit of different lengths. – War on the Rocks  

Emil Avdaliani writes: The mountainous landscape, general instability, economic difficulties, and Kyrgyz nationalistic sentiment have contributed to the delays, as has quiet Russian opposition. […]But the big picture is clear. Central Asia is gradually opening up, thanks to — and to the benefit of — China. Russian rhetoric will continue portraying this as positive. The story on the ground is different. – Center for European Policy Analysis


A prominent state-backed Russian hacking group was blamed Thursday by U.S., U.K. and Canadian government officials for ongoing cyber espionage against organizations involved in the development of coronavirus vaccines and other health-care-related work, reflecting an escalation of security risks at a crucial time in the global response to the pandemic. – Wall Street Journal   

The recent detention of journalists and critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin is stirring concerns that authorities are launching a new wave of attacks on opposition figures. – Wall Street Journal

Britain said on Thursday Russia had tried to interfere in its 2019 general election by whipping up a furore online over illicitly acquired sensitive documents about a planned free trade agreement with Washington. – Reuters 

Russia’s embassy in London said on Thursday Moscow would respond appropriately to any “unfriendly” British actions after Britain accused Russia of trying to interfere in its 2019 election, the TASS news agency reported. – Reuters   

The Kremlin on Thursday rejected Western allegations Russia had tried to steal COVID-19 vaccine data, Russian news agencies reported. – Reuters 

Russians will be able to obtain plots of land in Russia’s Arctic free of charge to build homes and set up businesses under a draft law drawn up by the government as the Kremlin pushes to develop its resource-rich far north. – Reuters 

Lawyers for Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva have filed an appeal against her conviction on charges of “justifying terrorism” and the fine of nearly $7,000 levied against her. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The Trump administration on Wednesday hardened its efforts to prevent the completion of new German-Russian and Turkish-Russian natural gas pipelines by warning companies involved in the projects they’ll be subject to U.S. penalties unless they halt their work. The move will likely increase tensions in already fraught U.S.-European ties as well as anger Russia. – Associated Press

Janusz Bugajski writes: NATO is unprepared for the instability that will be unleashed by a new Russian attack on Ukraine or Belarus. The U.S. administration, regardless of the November election results, will need to devise a strategy that can simultaneously contain China’s long-term ambitions and deter Russia’s more imminent aggression. Otherwise, both key American adversaries will intensify their cooperation to divide and dismantle the West. – Washington Examiner

Ankur Shah writes: Whether Russia’s involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative will diminish further is unclear. Lo believes that there is an internal understanding that Moscow must not get any closer to Beijing in order to signal on the world stage that it is still an independent strategic actor. China is well aware of Russia’s potential to be a spoiler in international relations. Having become the increasingly dominant partner in the bilateral relationship, Beijing will have to be even more careful in managing Moscow within the Belt and Road. – Foreign Policy


Finishing her 15th year as chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, the European Union’s longest-serving and most respected leader, now has her last, best chance to shape the future of the bloc and her own legacy. – New York Times 

Germany’s health minister urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to speed up its review of how it has handled the coronavirus pandemic, apparently signalling Europe taking a tougher line on the United Nations body. – Reuters 

The European Union praised the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo for resuming face-to-face talks at EU headquarters which had been frozen since November 2018. – Associated Press

As European Union leaders start pouring in early for a two-day summit starting Friday, all realize that rarely so much has been on the line. – Associated Press 

Two German men were arrested Thursday on suspicion of spearheading a far-right group that posted pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic material online, prosecutors said. – Associated Press

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo have held their first face-to-face talks in 20 months under a European Union-mediated dialogue process aimed at normalizing relations between the two Balkan neighbors. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

Some 230 lawmakers have urged the European Union to designate the Lebanon-based Hezbollah organization as a terrorist group. – Jerusalem Post 

NATO is drafting a comprehensive, all-domain strategy that will reset the focus of the alliance on high-end conflict with peer adversaries, a senior official said last week. – USNI News 

Desmond Lachman writes: Both the currently ailing U.K. and European economies desperately need Johnson to seize on the opportunity afforded to him by Europe’s weakened economic state to avoid a catastrophic U.K. crash-out of Europe. This might be his last opportunity to strike a fair final deal for his country. At least, the current slump might allow him to wrest from his European partners an extension in the transitional period. That would spare both the U.K. and Europe from the shock of a hard Brexit just when their economies are least able to absorb it. – The Bulwark


The leaders of the ballooning protest movement in the West African nation have called for mass civil disobedience until President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta steps down. […]Malians say those who are in charge have not done enough to address the corruption and bloodshed that have plagued the country for eight years, pulling in regional and French counterterrorism forces as well as American support. – New York Times

Two aid workers in South Sudan were shot dead along with four people they were helping after members of an unknown armed group attacked them early this week, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in the country said Thursday. – Associated Press 

Armed men killed at least 12 villagers in central Mali, local officials said on Thursday, while in the capital Bamako West African mediators held talks on how to end a wave of protests against Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. – Reuters    

Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday it had received assurances from Ethiopia that it had not begun to fill a mega-dam whose construction has raised tensions in the region. – Bloomberg 

Satellite images of Africa’s biggest hydropower project show a reservoir flooding with water from heavy rainfall in recent weeks, adding to tensions that risk spilling into open conflict. – Bloomberg 

Amir Idris writes: In the absence of a covenant to define South Sudan and hold the country together, independence has unleashed forces that howl beneath the ethnic divide, born out of two decades of brutal civil war. […]The future of South Sudan rests solely on whether its people decide to be a nation truly worthy of independence, governed by a set of principles that respect and value their diversity. – The Hill 

The Americas

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a divisive speech on Thursday calling for the United States to ground its human rights policy more prominently in religious liberty and property rights. – New York Times

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer conducted a freedom of navigation operation off the coast of Venezuela, U.S. Southern Command announced on Wednesday. – USNI News  

Sec. Michael R. Pompeo writes: Never has knowledge of our founding principles been more urgent. As President Trump has recognized, we face many mighty challenges from abroad. Ruled with an iron fist by the Chinese Communist Party, for instance, China seeks to remake the world in its autocratic image and subordinate other nations to its hegemonic ambitions. We can’t confront Beijing or other gross human rights violators throughout the world without understanding the roots of our foreign policy, though the lens of our Founders’ intent. – Washington Post 

Rori Kramer writes: Given the commission’s low profile so far, it’s difficult to know precisely what its conclusions will be. The commission may well couch its findings in vague and reassuring language. But champions of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be well-advised to keep careful watch on how Pompeo and his allies choose to apply the new principles to the State Department’s internal workings and U.S. foreign policy more broadly. The United States was — and must continue to be — dedicated to the proposition that unalienable rights are universal. They need no national interpretation. – Washington Post

Ralph Reed writes: Too often given short shrift by the media, the Trump administration has sanctioned dictators from the mullahs in Iran to the corrupt Maduro regime in Venezuela, which holds power after a sham election, robs its citizens of basic rights, and starves them with failed economic collectivism. The Trump Administration has promoted liberty and human rights while avoiding overweening military commitments. […]If the blueprint provided by his State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights is any indication, his administration could do so, offering hope to those struggling to be free across the globe, while confounding its critics. – Fox News

Kelvin Droegemeier writes: In President Trump, our innovators have a champion in the White House who is fiercely standing up for American values and defending our research system from foreign subversion. JCORE is at the center of this president’s whole-of-nation effort to protect American interests and defend our hard-earned research. The Trump administration’s commitment to honest and principled research will continue to unite, inspire and guide the American research enterprise so it remains the envy of the world. – Fox News


The Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a probe into the widespread hack of Twitter Inc. occurred Wednesday, amid growing concerns that the vulnerability of the company’s systems could pose broader risks to international security. –  Wall Street Journal 

Thousands of companies will face restrictions on storing information about European Union residents on U.S. servers, after the bloc’s top court ruled that such transfers exposed Europeans to American government surveillance without “actionable rights” to challenge it. – Wall Street Journal   

Intelligence agencies in the U.S. and U.K. are now warning that other nations are targeting health-care organizations and pharmaceutical companies with cyberattacks. But security chiefs at hospitals, research facilities and drugmakers say they have been under siege for months already. – Wall Street Journal

Bipartisan calls to put in place a national cybersecurity director in the White House are gaining steam on Capitol Hill two years after a similar position was eliminated. – The Hill 

Two people claiming to be responsible for Wednesday’s massive Twitter hacking said they paid a Twitter employee to help them with the breach. – Washington Examiner 

Twitter Inc. revealed hackers targeted just 130 accounts during the cyber-attack this week that compromised some of the world’s most recognizable people, though no passwords were stolen. – Bloomberg 

WhatsApp and its parent Facebook Inc. can press ahead with a lawsuit accusing Israeli spyware maker NSO Group of creating accounts to send malware to mobile phones of 1,400 people to snoop on them. – Bloomberg 

Wednesday’s Twitter hack has exposed a gaping weakness for the U.S. and its most powerful leaders — their reliance on a private company to secure their communications with the public. – Politico  

The Air Force has selected the Air National Guard’s training and education center at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base in Tennessee to be the focal point for training a cadre of defensive focused cyber teams, according to a news release. – C4ISRNET  

Editorial: TikTok has been gesturing at such a change itself. The company has also tried to distance itself from China by pulling out of Hong Kong in response to Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping security law on the formerly semi-autonomous region. Yet the White House has signaled that none of these steps will appease it. The point, it seems, really is retribution against another country rather than protection of this one. […]The United States needs a lawful process, based on objective criteria, to evaluate them — or else it only accepts China’s techno-nationalism as its own. – Washington Post

Alex Webb writes: It looks like another repercussion of intelligence threats impinging upon the free flow of trade. The ruling falls the same week as the U.K. banned gear made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co. from its next-generation communications networks. Just as the Edward Snowden leaks revealing the extent of U.S. espionage collaboration with the tech industry prompted Schrems’s campaign, it was U.S. fears that China might co-opt Huawei equipment for its own ends that helped bring about the U.K. ban. The internet is rapidly developing borders. – Bloomberg


The uniformed head of the U.S. Navy is preparing to depart Washington and visit the stricken amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, after crews took more than four days to extinguish a major conflagration that has gutted the ship. – Defense News 

The Pentagon’s top weapons acquisition official on Thursday called for another review of what defense technology is export-restricted, in an attempt to ensure the United States remains a defense technology provider of choice for other nations. – Defense News  

The U.S. Air Force on July 14 officially rescinded its solicitation to overhaul the OC-135 Open Skies aircraft, cancelling the program two months after President Donald Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Open Skies treaty. – Defense News 

A week before the Federal Communications Commission officially signed off on a plan for Ligado Networks to use L-Band spectrum, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, warning the plan could harm the Global Positioning System. – C4ISRNET  

The Defense Innovation Unit has awarded Sierra Nevada Corporation a contract to build an orbital laboratory that would serve as a kind of unmanned space station, the company announced July 14. – C4ISRNET 

When it comes to the Army’s contribution to a new joint architecture for battlefield command and control, the service said it will collaborate with industry in the very early stages. – C4ISRNET 

Thousands of members of Air Force space and space systems operations have been selected to begin transfer to the Space Force Sept. 1. – Air Force Times 

After nearly four decades of refueling aircraft around the world, in peacetime and war, the KC-10 Extender has begun its retirement. A ceremony for the first KC-10 to be retired was held at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey July 13. – Air Force Times 

Rep. Rob Wittman writes: While this anti-defense spending rhetoric may play well for a certain form of politics, we must remember blanket cuts don’t cut out the waste, it eliminates the programs that are easiest to cut, necessary training exercises, and emerging programs that are going to make the difference between life and death on the battlefield for our service members. – Defense News 

Long War

Shamima Begum, a woman who traveled to Syria from London as a schoolgirl to join ISIS, should be allowed to return to appeal the government’s decision to strip her of her British citizenship, a court ruled on Thursday. – New York Times 

The jihadist alliance that dominates opposition-held north-western Syria has said it will put a British-born man who runs an aid organisation on trial. – BBC 

On February 29, 2020, following long months of negotiations under the auspices of Qatar, the U.S. and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Afghan Taliban) signed an agreement on the future of Afghanistan. – Middle East Media Research Institute