Fdd's overnight brief

July 21, 2020

In The News


Iran’s national currency gained 10 percent of its value back on Monday after several deep plunges in the past few days following the injection of $300 million into the market for businesses seeking imports. – Radio Farda

Beijing is reported to be in the final stages of approving a $400 billion economic and security deal with Tehran, which some analysts say could give China a vast and secure source of energy and a strategic foothold in the Gulf. – Voice of America

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo affirmed over the weekend that the US government was continuing to exert “maximum pressure on Iran” to bring to justice the operatives behind past terrorist atrocities in Argentina and Bulgaria. – Algemeiner

Canada does not put much credibility into Iran’s interim report on the downing of a Ukrainian airliner, which Tehran blamed on a misaligned radar and human error, Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said on Monday. – Reuters

The International community should hold Iran to count for its violations of its nuclear deal with world powers, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said during a visit to Jerusalem by his Hungarian counterpart Péter Szijjártó on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

In his June 25, 2020 column in the Iraqi online daily Sotalitaq.com, journalist Mahdi Qassem came out against the pro-Iranian Shi’ite movements and parties in the Arab world, such as the Shi’ite parties in Iraq, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen. These movements and parties, which are identified with Shi’ite political Islam, he wrote, have brought upon their countries nothing but ruin, corruption, poverty and unemployment by usurping public funds and neglecting public services. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Keith J. Krach and Brian H. Hook write: The China-Iran partnership also lays bare the common threads that connect the two. Both governments are revolutionary relics known for lawless behavior, duplicity, bullying, domestic oppression and thought control, coercive economic practices and grave human-rights abuses. It was only a matter of time before these totalitarian twins found each other in a “strategic partnership.” – Wall Street Journal

Michael Singh writes: Make no mistake: The China-Iran relationship has long been important for both countries, contributing for example to Iran’s nuclear and missile advancements. And whether in the form of formal partnership agreements or simply ad hoc cooperation, those relations are very likely to grow closer yet in coming years, as China tries to project power westward and Iran seeks to insulate itself from the debilitating effects of American power and enhance its own regional influence. But while the deepening of the Iran-China relationship may be inevitable, the United States shouldn’t let it be easy for either Tehran or Beijing. – New York Times

Amos Harel writes: The series of explosions, fires and mysterious mishaps that took place in the past month in Iran continues to attract international attention. Even on the assumption that most of the incidents are related to a low level of maintenance of the country’s infrastructure sites, the events affect the regime’s image and undermine the might that it wants to convey to its citizens. – Haaretz


Syrian air defenses on Monday intercepted a new Israeli “aggression” above the capital Damascus, state media said, in the latest wave of attacks that Western intelligence sources have said were Israeli strikes on a major Iranian-backed ammunition depot on the edge of the capital. – Radio Farda

Five Iran-backed fighters were killed in an Israeli missile strike south of the Syrian capital, a Britain-based monitoring group said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

The secretive “flying ginsu” or ninja missile was used against in Syria on Monday, according to reports. It struck and killed a car allegedly used by a terrorists near Azaz in a Turkish-occupied part of northern Syria. – Jerusalem Post


To serve as a mayor from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish political party these days is to fear arrest at any moment and govern in circumstances that hover between stifling and absurd, said Ayhan Bilgen, one of the few who has kept his office during an unrelenting government purge. – Washington Post

A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a former manager at Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank, for evading U.S. sanctions against Iran. – Reuters

Ladbrokes owner GVC Plc (GVC.L) said on Tuesday that British tax authorities had expanded an investigation into the gambling company’s former online business in Turkey to include unidentified entities within the London-listed group. – Reuters


Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service thwarted attacks against Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers by a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine cell which was trained and financed by Iran and Hezbollah, the agency announced on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Former US national security adviser John Bolton on Monday said anyone concerned with the Middle East should be worried about US President Donald Trump winning a second term in office, adding that the next few months are the optimal time for Israel to act in its own national security interests. – Times of Israel

Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said his country could possibly back a single Israeli-Palestinian state, if it offered equal rights to all citizens. – Times of Israel

Official Palestinian Authority (PA) media outlets and Fatah institutions are celebrating the bloody legacy of three Arabs who committed murders during the 1929 pogroms against the Jewish community of then-British Mandatory Palestine. – Algemeiner

Israel announced on Monday that it was extending a travel ban on foreigners until September 1 in light of the ongoing second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, while the government wrangled over restrictions on restaurants, swimming pools and gyms. – Algemeiner

Hungary vetoed EU condemnation of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan because it has more hope to succeed than any previous proposal, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview during his half-day visit to Israel on Monday. – Jerusalem Post


Iraq’s finance minister has warned of “severe security consequences” if its economy is not “restructured radically”, as the coronavirus crisis wreaks havoc on business and an oil price crash hits state revenues. – Financial Times

Iraq’s new prime minister will go ahead with a scheduled trip to Iran on Tuesday after a first stop in Saudi Arabia was postponed, pressing on with a mission to shore up his country’s sovereignty and drum up desperately needed investment. – Bloomberg

Michael Rubin writes: Those who seek to reduce problems in Iraq and the broader Middle East to a single actor do more harm than good. To empower or forgive Baathism or other extremisms out of animus toward Tehran is to condemn the region to further bloodshed. Rather, as the younger generation of Iraqis from across the sectarian spectrum now realize, no society can thrive unless all flavors of extremism are combatted and condemned, no matter what their sectarian or ideological origins. – Washington Examiner


The coronavirus has infected people inside several Egyptian prisons and killed at least 14 detainees, as authorities seek to stifle news of the spread of the virus behind bars, a leading human rights watchdog said Monday. – Associated Press

Egypt’s parliament on Monday authorized the deployment of troops outside the country, a move that could escalate the spiraling war in Libya after the president threatened military action against Turkish-backed forces in the oil-rich country. – Associated Press

Egypt is working to prevent Israel from applying sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, by pressuring the Palestinian Authority to restart direct negotiations with the US government, the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat reported. – Arutz Sheva

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed on Monday on the need to maintain a ceasefire in Libya and avoid an escalation between the forces fighting there, Egypt’s presidency said. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Most parts of Lebanon are receiving no more than two or three hours of electricity a day. An incoming flight at Beirut’s airport had to abort a landing this month because the lights on the runway went out. The traffic signals in the capital have stopped working, adding to the congestion on Beirut’s already chaotic streets. – Washington Post

Tunisia’s president warned the nation is facing its worst political crisis since independence, urging all parties to set aside differences that have left the divided parliament in a “state of chaos.” – Bloomberg

Amro Selim writes: The water scarcity crisis in the MENA region represents one of the most prominent challenges that its countries face. American diplomatic, as well as economic action, in facing this crisis will surely contribute a bright spot to the history of relations with the region’s peoples and a positive initiative for preserving American interests there, or rather developing them in a way that serves all parties. The world will thus be spared countless new waves of refugees and displaced peoples, which would otherwise bring about successive, dangerous crises threatening global stability. – Washington Institute


China said Tuesday it would take unspecified “necessary measures” after the U.S. government imposed trade sanctions on 11 companies it says are implicated in human rights abuses in China’s Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang. – Associated Press

China launched its military build-up in the mid-1990s with a top priority: keep the United States at bay in any conflict by making the waters off the Chinese coast a death trap. Now, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is preparing to challenge American power further afield. – Reuters

A top British Jewish organization has sent a formal letter to the Chinese ambassador to UK, calling on Beijing to cease its persecution of the Uyghur Muslims. – Algemeiner

Andrew Small and Dhruva Jaishankar write: There is no guarantee that tougher measures will moderate Beijing’s approach — it is entirely possible that China is simply set on its new trajectory, thinking either that it will pay off in the end or that there is no alternative option. But the Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly shown the pragmatic capacity to correct course when absolutely necessary. This is the moment for collective efforts to sharpen that choice. – War on the Rocks


Helping Afghan women, who were banished to their homes by the Taliban during their government in the 1990s, became a rallying cry for Western involvement in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001. […]Now, with the possibility of power-sharing talks opening between the Taliban and the Afghan government, many women are worried that the strides they have made are at risk. – New York Times

A suicide car bomber in central Afghanistan targeted a convoy of Afghan army troops, killing eight soldiers, the defence ministry said, while Taliban Islamist militants claimed responsibility for the attack amid a nationwide escalation of violence. – Reuters

The intensive care unit at the Afghan capital’s premier hospital for COVID-19 patients is a medical nightmare — and a stark warning how the country’s war-ravaged health care system risks collapsing. – Associated Press

South Asia

India is seeking concessions for generic drugs it exports to the United States in return for opening its dairy markets and slashing tariffs on farm goods as the two sides seek to shore up a new trade deal, three sources said. – Reuters

India is looking to privatise more than half of its state-owned banks to reduce the number of government-owned lenders to just five as part of an overhaul of the banking industry, government and banking sources said. – Reuters

Aparna Pande writes: At a time when Russia and China are closer together than they were in earlier decades, and the China-Pakistan relationship is getting stronger, it is natural that New Delhi wonders about the depth of its partnership with Washington. For all of the Trump administration’s eager support to India, this is a time when America is more or less retracting from its previous role as the global policeman. – The Print


Britain suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and blocked arms sales to the former British territory after China imposed a tough new national security law. – Associated Press

Since the imposition of the security law -– which bans secessionist, subversive and terrorist activities, as well as collusion with foreign forces, with penalties of up to life imprisonment -– anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, and those supporting the movement, have adapted their methods to try to make their voices heard without violating the legislation. – Associated Press

The UK will “bear the consequences” if it continues to go “down the wrong road” on Hong Kong, China has warned. – BBC

China’s insistence that Taiwanese officials as a condition of stay in Hong Kong sign a statement agreeing that both sides belong to “one China” adds pressure on Taipei to close its de facto consulate in the city. The decision not only potentially impacts millions of people who travel between the two places each year, it also chips away at the city’s role as a gateway from China to the democratic world. – Bloomberg

The deadliest fighting in years between Azerbaijan and Armenia risks becoming a new flashpoint in a growing rivalry between Russia and Turkey, as the ostensible partners signal support for opposing sides in a strategic, if volatile, energy corridor. – Politico

Indonesia has expressed interest in acquiring Austria’s fleet of Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, in yet another surprise defense procurement plan from the southeast Asian country. – Defense News

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong filed candidacy papers Monday for upcoming legislative elections in Hong Kong, where the new national security law could prevent opposition candidates from taking seats. – Associated Press

Van Jackson writes: Australia might even hedge with deterrence constructs that embed the Australian military in partnership with third parties other than the United States. The point is simply that while Australian strategy must respond to a security environment in which the United States has recently played an inflammatory role, there is nothing inevitable about how Australia responds to it. Canberra is making a bold bet, and in many respects it’s a well-informed one. But it’s pregnant with risks. The task for strategists on both sides of the Pacific is now to diagnose and come up with ways to manage them. – War on the Rocks


The United States on Monday slapped sanctions on the regional strongman leader of Russia’s republic of Chechnya over human rights violations including torture and extrajudicial killings. – Associated Press

Vladimir Putin has chosen a politician from Russia’s tightly controlled “systemic opposition” to run a far eastern region rocked by a week and a half of protests after the arrest of its popular governor. – Financial Times

Furgal’s arrest and imprisonment touched off heated reactions in Khabarovsk, where Furgal was popular and considered, a different breed than other high officials. On Saturday July 11, a crowd estimated at 30,000, a size unprecedented for Khabarovsk, marched in support of the deposed Furgal. A week later, the demonstrations were still going strong. More ominously for the authorities, the protests were spreading to other cities in the Russian Far East. The marchers in the procession carried placards demanding freedom for Furgal and calling for Putin’s resignation. – Middle East Media Research Institute

The long-awaited official report into Russian interference in the UK is to be published at 10.30am on Tuesday as claims circulated that Moscow interfered in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. – Financial Times


Hundreds of Catalan independence supporters protested a visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia on Monday to the northeastern region, during a royal tour across Spain meant to boost morale amid the coronavirus pandemic. – Associated Press

The governors of the four German states that are home to critical U.S. military facilities are urging members of U.S. Congress to try and force President Donald Trump to back down from plans to withdraw more than a quarter of American troops from the country. – Associated Press

A protestor set himself on fire outside Switzerland’s parliament building in Bern on Monday following a demonstration against the country’s asylum policy. – Reuters

The trial begins on Tuesday of a suspect accused of killing two people after an attack on a synagogue in the German city of Halle last year. – BBC

Faced with growing concern over right-wing extremism in Germany’s military, the country’s defense minister on Monday marked the anniversary of a failed plot to kill Adolf Hitler by urging today’s soldiers to take their inspiration from those who tried to assassinate the Nazi dictator. – Associated Press

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday following London’s diplomatically fraught severing of ties with China’s Huawei and retaliation for Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong. – Agence France-Presse

Franklin Holcomb writes: The success of the “Hetman Konstantiyn Ostrogskiy” Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian Brigade (LITPOLUKR) represents a new era of multilateral security cooperation in Europe. […]Named after a 16th century leader who led Polish-Lithuanian forces to victory against Muscovy, the brigade has overcome many difficulties inherent to multinational units and is taking on an expanded role in European security by organizing its first international exercise “Three Swords 2021.” – Center for European Policy Analysis


Zimbabwe police on Monday swooped in and detained a prominent journalist and an opposition leader ahead of anti-government protests planned for the end of this month, their lawyers said. – Associated Press

Pirates have kidnapped seven Russian sailors from the crew of a ship in the Gulf of Guinea, the Russian Embassy in Nigeria said on Monday. – Reuters

The African Union summoned regional leaders to discuss an impasse over an Ethiopian hydropower dam on the Nile River. The virtual talks will take place Tuesday and may be a prelude to the resumption of negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan about how quickly the reservoir is filled, Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas said by phone Monday from Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. – Bloomberg

The Americas

The Bahamas will close its borders to most visitors from the United States starting Wednesday, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Sunday. – Washington Post

Cuba opened shops Monday that accept only foreign currencies and eliminated a special tax on the U.S. dollar, deepening a process of collecting stronger currencies to face the country’s economic crisis. – Associated Press

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro’s low approval ratings rose for a third consecutive month, a poll showed on Monday, as the perception of his handling of the coronavirus crisis and the economy’s direction continued to improve gradually. – Reuters

United States

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he is putting Russia and other foreign governments “on notice” that he would act aggressively as president to counter any interference in U.S. elections. The statement came hours after Democratic leaders issued a new warning that Congress appears to be the target of a foreign interference campaign. – Associated Press

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Monday pledged that if he is elected president, he will end President Donald Trump’s so-called Muslim travel ban on his first day in office. – CNBC

Around two-thirds of US voters describe themselves as pro-Israel and oppose reducing American security aid to the Jewish state, according to a new poll. – Algemeiner

Mark Hertling writes: Security forces — police and military — belong to unique and different professions, each critically important, each with a distinct culture. Like all professionals, they profess to certain standards, live by certain values and contribute in a special way to the society they serve. But they have similar goals: to gain the trust and confidence, not the “hearts and minds,” of the people they serve. Specific training, uniforms and accountability to standards — for deadly actions on foreign battlefields or keeping the peace on the streets of our nation — are geared to radically different missions, and they are not interchangeable in any functioning democratic society. – Washington Post


The military, recognizing the enormous appeal of video game streaming, has a team that plays popular games like “Call of Duty” and “Valorant” to showcase a slice of Army life and to reach potential recruits. But trolls and activists have bombarded the Army’s esports team chat channel and Twitch streams with references to wartime atrocities committed by the United States. About 300 of those Twitch users have been banned, the Army said. Legal experts say the bans are unconstitutional. – Washington Post

When Google and Apple announced plans in April for free software to help alert people of their possible exposure to the coronavirus, the companies promoted it as “privacy preserving” and said it would not track users’ locations. […]But for the apps to work on smartphones with Google’s Android operating system — the most popular in the world — users must first turn on the device location setting, which enables GPS and may allow Google to determine their locations. – New York Times

The Knesset on Monday passed into law a bill authorizing the Shin Bet security service to use cellphone data and other sensitive information to track Israelis who contract the coronavirus and those they are in contact with. – Times of Israel

One of the clearest examples of how the military wants to defeat adversaries using information warfare is by publicly disclosing what those enemies have been doing and what capabilities they have. Information warfare can be abstract, combining cyber, intelligence, electronic warfare, information operations, psychological operations or military deception as a way to influence the information environment or change the way an adversary think. – C4ISRNET

Twitter disclosed new findings about the hack in a blog post published over the weekend. It said that 130 accounts were accessed by the hackers in total, and added that the perpetrators downloaded data from eight of those accounts. – Business Insider

While the rapid growth of e-mobility has created new ways of travelling, it also presents cyber criminals with fresh targets to exploit. – Financial Times

Leo Hochberg and Eliza Campbell write: As of this writing, it seems likely that the immediate threat of this annexation has, for the time being, faded, but damage has been done nonetheless. […]Going forward, the potential destabilization of cyberspace should not be overlooked as Israel continues to weigh its options with respect to Palestine, and likewise, the addition of cyber-offensive capabilities presents brand new options regional actors can use against Israel, particularly as such signaling continues to be exploited in the information warfare space. – Middle East Institute

Ian Bremmer writes: Meanwhile, China had announced a strategy to dominate the world of 5G technology, seeing it as the highway to its geopolitical supremacy. It was inevitable that China’s publicly-backed tech ambitions would someday clash with the U.S.’s private sector-driven approach; under Trump, it finally has. And while the tech fight often gets folded into Trump’s broader all-out fight with China—a fight that still has a ways to go and is being waged across multiple fronts (among them Hong Kong, Xinjiang, trade, and the South China Sea)—the tech component is starting to yield real results. – Time


Facing skepticism in Congress over its unmanned surface vehicle program, Navy acquisition chief James Geurts wants to assuage concerns from lawmakers that the service is moving too fast on untested technologies in its USV programs. – USNI News

Aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) is no longer operating in the North Arabian Sea, a Navy official confirmed. Eisenhower deployed with its carrier strike group in February and spent much of the last few months in the Arabian Sea amid heightened tensions with Iran. – USNI News

Naval drills led by the U.S. and Ukraine kicked off today in the Black Sea, while Russia called for a series of nearby snap naval drills. – USNI News

The U.S. Air Force will officially buy eight F-35A conventional takeoff and landing jets originally built by Lockheed Martin for Turkey as part of a $862 million contract modification. The deal also contains an additional six F-35As built for the Air Force and modifications that will bring the Turkish jets in line with the U.S. configuration. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy has taken delivery of the first AN/SPY-6 radar array for the Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Jack Lucas, which was designed and built specifically to accommodate the upgraded air and missile defense radar. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is moving forward on a number of projects to bolster its tactical network, thanks to a new pool of money dedicated to prototyping and maturing emerging technology. Additions to the Army’s tactical network will come every two years as part of modernization efforts called capability sets. – C4ISRNET

The events in Portland this weekend, in which unmarked federal officers arrested protestors off the street, could hurt the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to coordinate with local police forces for years to come. That, in turn, could affect everything from disaster response to preventing terrorism, two former senior DHS officials told Defense One on Monday. – Defense One

The Department of Homeland Security, at the center of some of the administration’s most controversial and political actions from immigration restrictions to an aggressive response to protests in Portland, Oregon, is mostly run by temporary officials, skirting the scrutiny that comes from putting leadership through confirmation. – CNN

Trump Administration

A whistleblower complained to the State Department’s internal watchdog about alleged misconduct by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and reported that other senior department officials didn’t act on those concerns, according to a copy of the complaint. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump is set to once again take center stage in the government’s coronavirus response after a White House debate over how best to deploy its greatest and most volatile asset — him — played out in public as his poll numbers falter. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump is refusing to publicly commit to accepting the results of the upcoming White House election, recalling a similar threat he made weeks before the 2016 vote, as he scoffs at polls showing him lagging behind Democrat Joe Biden. Trump says it’s too early to make such an ironclad guarantee. – Associated Press

Hillary Clinton accused Roger Stone of threatening to speak out against President Trump if he ended up having to serve his prison sentence. – Washington Examiner