Fdd's overnight brief

July 22, 2020

In The News


Iran will strike a reciprocal blow against America for the killing of top Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday in a meeting with Iraq Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, according to Khamenei’s official website. – Reuters

Iran and Hezbollah helped fund and train a Palestinian group that planned to kidnap an Israeli soldier to use as a bargaining chip for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody, Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service said. – Bloomberg

Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi said on Tuesday that while the Israeli government has remained impartial ahead of the U.S. presidential election, he is concerned that, should former Vice President Joe Biden win in November, the U.S. would rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. – Jewish Insider

President Hassan Rouhani’s Chief of Staff announced July 21 the “release of blocked Iranian financial assets” in some countries and maintained that these resources would be used for international payments. – Radio Farda

Jon B. Alterman writes: China’s reported pursuit of closer ties with Iran in recent months is another example. The effort advances China’s and Iran’s interests simultaneously. China shows its defiance of the United States, and it locks in market access that the United States is unlikely to be able to sway. With Iran so isolated and arguably so desperate, and a Chinese economy that is almost 20 times the size of Iran’s, China has a tremendous advantage in that relationship. For Iran, Chinese ties are both an escape hatch from sanctions and a shield against U.S. aggression. Iran has no allies in the world—nor does China, for that matter—but they have common cause in their desire to limit U.S. power. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


US and Russian military vehicles in northeastern Syria appear to be skirmishing in an undeclared road war that has largely escaped the rest of the world’s attention. – Business Insider

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkish forces, which have carried out several incursions into northern Syria since 2016, would remain in the country until Syrians can live in freedom and safety. – Reuters

A Hezbollah fighter was killed in an Israeli attack in Syria, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group’s first declared casualty there since its leader warned last year that further killings of its members in Syria would face retaliation. – Reuters

A month after Israel was last said to have struck Iranian targets in Syria, a fresh wave of airstrikes attributed to the Jewish state hit numerous targets within the war-torn country. – Jerusalem Post


The Turkish president’s ruling party is submitting draft legislation to parliament that would enable the government to tighten its grip on social media, an official said Tuesday. The opposition fears the legislation will lead to greater censorship in the country. – Associated Press

Turkey must stop drilling for natural resources in waters in the eastern Mediterranean if there is to be progress in EU-Turkey ties, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Tuesday. – Reuters

With Turkey’s behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean becoming increasingly provocative, Greece has been bracing for a possible scaling up of tensions, amid fears that Turkish officials will make good on threats to launch hydrocarbon explorations off the islands of Crete or Kastellorizo. – Kathimerini

Turkey on Wednesday rejected claims by Greece that its oil-and-gas research vessels were encroaching on Greek waters in the eastern Mediterranean and said it would continue to defend its legitimate rights and interests in the region. – Associated Press

In a July 10, 2020 decree, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reversed the 1934 law that converted the Hagia Sophia from a mosque into a museum, thereby turning it back into a mosque. […]While Erdoğan’s move was praised by Muslim Brotherhood (MB) clerics, senior officials at Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the most important religious institution in the country and the leading institution in the Sunni Islamic world, were vehemently opposed. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Michael Rubin writes: Erdogan knows he has lost the Congress, the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence community, and much of the State Department (with Special Envoy James Jeffrey the notable exception). The Turkish leader has therefore leveraged an array of organizations his lieutenants crafted, perhaps control, to influence Biden and his campaign. So far, as the Biden campaign lets its guard down, it appears the Turkish strategy will again be successful. That would be a tragedy, however, because Erdogan’s agenda is fundamentally corrupt, and his goals to leapfrog over the U.S. legal framework are corrosive to U.S. national interests no matter who occupies the White House. – Washington Examiner


On July 18, 2020, Palestine TV aired an interview with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki. Al-Maliki was asked regarding the alleged removal of the “Palestine” label from Google Maps and Apple Maps, a false claim that appears to have stemmed from a viral Instagram post from July 15, 2020. Al-Maliki answered that as many Palestinians as possible should sign the petition to put the label back on the maps. – Middle East Media Research Institute

A group of 41 former Israeli security officials sent a letter to four Democrats from the US House of Representatives Tuesday, thanking them for authoring a letter opposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stalled plan to annex parts of the West Bank. – Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki claimed in a recent interview that Jews controlled the giant tech companies Apple and Google. Appearing on Palestine TV on July 18, Maliki was asked about a claim that appeared on Instagram – which was later proved to be false — that Apple Maps and Google Maps had removed the name “Palestine” from their apps. – Algemeiner

The Palestinian Authority (PA) on Tuesday urged the United Nations to support the international coalition led by the Quartet that aims at finding a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian question, the Xinhua news agency reported. – Arutz Sheva

Alex Galitsky writes: Armenia, like Israel, has long fought for its very right to exist in a hostile region of states that would revel in its destruction, and has – against all odds – established vibrant democratic states in a sea of dictatorships. The two nations share an ancient history, and are bound by their experiences as long-stateless diasporic people whose resilience has allowed them to not merely survive, but to prosper. In light of this, it’s time for Israel to rethink its relationship with Azerbaijan. – Jerusalem Post


Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said on a visit to Tehran on Tuesday that Iraq would not allow any threat to Iran coming from its territory. – Reuters

Iran’s supreme leader told Iraq’s visiting premier on Tuesday that Tehran will not interfere in Baghdad’s relations with Washington, but warned that the US presence next door to the Islamic republic was a cause of insecurity. – Agence France-Presse

On July 20, 2020, Etejah TV (Iraq) aired an animated video that depicted a helicopter filled with coffins covered in American flags taking off in the desert. American military vehicles were then shown being destroyed as a clenched fist wrapped in the flags of Iraq and of the pro-Iran Hizbullah Brigades militia came out of the ground. Both depictions were overlaid with the caption: “#expel_the_occupation”. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Regional security, for Iran, means regional Iranian hegemony. Iraq is Iran’s “near abroad” in this equation. The pressure on Kadhimi was intense during the recent visit and Iran showed it means business in terms of pressuring the US to leave Iraq. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

U.S. President Donald Trump and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan discussed regional security issues including the “importance of de-escalation in Libya through the removal of foreign forces” during a phone call on Tuesday, the White House said. – Reuters

Lebanon is in the throes of a financial crisis widely seen as the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war, encouraging a new wave of emigration from the country. – Reuters

Former Jordanian Deputy PM Mamdouh Al-Abadi said in a July 12, 2020 interview on Alghad TV (United Kingdom): “our relations with the Israelis and the Jews in this region are existential and beyond a border dispute.” He added that if Israel annexes parts of the West Bank, this would constitute an act of aggression against Jordan. – Middle East Media Research Institute

David Gardner writes: The last thing needed in the Middle East, north Africa and the Gulf — scenes of pitiless wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen — is yet more brinkmanship. If Mr Biden does win in November, there is reasonable anticipation he will embrace in some form Mr Obama’s diplomatic breakthrough with Tehran. This would be the safest way to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions short of war. – Financial Times

Korean Peninsula

The Pentagon is considering “adjustments” to its military presence in South Korea and around the globe as it shifts from years of countering insurgencies and militants in the greater Middle East to focusing on China, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday. – Associated Press

The threat from North Korea has not diminished, but the United States’s commitment to South Korea has, says the Heritage Foundation, as reports indicate some U.S. forces may be withdrawn if South Korea doesn’t dramatically increase basing payments. – Washington Examiner

Iran’s ambassador to Seoul was summoned to the South Korean foreign ministry on Tuesday to lodge a protest over the Iranian threat to sue Seoul over frozen assets and calling the Korea-U.S. relationship one of “master and servant”. – Radio Farda


China’s president pledged to keep strengthening the country’s domestic market while further opening it to foreign investors during a meeting with local and international businesspeople, signaling his willingness to bolster economic ties at a time of rising international tensions. – Wall Street Journal

Several Chinese firms and the major international brands they supply pushed back against the Trump administration’s decision to add 11 Chinese companies to a government blacklist for aiding human rights violations, saying they had found no evidence of forced labor or other abuses in their supply chains. – New York Times

The United States has ordered China to close its consulate general in Houston “in order to protect American intellectual property and American’s private information,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday. – Washington Post

The supply chains feeding into Chinese exports are taking center stage during Canadian parliamentary hearings that are exploring accusations of human rights violations by Beijing against the country’s Uighur minority. – Politico

Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister, is urging Canada’s Parliament to become the first to define China’s “mass atrocities” against the country’s Uighur minority as genocide. – Politico

China threatened a “forceful counter-attack” on Tuesday in response to Britain’s announcement that it would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong following Beijing’s introduction of a national security law for the former British colony. – Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday he hoped to visit China by the end of the year to improve “crisis-communications” channels and address other areas of mutual interest as he condemned China’s maritime activity in the South China Sea. – Reuters

Shay Stautz writes: As China continues its progress, Americans need to remember their country’s historical, current and future dominance in space. This context is important for recalling, especially when it comes to China, that it is easier to plan a mission than it is to achieve the mission’s end goal. – The National Interest

John Calabrese writes: The actions taken by the Fujian and Jiangsu administrations illustrate the growing capabilities and experience of sub-national actors in implementing the central government’s major policy directives. They also illustrate the latitude that such actors enjoy and the contributions they make in underpinning national policy, developing local economies, and boosting China’s international profile. – Middle East Institute


Already, though, the public rehabilitation of Dostum has been overshadowed by a new bout of private infighting that plagues Ghani’s government, as the reformist technocrat has relied increasingly on traditional, patronage-based relationships. The turmoil threatens to undercut government efforts to bring Taliban leaders to the negotiating table and present a solid front to the region and the world. – Washington Post

An Afghan girl shot dead three Taliban fighters after they killed her parents because they supported the government, local officials have said. – The Guardian

An Urdu daily reported that Maulvi Haibatullah Akhundzada, the emir of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Afghan Taliban organization that signed a peace agreement with the United States in Doha on February 29, 2020), will sacrifice ten sheep to mark the “American defeat” in Afghanistan. – Middle East Media Research Institute


The U.S. is equipping and positioning its forces across Asia for a possible confrontation with China, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday in remarks outlining the military component of the Trump administration’s hardening stance toward Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

The United States is conducting two military exercises in Asian waters this week involving allies Japan, Australia and India, the U.S. navy said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The Hong Kong government said on Tuesday that Taiwan had rejected the visas of two of its officials, underscoring rising bilateral tensions after Taipei criticised a security law imposed on the financial hub by Beijing. – Reuters

South Korea’s internet giant Naver Corp has moved backup servers storing its users’ personal data in Hong Kong to Singapore as China tightens its grip over Hong Kong with a new national security law. – Reuters

A year ago, an extradition bill in Hong Kong that could have sent suspects to mainland China for trial sparked the largest protests and biggest political crisis the semi-autonomous territory has seen since its return to China in 1997. – Associated Press

China is sending military planes near Taiwan with increasing frequency in what appears to be a stepping up of its threat to use force to take control of the island, Taiwan’s foreign minister said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Vietnam said it wants China to respect its “legitimate rights and interests” in South China Sea and for both countries to ease tensions in the disputed area, according to a statement posted on its foreign ministry website. – Bloomberg

The U.S. will continue to keep up the pace of freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, which hit an all-time high in 2019, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on Tuesday. Esper, speaking at an online event hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the U.S. policy has always been backed up by its actions like FONOps and other presence operations. – USNI News

Joseph Bosco writes: While the Navy reinforces the principle of free navigation, and the U.S. commitment to Taiwan, every time an individual cruiser or destroyer traverses the Strait, nothing will reinforce that dual message more than the transit of a carrier strike force or two. China measures the depth of an adversary’s resolve in millimeters, and may question Washington’s will to confront it in a potential conflict situation when it is manifestly reluctant to make a perfectly legal passage in peacetime. – The Hill

Nikki Haley writes: America’s interests here are clear. Building a stronger bond with Taiwan will benefit American security, American prosperity, and American leadership. But supporting Taiwan is also a matter of American values. Standing with free Taiwan shows that we stand up to the communist tyranny of mainland China. There is no more urgent task on the world stage today. – Medium


Successive British governments have embraced Russian oligarchs and then looked the other way on alleged election interference, according to the United Kingdom’s long-delayed and highly anticipated “Russia Report,” released Tuesday. – Washington Post

The Kremlin said Russia has never interfered in another country’s electoral processes, commenting on a report by the British Parliament’s intelligence and security committee that was leaked on Tuesday. – Reuters

Russian and NATO forces have ramped up their activity in the Arctic, seeking to bolster their presence in a region set to grow as a venue for “great power competition” as receding ice and rising temperatures make it more accessible. – Business Insider

Tom Rogan writes: While this is all true, the U.K. could offset Russian influence-building with the Sunni monarchies by consolidating U.S. support for these admittedly imperfect alliances. Britain could also introduce legislation to increase Russian President Vladimir Putin’s now-escalating difficulties in his Syrian adventure. Such efforts would have significant humanitarian and strategic import. As a parliamentary report, however, the first priority here is to generate and maintain public attention upon Putin’s threat and associated legislation. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: The challenge here isn’t simply one of money and public relations laundering. It is of Russian organized crime groups linked to the Kremlin. They have taken hold in London and are using it as a base from which to support their activities. Considering Putin’s use of the Kadyrov networks as a cutout for assassinations, this is no small concern for British security. […]Absent a Foreign Agents Registration Act, an equivalent of which does not exist in Britain, and alongside London’s continuing appetite for Russian funny money, there is little public accountability for these very questionable dealings. To its credit, the committee has performed a minor service just by at least speaking these truths aloud. – Washington Examiner

Rachel Ellehuus and Donatienne Ruy write: Because Russian influence operations thrive on divided audiences, the very close result of the referendum could well have been influenced by any or all of these factors. The government’s refusal to prepare then and to investigate now shows it is not prepared to handle the truth—and only the Kremlin benefits. – Center for International and Strategic Studies


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo showered Britain with praise Tuesday for taking a harder line on a “disgraceful” China, a notably warmer tone toward his hosts than he struck during a visit in January. – Washington Post

European leaders on Tuesday morning agreed to a vast spending plan to rescue the economies of coronavirus-hit countries, overcoming deep-seated divisions on the extent to which rich European Union nations should commit to helping poorer ones. – Washington Post

Britain is considering new legislation to crack down on the activity of hostile governments after a damning intelligence committee report on Russian meddling in the nation’s politics. – Associated Press

In a world upturned, other powers view the U.K. as having lost influence, shorn of its EU membership and economically vulnerable, according to interviews with senior policy makers past and present from allies and rivals alike. – Bloomberg

The U.S. secretary of state paid a visit to Britain Tuesday as part of his mission to build a coalition of nations against China that can “push back” against human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, regional aggression in Asia and trade infringements across the world. – Politico

Katia Glod writes: Belarus is also boosting ties with Ukraine. Belarus makes several anti-tank missile systems with Ukraine, such as Skif and Karakal. Similar projects abound. All this stokes Russian fears that its sensitive technologies may leak, further reducing the value of the alliance with Belarus. None of these projects is likely to upset the strategic balance in the region, and the more ambitious ones are far from coming to fruition. But Lukashenka’s inveterate maneuverings highlight the gap between decision-makers in Moscow and Minsk, and the emptiness of the two countries’ much-touted alliance. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Ambassador Kurt Volker writes: The United States and Western Europe must do their homework too. Political leaders are inclined toward inward-looking policies, rather than leading a global democratic and economic revival. That helps aggressive authoritarians like Russia and China — and deprives the west of much-needed allies and friends in Europe and Eurasia. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Luke Coffey writes: For both Georgia and Ukraine, the U.S. must work with NATO allies to ensure both are kept on the path to eventual membership into the Alliance. At the same time the U.S. should work with both to improve their military capabilities. While the U.S. is not a Black Sea country, it needs to be a Black Sea power. To make this happen Washington to build on its relations with Romania, Georgia and Ukraine. This will make America, NATO, and the region safer. – Middle East Institute


Ethiopia’s prime minister said negotiations on Tuesday with Egypt and Sudan had paved the way for an agreement over the country’s hydroelectric dam on one of the Nile River’s tributaries, in a sign of progress in efforts to end a decadelong dispute over management of the river’s waters. – Wall Street Journal

Ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir appeared in court Tuesday at the opening of his trial for leading the military coup that brought him to power in 1989, before the hearing was adjourned to find a bigger venue amid chaotic scenes outside. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron recently sat down with the leaders of the five Sahel countries of Africa to declare a dubious success against jihadist terrorist groups in the region. – Washington Examiner

The Americas

Joe Biden threatened on Monday to retaliate against Russia by imposing sanctions, freezing assets, deploying cyberweapons and exposing “corruption” if Vladimir Putin interferes again in this year’s U.S. presidential election. – Washington Post

The Trump administration offered a $5 million reward Tuesday for information leading to the arrest of the head of Venezuela’s high court, accusing the judge of taking bribes. – Associated Press

Congressional Democrats’ request to the FBI to brief lawmakers on foreign election interference included concerns about a Russian-linked “disinformation” campaign to target former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, according to a source familiar with the matter. – CNN

A visiting Stanford University researcher was charged in a federal court over allegedly lying about ties to China’s military, authorities announced Monday.  – The Hill


The U.S. government accused two hackers in China of targeting U.S. firms involved in coronavirus research, in a wide-ranging indictment that alleged the pair also stole hundreds of millions of dollars in sensitive information from companies around the world while working on behalf of Beijing’s premier spy service. – Wall Street Journal

China will write the rules of the Internet unless the United States and its allies counter Beijing’s efforts at mass surveillance and censorship, according to a report released Tuesday by the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. – Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump’s amplification of online fake news helped drive U.K. lawmakers’ urgent recommendation for social media regulation, according to a report published Tuesday. – Bloomberg

An amendment banning the use of TikTok on government devices was successfully attached to the annual defense policy approved by the House Tuesday. – The Hill


The House overwhelmingly passed an annual defense policy bill hours after President Trump issued a formal veto threat that cited his opposition to renaming military bases honoring the Confederacy. – Wall Street Journal

State Department special representative Marshall Billingslea told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States trails both Russia and China in the development of hypersonic missiles. – Washington Examiner

President Donald Trump’s nominee for a top State Department arms control position said on Tuesday he supported congressional review of foreign weapons sales, a sign the administration could be backing away from talk of ending the long-standing system. – Reuters

With commerce, travel and international competition in the Arctic region on the rise, the Department of the Air Force will prioritize making investments that will enable greater connectivity among U.S. military assets, the Air Force’s top general said July 21. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy’s top officer has ordered his staff to develop a comprehensive strategy to field unmanned systems in the air, on the water and under the sea over the coming years. – Defense News

General Dynamics will continue providing engineering support for the U.S. Navy’s Knifefish, an unmanned undersea mine hunter, as the service looks to increase testing and evaluation before entering full-rate production. – C4ISRNET

The Army has created a new entity within is operations and plans directorate, G-3/5/7, to focus on non-physical capabilities and better ready the service for multidomain operations. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Defense Department’s advanced research arm issued a broad agency announcement July 15 for technology that would use algorithms to identify moving military ground vehicles. – C4ISRNET

The head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command told reporters today he wants the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system to bolster the defense of Guam from Chinese missiles. – USNI News

The U.S. military has long relied upon technological superiority to ensure its dominance in conflict and to underwrite U.S. national security. In recent years, however, technology has both rapidly evolved and rapidly proliferated—largely as a result of advances in the commercial sector. As former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has observed, this development has threatened to erode the United States’ traditional sources of military advantage. – USNI News

Gen. Kevin P. Chilton (ret.) and Gen. William Shelton (ret.) write: Looking ahead, it is prudent military planning to anticipate that our vital space-based infrastructure will be targeted in future conflicts. To deter these attacks and, if necessary, defeat them, the United States must develop and field both offensive and defensive capabilities that will make it clear to Russia and China that we will prevail in any conflict that extends into the space domain. – C4ISRNET

Long War

Authorities have charged a Tajik man with membership in a terrorist organization on allegations he led a group plotting attacks in Germany in coordination with Islamic State leaders in Syria and Afghanistan, prosecutors said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Egypt’s military said it killed 18 suspected Islamist jihadists in aerial and ground operations in the restive North Sinai region on Tuesday, as part of its battle to quell a long-running insurgency. – Times of Israel

The Dutch government has frozen funding of a Palestinian NGO with links to a terrorist group that murdered an Israeli teenager last year. – Algemeiner

Trump Administration

Since taking office, Trump has been struggling to fulfill his 2016 campaign pledge to significantly reduce the nearly 200,000 American military personnel then overseas, already the smallest number in many decades. In countries such as Afghanistan, U.S. troops are merely serving as “police,” he has argued, while Germany, South Korea and others that could afford to defend themselves are getting U.S. protection on the cheap at taxpayer expense. – Washington Post

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said on Tuesday he is willing to appear before Congress next month for a briefing on global threats facing the U.S., in what would be the first such session in nearly 20 months because of friction among President Trump, U.S. spy chiefs and lawmakers. – Wall Street Journal

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has made a habit of interfering with U.S. sanctions on hostile regimes, to the irritation of China hawks who want President Trump to move more aggressively against Beijing. – Washington Examiner

After a delay earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s top spy chief has informed the Senate Intelligence Committee that he is willing to appear before the panel for a worldwide threat hearing in early August that is only partly open to the public. – Washington Examiner