Fdd's overnight brief

July 28, 2020

In The News


An Iranian delegation will visit Ukraine on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss compensation for a Ukrainian jet shot down by Iran on Jan. 8, the Ukrainian foreign minister said on Monday. – Reuters

An explosion has set a fuel tank on fire in Iran’s western province of Kermanshah on Tuesday, Iran’s Mizan news agency reported, in the latest in a series of fires and explosions, some of which have hit sensitive sites. – Reuters

Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei has been hospitalized with COVID-19, the Mehr news agency reported on Monday, the latest among several officials to have been infected with the new coronavirus. – Reuters

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard fired a missile from a helicopter targeting a replica aircraft carrier in the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, state television reported, an exercise aimed at threatening the U.S. amid tensions between Tehran and Washington. – Associated Press

A British-Australian woman serving a 10-year sentence in Iran for espionage has been transferred to a notorious prison in the desert, according to Iranian human rights activists. – BBC

Iran launched new military exercises this week with the participation of the Navy, Air Force and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It began Tuesday along the Persian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz.  – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Hezbollah continues to import precision-guided munitions from Iran and build up its arsenal, and it continues to slowly digest Lebanon’s government and economy. That is Iran’s real goal – to present an increased military threat along the Lebanese and Syrian border. It is not that Iran wants de-escalation; it wants a long-term threat close to Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Shahram Akbarzadeh and Mahmoud Pargoo write: Given the past occasions of China using the “Iran card” as leverage against the U.S., one wonders if the re-emergence of the proposed treaty is another instance of China using Iran to challenge the U.S. If that is the case, it certainly would frustrate Trump’s administration, which has tried hard in the last few years to curb Iran’s regional influence through its “maximum pressure” policy. The U.S. reaction so far has been decisively against the China­-Iran deal. A U.S. State Department spokeswoman emphasized that “the United States will continue to impose costs on Chinese companies that aid Iran.” Only time can tell if changes in Sino-U.S. relations — for good or bad — will affect the China-Iran partnership agreement. – Middle East Institute


Hezbollah on Monday denied carrying out any attack or exchanging fire with Israeli forces along the Israel-Lebanon border, hours after the Israel Defense Forces announced it thwarted an infiltration by members of the terror group, which set off border clashes but injured no Israelis. – Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued warnings against Hezbollah and its backers in Iran after the terror group’s failed attempt to infiltrate Israel and attack IDF soldiers on the northern border earlier Monday. – Times of Israel

Tom Rogan writes: Iran’s hard-line leadership is also likely to favor short-term escalation. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is deeply upset at being caught between his own collapsing economy, a coronavirus catastrophe, and restored American deterrence against his escalation. If Hezbollah can give Israel a black eye, even if Israel strikes back far harder, Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards will see it as boosting their own credibility. – Washington Examiner


Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon escalated Monday as Israeli forces repelled what security officials described as a border infiltration with heavy shelling in a clash that had both sides on high alert. – Washington Post

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab warned that Israel had “assaulted Lebanon’s sovereignty again” in a “dangerous military escalation,” during a meeting of Lebanon’s Supreme Council of Defense on Tuesday, following an attempted infiltration by Hezbollah terrorists on Monday that was thwarted by the IDF. – Jerusalem Post

Israel has reportedly conveyed to international officials that it doesn’t want Monday’s border altercation to descend into a war with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, after the latter’s failed alleged attempt to infiltrate Israel and attack IDF soldiers on the northern border. – Times of Israel

Hamas turned down an offer for carrying out various economic projects in the Gaza Strip in return for dismantling its armed wing and changing its policy toward Israel, according to Ismail Haniyeh, one of the terrorist group’s senior leaders. – Jerusalem Post

In light of this situation, several Palestinian journalists criticized the PA’s decision to halt the civil coordination with Israel amid the coronavirus crisis, calling this a grave mistake. They wrote that the decision had been taken hastily out of an urge to punish Israel for its annexation plans, and without any strategic consideration of the economic situation or any attempt to identify alternative sources of revenue. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Middle East & North Africa

An Egyptian court Monday sentenced five female social media influencers to two years in jail each on charges of violating public morals, a judicial source said. – Agence France-Presse

Mina Al-Oraibi writes: Statements on the need to fix the electricity sector will not cool the stifling heat of Iraq’s summers. Statements pledging find the killers of Husham Al Hashimi, a respected independent security researcher, have not led to any arrests or accountability. Statements to restore Iraq’s sovereignty have not yet led to the reining in of militias. While two months – the length of time for which Mr Al Kadhimi has had his cabinet in place – is a short period in which to expect results on the ground in Iraq, years of suffering mean that tangible improvements cannot come soon enough. – The National

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In this context, the unity on Hong Kong could be seen as empowering a smaller group of western states to work more closely with the US on China issues. […]Israel and the Middle East will pay close attention to this balance of power and what comes next with regard to both the Five Eyes and US-China tensions and their impact. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

China said on Tuesday that it hopes the United States can show flexibility in resolving the stalemate on the Korean Peninsula over North Korea’s nuclear programme. – Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons guarantee its safety, state media reported Tuesday, signalling once again that it will not give up its arsenal. – Agence France-Presse

The Japanese government reacted angrily on Tuesday to a statue in South Korea that appears to depict Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kneeling and bowing to a “comfort woman,” a euphemism for women forced to work in Japan’s wartime brothels. – Reuters

South Korea and the United States have agreed to revise their joint missile guidelines to facilitate South Korea’s plans to build a spy satellite by easing rules on rocket propellants, Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Hyun-chong said on Tuesday. – Reuters


At dawn on Monday, as the deadline to leave the U.S. consulate in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu approached, staff were still trickling out with briefcases in hand, just minutes before the U.S. flag was lowered in the courtyard. Wall Street Journal

China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that Hong Kong’s government would suspend agreements on mutual assistance for criminal matters, including extradition, with Britain, Canada and Australia. – Reuters

Singaporean caught spying for China in the United States has reawakened fears over China recruiting intelligence assets on an island state which has won trust among Western governments while keeping on good terms with Beijing. – Reuters

A Chinese government-backed website took aim at HSBC Holdings PLC (HSBA.L) on Tuesday, accusing the Asia-focussed lender of “maliciously” playing a role in the arrest of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer. – Reuters


The Taliban abducted and executed a female prison guard in the eastern Afghan province of Ghazni, officials and relatives said Monday, as the United Nations expressed concern over the war’s unending toll on civilians. – New York Times

The number of civilian casualties from fighting in Afghanistan fell in the first half of the year after a pact between the U.S. and the Taliban meant to end America’s longest war, as the United Nations pressed Kabul and the militants for peace talks. – Wall Street Journal

The Taliban wants all private companies and aid organisations operating in Afghanistan to register with the hardline Islamists, officials from the group said. – Reuters


A court in Malaysia found former Prime Minister Najib Razak guilty of money laundering, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust in connection with a multibillion-dollar financial scandal that drove him from office in the country’s 2018 elections. – Wall Street Journal

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he has asked China for help in getting access to a coronavirus vaccine as governments around the world make arrangements to secure supply for their citizens ahead of what is expected to be a global scramble for the much-awaited shots. – Wall Street Journal

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he had no choice but to treat disputes in the South China Sea as diplomatic endeavours because the alternative was to go to war with China. – Reuters

Australian police have warned universities and Chinese officials about a spurt in “virtual kidnapping” scams that coerce foreign students to fake their own abductions and trick families overseas into paying ransoms. – Reuters

India has banned 47 more Chinese apps just weeks after blocking the highly popular video-sharing platform TikTok and 58 others over national security and privacy concerns, an information ministry official and media reports said Monday. – Agence France-Presse

New Zealand suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong on Tuesday in protest at a “deeply concerning” new security law China has imposed on the territory, joining its allies in sanctioning Beijing over the move. – Agence France-Presse

A leading Hong Kong official has said senior members of the city’s government are finding it increasingly difficult to bank with foreign institutions as tensions mount between China and the US over the territory’s future. – Financial Times


The protests in Khabarovsk reached well into the tens of thousands over the weekend, establishing this distant city — some 4,000 miles from Moscow — as the site of the biggest popular challenge to President Vladimir V. Putin’s authority that a city in Russia’s far-flung regions has produced in his 20 years in power. – New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan discussed by phone the intensified military conflict on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Kremlin said on Monday. – Reuters

The Russian defence ministry said it had sent a Su-27 fighter plane on Monday to intercept a U.S. surveillance plane over the Black Sea that it said was approaching the Russian border. – Reuters

Russia’s state-owned weapons company is marketing an advanced heavy flamethrower to foreign militaries in the midst of a diplomatic fight with the United States about arms sales to Iran. – Washington Examiner


The Polish government, emboldened by a narrow election victory this month and undeterred by criticism from European Union leaders, is considering withdrawing from a treaty aimed at curbing domestic violence and protecting women’s rights, with the country’s minister of justice filing paperwork on Monday to start the process. – New York Times

The rise of the Arctic as a zone of competition has prompted calls for a dedicated forum where Arctic nations can discuss security issues. Whether that forum is a new body or an existing institution remains unsettled, but the potential role for NATO should not be overlooked — even if that role must be tempered by geography to accommodate divergent attitudes on the alliance’s scope and its relationship with Russia. – Defense News

Spain’s foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said on Monday it was important that Turkey’s Hagia Sophia remains part of humanity’s shared global heritage, after it was reconverted into a mosque from a museum last week. – Reuters

Spain’s foreign minister said that talks in Turkey on Monday had helped to reduce tensions between some European Union members and Ankara over Turkish energy exploration in the Mediterranean, adding that a one-month pause in drilling was possible. – Reuters

Prominent members of Britain’s upper legislative chamber on Monday expressed concern at the Polish government’s continued opposition to the restitution of properties seized during the Nazi Holocaust. – Algemeiner


Egypt and Sudan criticized Ethiopia for what they called unilateral filling of its Blue Nile dam at a new round of talks that kicked off on Monday to regulate the flow of water from the huge project. – Reuters

West Africa’s regional body on Monday proposed a four-point plan to resolve Mali’s political crisis that it says should be implemented within 10 days, and recommended sanctions against anyone standing in the way. – Reuters

Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party on Monday called the United States ambassador a “thug” and accused him of funding the opposition ahead of this week’s planned anti-government protests that authorities say are meant to overthrow the government. – Reuters

Tanzanian’s opposition leader and potential presidential candidate Tundu Lissu arrived home on Monday from Belgium where he took exile and underwent treatment after being shot three years ago. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: In effect, whether through arrogance or incompetence, Yamamoto has directed billions of dollars to a new despot and done irreparable harm not only to Somalia’s democratic transition but also to the country’s future stability. He has wasted taxpayer money in a manner that would land anyone in the private sector in the unemployment line — if not in jail. It is time for Yamamoto to come home. – Washington Examiner


North America

Lawyers representing Huawei Technologies’ [HWT.UL] Meng Wanzhou, who is fighting against extradition to the United States, argued in a Canadian court on Monday that redacted documents prepared by the Canadian spy agency relating to her December 2018 arrest should be released. – Reuters

Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia has taken down a digital campaign ad featuring a manipulated picture of his Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff, who is Jewish, with an enlarged nose. – Times of Israel

The New York Police Department Hate Crimes Task Force is seeking two suspects in four separate recent acts of antisemitic harassment in Brooklyn. – Algemeiner


On Wednesday, the industry’s four most powerful chief executives are set to appear, swear an oath and submit to a grilling from House lawmakers who have been probing the Web’s most recognizable names to determine whether they have become too big and powerful. The focus is antitrust, and the extent to which a quartet of digital behemoths — representing a nearly $5 trillion slice of the U.S. economy — has harmed competition, consumers and the country writ large. – Washington Post

Facebook has pushed back against a European Union investigation into its practices, taking it to court over privacy concerns. – BBC

Election administrators across the country are vulnerable to cyberattacks that originate through malicious phishing emails, a report released Monday found. – The Hill

The Air Force is ensuring its mission essential cyber training goes on during the global COVID-19 pandemic but officials are also delaying some training related to the service’s networks. – C4ISRNET

The Energy Department on Thursday released a strategic blueprint to construct a potentially “unhackable” nationwide quantum internet. – Defense One

President Donald Trump reignited his feud with Twitter on Monday, suggesting that the website’s trending topics section is “illegal” because the topics and content that appear there make him look bad. – Business Insider


Trade groups are urging lawmakers to extend the window for reimbursing government contractors for costs related to COVID-19 as Congress works to reach a deal on its next stimulus package. – Defense News

The Army program office tasked with network modernization has started procuring its first iteration of new network tools, known as Capability Set ‘21. – C4ISRNET

Brian Greer writes: In a time when our country is reckoning with a dismal record of injustice for African Americans, it is utterly distressing that the health and safety of more than 350,000 African American service members are determined in part by a committee that includes only one person who looks like them. In a truly just society, congressional committees should reflect the rich composition of the service members they oversee. It is past time to right this wrong. – Washington Post

Trump Administration

Attorney General William P. Barr will travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for his first congressional testimony in more than a year, and lawmakers are prepared to press for explanations on the federal response to nationwide protests of police killings of Black Americans and the handling of criminal cases involving President Trump’s allies. – New York Times

Under intense White House pressure, Senate Republicans agreed Monday to allocate $1.75 billion in their coronavirus relief bill toward the construction of a new D.C. headquarters for the FBI. – Washington Post

A US national guard officer is set to testify that the Trump administration’s forcible clearing of anti-racism protesters from outside the White House last month was “unprovoked” and an “excessive use of force”. – Financial Times

Robert O’Brien, Donald Trump’s national security adviser, has tested positive for coronavirus, making him the highest-ranking official in the White House to contract the disease. – Financial Times