Fdd's overnight brief

July 31, 2020

In The News


The United States has expanded sanctions against Iran’s metals industry, adding 22 materials to the U.S. sanctions regime, a move that allows Washington to blacklist any company or entity that transfers the materials to Iran. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday gave his clearest indication yet that the United States would seek to force UN sanctions on Iran if an arms embargo lapses. – Agence France-Presse

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ruled out negotiations with the United States over Tehran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes on Friday and urged Iranians to resist U.S. pressure. – Reuters

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday that European states have failed to salvage the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers from which the United States has already withdrawn. – Reuters

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday that talks with Iran about the downing of a Ukrainian airliner in January were constructive but it was too early to say how much compensation Tehran would agree to pay. – Reuters

The U.S. dollar has started rising again since Saturday in Iran after a central bank intervention last week briefly strengthened the Iranian currency. The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) injected about $1 billion into the local exchange market from July 18 to 23. The dollar which had risen to 260,000 rials dropped to 210,000 last week. – Radio Farda

Talks between Iran and China aimed at finalizing a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement are continuing despite what Tehran dismissed as “baseless rumors” about the deal that leaked earlier this month. – Voice of America

Munqith Dagher writes: Regardless of who ends up being Khamenei’s successor, the IRGC is preparing to have an even greater role in power by shaping the selection of a strongly influential president who will give the Corps more authority and power in governance than the Supreme Leader himself. […]However, Soleimani’s unexpected assassination seems to have shuffled the cards and allowed a new competition for authority to resurface amongst the traditional institutions of power. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


A group of British MPs wrote to UK Security Minister James Brokenshire this week urging him to ramp up enforcement of the country’s ban on the Iran‐backed, Lebanon‐based Hezbollah organization. – Algemeiner

The events at Mount Dov earlier this week, in order to be understood, need to be placed in the broader context of Israel’s ongoing undeclared military campaign against Iran. They also cannot be separated from Hezbollah’s current status as the de facto ruler of Lebanon. – Jerusalem Post

Anthony Elghossain writes: In their relationship, though, the Israelis and Hezbollah have each maintained, broken, and remade rules of the game at different junctures — and have used armed violence, often purposefully, to do so: their brokered understandings of the mid-1990s, their transactional use of violence and indirect negotiation in the 2000s, their destructive war of 2006, and the confined and compartmentalized conflicts they’ve engaged in since the Syrian war began. They don’t want a war now. – Middle East Institute


An Israeli court Thursday charged with “serious security offences” a Gazan who swam to Israel a month ago after falling out with Hamas, the domestic security agency said. – Agence France-Presse

The European Union and 15 European countries on Thursday renewed their opposition to Israeli plans to advance construction plans in areas of Jerusalem beyond the Green Line. – Times of Israel

One question that technically is disconnected from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bribery trial, but that is of paramount importance to the nation is if and how the case is impacting his law enforcement and national security appointments. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman left a Riyadh hospital on Thursday after a 10-day stay that included an operation to remove his gallbladder, quieting speculation that his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman might soon accede to the throne. – Wall Street Journal

Yemen’s Huthi rebels on Thursday freed six members of the Baha’i faith whose years of imprisonment had raised international concern, the community said. – Agence France-Presse

Elana DeLozier and Zied Bouchlaghem write: Yet the mechanism could still constitute a major win just by unlocking some aspects of the long-stalled Riyadh Agreement, such as forming a joint government and preventing further intra-coalition military clashes. It could also allow coalition members to refocus on their common adversary, perhaps via more concerted efforts to push back against Houthi attempts to take more territory. Finally, successful implementation would bless Saudi Arabia with a much-needed diplomatic accomplishment, allowing its leadership to pivot to talking with the Houthis and buttressing UN negotiations aimed at ending the overall Yemen war. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

A car bomb exploded at checkpoint manned by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters on Thursday in northeastern Syria, killing and wounding several people, Turkish state media and an opposition war monitoring group reported. – Associated Press

The Iraqi government said on Thursday that nearly 560 protesters and security forces were killed in months of anti-government unrest that erupted last year. – Reuters

Two rockets landed in the perimeter of Baghdad International Airport on Thursday, the Iraqi military said in a statement. – Jerusalem Post

When Turkey’s president signed a security deal last year to back one of the sides in Libya’s civil war, another agreement was waiting to be signed by his new proteges the same day: a memorandum redrawing the two countries’ maritime borders. – Associated Press

The July 10, 2020 decision of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the backing of the Turkish court, to convert the Hagia Sophia from a museum back into a mosque, sparked joyful responses in the Qatari press. Many articles published in Qatari dailies and on the website of the Qatar-backed International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) welcomed the move and praised Erdogan for it. – Middle East Media Research Institute


The AIIB has already won over many of those allies. Now, with the U.S. withdrawing from international institutions, the bank is placing China at the center of its own global lending effort and casting itself as a champion of multilateralism—even as China’s diplomats stake out a more assertive position on Beijing’s overseas interests. – Wall Street Journal

American antipathy toward China has soared to a record high amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey has found, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority favoring a tougher stance on China at the expense of economic ties. – Wall Street Journal

Rights activists say the coronavirus has given the Chinese authorities a new pretext for detaining dissidents. Summary quarantines — often imposed just after detainees, like Mr. Wang, had cleared a previous one — are the latest way to silence dissent, part of a broader campaign under China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, to stamp out activism through arrests, detentions and harsher internet controls, activists say. – New York Times

China’s state broadcaster CCTV maintained its blackout of NBA games as the American basketball league resumed on Friday, extending a freedom-of-speech stand-off that stretches back more than nine months. – Agence France-Presse

In shutting each other’s consulates, the United States and China have done more than strike symbolic blows in their escalating feud. They’ve also dimmed each other’s ability to observe — and to spy on — critical regions of their countries. – Associated Press

China is celebrating the completion of its BeiDou Navigation Satellite System that could rival the U.S. Global Positioning System and significantly boost China’s security and geopolitical clout. – Associated Press

China’s ambassador to the United Kingdom lashed out at what he saw as one-sided reporting on human rights issues Thursday, presenting a series of videos defending Chinese actions against Uighur Muslims in the northwest Xinjang province and warning Britain to stop meddling in his country’s affairs. – Associated Press

China said Thursday that long-range bombers were among the aircraft that took part in recent aerial drills over the South China Sea amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over the strategic waterway. – Associated Press

Marcus Clay and Dennis J. Blasko write: Except for numbers of personnel, reform of the enlisted force is less quantifiable and visible than new weapons and major training exercises. Much of the reporting on personnel issues will be in Chinese and not translated into English. Yet these developments deserve foreign attention and analysis: China’s ability to “fight and win wars” depends on the people in the PLA .- War on the Rocks


An Afghan helicopter was attacked in the country’s south this week by what United States and Afghan officials say was a missile rarely seen in the hands of the Taliban, raising new concerns for a beleaguered Afghan military and questions about who supplied the weapon. – New York Times

A suicide bombing in Afghanistan’s eastern Logar province late on Thursday killed at least nine people and wounded at least 40, authorities said. – Associated Press

Afghans offered prayers marking the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha Friday as a three-day ceasefire between Taliban and government forces began, with many hoping the truce will lead to peace talks and the end of nearly two decades of conflict. – Agence France-Presse

Afghanistan is “fully ready to retaliate” if there’s further Pakistani military action along its border after rocket attacks, allegedly by Pakistan troops, killed nine civilians and wounded 50 others, the country’s defense ministry said. – Bloomberg

South Asia

The United States urged Pakistan on Thursday to overhaul the country’s harsh blasphemy laws a day after an American citizen accused of violating them was fatally shot in a courtroom. – New York Times

China warned on Thursday that a “forced decoupling” of its economy with India, following a Himalayan border clash last month that killed 20 Indian soldiers, would hurt both countries. – Reuters

Pakistani troops opened fire on Thursday during a rally by minority Pashtun laborers demanding the reopening of a border crossing with Afghanistan, killing at least three people and wounding 13, human rights activists said. – Associated Press

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for an independent investigation into the death of a newspaper reporter who covered local corruption in Balochistan province in southwestern Pakistan. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Authorities banned 12 opposition candidates from running in planned legislative elections, as they moved to further dismantle a pro-democracy movement that challenges China’s rule in the city.[…] Among reasons Hong Kong election officials cited were statements that the candidates had made about opposing government policies in the legislature and doubts over their allegiance to the city and its mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law. – Wall Street Journal

New Zealand’s military misled government ministers and the public for years over civilian casualties in an operation in Afghanistan in 2010, investigators concluded in a report released on Friday. – Reuters

Hong Kong’s government is set to announce a year-long delay to Legislative Council elections in September due to a recent surge in Covid-19 cases, several media outlets including the South China Morning Post newspaper reported. – Bloomberg

Now fears are growing that Xi wants to cement his place alongside Mao and Deng by conquering Taiwan, a prize that’s eluded Communist Party leaders for decades. – Bloomberg


Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed was convicted of endangering Russian police with violence and sentenced to nine years in prison by a Moscow court Thursday, over a drunken incident he says he does not remember. – Washington Post

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that he and his team have warned Russian officials about all threats that Russia poses to Americans and U.S. interests in various parts of the world. Pompeo also defended the Trump administration’s tough line on China, saying the communist nation represents a potent threat to the U.S. and Western-style democracy. – Associated Press

Belarusian authorities on Thursday accused more than 30 detained Russians of plotting terror attacks amid a presidential election campaign, allegations that Russian officials angrily rejected. – Associated Press

A Russian Su-27 jet fighter buzzed two U.S. reconnaissance planes on Thursday after they had approached the Russian border over the Black Sea, the Russian defence ministry said. – Reuters

On July 15, some 615km above the earth, a Russian satellite named Cosmos 2543 activated its special — and hitherto secret — function by firing a projectile out across the atmosphere. US officials, concerned about its purpose, had been tracking Cosmos 2543 for months after it raised alarm by moving close to a US spy satellite. When Cosmos 2543 fired its unknown payload, it confirmed American suspicions. This was no ordinary satellite. – Financial Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to intercede with Turkey’s leader to try to ease rising tensions over oil and gas exploration in eastern Mediterranean waters that Cyprus claims as its own, the Cypriot government said Thursday. – Associated Press


Tens of thousands of supporters of President Alexander Lukashenko’s top election rival on Thursday rallied in the Belarusian capital Minsk despite an increasing crackdown on the opposition. The rally came as Belarus authorities accused top members of the opposition of collaborating with Russian fighters to destabilise the ex-Soviet country. – Agence France-Presse

Germany is now “on the frontline of a new Cold War” as it has become a key target for Chinese and Russian interference, a U.K.-based think tank is warning. – Fox News

Bobby Ghosh writes: The most logical alternative as honest broker between Ankara and Athens is Berlin. Germany is a vital trading partner for both countries, and its presidency of the Europe Union gives it even greater diplomatic weight. The Turks and Greeks have chafed at what they regard as German high-handedness in bilateral relations, but when Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks, they tend to listen. – Bloomberg

Latin America

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday took his first trip since recovering from COVID-19, ignoring social distancing recommendations as he worked to chip away support in his political rivals’ stronghold. – Associated Press

A supermarket opened in Caracas on Thursday — not normally a newsworthy event. But it is the first one owned by a company in Iran, one of the few countries helping Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro evade U.S. sanctions. And it comes equipped with a kind of high-tech Covid shield — an airport-scanner-like booth that measures shoppers’ temperatures and sprays them with disinfectant mist. – Bloomberg

Demonstrators in northern Mexico have burned several government vehicles, blocked railway tracks and set afire a government office and highway tollbooths to protest water payments to the United States. – Associated Press

United States

Two former senior Mexican police officials, top aides of the man who ran the country’s drug war for six years, were indicted Thursday in New York on charges of taking millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for protection and allowing tons of its cocaine to flow through Mexico unhindered. – Wall Street Journal

A member of the Jewish neighborhood watch group Shomrim was slashed during a street confrontation in Brooklyn on Wednesday night, local media outlets reported. – Algemeiner

A Senate committee abruptly canceled a confirmation hearing Thursday on a controversial former general’s nomination to a top Pentagon post after a furor over offensive remarks he made about Islam and other inflammatory comments. – Times of Israel

Editorial: Delaying the elections during the pandemic would only put off a potential fiasco. But with time short, the responsible course is for governors and members of both parties to ensure deadlines for mail-in ballots are early enough so that the counting stops and the results are clear on Election Day. – Wall Street Journal


Twitter said Thursday that the cyberattack that took down big parts of its site earlier this month was caused by hackers manipulating employees over a more old-school method: the phone. – Washington Post

The European Union on Thursday imposed its first-ever sanctions over cyberattacks, slapping them on alleged Russian military agents, Chinese cyber spies and organizations including a North Korean firm. – Associated Press

Turkey’s parliament passed controversial new legislation Wednesday requiring platforms like Twitter and Facebook to comply with government requests to remove content and store data in the country. Critics say that the move is an attempt to control social media and silence opposition. – CBS News

But last week Mr Yeo admitted in court that he had been working for the Chinese intelligence service. He used the LinkedIn social media network to target Americans in the military and government and harvest information from them. – Financial Times

Hong Kong pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong joined a call for Israel to block a civilian technology company from selling products China used to spy on protesters. – Jerusalem Post

The Pentagon must be able to hunt cyberthreats on the private networks of defense companies in order to strengthen national cybersecurity, according to one of the leaders of the Cyber Solarium Commission. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Defense Department’s IT shop wants to bolster the cybersecurity of its remote collaboration platform it rolled out in response to the coronavirus pandemic. – C4ISRNET


The Army’s new network tools, set to be deployed to units in 2021, were heavily influenced by a new factor: soldiers. Through exercises and training events, the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team received feedback on its design decisions for Capability Set ’21, the set of new network tools set to be delivered to soldiers next year as part of the service’s network modernization efforts. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. is facing a more complex strategic deterrence problem as both China and Russia continue to modernize their nuclear and conventional weapons, the head of U.S. Strategic Command said on Thursday. – USNI News

As the Marines reshape their force to take on the Chinese in the Western Pacific, some experts worry the new emphasis could leave the Marines fewer tools to operate in other parts of the world and fight different types of adversaries. – USNI News

Matt Vallone writes: In the long term, interest rates and relations with China will be the key variables driving U.S. defense spending. […]As in all things, time will eventually reveal the configuration of political power and the economic and strategic posture of the United States and its rivals. In the middle of a pandemic, the only thing that’s certain for the foreseeable future is uncertainty. – War on the Rocks

Timothy A. Walton and Bryan Clark write: Guam and the Northern Marianas are essential to U.S. strategy and operations in the Western Pacific. Their defenses have long been ignored, and Adm. Davidson should be lauded for charting a path forward. A disaggregated architecture, however, will be more likely to realize INDOPACOM’s vision of resilient and scalable air and missile defense – Defense News

Trump Administration

A federal appeals court will rehear a legal challenge to whether charges against former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn must be dropped, the latest twist in a yearslong legal drama in the last remaining continuing criminal case from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. – Wall Street Journal

Roughly three and a half years after Russian election interference left an indelible mark on the 2016 presidential contest, there is a growing sense of unease among top U.S. officials that the Chinese Communist Party seeks to disrupt the 2020 election, same as Moscow and others. – Washington Examiner

The surveillance of onetime Trump campaign adviser Carter Page increasingly appears to have been uniquely problematic. In response to a Justice Department audit born from that controversy, the FBI released details about more than two dozen Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications, arguing none of its mistakes affected the “validity” of the FISA court’s orders. – Washington Examiner

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, on Thursday faced a backlash on Capitol Hill over the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw almost 12,000 US troops from Germany, with some senators framing the drawdown as advantageous to Russia. – Financial Times