Fdd's overnight brief

June 10, 2020

In The News


Iran said it sentenced one of its citizens to death for allegedly providing information to the U.S. and Israel about Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was later killed in a drone strike that brought Washington and Tehran to the brink of armed confrontation. – Wall Street Journal

Russia and China have started making the case at the United Nations against Washington’s claim that it can trigger a return of all sanctions on Iran at the Security Council, with Moscow invoking a 50-year-old international legal opinion to argue against the move. – Reuters

The European Union’s top diplomat said Tuesday that since the United States has already withdrawn from an international agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it can’t now use its former membership of the pact to try to impose a permanent arms embargo on the Islamic Republic. – Associated Press

As tensions remain high between Iran and the U.S., the Islamic Republic appears to have constructed a new mock-up of an aircraft carrier off its southern coast for potential live-fire drills. – Associated Press

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave an inflammatory speech at a cabinet meeting, according to Fars News Agency in Tehran. Referencing the police killing of George Floyd in the US he claimed that the US has had a “knee” to the throat of Iran for years and that Iran has broken the will of America. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: No matter who wins, it would be unwise to throw away the new leverage built by maximum pressure. And it would be downright foolish to ease sanctions on Iran amid its IAEA dispute. The nuclear watchdog’s frank report should startle both candidates. There’s no way to negotiate a new deal, or return to the old one, without a real accounting of the country’s nuclear materials and research. – Wall Street Journal


President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the Syrian government was increasing provocations in northwest Syria’s Idlib region and that Turkey would not allow it to become a conflict zone again. – Reuters

Turkish authorities have ordered the detention of 414 people, mainly military personnel, over suspected links to the network that Ankara says orchestrated a failed coup in 2016, prosecutors and state media said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: With the US wanting to reduce its role in the Middle East, outsourcing policy to Ankara has seemed like a good deal. It is similar to the deal with Israel which foresees Israel being given a free hand against Iran’s threats in southern Syria, while Turkey works northern Syria. Somewhere in the US administration there is a fantasy that this could all work together and shared Israeli-Turkish interests against Hezbollah, for instance, might even knit together what is a mostly toxic Israel-Turkey-US relationship. For now, Ankara continues to try to exploit the crisis in the US for its own benefit. – Jerusalem Post


Israel’s Supreme Court struck down a law on Tuesday that had retroactively legalised about 4,000 settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. – Reuters

Israel must face consequences if it annexes land in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday, pointing to possible European sanctions. – Reuters

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday he was unaware that a plane from the United Arab Emirates was to fly to Israel carrying medical aid for the Palestinians. – Reuters

In another sign of warming ties between Israel and Gulf Arab nations, the Jewish state Tuesday congratulated the UAE on its bid to launch the first Arab space probe. – Agence France-Presse

Several dozen people protested against police violence in Jerusalem on Tuesday following the deadly shooting of a Palestinian man last month. – Associated Press

The Palestinians said Tuesday they proposed a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem with one-to-one land exchanges with Israel as a counteroffer to President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan. – Associated Press

Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the time is ripe for his country to permanently seize Palestinian territory by annexing swathes of the West Bank. […]However, much uncertainty remains around when, how – or even if – Netanyahu will push forward with annexation and what effect it could have. – The Guardian

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas landed in Israel on Wednesday for a visit that will include meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Maas’  counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi. – Haaretz

Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian Authority General Authority of Civil Affairs and member of the Fatah Central Committee, is facing sharp criticism from Palestinians for hinting that security coordination has not been suspended. – Jerusalem Post

Three weeks before a possible vote on Israel applying sovereignty in the West Bank, EU officials continued to voice their opposition, but would not list specific repercussions for the ties between Brussels and Jerusalem. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will initially announce the annexation of three West Bank blocs, but not the Jordan Valley or other settlement areas, according to top Israeli officials speaking on condition of anonymity. – Times of Israel

Arabian Peninsula

The coronavirus is spreading throughout Yemen, a county that has been devastated by five years of civil war. The fighting is between the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north, and a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the internationally recognized government. – Associated Press

Bahrain has released leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab after a court agreed to pass an alternative sentence to the jail term he is currently serving, his lawyer said on Tuesday. Rajab, an outspoken critic of the government who played a prominent role in pro-democracy protests in 2011, is serving a five-year sentence over social media posts criticizing Saudi Arabia’s air strikes in Yemen. Reuters

Ian Williams and Shaan Shaikh write: This ongoing duel between Houthi missiles and coalition defenses has offered a rare glimpse of the utility and limitations of ballistic missiles as a military tool. The conflict has also illustrated the kinds of difficulties that missile defense faces on the modern battlefield, and reinforced lessons about the difficulties of aerial “Scud-hunting” operations and the challenges of preventing the flow of missiles and other weapons from determined proliferators. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Saudi Arabia

The family of a former top Saudi intelligence official is lobbying the US government and congressmen in an effort to pressure Riyadh to release two of his children allegedly detained and held incommunicado for three months. – Financial Times

Canada sold a record amount of military hardware to Saudi Arabia in 2019, despite sharply criticizing its poor human rights record and placing a moratorium on any new exports to the kingdom. – The Guardian

The Muslim World League, a Saudi Arabian government-funded NGO, is prepared to fight “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Jews from around the world to defeat antisemitism, head of the group, Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa, said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post


The European Union’s top diplomat has urged all conflict parties in Libya to immediately stop all military operations and engage constructively in peace negotiations. – Reuters

Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) declared force majeure on exports from its Sharara oilfield on Tuesday, as an armed group repeatedly halted production just days after output had resumed following a blockade that had lasted months. – Reuters

The loss of al Watiya, on May 18, has been swiftly followed by further reverses for Haftar’s forces, which last week retreated from Tripoli airport and the city of Tarhouna, their last toehold in western Libya. This sudden shift of fortunes is more than another episode in Libya’s intractable conflict. It has less to do with the Libyans themselves than with outside powers pouring weapons, fighters and money into the country. The government is backed by Turkey and Qatar; Haftar by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. – CNN


Middle East & North Africa

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed Syria’s humanitarian aid needs in a telephone call, the Kremlin said in a statement on Tuesday. – Reuters

The US must see Iraq as an independent state and not a “surrogate” Iranian nation, the former Iraqi foreign minister said on Tuesday before strategic talks between Baghdad and Washington. – The National

Michael Knights and Hamdi Malik write: Rather than rushing Hashd reform in an opaque manner, the process should be nested within a broader national security reform effort that identifies roles and missions for all components of the armed forces. […]In this week’s Strategic Dialogue meetings, U.S. officials should seek assurances that all future reform measures will be coordinated by the Kadhimi government, not simply announced by PMF elements in a manner that presents the prime minister and the international community with a fait accompli. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

It was May of last year when Lucas Kuo and Lauren Sung noticed something strange: more than 100 ships gathering in the waters near Haeju, North Korea. As part of their work at the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a nonprofit that analyzes and investigates security issues using big data, the two analysts keep an eye on traffic in North Korean waters and further afield in Northeast Asia. – CNN

North Korea has shut off all lines of communication with “enemy” South Korea — a likely signal that Pyongyang is adopting a more confrontational stance towards Seoul after more than two years of detente and failed peace talks. – CNN

Melanie Kirkpatrick writes: In 2018 North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy and his wife disappeared in an apparent defection. Four days later their teenage daughter, whom they had left behind in Rome, went missing. She eventually turned up in Pyongyang, where she is believed to have been taken by North Korean agents. Her seizure was interpreted as a warning to her parents not to go public with the story of their defections. – Wall Street Journal


The United States will soon resume operations at its consulate in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus outbreak began late last year, the U.S. Embassy said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Chinese companies are putting off plans for U.S. listings as tensions between the world’s top two economies rise, lawyers, bankers, accountants and regulators involved in what has been a major capital-raising route told Reuters. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday chided British bank HSBC (HSBA.L) for backing moves by China to end Hong Kong’s autonomy, saying such “corporate kowtows” got little in return from Beijing. – Reuters

Beijing dismissed as “ridiculous” a Harvard Medical School study of hospital traffic and search engine data that suggested the new coronavirus may already have been spreading in China last August, and scientists said it offered no convincing evidence of when the outbreak began. – Reuters

A U.S. Senate report released Tuesday says the U.S. government failed to properly oversee Chinese-owned telecommunications companies for nearly two decades. – Reuters

South Asia

A new breakaway Afghan Taliban faction that has close ties to neighboring Iran and opposes efforts aimed at ending the 18-year insurgency in Afghanistan has emerged. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Nepal’s foreign minister said Tuesday that the country was still waiting for a response from India on holding talks to resolve a border dispute that has strained relations between the South Asian neighbors. – Associated Press

China said Wednesday it had reached a “positive consensus” with India over resolving tensions at the border between the two countries, where troops have faced off in recent weeks. – Agence France-Presse

The images from the desolate and disputed Sino-Indian borderlands are a far cry from the goodwill and bonhomie that Chinese president Xi Jinping and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi exuded for the cameras in October at an informal summit. – Financial Times


Antigovernment protesters rallied Tuesday evening in downtown Hong Kong, facing off with police who had banned recent demonstrations, to mark the first anniversary of a million-person rally that thrust the city into its biggest turmoil in decades. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Embassy criticized Japan’s public broadcaster on Tuesday for publishing an “offensive and insensitive” animated cartoon about the protests against police brutality that have convulsed the United States. – Washington Post

China on Tuesday urged students going overseas to think carefully before choosing Australia, citing a spate of racist incidents targeting Asians during the COVID-19 pandemic and putting A$12 billion ($8.3 billion) of fee revenue at risk. – Reuters

Australia’s economy, facing its first recession in 30 years because of the coronavirus, would suffer if Chinese students heeded a warning from their government to stay away because of racist incidents, Australia’s trade minister said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The speaker of the Czech upper house of parliament will travel to Taiwan with a trade mission at the end of August, potentially further souring his country’s relations with China which regards the island as a part of its territory. – Reuters

Western allies are probing a series of potential avenues to partner with Asian and Pacific nations to manage potential threats from China, according to Western officials and analysts. – Washington Examiner

Beijing’s desire to impose anti-subversion laws on the Asian financial hub stems from events last year when street protests, initially triggered by China’s contentious extradition bill, evolved into a pro-democracy movement that captured international attention and alarm. Two new books by pro-democracy advocates help us understand those 2019 protests and the increasingly hardline response they sparked from an anxious and angry Chinese leadership – Financial Times

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company has indicated it will not exploit apparent loopholes in the latest US restrictions on working with Chinese technology group Huawei and will comply with Washington’s intentions. – Financial Times

Michael J. Green, Amy Searight, and Patrick Gerard Buchan write: Situated at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, Southeast Asia has, in recent years, become the bellwether for the region, including the future of democratic governance. External powers, including the United States and China, have ramped up engagement with Southeast Asia and now compete for influence in the region. Amid these geopolitical shifts, Southeast Asian perspectives on dynamics that will shape the future of the region more than ever before. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Moscow won’t pressure China to join the coming arms-control talks with U.S. and Russian negotiators, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday. The absence of Chinese participation would present a significant obstacle for the Trump administration in reaching a new nuclear arms accord in talks that are scheduled to begin in Vienna on June 22. – Wall Street Journal

Russia called Tuesday on the United States to make a “positive” proposal as the powers open talks on a major disarmament treaty, warning that US insistence on including China could scuttle efforts. – Agence France-Presse

A Russian court on Tuesday sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to six and a half years in prison after finding him guilty of organising the activities of a banned extremist organisation, his lawyer said. […]The U.S.-headquartered Jehovah’s Witnesses have been under pressure for years in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin. – Reuters

Americans should show more respect for Russia’s space program after relying on it for nine years as the only way to send U.S. astronauts into orbit, the head of Russia’s space agency said. – Reuters

Philip Zelikow, Eric Edelman, Kristofer Harrison, and Celeste Ward Gventer write: Graft is nothing new; it may be the second-oldest profession. […]What is new, however, is the transformation of corruption into an instrument of national strategy. In recent years, a number of countries—China and Russia, in particular—have found ways to take the kind of corruption that was previously a mere feature of their own political systems and transform it into a weapon on the global stage. Countries have done this before, but never on the scale seen today. – Foreign Affairs

Tom Rogan writes: The point is not simply humorous. Grappling with Russia’s profound challenge to the U.S.-led international order, the U.S. must be willing to go eyeball to eyeball with an adversary that revels in doing the same. This report does that. […]this report should form the foundation of GOP policy toward Putin going forward. Its authors and supporters deserve much credit. – Washington Examiner

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The current US administration has generally walked away from treaties and international groups and not taken part in trilateral or other discussions. It has also been tough on Beijing, and it is unclear how the Trump administration hopes to achieve much during protests at home – and right before a new election. Meanwhile, Russia seems nonplussed at recent NATO exercises called BALTOPS (Baltic Operations) in the Baltic sea with 19 countries and 3,000 personnel participating. The “massive” drill is certainly aimed at showing Russia the maritime power of NATO. Russia has been highlighting its SU-34 warplanes and Pantsir air defense system. – Jerusalem Post


Nearly two dozen Republican House members are urging the White House to reconsider its decision to cut by half the number of American troops assigned to Germany, according to a new letter.Nearly two dozen Republican House members are urging the White House to reconsider its decision to cut by half the number of American troops assigned to Germany, according to a new letter. – Wall Street Journal

European attitudes to China were never far from American ones and have been getting closer. But there is one big difference: While greater economic independence from its big strategic rival is an expensive option for the U.S., it is an unaffordable one for Europe. – Wall Street Journal

The killing of George Floyd in police custody in the U.S. has revived a debate about how the U.K. should remember its lost empire. […]Britain has come late to an official reassessment of its history. British discussions about slavery, for example, have traditionally focused more on the country’s role in abolishing the slave trade than on its earlier phase as a leading exponent. – Wall Street Journal

As President Trump weighs a decision to withdraw nearly one-third of America’s troops from Germany, the Baltic states closest to Russian aggression quietly hope American troops do not leave the European theater. – Washington Examiner

Germany has not received any “official confirmation” of President Trump’s reported plan to withdraw 9,500 American troops from the key NATO ally, according to Berlin’s top defense official. – Washington Examiner

Boris Johnson’s government is drawing up a strategy to reduce the UK’s reliance on China for key imported goods, as ministers acknowledge that a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit will force a big shake-up of the country’s supply chains. – Financial Times

EU member states including Ireland are urging Brussels to take into account the shock of a hard Brexit in addition to the pandemic in its response to the bloc’s gravest postwar economic slump. – Financial Times

The pipeline, which will have a capacity of 10bn cubic metres per year, is due to be completed in 2022. Along with an LNG terminal in the Baltic port of Swinoujscie, it is part of a broader Polish plan to break the Russian stranglehold on its gas market that has endured long after the country escaped Moscow’s political orbit in 1989. – Financial Times

Even as it grapples with short-term troubles, among them another spat between America and Germany, NATO is starting to plan for the next ten years: how to adapt to the rising power of China? Finding an answer may be vital if the alliance is to retain a sense of purpose in 2030. – The Economist

Twenty-two Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee are calling on President Trump not to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Germany. – The Hill

Kevin Carroll writes: The order to eviscerate our regular forces in Germany is within Trump’s lawful authority as commander-in-chief. But it is destructive and misguided. The congressional Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees should exercise their authorization and oversight responsibilities. Call NATO’s supreme allied commander Europe (by tradition a U.S. officer), the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, and the deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy and ask them, under oath, if they think gutting our forces in Germany is wise for America’s long-term interests. – Washington Examiner

Hans Binnendijk writes: A withdrawal would be a clear signal that Trump is not serious about defending Europe. It would undercut the very deterrent strategy that both the Obama and Trump administrations have put in place to contain an aggressive Russia. It further undermines European confidence that America has Europe’s back. European powers may think twice before extending the deployment of their now more vulnerable forward deployed troops, further reducing deterrence. – Defense News


Pierre Nkurunziza, Burundi’s longtime leader, died unexpectedly of heart failure, the government said, weeks after an election confirmed his chosen successor. – Wall Street Journal

Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia on Tuesday resumed talks on the giant Blue Nile hydropower dam after the failure of a U.S-led mediation effort earlier this year, a Sudanese official said. – Reuters

Soldiers in three West African countries unlawfully killed or caused the disappearance of at least 199 people between February and April during stepped-up operations against jihadist insurgents, Amnesty International said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Boko Haram gunman killed at least 69 people and razed a village to the ground in northern Nigeria’s Borno state on Tuesday afternoon, three sources told Reuters. – Reuters

The killing last week of one of al-Qaeda’s top commanders in Africa was celebrated by France as a significant victory in its war on terrorism in the Sahel. But seven years after it first intervened in Mali to quell an Islamist insurgency, Paris is mired in a seemingly endless campaign. – Financial Times

In a significant breakthrough in the pursuit of justice for crimes in Darfur, Sudanese militia leader Ali Kushayb, who is charged with 50 crimes against humanity and war crimes in the devastating conflict, has been arrested more than 13 years after a warrant was issued for him and transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, authorities said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Latin America

The Trump administration, expanding an effort to choke off oil and fuel trade between Iran and Venezuela, is readying new sanctions against dozens of tankers while pressuring companies associated with those vessels, according to people familiar with the plans. – Wall Street Journal

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday that he will consider pulling the country out of the World Health Organization once the coronavirus pandemic has passed. – Reuters

Chinese oil companies may soon decline to charter any tanker that has visited Venezuela in the past year to avoid disruption to operations if the United States blacklists more ships for trading with Caracas, four shipping sources told Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters

North America

The president of the U.N. General Assembly said Monday that world leaders will not be coming to New York for their annual gathering in late September for the first time in the 75-year history of the United Nations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. – Associated Press

A former top professor at Harvard has been indicted for lying to authorities about his involvement with a Chinese initiative to recruit the world’s top scholars and scientists in an effort to further advance the country’s technology. – The Hill

Donald Trump has ordered the construction of a fleet of icebreakers and bases to pursue US interests in the Arctic and Antarctic by the end of the decade in a signal that his administration is going to take a more aggressive approach to the contest with Russia and China for polar resources. – The Guardian

An Israel Police spokesperson appeared to push back on Tuesday against efforts by some activists in far-left circles to blame the Jewish state for police brutality in the US. – Algemeiner

Joseph S. Nye Jr. writes: The open values of our democratic society and the right to peaceful protest are among the greatest sources of America’s soft power. Even when mistaken government policies reduce our attractiveness, the ability of American society to criticize itself and correct our own mistakes makes us attractive to others at a deeper level. We have done it before; we can do it again. – The Hill


The Trump administration is now moving to limit Chinese access to advanced American research, as relations between the United States and China reach their worst point in decades. That worries many of the companies and scientists in the heady realm of cutting-edge A.I., because much of the groundbreaking work coming out of the United States has been powered by Chinese brains. – New York Times

Senate investigators concluded the federal government had failed to oversee the operation of Chinese state-run telecom companies inside the United States properly for years, a failure that poses a threat to national security. – Washington Examiner

Honda has said it is dealing with a cyber-attack that is impacting its operations around the world. – BBC

Three Chinese telecommunications firms were allowed to operate for roughly 20 years in the U.S. without appropriate oversight, according to a bipartisan report released by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released early Tuesday. – The Hill

A new portal created by U.S. Cyber Command and the National Guard provides a two-way interface for sharing malware and gain better insights into cyber threats facing the nation, according to a June 9 release from the command. – Fifth Domain

Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Moore will be the next No. 2 at U.S. Cyber Command, according to a June 9 announcement from the Department of Defense. – Fifth Domain

British businesses in China said on Tuesday that Beijing’s recent market opening measures have had little benefit for them, while cyber security regulations threaten to “isolate” their local operations from their global networks. – Financial Times

Vodafone has warned that the UK’s hopes of leading the world in 5G technology would be dealt a terminal blow if the government removes Huawei from the country’s telecoms infrastructure. – Financial Times

Editorial: That’s more like it, and ultimately the tech war will be won or lost on the back of private enterprise in the U.S. and allied countries. Americans don’t want a world in which countries can find their networks compromised or officials blackmailed for defending Taiwan’s independence or highlighting China’s religious persecution. Political freedom depends on sustaining market conditions that allow private actors to out-innovate China’s one-party state. – Wall Street Journal


The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm the first African-American leader of a major U.S. military service, taking that step in the midst of national protests over police violence against black citizens. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump last week was on the brink of firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper over their differing views of domestic use of active-duty military, before advisers and allies on Capitol Hill talked him out of it, according to several officials. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Navy is drafting an order that would ban the Confederate battle flag as protests continue across the United States. – Washington Examiner

In the wake of nationwide protests over the treatment of black suspects at the hands of police and the public statements from black U.S. military officers, both current and former, about racism in the ranks, the Army has softened its long-standing resistance to renaming 10 U.S. Army bases honoring heroes of the Confederacy. – Washington Examiner

Leaders from Air Force Special Operations Command wanted an airborne-mounted laser weapon by the end of 2019. Now, they expect a demonstration in fiscal year 2022. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Air Force is on track to finalize a business case for its ambitious next-generation fighter this summer, its top acquisition official said Tuesday, and the results could be a make or break moment for the program. – Defense News

As the Pentagon focuses on developing new technologies such as artificial intelligence and directed energy, department officials have declared the need to ensure foreign nations are not buying their way into the defense-industrial base. But a new report warns China may already have ownership over a key focus: hypersonic weapons. – Defense News

More than 8,500 airmen volunteered to join the Space Force during May, the first month applications to transfer into the military’s newest branch were accepted, it said Tuesday. – The Hill

Drones manufactured by Da Jiang Innovation that were previously used by the U.S. government have not transferred data to the Chinese company or China’s government, according to a report published Tuesday by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. – The Hill