Fdd's overnight brief

June 2, 2020

In The News


Standing at a lectern with a backdrop map of the world behind him reminiscent of one at the State Department, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry made a point Monday to criticize the U.S. in English amid ongoing protests over police killings of black people. – Associated Press

An Iranian scientist imprisoned in the U.S. and acquitted in a federal trade secrets case is on his way back to Iran after being deported, the country’s foreign minister said Tuesday. – Associated Press

In recent weeks, thousands of non-Jewish Iranians have been sending messages to Israel’s Foreign Ministry asking for help in escaping Iran and even immigrating to Israel. – Algemeiner

Simon Henderson writes: The 2018 U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, plus additional sanctions since, has been matched by Iran regarding itself as no longer bound by its limitations. Whether Iran has returned to continue its one-time nuclear weapon research is a detail unknown to the general public and, worryingly, perhaps even unclear to the U.S. intelligence community. – The Hill

Stephen Johnson writes: What the United States and Latin America’s democracies would do in response to a resurgent Iranian presence in the Americas is hard to imagine during the current COVID-19 pandemic. What’s certain is that meddling of that magnitude would be difficult to ignore. – Foreign Policy


Turkey issued detention warrants for 118 people, mostly members of the military and security forces, suspected of links to the network that Ankara says was behind a 2016 coup attempt, the Istanbul prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Greece said Monday that it is determined to oppose plans by Turkey to expand oil-and-gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea, in a deepening regional dispute over mineral rights. – Associated Press

Ryan Gingeras writes: Whatever does happen, Turkey’s present commitment to its “blue homeland” policies appears contingent upon two critical factors. Firstly, Turkey’s maritime posturing, as conjured up by Gürdeniz, Yaycı, and others, has captured the imagination of a broad swath of the Turkish political establishment. Calls for a determined defense of the country’s expansive “mavi vatan” echoes the combative, independent spirit of Ankara’s contemporary foreign policy. At present, there is little incentive for Turkey to deviate course. – War on the Rocks


Israel’s government is preparing to begin annexing parts of the occupied West Bank as early as next month, ordering its military on Monday to bolster security there despite facing possible blowback from Europe and Arab states over the controversial plan. – Wall Street Journal

Yet with a month until he says he will apply Israeli sovereignty over large stretches of land the Palestinians have counted on for a future state, Mr. Netanyahu is suddenly facing stiff resistance, including a surprising rebellion in the ranks of the settler leaders who have been agitating for annexation for years. – New York Times

Israel’s defense minister apologized on Sunday for the Israeli police’s deadly shooting of an unarmed Palestinian man who was autistic. The shooting of Iyad Halak, 32, in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday, drew broad condemnations and revived complaints alleging excessive force by Israeli security forces. – Associated Press

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Monday he ordered the military to step up preparations for Israel’s pending annexation of parts of the West Bank, a plan that could stoke Palestinian violence. – Reuters

In recent months, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Fatah movement have continued their tradition of glorifying terrorists who carried out attacks against Israelis, including civilians. This was manifested in reports and articles published in the PA media, and in official statements by Fatah, which lavished praise on terrorists, including Theresa Helsa, a member of the Black September cell who took part in the hijacking of the Sabena airliner from Brussels to Lod airport in May 1972, in which one hostage was killed, and Dalal Al-Mughrabi, a Fatah member who participated in the March 1978 Coast Road massacre, in which many Israelis were killed and wounded. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Iraqi paramedic Sarmad Ibrahim cut his teeth treating fellow Shi’ite Muslim militiamen in the war against Islamic State. Now, he buries COVID-19 victims – an exhausting task where he must also get to grips with both Muslim and Christian burial rites. – Reuters

Independent investigators were asked to look at thousands of allegations made against the British military after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But the director of the Service Prosecution Authority (SPA) said just one remaining case was being examined. – BBC

Jewish leaders and organizations on Monday marked the anniversary of the 1941 Baghdad pogrom known as the “Farhud,” which began the ethnic cleansing of the millennia-old Iraqi Jewish community. – Algemeiner

Gulf States

Shortly after opening the largest Covid-19 testing centre outside of China, the United Arab Emirates offered the US embassy hundreds of tests to screen its staff. But the gesture by the UAE — one of the US’s closest regional allies — was met with a rare snub. “The offer was politely declined,” said a US official. The reason was the involvement of Chinese firms and technology, which raised a “red flag” and concerns about patient privacy, the official added. – Financial Times

Oil prices rose on Tuesday, with traders waiting to see whether major producers agree to extend their huge output cuts to shore up prices at a virtual meeting expected later this week. – Reuters

A bitter feud between Qatar and a Saudi-led alliance drags into a fourth year on Friday with no end in sight. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia led its Gulf allies the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, along with Egypt, to cut all ties with Qatar, accusing it of backing radical Islamist movements and Iran — a charge denied by Doha. – Agence France-Presse


That was the Arab Spring in Egypt almost a decade ago. But in recent days those momentous events have been revived in the minds of many Egyptians as a strikingly similar dynamic has played out in the United States, with familiar images of flames, tear gas and anguish, even if the context is very different. – New York Times

But on Monday, Soltan, a 32-year-old U.S. citizen now living in Virginia, used a federal statute to accuse former Egyptian prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi of crimes against humanity. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: If Egypt seeks to pressure Ethiopia over the Great Renaissance Dam, the best way for Cairo to move forward would be to take diplomatic or economic action against the dam’s foreign financiers. But Sisi’s current approach will fail: The weapons his government has allegedly provided the Somali government are far more likely to end up in the hands of anti-Egyptian radicals than those who seek to counter Ethiopia. Perhaps, for the sake of regional security, it is time for the Trump administration to stop turning a blind eye to Egypt’s weapons trade. – Washington Examiner


The United Nations said Libya’s warring factions have agreed to resume cease-fire talks, following days of heavy fighting and eastern-based forces retaking a key town from their rivals after a string of setbacks. – Associated Press

Editorial: The simmering tensions over migration, and the contradictions embedded in the Libyan arms embargo policy, illustrate how far the EU is from fulfilling the hopes of Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, and becoming a “geopolitical” actor. The chief problems are persistent differences in outlook among the 27 national governments, a lack of EU hard power and a barely visible strategic culture. No one pretends that it will be easy to settle the Libyan civil war. But the contrast between the EU’s bold response to the pandemic and its muddled foreign policy could not be clearer. – Financial Times

Mohamed Eljarh writes: As Moscow seeks to strengthen its engagement with the eastern Libya bloc and Ankara builds its military footprint and influence in Tripoli, Erdogan and Putin could repeat their attempt to hijack international diplomacy on Libya with an Astana-like process, presumably favoring Turkish and Russian interests over Libyan ones where convenient. If there is no major shift in dynamic, it is these two countries that will dictate the future of Libya. So far, as the United States continues to exhibit lack of interest or serious engagement and Europe remains divided without a clear common policy on Libya, it remains likely that Turkey and Russia will continue to occupy their roles as shapers of Libya, especially if Russia continues to increase its military and political involvement at the same pace. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea will open schools this month after delays over concern about the novel coronavirus, state media has reported, the latest sign of opening up even though the isolated country has said it has had no confirmed cases of the disease. – Reuters

South Korea said on Tuesday it would recommence proceedings against Japan at the World Trade Organization over export controls on some high-tech materials, adding that talks to resolve the dispute had so far failed to make progress. – Reuters

Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday called South Korea’s decision to restart proceedings against Japan at the World Trade Organization (WTO) “extremely regrettable”. – Reuters

South Korea will take action to stabilise financial markets if U.S.-China tensions over Hong Kong spark more volatility, the vice finance minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Ami Bera and Victor Cha write: Washington and Seoul need to prepare to counter more provocations from North Korea in the coming year. North Korea has a penchant for ramping up provocations during U.S. presidential and midterm elections in order to garner additional attention. The approaching U.S. election virtually rules out any new summit diplomacy between Trump and Kim.[…] The U.S. president would be better off reaching a cost-sharing deal with Seoul and working together with all of America’s allies on a strategy to face the security challenges ahead. – Washington Post


Police denied an application by organizers of an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, amid concerns over civil liberties after China said it would impose national-security legislation on the city. – Wall Street Journal

After staying quiet for days following President Trump’s move to curtail relations with Hong Kong, Beijing weighed in on Monday with a relatively measured response, suggesting that it might be waiting for details about Washington’s plan. – New York Times

But behind the scenes, it was a much different story, one of significant delays by China and considerable frustration among WHO officials over not getting the information they needed to fight the spread of the deadly virus, The Associated Press has found. – Associated Press

President Trump’s administration is trying to purge graduate students beholden to the Chinese Communist Party from acquiring sensitive research at American universities, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. – Washington Examiner

Marc Champion and Peter Martin write: Still, Beijing’s change of approach in Hong Kong marks a shift that’s worrying for China’s neighbors and for Europe, all caught in the midst of a rapidly growing superpower rivalry. It’s a movie they’ve seen before with Russia, one that doesn’t end with Beijing buckling before a triumphant West. – Bloomberg

Jesse Fried writes: While the US legislation is well intentioned, it probably will not open China to inspections. Sadly, there is no easy way to protect investors from any fraud by China-based companies trading now in the US. Good money has been paid for stock that may come to be worth very little. If Congress wishes to protect American investors, it should consider barring new listings from countries that refuse inspections or otherwise frustrate the pursuit of cross-border wrongdoers. True, that would come too late to help current investors, but it would at least protect future investments. – Financial Times


The Taliban has maintained ties with al Qaeda despite signing an agreement with the United States the Trump administration has touted as a commitment from the insurgents to break from the terror group, according to a United Nations report released Monday. – The Hill

The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan sounded upbeat on Monday about the chances for peace talks starting between the Kabul government and the Taliban militant group but suggested further prisoner releases were needed first. – Reuters

Intelligence compiled by the United Nations shows member states have growing doubts about the Taliban’s intent to stick to the terms of a landmark agreement with the United States that was supposed to set the stage for an end to the nearly two-decade-long war in Afghanistan. – Voice of America


Pushing to get his political program back on track, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Monday that a referendum on constitutional changes that would allow him to dispense with term limits and stay in office until 2036 will be held on July 1. – New York Times

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday rejected Russia’s participation in a coming summit of the G7 nations, despite host US President Donald Trump wanting to invite Moscow. – Agence France-Presse

The Russian military on Monday accused the U.S. and its NATO allies of conducting “provocative” military drills near the nation’s borders, a statement that reflected simmering Russia-NATO tensions. – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump called Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday to tell him about his proposal to convene an international summit that would involve Russia, the Kremlin said. – Associated Press

A senior Russian diplomat mocked “American exceptionalism in practice” while rebuffing U.S. assessments that Moscow is capitalizing on the riots that broke out following the death of George Floyd. – Washington Examiner

Alexei Kudrin, the head of Russia’s Accounts Chamber, is Putin’s chief in-house liberal, and due to his loyalty, his independent views are tolerated and sometimes solicited. As a member of the political establishment Kudrin has to pull his punches but in an article for Kommersant titled “We Need to Treat the Disease, and not Just the Symptoms”, he pushes back against the argument that the coronavirus model justifies a centralized authoritarian regime. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Dmitriy Frolovskiy writes: Reliance on the impartial intermediary approach and realpolitik might be effective to an extent as a way of building bridges with autocratic incumbents, but evidence suggests that Russia’s leadership fails to fully grasp the potential for growing popular unrest in the Middle East. Prone to disruptions, the Kremlin’s approach could still deliver geopolitical gains in the years to come, as signs suggest has been the case with Russia’s growing military presence in Libya. But the region’s changing dynamics might not only offset these gains, but also turn Russia’s involvement into a costly endeavor, wounding it both at home and abroad. – Middle East Institute


Trade negotiators from Britain and the EU embark on a fourth round of post-Brexit negotiations Tuesday but no-one in London or Brussels expects a breakthrough. – Agence France-Presse

Poland’s upper house of parliament, the Senate, approved legislation late on Monday allowing a presidential election to be held using a mix of postal and traditional voting, potentially paving the way for the vote to take place in June. – Reuters

Rabbis can be military chaplains again in the German military for the first time since they were kicked out by the Nazis in the 1930s, nearly a century ago. – Times of Israel


Congo’s health minister confirmed the discovery of a new Ebola case in the country’s Équateur province, which last saw an outbreak of the highly deadly virus in 2018, ultimately killing 33 people there. – Washington Post

Zimbabwe has summoned the U.S. ambassador in Harare to a meeting over comments by a White House official suggesting Zimbabwe is among “foreign adversaries” that could face retaliation for trying to foment unrest in the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for air as a police officer pressed a knee into his neck. – Associated Press

Abdelrahiem A. Khalifa writes: In order for the transition to succeed, those leading the change must recognize the formidable challenges that obstruct the way, and be prepared to work together to overcome them. The international community must recognize these efforts, and do everything it can to ensure that the new Sudan is set up to succeed. – Washington Institute

Latin America

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday said he would visit Iran shortly to sign cooperation agreements in energy and other sectors, after Iran sent five fuel tankers to the gasoline-starved South American country. – Reuters

Activists in Brazil fed up with police crimes against blacks rallied in solidarity Monday night, with protesters in the United States, demonstrating against the death of a black man by a white police officer who knelt on his neck during his arrest on suspicion of committing a forgery. – Voice of America

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro urged his supporters on Monday to put off their protests against the country’s Supreme Court next weekend after counter-demonstrations triggered violent clashes on Sunday. – Reuters

United States

The National Guard said Monday it had deployed 12,000 additional Air and Army Guardsmen for civil-unrest response in 23 states and Washington, D.C., making the 67,000 members now on the streets for the protests and Covid-19 the largest number ever activated in the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

Some critics, notably in China and Iran, used the killing to deflect from their own problems, saying it showed what they called the hypocrisy and arrogance of an increasingly isolated Trump administration. The criticism thundered from the streets of Berlin, London, Paris and Vancouver, British Columbia, to capitals in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Artists drew an anti-racism mural in a besieged part of Syria. Lebanese and Chilean protesters offered advice on protection from police abuse. – New York Times

Embracing the language of confrontation and war, President Donald Trump declared himself the “president of law and order” and signaled he would stake his reelection on convincing voters his forceful approach, including deploying U.S. troops to U.S. cities, was warranted in a time of national tumult and racial unrest. – Associated Press

Hong Kong’s leader blasted the U.S. for “double standards” in the way it handles protests after the Trump administration vocally supported sometimes-violent demonstrations in the Asian financial hub. – Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump on Monday said he was deploying thousands of “heavily armed” soldiers and police to prevent further protests in Washington, where buildings and monuments have been vandalized near the White House. – Agence France-Presse

Several U.S. embassies in African countries spoke out against the killing of George Floyd in an unusual example of American diplomats commenting publicly on U.S. domestic affairs. – The Hill

Editorial: As they react to horrible scenes of shopkeepers and a truck driver beaten by mobs and churches burning and desecrated, some conservatives are already calling for the President to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 and send in the 82nd Airborne. We think this would be a mistake, though Mr. Trump has the authority. – Wall Street Journal


If the Navy has spent the last three years taking USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) from a construction project to a platform that can launch and recover jets, the service is now taking steps to turn the ship into one that can fight in maritime combat. – USNI News

China’s newest aircraft carrier, Type 001A Shandong (Hull 17), is conducting sea trials at a time Beijing’s military leadership criticizes the pace and scope of U.S. Navy operations in the region. – USNI News

BAE Systems has completed a successful ground-to-ground test of its Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System rocket for the first time, the company announced Monday. The test, conducted at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, involved “several successful shots” of the APKWS rockets out of a launcher, built specifically for ground vehicles by Arnold Defense, according to BAE. – Defense News

The Pentagon is not seeing major delays “at this time” to its nuclear warhead modernization efforts in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a top nuclear official at the department. The Department of Defense also hopes to “shortly” see initial results from an analysis of alternatives about a potential new nuclear submarine-launched cruise missile, said Drew Walter, who is performing the duties of deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters. – Defense News

Barry Pavel writes: The United States remains a global power with global responsibilities, and nowhere are such responsibilities more serious than in U.S. military efforts to sustain deterrence against revisionist powers such as China and Russia. While the recent U.S. force surge to the western Pacific should help stabilize that region, the chances of conflict in the coronavirus era are higher than before the pandemic. – Defense One

Trump Administration

President Trump called for a tougher government response to the violent unrest that has followed widespread peaceful protests sparked by last week’s death of a black man in police custody, telling governors they have been too weak and threatening to deploy the military in U.S. cities. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump’s pitch to re-invite Russia to the G-7 got a swift thumbs-down from fellow world leaders on Monday. The U.S. president, who is hosting the next gathering of leaders from major industrial nations, suggested Saturday the group ought to expand to include Russia, India, Australia and South Korea. – Politico

President Donald Trump spread a number of false and misleading claims about the World Health Organization in announcing his decision to cut U.S. ties with the agency over the coronavirus epidemic. – Associated Press