Fdd's overnight brief

June 23, 2020

In The News


The U.S. has shared a draft resolution with members of the United Nations Security Council that would extend an arms embargo on Iran indefinitely, according to diplomats. – Bloomberg

The President of the Ukraine has threatened that if Iran does not fulfill its obligations regarding the Ukrainian airliner downed in January over Tehran, Kyiv will file a lawsuit against the Islamic Republic in international courts. – Radio Farda

Iran will send the black boxes from a downed Ukrainian airliner to France for analysis, the countries said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran’s currency on Monday dropped to its lowest value ever against the dollar and officials warned Iranian exporters to bring their foreign earnings home from abroad. – Associated Press

Editorial: The IAEA has often given public cover to Iran’s noncompliance while privately pushing it to be more transparent. The agency’s shift is welcome and explains the threats from Tehran. The next step should be an IAEA referral to the United Nations Security Council, and U.S.-Europe cooperation on sanctions. – Wall Street Journal


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now considering how far he wants to go toward fulfilling his campaign pledge to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. That pledge is based on the Trump peace plan, which would allow Israel to annex up to 30% of the occupied territory if Israel and the U.S. agree on a map, even if the Palestinians don’t agree to negotiate. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. officials will gather this week to discuss whether to give Israel a green light for its plan to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s target date of July 1 approaches. – Reuters

In the first months of 2020, Israel found itself simultaneously facing several crises. With borders closing amid the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a rising Iranian threat along Israel’s border, the Israel Defense Forces’ International Cooperation Division is playing a central role in building relations with the United States, NATO and neighboring states friendly to the country. – Defense News


A rocket landed in the perimeter of Baghdad International Airport on Monday, the Iraqi military said in a statement. – Reuters

On June 17, 2020, the League of Revolutionaries, a recently-formed Iraqi group that appears to be an Iranian proxy, released a video in which it claims responsibility for several attacks which it alleges were perpetrated against American forces in Iraq. Since it first appeared in March 2020, the group has claimed responsibility for firing missiles at the Taji Military Base and released several videos in which it threatens to attack American interests in the country. – Middle East Media Research Institute

U.S. Central Command Gen. Ken McKenzie has repeatedly said of late that the American force of 5,200 soldiers in Iraq will be drawing down soon, but the fight against the Islamic State is not yet complete and will not be turned over to Iraqi Armed Forces alone. That point was underscored over the weekend, when Operation Inherent Resolve reported that coalition aircraft destroyed three rural ISIS camps. – Washington Examiner


A Lebanese political activist who was detained last week was charged on Monday with collaborating with Israel and referred to a military prosecutor, Lebanon’s state-run news agency reported. – Associated Press

The US State Department is denying any deal-making or “good-will diplomacy” was behind the impending release of Kassim Tajideen, a Lebanese-Belgian businessman and convicted financier of the militant organisation Hezbollah. – The National

The head of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col, warned on Monday that continued flights of IDF aircraft over Lebanese territory could renew hostilities between Lebanon and Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

The Saudi-led coalition embroiled in a years-long conflict in Yemen announced on Monday that Emirati-backed southern separatists and the country’s internationally recognized government have agreed to a cease-fire after months of infighting. – Associated Press

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement carried out a “large-scale attack” deep in Saudi Arabia, the movement’s Al Masirah television said on Tuesday, without elaborating. – Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthis in Yemen said on Monday it has intercepted several drones laden with explosives launched by the Iran-aligned group towards the kingdom, state news agency SPA reported, citing the coalition spokesman. – Reuters

Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and southern separatist forces have agreed on a ceasefire and will begin talks in Saudi Arabia on implementing a peace deal, the Saudi-led coalition said on Monday. – Reuters

Nadwa Al-Dawsari writes: Five years of this vicious cycle have led the tribes and many Yemenis to believe that the Saudi-led coalition is not in it to defeat the Houthis, but rather to drag Yemenis into a war of attrition that is seemingly without end. The Yemeni government leadership, which is largely based in Riyadh, is one of the main beneficiaries of the war economy, and many believe that they are complicit, offering legal cover for the Saudi-led coalition to keep the war going at the expense of the tribes and the country as a whole. – Middle East Institute


France will not tolerate Turkey’s military intervention in Libya, President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday, accusing Ankara of playing “a dangerous game”. – Reuters

Egypt’s warning that it could intervene directly in neighbouring Libya will not deter Turkey supporting its Libyan allies, a senior Turkish official said on Monday, amid tensions between regional rivals Cairo and Ankara. – Reuters

Italy, Germany and the United States pushed Monday for a cease-fire and de-escalation of tensions in Libya following a warning by Egypt that it would intervene militarily if Turkish-backed forces attack the strategic city of Sirte. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is ready to negotiate a maritime delimitation deal with Turkey and cooperate with Ankara on natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean, a PA envoy told Turkish media on Monday. – Middle East Eye

The initiative, dubbed “kindness is contagious”, helps explain why mayor Mansur Yavas has high approval ratings just over a year after wresting control of the city from the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Along with other mayors from the opposition Republican People’s party (CHP), he is seeking to show that he can rival Mr Erdogan’s record of service provision and welfare support — a key tactic the ruling party has used to shore up political support. – Financial Times

Mohamed Abdelaziz and Shaina Katz write: Many Arab media outlets, known for criticizing international and local Non-Governmental Organizations during the Arab spring, have also somewhat hypocritically criticized NGOs for their silence on the protests. […]These sampling of responses reflect how regional views on the United States come into play in the reporting of a major domestic U.S. issue. While there is no shortage of opinion on the ongoing events, the focus in many ways remains on the U.S. strategic, diplomatic, and economic interests in the region before the November election. – Washington Institute

Abdullah Al-Jabassini writes: Besides targeting ISIS sleeper cells, countering the presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Daraa would be the main factor underlying an upcoming increase in the level of violence, a situation that Russia might be forced to accept given its inability, or unwillingness, to keep Iran and Hezbollah out of Daraa, as it promised at the end of negotiations in summer 2018. Al-Oda’s participation in the Busra al-Sham protest is highly symbolic, and the arrival of hundreds of Daraa’s tribal sheikhs and notables to attended the condolence ceremony in Busra al-Sham on June 22 conveys a message: a former rebel leader may lose the war but win the people’s hearts and minds on a different battlefield. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

Former national security adviser John Bolton’s account of nuclear talks between the United States and the two Koreas is incorrect and distorted, Seoul’s Presidential Office said Monday, echoing the Trump administration’s accusations against the soon-to-be-published exposé by the former top aide. – Washington Post

North Korea is reinstalling loudspeakers blaring propaganda across the border in its latest step away from inter-Korean peace agreements, prompting the South’s military to explore similar moves, a South Korean military source said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A South Korean group launched hundreds of thousands of leaflets by balloon across the border with North Korea overnight, an activist said Tuesday, despite Pyongyang repeatedly warning it that it will retaliate against such actions. – Associated Press

From a veteran wounded in combat to a conscripted grandson, three generations of a South Korean family illustrate changing views of the North and the Korean War, 70 years after it began. – Agence France-Presse


The Trump administration is placing restrictions on four more Chinese media organizations controlled by the government, part of a broader conflict over the press in both countries that has resulted in U.S. reporters being expelled from China. – Wall Street Journal

As China’s government grows more combative abroad, overseas consumers and regulators have responded by putting pressure on Chinese firms or spurning Chinese brands altogether—particularly its technology players, which have been among the most prominent Chinese companies doing business around the world. – Wall Street Journal

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Monday the trade deal with China “continues in place’, walking back on his earlier remarks that the pact was ‘over’, stoking volatility in markets already frazzled by the coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

President Trump said the China trade deal is “fully intact” after his own trade adviser said it was over just hours before. “The China Trade Deal is fully intact. Hopefully they will continue to live up to the terms of the Agreement!” the president tweeted Monday night after White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said the deal was off. – Washington Examiner

Bill Drexel writes: The power of surveillance technology to work against minorities is considerable, and nowhere is this clearer than in Kashgar. It should be a warning. Some companies — such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft — have voluntarily restricted their facial recognition businesses for fear of contributing to racial bias. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.) It’s time for others that are still contributing to China’s repressive surveillance ecosystem to take a hard look at their policies. – Washington Post

Danielle Butcher writes: China is a powerful country with a growing economy, and they possess the capability to address climate challenges. Unfortunately, it has become evident that China prefers to ignore environmental concerns for financial and political gain. We can no longer sit idly by while the nation carelessly pollutes our planet and misleads us during times of crisis. – Washington Examiner

South Asia

The Taliban killed at least 291 Afghan security personnel over the past week, a top government official said Monday, accusing the insurgents of unleashing a wave of violence ahead of potential talks. – Agence France-Presse

Indian and Chinese military commanders met on Monday to try to ease tensions at their disputed Himalayan border as the public mood hardened in India for a military and economic riposte following the worst clash in more than five decades. – Reuters

An Indian state has put on hold three initial investment proposals from Chinese companies worth 50 billion rupees ($658 million), a state minister said on Monday, after a deadly border clash between the two nuclear-armed nations last week. – Reuters

Barkha Dutt writes: By going against the code of war, the Chinese, in a single night, have made India reset its relationship. The rage is unprecedented. A prominent Ladakhi educationist, Sonam Wangchuk, told me, “China is a rogue nation, ethically, politically and morally; the boycott needs to start now.” – Washington Post

Gideon Rachman writes: Until now, the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has tried to avoid choosing sides in the fast-developing antagonism between Washington and Beijing. But a parting of the ways between India and China now seems inevitable following last week’s border clashes between the two nations’ armies, which left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead and an unknown number of Chinese casualties. – Financial Times

Marvin G. Weinbaum writes: These confusing messages reflect in part differences between the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House over troop withdrawal. Most military analysts believe that an untimely departure from Afghanistan could lead to the breakdown of the Afghan security forces and the collapse of the government. At a minimum it is almost certain to weaken Kabul’s hand in any peace negotiations. The uncertainty about the withdrawal timetable has sowed confusion among U.S. partners in Afghanistan and prompted the Taliban to accuse the U.S. of not living up to the terms of their agreement, a claim that could be used to justify stepped-up violence. – Middle East Institute


Many anti-Beijing activists in Hong Kong regard Taiwan, a self-governing island democracy, as an ally in resisting encroachment from mainland China—and as a potential refuge as Beijing tightens its grip on this former British colony. – Wall Street Journal

The United States has not asked Tokyo to pay more to keep its troops in the country, Japan’s defence minister said, after a report cited former National Security Adviser John Bolton as saying he conveyed President Donald Trump’s demand for an $8 billion annual payment. – Reuters

Hong Kong’s leader acknowledged that she still hasn’t seen a full draft of China’s pending national security legislation, even though the measure could be handed down in a matter of days. – Bloomberg

The leader of small but strategically located Kiribati has won a closely watched presidential run-off after campaigning on a pro-China platform, in a set back to Taiwan’s hopes to re-establish ties with a country that ditched it for Beijing last year. – Reuters

Editorial: The worst fears about China’s ambitions to dominate Hong Kong and destroy its democratic ways are materializing. China’s ruling Communist Party intends to impose a security law that will create a powerful new secret police. Judging by China’s use of coercive repression on the mainland, free speech and rule of law will be on the run. – Washington Post


U.S. and Russian negotiators held long-awaited talks on nuclear arms control Monday, as the Trump administration presses for an ambitious new accord to replace the New START treaty, which expires in February. – Wall Street Journal

The Kremlin has become entrenched in a war of words with Europe over the legacy of World War II, as both sides accuse each other of cynically rewriting history for political gain. – Agence France-Presse

A Russian journalist charged with publicly justifying terrorism called the case against her “a sham” on Monday and said it was a sign of growing censorship. – Reuters

A massive Russian military parade postponed by the coronavirus pandemic will roll through Red Square this week to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, even though Russia is still registering a steady rise in infections. – Associated Press

Defense lawyers for a Russian charged with involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 cast doubt Monday on prosecutors’ assertions that the passenger jet was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile. – Associated Press


Top European Union officials warned China’s leaders on Monday that ties between the two trade partners would be damaged if they failed to further open their economy to European companies and treat foreign firms fairly, a clear sign of hardening attitudes toward Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, a native of northeast Philadelphia, was named by his family on Monday as one of three people killed in the attack in Reading, about 40 miles west of London. Authorities are describing it as a terrorist incident. – Washington Post

A Syrian doctor living in Germany has been arrested on accusations that he tortured a detainee in a secret military prison in his home country, the latest example of efforts to hold accountable former Syrian officials who entered Germany as refugees. – New York Times

France on Monday brought home 10 children of French jihadists who had been stuck in sprawling detention camps in northeastern Syria since at least the collapse of the Islamic State last year. – New York Times

President Aleksandar Vucic’s nearly complete control over the Serbian state was bolstered on Sunday after his party won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections boycotted by most of the opposition in protest at his autocratic policies. […]The result could also give Mr. Vucic greater leeway to forge a peace agreement with Kosovo, the former Serbian province that broke from Belgrade in 1999, helped by an American-led bombing campaign, but whose sovereignty Serbia has never officially recognized. – New York Times

The European Union pleaded with Chinese leaders at a summit meeting Monday to put more effort into lagging negotiations on an investment and trade deal, an issue that has increasingly vexed the 27-member bloc. But the plea seemed likely to go unanswered by China, which has tightened control over its domestic economy and turned more combative in relations with Western powers. – New York Times

The targeting of colonial-era monuments in some Western nations has prompted activists in Russia and Ukraine to reflect on how their own countries dealt with Soviet-era statues and, in some cases, to ask whether it was good enough. – Reuters

Germany’s deputy finance minister on Monday said that it was necessary to prepare for the worst on Brexit and urged banks to be ready for a hard Brexit, adding there is a very strong risk of a tough situation ahead. – Reuters

German police conducted raids Tuesday on sites linked to a far-right group after the country’s top security official deemed it extremist – Associated Press

Japan has given the UK just six weeks to strike a post-Brexit deal, putting Boris Johnson’s government under pressure to agree one of the fastest trade negotiations in history — and Britain’s first in more than 40 years. – Financial Times

Gary J. Schmitt and Giselle Donnelly write: While each of these goals is worthy, the facts remain that German defense spending has been on the rise for several years, the German parliament is pushing back against the government’s plans for Huawei, and the pipeline is over 90 percent complete. German reaction to the troop cuts and the underlying threat will be, as ours would be, to get its sovereign dander up. The political dynamic playing out here is likely to result in Washington failing in all three areas. – The American Interest


In the name of ridding their country of Islamist extremists and bandits, government security forces are now killing about as many people as jihadists do, according to interviews with human rights campaigners and a security analyst. – New York Times

A suicide bomber detonated inside a Turkish military training base in Somalia’s capital and killed two people, police said Tuesday. It was the first time the Turkish base in Mogadishu, Turkey’s largest overseas military base, has been attacked by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group. – Associated Press

Authorities in Ivory Coast have arrested the suspected head of a jihadist group and several other militants believed to have carried out an attack in the north two weeks ago that killed at least 10 soldiers, the defence minister said on Monday. – Reuters

Latin America

President Trump backtracked Monday from remarks that had opened the door to a possible meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whom the Trump administration brands a rapacious dictator and the illegitimate ruler of his country. – Washington Post

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday he is “prepared” to talk to US counterpart Donald Trump, who earlier claimed he was open to meeting the socialist leader to discuss his exit from power. – Agence France-Presse

Venezuela’s socialist government tried to recruit then-Congressman Pete Sessions to broker a meeting with the CEO of Exxon Mobil at the same time it was secretly paying a close former House colleague $50 million to keep U.S. sanctions at bay, The Associated Press has learned. – Associated Press

A man drove a car into the front gate of the Chinese Embassy in Buenos Aires on Monday, prompting a major response by police, officials said. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: The sad truth is that Trump’s reckless outburst over the weekend about Venezuela was driven mainly by his rage at Bolton, whose new memoir paints a merciless portrait of the president as a craven ignoramus. In order to score points against a former ally who spurned him, Trump sabotaged his own Venezuela policy and endangered that country’s opposition leader. – Bloomberg

Moises Rendon and Claudia Fernandez write: As the situation in Venezuela evolves, sanctions must be monitored, evaluated, and, if necessary, adjusted to minimize collateral damage and facilitate humanitarian work. But lifting sanctions at this time would eliminate the opposition’s leverage and undermine diplomatic and judicial efforts to pressure the Maduro regime. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

North America

The Federal Communications Commission on Monday said it rejected the request of a radio station in Mexico to continue broadcasting Mandarin Chinese language programs to southern California and ordered it to cease operations within 48 hours. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Monday for the immediate release of two Canadians charged by China with espionage, saying the United States was “extremely concerned” and that the two men’s detention was unjustified. – Reuters

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: To put it simply, the U.S. will be far better off working with its allies and other states – particularly in view of the Coronavirus crisis – than it is by ignoring them, by alienating them through burden sharing, by arbitrarily cutting the forces the U.S. deploys, or by dropping out of treaties and regional agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. To put it bluntly, we need to focus on the values that have made us a global leader and to stop wasting the legacy made from decades of past efforts. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Questions about whether troops have faced racism, anti-Semitism and supremacism on duty would be added to Pentagon workplace surveys under a provision in the House Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense policy bill. – The Hill

The House Armed Services Committee may force the Navy to begin integrating hypersonic weapons onto the Zumwalt class of destroyers, something the sea service has talked about but not prioritized in its budget. – USNI News

The Navy and its lead builder for a new class of ballistic-missile submarines have hammered out their path forward for how to fully fund the first two boats, the head of Navy procurement told reporters on Monday. – USNI News

The House Armed Services Committee will allow the Air Force to retire a portion of its RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone inventory in fiscal year 2021 as long as it can meet certain conditions. – Defense News

As large chunks of the country begin to scale back restrictions caused by COVID-19, the companies of the defense industrial base have largely reopened for business, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official said Monday. – Defense News

The future chain of command for the Missile Defense Agency is up in the air, as legislators express their frustration with how leadership has handled a number of missile defense priorities, including a space-based sensor layer that could track hypersonic weapons. – C4ISRNET

A House subcommittee’s draft of the annual defense policy bill would elevate the the Pentagon’s artificial intelligence hub to report to the deputy secretary of defense. – C4ISRNET

A House Armed Services Committee draft of the annual defense policy bill calls for the National Guard and Reserve components to assist in defending the nation in cyberspace. – Fifth Domain

William D. Hartung writes: The UCS proposals include removing ICBMs from high alert, to eliminate the possibility of launching these missiles on false warning and starting a nuclear war by mistake. Ultimately, the only way to be safe from a nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether, as called for in the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. But in the meantime, the recommendations of the new UCS report are a long step in the right direction. – The Hill

Capt. Walker D. Mills and Lt. Joseph Hanacek write: Navy and Marine Corps continue to serve as the first responders for many of the nation’s emerging challenges around the globe. They’ve long been in need of a boost in their amphibious capabilities so as to be better positioned to meet the demands of today and prepare for the challenges of tomorrow, and taking possession of the Army’s Runnymede- and Frank S. Benson-class vessels is a solution on a silver platter. – Defense News

Trump Administration

John Bolton’s explosive tell-all account of his time as National Security Advisor is comparable to Edward Snowden’s disclosure of state-backed mass surveillance of US citizens, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday. – Agence France-Presse

President Trump on Monday suggested without evidence that his predecessor, former President Obama, committed treason in connection with the investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. – The Hill

Senior U.S. Senate Democrats on Monday accused President Donald Trump’s administration of violating the law when it declared his intention last month to withdraw the United States from the Open Skies Treaty. – Reuters

The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee said on Monday it scheduled a July 2 hearing in its investigation of the firing of the State Department’s inspector general, with testimony from a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. – Reuters