Fdd's overnight brief

June 30, 2020

In The News


Iran issued a warrant to arrest President Trump and 35 others over the killing of a top Iranian general earlier this year, a largely symbolic order that is Tehran’s latest attempt to draw international attention to what it has labeled an act of terrorism. – Wall Street Journal

When a major explosion lit the skies on the edge of Tehran last week, the Iranian government was quick to dismiss the episode as a gas explosion at the Parchin military base, which was once the focus of international nuclear inspectors. It turned out that was false: Satellite photographs show the explosion happened at a missile production facility not far from Parchin, a base laced with underground tunnels and long suspected to be a major site for Iran’s growing arsenal. – New York Times

Saudi and U.S. officials on Monday urged the international community to extend a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, saying that letting the ban expire would allow Tehran to further arm its proxies and destabilise the region. – Reuters

The Iranian missile operator who shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet in January shortly after takeoff fired without permission from commanding authorities, Tehran’s military prosecutor said following a preliminary judicial investigation. – Bloomberg

More sanctions are needed to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting with US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Nikki Haley writes: Given this history, any IMF loan would be the definition of naive. It would require willful ignorance of Iran’s past and current actions, to say nothing of the murderous character of the regime’s rulers. It would reward not just bad behavior, but truly evil acts. Ultimately, it would only further enable the Ayatollah’s oppression at home and aggression abroad. – Washington Examiner

Michael Singh writes: Neither the United States nor the EU-3 has an interest in inviting a crisis over Iran, especially if the beneficiaries are Russia and China. […]A compromise between these positions would be for the United States and EU-3 together to introduce a resolution suspending the nuclear agreement for a renewable period of negotiation, perhaps six months, with Washington maintaining its snapback threat as a backup should Moscow or Beijing veto and the EU-3 agreeing not to question the U.S. standing to take this action. – Washington Institute


Syria faces the risk of mass starvation or another mass exodus unless more aid money is made available, the head of the UN World Food Programme has said. – BBC

The U.N. humanitarian chief warned Monday that a halt to cross-border aid deliveries to the last rebel stronghold in Syria would cause “suffering and death,” but Syria’s ally Russia accused the U.N. and Western nations of trying to “sabotage” assistance from within Syria. – Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani will hold a video conference on Wednesday to discuss the conflict in Syria, the Kremlin said on Tuesday. – Reuters


An American NASA scientist returned with his family to the United States early Tuesday morning after nearly four years of imprisonment and house arrest in Turkey, and more than seven months after President Trump said he had secured an agreement for his release. – New York Times

French President Emmanuel Macron lashed out Monday against Turkey’s “criminal” responsibility in Libya. – Associated Press

Turkish power-ship operator Karadeniz Holding is preparing a bid to supply up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity to conflict-hit Libya and will submit it soon, the company said on Monday. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Across Europe this multi-layered Ankara approach of tracking dissidents, using intelligence agencies, renditions, attempting local prosecutions, activating local far-right activists, use of soft power media such as the state TRT broadcaster, refugee threats and NATO leverage, along with detaining members of western embassies in Turkey and constant insults against European countries by calling them “Nazis,” has now increased. – Jerusalem Post


A Palestinian Authority text sent to the international peacemaking Quartet, and seen Monday by AFP, said that the Palestinians are “ready to resume direct bilateral negotiations where they stopped,” in 2014. – Agence France-Presse

Israel will not take steps to extend its sovereignty in the West Bank this week, multiple American sources with knowledge of the matter told The Jerusalem Post in recent days. US Special Envoy for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and Scott Leith of the National Security Council are in Israel to hold meetings with senior Israeli officials. – Jerusalem Post

Members of the Tanzim, the militant wing of the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah faction, have replaced PA security forces in enforcing law and order in some parts of the West Bank, one of its commanders said Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Israel must release Palestinians it rearrested after they were set free in the Gilad Schalit prisoner-exchange agreement if it wants to reach a new prisoner-swap deal, Hamas said Monday. – Jerusalem Post


Iraqi government officials said on Monday that a number of Iran-backed militiamen arrested in a raid by security forces on Thursday had been released on bail, government sources said. – Reuters

A group of men affiliated with the pro-Iranian Kataib Hezbollah who had been released after a counter-terror raid days ago burned the Israeli and US flags and trampled on photos of Iraq’s prime minister. It is the latest show of force by Iranian-backed elements in Iraq – who are part of the official security forces but increasingly seek to supplant the state the way that Islamic Revolutionary Guards have done in Iran, and via Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. – Jerusalem Post

A rift about Shiite burials while Iraq experiences a spike in coronavirus deaths has highlighted how religious disputes and politics are undermining efforts to contain the pandemic. – The National

Middle East & North Africa

Tribes in eastern Libya backed the resumption of oil production from their region, shortly after the state energy company said negotiations between the U.S. and regional governments could lead to a restart of exports from the war-battered OPEC member. – Bloomberg

Lebanese President Michel Aoun warned that Israel’s intent to begin explorations for natural gas and oil in waters known as Block 72 (formerly known as Alon D) is “extremely dangerous and will complicate the situation further,” according to Lebanon’s National News Agency. – Jerusalem Post

Prostitutes in Bahrain are trying to collect sensitive intelligence from US Navy sailors stationed in the country, and trying to sell it later, according to a Navy Times report released on Friday, which cited a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agent. – Jerusalem Post

Aaron Boxerman writes: Cairo has been circumspect in its criticism of the plan. Dealing with a serious outbreak of coronavirus at home and balancing numerous crises on its borders, the Egyptian government can ill-afford to alienate close allies, especially Israel and the United States, analysts told the Times of Israel. – Times of Israel

Hisham Melhem writes: America’s strategy in the Middle East has rested on the four pillars of Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt since the late 1970s. […]Now is the moment for American policymakers to cut a new path in the Middle East, at an equal distance from George W Bush’s quixotic and interventionist freedom agenda, which died in Iraq, and the irresponsible retrenchment that came after, leaving in its wake a region stretching from Benghazi to Bab al-Mandeb in tatters. – Financial Times

Korean Peninsula

Troubled relations between Japan and South Korea have a new point of tension: participation in the Group of Seven club of rich nations. Japan, a club member, is resisting an idea floated by President Trump of adding new countries, including South Korea, ahead of a meeting planned later this year in the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

South Korean police said Tuesday that they’ve summoned two activists accused of raising tensions with North Korea by sending propaganda balloons or plastic bottles filled with rice across the border. – Associated Press

South Korea will set up a channel to provide foreign-currency funds to local financial firms through repurchase agreements to prevent any temporary shortage in liquidity from developing into a systemic risk, Vice Finance Minister Kim Yong-beom said on Tuesday. – Reuters

South Korea is set to acquire more airborne surveillance and intelligence gathering aircraft, as the U.S. ally seeks to bolster its capabilities in both areas. – Defense News


China on Tuesday adopted a contentious national security law that will allow Beijing to override Hong Kong’s judicial system and target political opponents in the city, stripping the territory of autonomy promised under the handover agreement with Britain and raising the prospect of further retaliation from Washington. – Washington Post

Chinese authorities have released a FedEx Corp. pilot detained nine months ago in the southern city of Guangzhou, easing a pressure point on the shipping giant that has been in Beijing’s crosshairs amid commercial disputes between the U.S. and China. – Wall Street Journal

When negotiators from the United States and Russia met in Vienna last week to discuss renewing the last major nuclear arms control treaty that still exists between the two countries, American officials surprised their counterparts with a classified briefing on new and threatening nuclear capabilities — not Russia’s, but China’s. – New York Times

The Chinese government is taking draconian measures to slash birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities as part of a sweeping campaign to curb its Muslim population, even as it encourages some of the country’s Han majority to have more children. – Associated Press

China said on Tuesday it will take retaliatory measures in response to the United States’ decision to start eliminating Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law. – Reuters


At least 20 civilians were killed and dozens of others wounded when mortar rounds struck a crowded livestock market in southern Afghanistan on Monday, with the government and the Taliban pointing blame at each other. – New York Times

U.S. intelligence assessments indicate that several American service members have been killed in Afghanistan as a result of Russian bounties paid to Taliban-linked militias. Russian officials have vehemently denied the allegations. But Moscow has been open about building ties with the Taliban to forestall the growth of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and Central Asia. – Washington Post

Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan said on Monday that negotiations between the Afghan government and the insurgent Taliban were expected to begin soon but that the release of 5,000 prisoners and a reduction of violence were the final hurdles. – Reuters

South Asia

A veteran separatist politician in Indian Kashmir quit his hardline faction within an umbrella alliance of secessionists on Monday, saying it had failed to counter New Delhi’s efforts to tighten its grip on the disputed region. The decision of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, 90, could further weaken the separatist cause after India last August scrapped a decades-old constitutional provision giving Jammu and Kashmir state special rights. – Reuters

Amy Kazmin writes: Talk of boycotting Chinese goods give Indian policymakers and citizens the feeling that they can strike back at a stronger neighbour. In reality, any attempt to inflict quick economic pain on China will hurt Indians themselves, economists warn. If New Delhi does take more sweeping action, Indian consumers will pay the price with fewer, more expensive products for the foreseeable future. But reports that China is undertaking a mass military build-up along the disputed border will help rally people behind such measures. – Financial Times

Fahd Humayun writes: Ties between the United States and Pakistan, meanwhile, have seen a steadying in recent years, in part because of Pakistan’s facilitation in helping the United States reach a truce with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The absence of guaranteed validation from Washington on New Delhi’s position toward Pakistan thus makes India less, not more, secure and likely more convinced that it will need to rely on its own strength and power to clearly delineate its territorial and political interests for the foreseeable future. – Foreign Policy


The business world has largely fallen in line behind China’s campaign to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, including its support for a new national security law that many residents fear will hurt the former British colony’s status as a laissez-faire, freethinking city. – New York Times

Fighting erupted in Taiwan’s parliament on Monday as lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) broke through barricades erected by the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) who had occupied it to protest against government “tyranny”. – Reuters

The United States began eliminating Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law on Monday, halting defense exports and restricting the territory’s access to high technology products as China prepares new Hong Kong security legislation. – Reuters

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong said on Tuesday he is stepping down as leader of his democracy group Demosisto, just hours after media reported that Beijing had passed national security legislation for the Chinese-ruled city. – Reuters

Taiwan is looking to tighten regulation of Chinese investment in its companies over fears that Beijing could obtain access to sensitive data and technologies. – Financial Times

Investors, economists and analysts in Hong Kong fear a new national security law will increase self-censorship of research provided to clients, and will raise questions over the city’s future as a global finance hub. – Financial Times

The US will bar the export of weapons and sensitive technology to Hong Kong, as it revokes the territory’s special trade status in response to China’s imposition of national security legislation on the Asian financial hub. – Financial Times


As Russia begins a week-long nationwide vote on constitutional changes that could keep President Vladimir Putin in power until 2036, the official line is that the coronavirus pandemic has retreated, Russia’s health system coped just fine, and that it is now safe to vote and go to gyms, restaurants, shops and hair salons. – Washington Post

Workers are speaking out against the constitutional changes that would allow Putin to stay in office until 2036 amid growing frustration over their dire living conditions, which have not improved despite all the promises. – Associated Press

Russia said on Monday it had detected no sign of a radiation emergency, after an international body reported last week that sensors in Stockholm had picked up unusually high levels of radioactive isotopes produced by nuclear fission. – Reuters


A French court convicted former Prime Minister François Fillonon corruption charges Monday and handed a five-year prison sentence to a politician once considered the front-runner to win France’s 2017 presidential election. – Wall Street Journal

The European Union on Monday prolonged economic sanctions against Russia for six months for failing to live up to its commitments to the peace agreement in Ukraine. – Associated Press

The leaders of Germany and France said Monday they will use their influence as European Union powerhouses to help negotiate a rapid agreement on a coronavirus recovery package for the 27-nation bloc that leaves no country behind. – Associated Press

Kosovo’s president on Monday denied committing war crimes during and after a 1998-1999 armed conflict between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbia, and said he would resign if an indictment against him is confirmed. – Associated Press

Underreporting of antisemitic incidents in European Union member states may be as high as 80 percent, the bloc’s top official tasked with combating antisemitism said on Monday. – Algemeiner

In a television appearance on Monday, UK Labour leader Keir Starmer defended his decision last week to fire a top party official who tweeted and praised an interview with a British actress who claimed that Israel was responsible for police brutality against minorities in the US — an assertion Starmer described as an “antisemitic conspiracy theory.” – Algemeiner

Protesters at a rally on Sunday in the Belgian capital of Brussels against possible Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank chanted antisemitic slogans, prompting criticism from Jewish organizations. – Algemeiner

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) on Monday called on all Palestinian institutions, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to adopt a unified position rejecting the European Union’s anti-terror funding conditions. – Jerusalem Post

Three prominent German-Iranians who have gone to great lengths to oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel urged Green Party MP Omid Nouripour on Monday to resign from a BDS group due its antisemitism and racism. – Jerusalem Post


The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Monday to extend the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali for a year and called for a long-term and detailed plan for it to hand over security responsibilities and leave the West African nation. – Associated Press

New Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye unveiled a 15-member cabinet including two ministers who are under U.S. or European sanctions over their alleged role in violently crushing street protests. – Reuters

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is to make his first international trip since the coronavirus crisis to west Africa on Tuesday for a summit on Sahel region issues with other heads of state including France’s President Emmanuel Macron. – Reuters

The Americas

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Monday ordered the European Union’s ambassador to leave the country, hours after the bloc that’s pushing for a democratic transition hit several officials loyal to the socialist leader with sanctions. – Associated Press

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador confirmed on Monday that he will visit U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington to celebrate the start of a new North American trade deal. – Reuters

China’s General Administration of Customs has temporarily banned the import of meat from three plants in Brazil amid concern over the novel coronavirus, according to the agriculture ministry on Monday. – Reuters


Confronting a surge of cyberattacks attributed to the Chinese government, Australia moved to bolster its defenses on Tuesday, promising to recruit at least 500 cyberspies and build on its ability to take the battle overseas. – New York Times

India announced a ban on more than 50 Chinese mobile applications, including the wildly popular video platform TikTok, in the wake of a deadly clash between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Washington Post

TikTok denied Tuesday sharing Indian users’ data with the Chinese government, after New Delhi banned the wildly popular app in a sharp deterioration of relations with Beijing two weeks after a deadly border clash. – Agence France-Presse

The Knesset on Monday moved toward reinstating the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) surveillance of coronavirus-infected citizens only three weeks after the program ended. – Jerusalem Post

The eagerly anticipated fundraising global gala of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was hit by a cyber attack that took down both the websites where it was due to be live-streamed. – Financial Times


Greg Slavonic is now formally serving as the acting under secretary of the Navy, after having been “performing the duties of” that role since late April. – USNI News

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is conducting its second set of high-end dual-carrier operations in a week, operating alongside the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group in the Philippine Sea. – USNI News

The U.S. would be able to buy Turkey’s Russian-made S-400 air defense system under legislation proposed in the Senate last week. The proposal is one powerful lawmaker’s attempt to alleviate the impasse between Washington and Ankara over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. – Defense News

Light infantry Army units in Europe could soon have an electronic attack capability to deny, degrade and disrupt enemy signals, an industry official told C4ISRNET. – C4ISRNET

The Space and Missile Systems Center has issued a $222.5 million contract to continue supporting the Defense Program Support constellation, a legacy system that helps detect ballistic missile launches, nuclear detonations and space launches. – C4ISRNET

H. R. McMaster writes: Disengagement from competitions overseas would cede influence to others, such as the Chinese Communist Party, which is already redoubling efforts to promote its authoritarian model. Retrenchment may hold emotional appeal for Americans tired of protracted military commitments abroad, but blind adherence to an orthodoxy based on emotion rather than reason would make Americans less safe and put the United States further in the red. – Foreign Affairs

Long War

Mali and Burkina Faso must guarantee at a summit this week that their domestic political problems do not reverse fragile military successes against Islamist militants in the Sahel region, a French presidential source said on Monday. – Reuters

Clifford Smith writes: Yet, this is not the only time South Asian connected Islamist groups have sought to bend the narrative against India and toward its rivals, it is only the most public and well known. But other Jamaat-e-Islami franchise groups have been damaging India by downplaying their affiliations with jihadis and seeking to help the Islamist cause. This includes up to and including hiring the high-powered law firm of Perkins Coie to misinform Congress concerning potential terror finance flowing from the US to the Kashmir region. – Middle East Forum

Shoresh Khani writes: While the pandemic has upended many international projects, the al-Hawl camp cannot be ignored. If the deteriorating situation in the camp is not addressed and controlled through joint efforts between the Self-Administration and the international community, it is almost certain that ISIS will have an effective platform to rise once again. – Washington Institute

Trump Administration

The Supreme Court is leaving in place a decision that rejected environmental groups’ challenge to sections of wall the Trump administration is building along the U.S. border with Mexico. – Associated Press

The nation’s top spy chiefs condemned the classified leaks about an alleged plot by Russia to offer bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. forces, warning the selective leaking jeopardized the intelligence community’s ability to ascertain the veracity of the claims. – Washington Examiner

Many former White House officials saw President Trump as “delusional” and a danger to national security, according to a new report. – Washington Examiner

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Monday sidestepped questions about reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban fighters to target U.S. military members in Afghanistan. – The Hill

Tom Rogan writes: In short, while the New York Times is basically correct, it’s very hard to know whether the DNI was right to hold back the Times-related intelligence report from Trump. The answer to that question depends on what reliable evidence the intelligence community presently has in its possession. – Washington Examiner