Fdd's overnight brief

May 14, 2020

In The News


Iran’s oil exports have sunk to a record low as the coronavirus crisis compounds the impact of U.S. sanctions already limiting shipments, underlining the diminishing oil clout of what was OPEC’s second-largest producer. – Reuters

The United States publicly threatened on Wednesday to trigger a return of all United Nations sanctions on Iran if the U.N. Security Council does not extend an arms embargo on Tehran that is due to expire in October under the Iran nuclear deal. – Reuters

The U.S. military offered condolences Thursday to Iran over a friendly fire incident in the Islamic Republic that killed 19 of its troops, identifying the weapon used in the incident as an anti-ship cruise missile. – Associated Press

A recently uploaded podcast in the series was dedicated to Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who was who was killed in a U.S. airstrike at the Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020. Titled “Soleimani – The Iranian Spearhead,” the podcast presents Soleimani as “a soldier and jihad fighter” who “devoted his life to serving Islam” and died a martyr. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Iran is building a new tunnel at the Imam Ali military base in Eastern Syria capable of storing advanced weapons systems, according to satellite images and analysis obtained by Fox News. – Fox News

Brian H. Hook writes: If American diplomacy is frustrated by a veto, however, the U.S. retains the right to renew the arms embargo by other means. Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015) lifted most U.N. sanctions but also created a legal mechanism for exclusive use by certain nations to snap sanctions back. The arms embargo is one of these sanctions. – Wall Street Journal


Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Wednesday that Israel is now concentrating its attacks in Syria on missile-manufacturing sites. – Reuters

Facing pressure from Russia, the chief ally to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, U.N. relief agencies have been instructed to stop funding programs by private charities transporting lifesaving health services across the Iraqi border to northeastern Syria, dealing a blow to international efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic in opposition-controlled territory, according to diplomatic and relief sources and confidential U.N. guidance. – Foreign Policy

The U.S. special representative for Syria has urged continued American deployment to the war torn country in order to keep pressure on U.S. enemies and make the conflict a “quagmire” for Russia. – Newsweek


Although Mr. Pompeo took pains to avoid publicly addressing annexation, analysts suggested that a goal of the trip was to caution Israel’s leadership against moving too quickly. – New York Times

A United States official on Thursday hinted that Israel’s continued cooperation with China might be “dangerous” in light of the current coronavirus outbreak and could undermine the relations with its “strategic partners”. – Ynet

Tom Rogan writes: That challenge has included Israel’s decision to allow China to build out its strategic Mediterranean port at Haifa, but also Israel’s welcoming of Chinese access into its boutique technology sector. The knowledge that China has accrued from its access to high-technology software and hardware has strengthened its ability to locate American military targets in war. Something that no American should abide. But up until now, Pompeo has been wary about confronting Israeli activity to the degree that is necessary. – Washington Examiner


The spread of the new coronavirus in Iraq has prompted the closure of major mosques to visitors, including the ornate burial place of Ali, the fourth Islamic caliph and relative of the Prophet Mohammed, in the shrine city Najaf. – Agence France-Presse

Islamic State militants hide in sparsely populated farmlands in Iraq from where they stage attacks on Iraqi forces scrambling to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country, the head of the 70-man Norwegian contingent in this Mideast nation was quoted as saying Wednesday. – Associated Press

Iraq is cutting its oil output by around 700,000 barrels per day (bpd), a third less than required under an OPEC+ supply pact, after it failed to persuade international oil majors operating its giant fields to agree to deeper reductions. – Reuters


The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday said it has begun remote discussions this week with Lebanon, which is seeking some $10 billion of aid to help it out of the worst financial crisis in its history. – Reuters

Lebanese rushed to food stores to stock up on vegetables and basic items, hours before the government reinstated a nationwide lockdown Wednesday, following a spike in reported coronavirus cases. – Associated Press

The UN Security Council must ensure that armed groups in Lebanon such as Hezbollah are disarmed and that the role of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is strengthened so that it can properly investigate the paramilitary group’s violations, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

When a popular Egyptian blogger shared gruesome video of a military officer severing the finger of an unidentified body and setting the body on fire, it was some of the most shocking footage to emerge from Sinai, where Egypt’s military has been battling Islamist militants in a hidden war. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia is hardly the only country to face a harsh reckoning because of the pandemic, as Jadaan and other officials have repeatedly emphasized. But the kingdom is the largest Arab economy, and its stormy ride through the crisis is being closely scrutinized, as has the response led by the crown prince. – Washington Post

He elaborated that in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Jews laid out their plan to take over the world and gain control of people’s minds by means of the media and the press. He said that it was thus “only natural” for the Jews to take control of the cinema and he claimed that cinema, soccer, the press, casinos, night clubs, and global advertising agencies are all run and owned by Jews. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Seven U.N. agencies called on Wednesday for a cease-fire in Libya to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus, saying the international community “must not turn a blind eye to the conflict” in the North African nation where 64 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed.- Associated Press

Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik said on Wednesday the key to restoring peace in Yemen is to restore the country and its institutions and to end the armed militia rebellion, according to a statement from his office. – Reuters

Mohammed Soliman writes: While the GCC states have not yet transformed from oil-powered economies to fully diversified ones, the reforms carried out and the institutional investments made across the Gulf in the 2010s paved the way for the region’s strong digital response to the pandemic and its fallout. […]Other countries in the Middle East would do well to learn from the Gulf’s digital investments when preparing for the future. – Middle East Institute


China’s anger at taking international blame for the coronavirus pandemic has raised the likelihood that Beijing will order a rare assault against a smaller neighbor, U.S. observers worry. – Washington Examiner

France dismissed Chinese warnings on Wednesday about selling arms to self-ruled Taiwan, saying it was implementing existing deals and that Beijing should focus on battling the COVID-19 pandemic. – Reuters

More than two-thirds of Americans say that the Chinese government is at least partially to blame for the pandemic, according to a new YouGov poll. – Washington Free Beacon

Tom Rogan writes: The bottom line here is that China’s interest is not the world’s interest, and the two are in fundamental conflict. We want the truth as to how this virus emerged, how it got out of China, and what Chinese officials knew and did (or did not do) at each stage of the growing crisis. China wants us to ignore all that and instead bend to its feudal international agenda. – Washington Examiner

Michael Rubin writes: To date, diplomacy has not worked to roll back China’s actions in the South China Sea, nor will it so long as China believes its salami-slicing works. Perhaps, then, to be effective and to signal support for allies and protect freedom of navigation, it is time for Washington to join Beijing for a salami-themed picnic. – The National Interest


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday said he is directing the military to position into an “offensive” mode in the wake of an attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul that killed 24 women, nurses and newborn babies. – Washington Times

U.S. President Donald Trump’s stalled plans to bring peace to Afghanistan have suffered a new setback with a decision by Kabul to resume offensive operations against the Taliban following two attacks on Tuesday that killed scores of Afghans. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: While it’s certainly true that these kinds of attacks spark military reprisals and global revulsion, they also attract ISIS favor from ideologues who share in its hatred.[…] It also demands the Trump administration’s more realistic appraisal of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. What’s happening there is proof of a peace deal that isn’t simply flawed, but washed in innocent blood. – Washington Examiner

Ben Wolfgang writes: Since the Trump administration finalized its long-awaited Taliban peace deal in February, there have been an average of 55 Taliban attacks per day, according to figures from the Afghan government. […]Against that backdrop, regional analysts say it’s foolish for the U.S. to continue on its current path, and some argue America would do best to speed up its planned withdrawal and force the Taliban and Afghan government to forge their own power-sharing arrangement, regardless of the direction it ultimately takes. – Washington Times


The U.S. has sent three naval ships on patrols near oil-and-gas operations off Malaysia’s coast in recent days, a show of support for the Southeast Asian nation whose offshore explorations in the South China Sea have faced pressure from China. – Wall Street Journal

Through earthquakes and typhoons, floods and political turmoil, Fe Repalde knew she could count on one constant: Her tiny, flickering television was always tuned to ABS-CBN, one of the most influential networks in the Philippines. But on May 5, amid the coronavirus lockdown that has kept slum dwellers bound to their shacks, Ms. Repalde’s television went dark as President Rodrigo Duterte effectively shut down the broadcasting giant. – New York Times

South Korea’s LG Chem said on Wednesday that it had sent a delegation to India to investigate the cause of a toxic gas leak at its chemical plant there that killed 11 people and forced 800 into hospital for treatment from poisoning. – Reuters

The coronavirus pandemic has intensified the seven-decade dispute between China and Taiwan, a democratically governed island that Beijing regards as a breakaway province. – Newsweek

Richard M. Rossow writes: It is difficult to see positive opportunities during a crisis. But U.S.-India trade ties were headed in a very negative direction prior to the Covid-19 crisis.[…] But the pandemic has reminded us that our commercial relationship is deep and somewhat fragile to an emergency. Finding ways to shore up commercial ties so they can more easily sustain such a crisis can be a new, more positive workstream that will benefit companies and employees in both nations. – Center for Strategic and  International Studies


In a sign of the crisis roiling Russian hospitals facing the pandemic, university heads last month ordered students to do compulsory practical work in hospitals, where staff complain they lack protective gear. – Washington Post

Russia on Wednesday suspended the use of some Russian-made medical ventilators after two fatal hospital fires reported to involve the machines, a setback in its fight against the novel coronavirus. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Russian President Vladimir Putin may not have lost his passion for using unconventional weapons to kill perceived enemies in NATO member states.[…] Russian assassination plots on NATO member state soil are major acts of aggression. Alliance credibility suffers wherever and whenever such plots are tolerated with a closed or half-turned eye. The least we can do here is gather more evidence. – Washington Examiner


A Netherlands-based group of Eritreans sued the European Union on Wednesday, demanding it cease financing a project in the east African dictatorship that uses forced labor, the lawyer representing the group said, the first test of an effort by individuals and organizations to hold the bloc accountable for the way it spends billions in Africa. – New York Times

The Ukrainian government cleared an important anticorruption hurdle Wednesday when Parliament passed a bill preventing insiders from siphoning off international aid money through bank bailouts. – New York Times

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday she would continue efforts to improve ties with Russia despite hacking attacks which do not make that any easier, adding she took such issues very seriously. – Reuters

Montenegrin police used tear gas to disperse protests demanding the release of eight Serbian Orthodox Church priests who were detained for organizing a religious procession despite a ban on gatherings because of the coronavirus. – Associated Press

Members of the tiny Jewish community in the western Ukrainian city of Kolomyia have spoken publicly of the fear and unease that set in when a senior police official instructed communal leaders to supply a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of all Jews in the municipality. – Algemeiner

Dalibor Rohac writes: First, even peoples as committed to freedom and democracy as Poles are risk losing them at the hands of aspiring autocrats.[…] States must plan ahead, not procrastinate, to make sure that there are avenues for safe, fair, and legitimate voting regardless of whether the pandemic continues to affect the United States by then or not. Let us hope that it can be done. – The Bulwark


As a historic upsurge of desert locusts ravages East Africa, scientists are using a sophisticated air pollution model to anticipate where the destructive pests are being blown by the wind — and where they will strike next. – Washington Post

A Burkina Faso prosecutor has launched an investigation after 12 people died during the same night in detention cells, hours after they were arrested for suspected terrorism-related offences in a town in the east of the country. – Reuters

Congolese citizens and international campaign groups have filed a civil action in Belgium against passport manufacturer Semlex, which is being investigated by prosecutors for possible money laundering and corruption, the petitioners said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Burundi has expelled the national head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), according to a letter written by the country’s foreign minister, which gave no reason. Despite the coronavirus outbreak, Burundi is in the middle of campaigns for a presidential election next week, with politicians holding large rallies regardless of health risks. – Reuters

North America

First Majestic Silver Corp (FR.TO) said on Wednesday it served notice to the Mexican government under North American Free Trade Agreement provisions to begin negotiations to resolve disputes over how the silver producer is taxed in the country. – Reuters

The United States said Wednesday it had added Cuba to a blacklist of countries that do not fully cooperate on counterterrorism, denouncing the presence of Colombian leftist guerrillas. – Agence France-Presse

FBI agents seized the mobile phone of Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as part of an investigation into stock sales, according to a published report. – Bloomberg

At least one tanker carrying fuel loaded at an Iranian port set sail to crisis-stricken Venezuela, according to vessel tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon on Wednesday, which could help ease an acute scarcity of gasoline in the South American country. – Reuters


TikTok, the popular app for making and sharing short videos, has flouted an agreement it made with the Federal Trade Commission to protect the privacy of children on the service, a coalition of 20 children’s and consumer groups said on Thursday.[…] Members of Congress have raised national security concerns about TikTok’s growing influence and about the risk that the app may share user data with its parent company, ByteDance, a Chinese conglomerate. – New York Times

Chancellor Angela Merkel used strong words on Wednesday condemning an “outrageous” cyberattack by Russia’s foreign intelligence service on the German Parliament, her personal email account included. Russia, she said, was pursuing “a strategy of hybrid warfare.” – New York Times

China-linked hackers are breaking into American organizations carrying out research into COVID-19, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, warning both scientists and public health officials to be on the lookout for cyber theft. – Reuters

Josh Rogin writes: The U.S.-China economic relationship is complex, and our trade agreement with Beijing is still being tested. But China’s attempts to hack our coronavirus research bring urgency to the need to show Beijing that it can’t steal its way to economic dominance. As of now, China is clearly not getting the message. Washington Post

Morgan Dwyer writes: After the coronavirus pandemic, DOD will be expected to do more with less. Budget constraints, however, should not prevent DOD from prioritizing weapon system cybersecurity. Rather than undertaking additional—and potentially costly—cyber vulnerability assessments, DOD should further integrate cyber into its established acquisition processes and organizations. By doing so, DOD will allocate resources more efficiently and will be better equipped to leverage expertise from across the department. – Center for Strategic and  International Studies


The Pentagon is conducting an evaluation in how the Navy has developed procedures to keep COVID-19 off ships in parallel, but independent of, the service’s own investigation into the outbreak on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), officials confirmed to USNI News on Wednesday. – USNI News

 Following a lull in military exercises due to the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Army Europe plans to resume its wider training campaign with a drill in Poland next month. – Defense News

The Pentagon is asking Congress for authority to block-buy two of its new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, a potential mega-deal worth as much as $17.7 billion with far-reaching implications for the ailing submarine industrial base. – Defense News

Trump Administration

President Donald Trump on Wednesday extended for another year an executive order signed in May 2019 declaring a national emergency and barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms posing a national security risk. – Reuters

In the wake of White House pressure, an independent board charged with overseeing billions in federal retirement dollars announced on Wednesday it would indefinitely delay plans to invest in some Chinese companies. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: How a routine phone call between an incoming national security adviser and the Russian ambassador helped launch a two-a-half-year investigation of a new president remains an important story. But Grenell’s declassification does not help explain it. – Bloomberg