Fdd's overnight brief

May 15, 2020

In The News


The United States is considering measures it could take in response to Iran’s shipment of fuel to crisis-stricken Venezuela, a senior official in President Donald Trump’s administration told Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters 

In its newly released Global Maritime Advisory (GMA), the U.S. government has advised the world’s shipping lines to be vigilant about “Iran’s, North Korea’s and Syria’s deceptions”. – Radio Farda 

China rejected on Thursday a planned push by the United States to extend a United Nations arms embargo on Iran and, if that fails, Washington’s assertion that it could trigger a return of all sanctions on Tehran at the U.N. Security Council. – Reuters 

A petition calling for a ban on overflights by foreign airlines in Iran’s airspace launched by families of victims who perished when a Ukrainian airliner was shot down over Tehran in January has sparked huge controversy among Iranian social media users. – Radio Farda 

Iran’s elected government under President Hassan Rouhani is embroiled in an internal power struggle against hardline factions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for control of the country’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. – Business Insider 

The Iranian parliament has disclosed in a report that 95 percent of smuggling into the country is done through legal ports of entry and procedures, using 31 different techniques. […]The report explicitly referred to three IRGC-controlled wharves in Chabahar, Khor Zangi, and Hormozgan, and several other piers run by the security forces. – Radio Farda 

Iran is taking advantage of a stock market boom to boost state revenues by selling stakes in state companies, but risks political repercussions if those buying shares get burned. – Reuters 

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) has proposed a “coronavirus peace plan” between the United States and Iran to prevent instability during the global pandemic. – Radio Farda 

International media-freedom watchdogs are urging Iran to stop jailing members of the press arbitrarily, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, after a local journalist started serving an 18-month prison sentence in Tehran’s Evin prison. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

But in recent weeks, open-source intelligence gleaned from Persian- and Arabic-language sources, as well as commercially available location data from mobile devices, suggests that Iranian military activity did not drop off as severely as civilian activity, according to data analytics company Babel Street. Both types of activity picked back up in May, and Iran’s support for offensive cyber operations and proxy forces in Yemen and Iraq didn’t show any signs of waning at all. – Defense One 

Amnesty International has called on the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran to determine the status of four prisoners sentenced to death who have been transferred from prison to unknown locations. – Radio Farda 

Iran on Thursday dismissed “foolish” claims by the U.S. that it can reimpose all United Nations sanctions if an arms embargo on Tehran is not extended. – Washington Times


Kornet anti-tank missiles fired by Hezbollah at an Israeli military vehicle and position near the Lebanese border last September were launched from within territory in southern Lebanon controlled by an environmental organization, according to a report released Thursday that argues that the group is in fact a front for Hezbollah. – Times of Israel

Charlie Weimers writes: The time has now come to face reality and recognize that there are no different “wings” but that the whole organization is one and the same: a criminal terrorist group. The whole organization needs to urgently be proscribed on the EU terrorism list as a safeguard of our security. Terrorism is terrorism, and no exceptions can be made. – Jerusalem Post

Jakob Glogauer writes: The world must remember to never forget the Shoah, and by Germany designating the modern-day forms of antisemitism through a terrorist organization proclamation, subtle justice can be claimed to those impacted by antisemitic terror.  – Times of Israel


For nine years, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has waged a brutal civil war against his enemies and allowed his friends to profit from it. Now, he is squeezing those same allies to solidify power and ensure the economy stays afloat as the costs of rebuilding from the conflict pile up. – Wall Street Journal 

A U.S. State Department official, who joined Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his lightning visit to Jerusalem Wednesday, said that it seems that Israel has been recently intensifying its airstrikes in Syria. – Haaretz 

Over the past seven years – the first attack attributed to Israel took place in April 2013 – Syrian anti-aircraft systems have launched a minimum of about 700 missiles at IAF warplanes. – Haaretz

Seth J. Frantzman writes: But the reality as it plays out in eastern Syria shows that even during a global pandemic, authoritarian regimes always come first, even if they can’t provide for their own people or don’t control most of their country. For similar reasons, people in Libya, Yemen and parts of Somalia receive no support during the pandemic. – Jerusalem Post


Turkey plans new drilling for oil and natural gas in disputed waters, in a major assertion of its claims over resources that could fuel tensions with neighbors. Drilling will take place in the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea from July, while seismic exploration will be stepped up within maritime borders set by an accord with Libya’s internationally recognized government, the Turkish energy minister said. – Bloomberg 

Turkey claimed medical aid it sent arrived in Gaza on Thursday even as it prevented Chinese medical aid from arriving in Cyprus. Ankara forced a plane to divert to Moscow for refueling after refusing to allow it to fly over Turkey’s airspace, according to a report in Anadolu and Russia’s TASS. – Jerusalem Post

The former supreme allied commander of NATO, retired Adm. James Stavridis, called Turkey’s impending deployment of an S-400 Russian missile defense system “a disagreement between friends” but warned of increasing Russian activity on the alliance’s borders. – Washington Examiner 

Instead of boosting morale, the lockdown rainbows have become yet another symbol of division, the latest cultural battleground in a country highly polarised along political and religious lines. – The Guardian

These shifts in official demeanour, from hospitality to hostility to something in between, all reflect a consistent concern about the currency. The lira has lost about 15% of its value against the dollar so far this year, the most among big, commodity-importing emerging markets. – The Economist


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed the swearing in of his new unity government until at least Sunday because of a last-minute dispute within his Likud party over the allotment of ministries, extending political uncertainty in the country. – Wall Street Journal 

The government to be sworn in Sunday by Israel’s parliament will be the fifth under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but one that could be unlike any he has led before. – Washington Post

It is a refrain we have heard over and over again from the Trump administration: Annexation is Israel’s decision. US Secretary of State Pompeo said it last month and he reiterated it on his visit to Israel this week. Senior State Department officials repeated it in their briefing on the way back from Israel. – Jerusalem Post

More than 50,000 Palestinians downloaded an app that gives Israel access to files and data from their cell phones. Contrary to what Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories says, employers were required to have Palestinian laborers use the app. – Haaretz

A Palestinian teenager was shot dead on Thursday by Israeli military forces in the West Bank after a suspected car-ramming attack that injured an Israeli soldier. – Haaretz

In his May 7, 2020 column in the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, political analyst Bassem Barhoum lashed out at U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. The column, titled “Friedman Is a War Criminal,” was published in response to an interview Friedman gave to the Israeli daily Israel Hayom, in which he stated that the U.S. is willing to recognize an Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

The European Parliament on Thursday passed a resolution condemning the Palestinian Authority for continuing to include hate speech and violent material in school textbooks. – Times of Israel

European Union foreign ministers were set to meet Friday to consider potential measures against Israel over its plan to annex parts of the West Bank. – Times of Israel

Ghaith al-Omari and Katherine Bauer write: For now, the PA is considering ideas to continue making the prisoner payments without exposing its banking sector. […]Ultimately, a political understanding of some sort between the PA and Israel is the only way to resolve this issue. Failure to take that path will only add to local tensions and increase volatility ahead of what may be an unsettled summer. – Washington Institute


An inspector general report detailed how tensions between Iran and its militia forces with the U.S. led to an accelerated transfer of several bases to Iraqi troops over force protection issues. – Military Times 

A former official in the U.S.-led provisional government in Iraq called for President Donald Trump to pursue a “regime collapse” strategy towards Iran in order to prevent an “almost inevitable war” in the Middle East. – The National Interest 

Iraqi General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, who was recently reinstated by the new prime minister, has vowed to step-up the battle against terrorism in Iraq. He says he will launch new operations west of Kirkuk and near Mosul. This will include the governorates of Nineveh and Salahadin. – Jerusalem Post

Iraqi women may have rights under Iraq’s law but in practice many are denied rights to property and face struggles to receive inheritance of basic necessities. The Norwegian Refugee Council published research that shows that “hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women displaced by war remain unable to return to their homes of because systematic injustices.” – Jerusalem Post

Karl Kaltenthaler writes: Despite the challenges, Iraq and the United States do have a viable framework for a strategic dialogue that they can build upon existing agreements. […]Iraq needs a United States committed to its security and the United States needs an Iraq that views the United States as a partner and friend. In any case, a strategic dialogue is the place to start and both sides have every reason to define a new relationship that can lead to a lasting strategic partnership. – Washington Institute 

Zvi Bar’el writes: If all of this is not enough for al-Kadhimi, he is also facing a confrontation with Kurdistan, which wants him to implement a prior agreement that would transfer 14 percent of Iraq’s total revenues to Kurdistan in exchange for parts of the region’s oil production. Baghdad promises to be an exciting place in the coming months. – Haaretz

Saudi Arabia

Twin calamities — the coronavirus outbreak and plummeting oil prices — have saddled Saudi Arabia with its worst financial crisis in decades. It has spread unaccustomed pain across the kingdom, including among the private-sector workers and business owners who are central to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitions to steer the economy away from dependence on oil. – Washington Post

American firm Oshkosh Defense and Saudi Arabia’s Al Tadrea Manufacturing Company have established a joint venture to manufacture armed vehicles in the kingdom. The two companies formed Oshkosh Al-Tadrea Manufacturing, creating “the largest partnership in the history of Saudi armored vehicles,” according to a message on Al Tadrea’s official Twitter account. – Defense News

Saudi writer Abdulhamed al-Ghobain gave an interview with BBC Arabic TV on May 10 in which he states that the Saudi public is no longer interested in the Palestinian cause or Arab interests, according to MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) – Jerusalem Post 

Zvi Bar’el writes: Over 20 years ago, a new generation of rulers, like the king of Jordan, the king of Morocco and the president of Syria fueled hopes that these young leaders, all in their thirties then, would institute democratic regimes (or at least regimes that were more open and transparent), that they would adopt policies to protect human rights and carry out major economic reforms. Now the next generation of leaders that includes 39-year-old Qatari ruler Tamim bin Hamad and 34-year-old Prince Mohammed is showing yet again that political tradition is stronger than any new spirit. – Haaretz


The number of people dying with covid-19 symptoms has dramatically spiked in war-riven Yemen, triggering fears that coronavirus infections are considerably higher than official figures, the Save the Children charity said Thursday. – Washington Post

Yemen has more suspected coronavirus cases and deaths than the authorities have so far reported, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, as the United Nations warned the virus is spreading in the war-ravaged country. – Reuters 

Mohammed Alshuwaiter writes: Legitimacy is the ultimate foundation of authority that confers on the government the right to enforce the law. If Hadi and his government continue on their current path, their legitimacy will vanish. Were that to happen, the people of Yemen would find themselves in a very complicated situation, facing the dilemma of how to agree on a new framework for legitimacy and plunging the country into yet more conflict. – Middle East Institute


A team of Western mercenaries linked with two Dubai-based companies was briefly deployed to Libya to assist Russian-backed strongman Khalifa Haftar in his offensive to capture Tripoli, according to a confidential UN report, underscoring how the country’s proxy war has become a magnet for hired guns. – Bloomberg

Bombs, bullets, the constant threat of kidnap – and Covid-19. In Libya, a country torn apart by civil war, with a shattered health system, a man from Kent is one of the last international charity workers staying on to lead a team of 40 volunteers. – BBC

Turkish Petroleum (TPAO) has applied to Libya for an exploration permit in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported on Thursday. – Reuters 

Alison Pargater writes: However, tribes remain an important component of Libyan society, and while some city dwellers may look upon them with disdain, associating them with backwardness and colonial plots to divide and rule, they have proved able not only to survive, but to adapt and modernize, too. Indeed, tribes still represent an important force in the country both socially and in the political and security realms, and they will continue to have a bearing on the evolution of the conflict and what comes after it. – War on the Rocks

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

A group of 26 Israelis landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday morning after they were finally repatriated from Morocco following a weeks-long diplomatic crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic. – Times of Israel

Though the High Court of Justice on May 6 ordered the state to respond to a petition claiming that the government cut a corona-period deal with Jordan to keep Jews off the Temple Mount, the state has refused to respond publicly. – Jerusalem Post

Eetta Prince-Gibson writes:  So both Israel and Jordan have an interest in maintaining the agreements, but the deteriorating situation means that the resumption of high-level strategic dialogue isn’t likely, according to Svetlova. […]Gantz, who will replace Netanyahu as prime minister after 18 months, has frequently stated his opposition to annexation. But he has little leverage. The coalition agreement signed on April 21 includes a provision that allows Netanyahu to bring an annexation bill before the Knesset, where it will have a majority. – Foreign Policy

Tanya Goudsouzian writes: Among the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians and the United States, it’s yet to be seen who will win. It may be a single victor or an uneasy accommodation among the syndicates dividing up the spoils. They may fight economically but cooperate diplomatically. But regardless of how those countries collude or compete, without a fundamental re-examination and reformulation of the military-forward approach employed, the winner is unlikely to be the US. – The National Interest

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has unexpectedly replaced both the head of the rogue state’s spy agency and his bodyguard in another apparent purge, according to South Korean media reports. – Fox News 

Kim Jong-un is currently facing a dilemma. After a few weeks of (over)attention due to his unexplained absence from public view, he is once again largely being overlooked. While the North Korean leader doesn’t mind being hated, he hates to be ignored. – The National Interest 

South Korea’s U.S. crude oil imports in April increased 32.1% from a year earlier, although overall crude imports fell as some refiners lowered run rates to cope with a slump in demand, customs data showed on Friday. […]With the sanctions in place, South Korea’s imports of Iranian crude oil, have remained zero since May 2019. – Reuters


China’s economic activity showed some signs of improvement in April as the first country hit by the coronavirus began returning to work, though rising joblessness continued to weigh heavily on consumer spending. – Wall Street Journal 

China’s financial regulators unveiled a sweeping plan to facilitate cross-border transactions and investments between Hong Kong, Macau and cities in southern China as part of the government’s ambition to transform the coastal region into a high-tech megalopolis to rival California’s Silicon Valley. – Bloomberg 

The United States on Thursday renewed calls on China to free the Tibetan identified 25 years earlier as the Panchen Lama and warned Beijing not to see the episode as a model for handling the Dalai Lama’s succession. – Agence France-Presse

US President Donald Trump further hardened his rhetoric towards China on Thursday, saying he no longer wishes to speak with Xi Jinping and warning darkly he might cut ties over the rival superpower’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. – Agence France-Presse

Escalating tensions over China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic could be a “major risk” to economic recovery —and may even lead to a trade war worse than the one between Beijing and Washington, one investor told CNBC. – CNBC

An attempt by Estonia and Germany to overcome an impasse between the United States and China at the United Nations Security Council instead appeared on Thursday to have reinforced their stalemate over action on the coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that steady Sino-U.S. bilateral relations serve the interests of both people, responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments that he could cut ties with the world’s second-largest economy. – Reuters 

Josh Rogin writes: The Faustian bargain many countries made to do business with China is costing them dearly. But only through a truly international, competitive strategy can the United States ensure the world finally understands the true nature of the CCP and the dangers it poses to our people. – Washington Post

Keith Johnson and Robbie Gramer write: Today, American policymakers are consumed by the economic and geopolitical confrontation with another Asian heavyweight. […]It’s not just economic ties between China and the United States that are in danger. Europe, too, is increasingly talking of rolling back the deep trade and investment ties it has developed with Beijing in recent decades (even as it is cutting trade ties with itself, as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union). – Foreign Policy

Robert A. Manning and Patrick M. Cronin write: Meanwhile, the United States should act as a catalyst for the region’s defense by funding the bipartisan congressional Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which would provide military funding and build on earlier efforts. If Beijing’s South China Sea gambit succeeds, it would be a ruinous blow to U.S. credibility, rippling across U.S. alliances and partnerships in the region. China understands the stakes and so must ASEAN and the United States. – Foreign Policy


In the wake of a devastating attack in Kabul on Tuesday on a maternity unit that saw gunmen shoot women in labour, new mothers and their newborn babies, hopes of a peace process for Afghanistan appear to be slipping away as both the government and Taliban ramp up military operations. – The Guardian 

The FBI has offered a $1m reward for the arrest and prosecution for those responsible for the kidnapping of US citizen Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle, eight years ago in Afghanistan. – The Guardian 

The United States has assessed that Islamic State Khorasan conducted two attacks in Afghanistan this week, including on a hospital in Kabul in which two newborn babies were killed, U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad said on Thursday. – Reuters

Stefanie Glinski writes: But the complex array of militant groups now fighting in Afghanistan suggested that the latest violence could as easily have emanated from the Islamist State, which seeks to disrupt the U.S.-orchestrated peace process between the Afghan national government and the Taliban. […]The Taliban were quick to deny both incidents—but the Afghan government has blamed the militants for the hospital attack regardless. – Foreign Policy 

Michael Rubin writes: Pompeo promised that the U.S. would calibrate the withdrawal of its forces to Taliban compliance. […]This is not to bless “a forever war” but rather to preserve the meaning behind American diplomacy. U.S. and NATO authorities can then consider other strategies to compel the Taliban to stand down, first and foremost of which would be to hold the Taliban’s sponsors to account. – Washington Examiner

South Asia

This nation of 1.3 billion people has been put under one of the world’s tightest lockdowns for the past seven weeks. […]But as India is learning, this migrant exodus — which is happening across the country on a huge scale, with hundreds of thousands of people on the move — is also spreading the virus farther and wider. – New York Times 

The first coronavirus case has been confirmed in the crowded camps for Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh, where more than 1 million refugees are sheltered. – Associated Press

Verena Hoelzl writes: If the moral compass of the Southeast Asian nations fails to compel them to save Rohingya lives, international law should. Under the principle of non-refoulement, states are prohibited from pushing back anyone at risk of persecution, obligating them to let the refugees ashore instead. […]As long as ASEAN shirks these responsibilities, needless suffering will continue. – Foreign Policy


Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract manufacturer of silicon chips, said Friday it would spend $12 billion to build a chip factory in Arizona, as U.S. concerns grow about dependence on Asia for the critical technology. – Wall Street Journal 

A watchdog report into the policing of protests during the months of unrest that gripped the city last year has found officers had a duty to use force in response to increasing violence. – Wall Street Journal

Taiwan has won praise for its effective response and donations of medical equipment, including millions of face masks — the fruits of a campaign to combine health diplomacy and relief with an effort to bolster Taiwan’s international image. – Washington Post

A proposed “Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative,” a multibillion-dollar program to strengthen the U.S. presence in the Pacific in the face of a growing threat from China, cannot be done alone, say Heritage Foundation analysts. – Washington Examiner

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) transited the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, a week before Taiwan’s anti-China reunification president is inaugurated for a second term. – USNI News 

Accusations of police brutality must not be used as “a weapon of political protest”, Hong Kong’s police watchdog said in a report on Friday, adding that the Chinese-ruled city appeared to be getting dragged into an “era of terrorism”. – Reuters 

Henry Olsen writes: Chinese emperors used to force envoys from neighboring states to recognize their total superiority by use of the kowtow — abjectly prostrating oneself on the floor before the emperor and his officials. It also forced those nations to acknowledge China as “the Middle Kingdom,” i.e., the center of the world. Communist China’s actions to suppress international criticism is just the first step toward a resumption of that despotic ritual. The United States and the West need to stand proudly on their feet and resist. – Washington Post

Patrick M. Cronin writes: While Asian nations have been ramping up cyber defense and offense capabilities over the past decade or more, the pandemic inflamed them like an autoimmune disorder under stress.  The China-US competition over narratives and data is likely to exacerbate entrenched regional disputes over territory, as well as US-China tensions over high technology and trade. – The National Interest 

Tony Walker writes: More than half a century later, another Australian prime minister has fumbled his way into a contentious international dispute. The issue is to what extent China should be held responsible for its mismanagement of the early stages of the pandemic. This is an open question, which an independent international panel should investigate. China should not be let off the hook. – The Conversation 


A power struggle at the top of Russia’s leading business newspaper threatens to stifle one of the country’s last remaining independent voices as censorship and the Kremlin’s own influence steadily widens. – Wall Street Journal

A private Russian security firm linked to Kremlin-controlled oil giant Rosneft has become the controlling shareholder in a Venezuelan-focused oil consortium that Rosneft left, a state registry and database showed on Thursday. – Reuters 

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has criticized the Financial Times and The New York Times after they reported that Russia’s coronavirus death toll could be much higher than government officials are saying. – Associated Press

Earlier this month, three U.S. Navy destroyers and a British warship conducted an exercise in the frigid waters of the Barents Sea, the first time U.S. surface ships have ventured into Russia’s Arctic backyard since the mid-1980s. – Washington Examiner

There has been rising optimism that the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis that has hit both Russia and Ukraine have shifted strategic priorities in the Kremlin, presenting an opportunity to end the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has propped up separatist forces in the Donbass region since 2014. – Foreign Policy


It would be “unacceptable” for French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi to give the United States first access to a potential coronavirus vaccine, French government officials said Thursday. – Washington Post

French pharmaceutical group Sanofi promised Thursday that it would make its COVID-19 vaccine, when ready, available in all countries, hours after the company’s CEO said the United States will get first access. – Associated Press

Spain’s government said Thursday it will extend the deadline for descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country more than 500 years ago, who have launched the process of acquiring Spanish citizenship but couldn’t complete it due to the pandemic. – Associated Press

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers on Wednesday that she has seen “hard evidence” pointing to Russia being responsible for hacking attempts targeting her emails and those of the nation’s lawmakers. – The Hill 

A leading Jewish human rights group has called on Bosnia’s authorities to ban a memorial Mass for Croatian pro-Nazis killed at the end of World War II. – Associated Press

Slowed by the coronavirus pandemic and whipped up by a U.K.-imposed deadline, talks between the European Union and Britain on their future relationship in the wake of Brexit are struggling to make significant progress. – Associated Press

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, and Serbia does not recognize it as a separate state. Tensions between the two remain high. But efforts to identify remains from both sides of the brutal war have gone on in both Serbia and Kosovo to determine if missing individuals can be declared dead and the remains repatriated to the respective country. – Associated Press

Europe’s strongmen leaders want to use the coronavirus pandemic to tighten their grip while touting their prowess in overcoming crises, but their authority risks being badly undermined if the outbreak is mishandled. – Agence France-Presse

European Parliament lawmakers demanded Thursday that European Union leaders punish Hungary’s government for using the COVID-19 pandemic to grab power through a controversial emergency law. – NPR

George Weigel writes: Students of the Cold War’s dark arts know that Communist intelligence services deeply penetrated the Vatican in the 1970s. Yet few know that Pope John Paul II, whose centenary will be marked on May 18, had his own secret agent in the Soviet Union during the 1980s. That relationship led to a remarkable personal encounter that helps explain what made the pope the man he was. – Wall Street Journal

Christina Pushaw writes: Saakashvili’s turbulent history in Ukraine gives Zelensky the benefit of hindsight. The president knows Saakashvili will not allow himself to be used in a facade of half-hearted reform attempts. On the contrary, Zelensky’s decision has reaffirmed his commitment to real change. In appointing Saakashvili, Zelensky is seizing a critical moment to push forward more boldly than ever on the reform agenda. – The National Interest


When word surfaced last weekend that a kidnapped 24-year-old Italian aid worker had been released after 18 months in captivity in Africa, Italians were overjoyed after weeks of relentlessly gloomy coronavirus-driven news. – New York Times

Facebook Inc.’s investment in an enormous underwater internet cable circling Africa will move forward with help from partners in China, Saudi Arabia and Europe, the companies said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal 

In the United States and elsewhere, mobile money services like Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPall, along with its subsidiary Venmo, are rising in popularity by offering mobile wallets that allow users to send money digitally. A similar model has taken off in developing countries, particularly in Africa, targeting those with no or limited access to the banking and financial system. – Washington Post

Sasol Ltd. is considering additional divestments, including the potential sale of stakes in an African gas pipeline and a Middle Eastern plant, as it explores ways to reduce its $10 billion debt pile, people with knowledge of the matter said. – Bloomberg 

The new coronavirus could kill 150,000 people in Africa in a year unless urgent action is taken, according to a WHO modelling study that says nearly a quarter of a billion people will be infected. – Agence France-Presse

Bobby Ghosh writes: Cyril Ramaphosa was having such a good pandemic. Only a month ago, South Africa’s president was among a tiny group of world leaders winning plaudits, at home and abroad, for their handling of the coronavirus crisis. […]Now, as the government begins gingerly to reopen Africa’s largest economy, the bouquets have morphed into brickbats. Most of them are being directed at the president. – Bloomberg 

The Americas

Since the coronavirus struck Mexico, a plethora of videos and photographs uploaded to social media have shown what appear to be cartel operatives in about a dozen states handing out food packages marked with the logos of the different criminal groups to lines of Mexicans. In some cases the videos show the food being distributed by heavily armed men, driving in military-style trucks with cartel markings. – Wall Street Journal 

The head of the World Trade Organization said he would leave his post in August, a year earlier than scheduled, adding pressure on the body as it faces fundamental challenges including a slumping world economy and deep rifts among its members. – Wall Street Journal 

The World Health Organization’s director-general has faced many challenges during the coronavirus pandemic: racial slurs, death threats, social media caricatures — he was once depicted as a ventriloquist’s dummy in the hands of Chinese President Xi Jinping — and U.S. funding cuts. – Associated Press

The FBI is probing several Mexican and European companies allegedly involved in trading Venezuelan oil as it gathers information for a U.S. Treasury Department inquiry into possible sanctions busting, according to four people familiar with the matter. – Fox News 

A South Carolina middle school teacher was placed on leave after a social media post accused him of being a Nazi who helped make travel arrangements for white supremacists attending a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that ended in violence. – Associated Press

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pledged Wednesday to begin reopening Mexico’s economy next week — under pressure at home and from U.S. officials — even as the country saw its largest one-day jump in coronavirus cases, hospitals are reeling, and testing remains inadequate. – Associated Press

John Yoo and Robert Delahunty write: China’s capture of the WHO, and the WHO’s unfortunate turn from public health to crass politics, should prompt the U.S. and its allies to build a new international organization. […]China’s desire to overturn the rules of the U.S.-led global order will require the United States and its allies to construct new international institutions for a different strategic environment. The first casualty of China’s rise may well be the WHO. – Newsweek  

Latin America

The United States is considering returning Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a senior Trump administration official told Reuters on Thursday, a move that would mark another major blow to increasingly tense relations between Washington and Havana. – Reuters 

A powerful Venezuelan official is seeking an investigation of the nation’s academy of scientists for publishing research that questioned official figures on coronavirus cases and estimated the pandemic may hit the country hard in the coming months. – Reuters 

Venezuelan authorities said Thursday they have seized 39 military deserters trying to enter the country from Colombia, saying they are believed linked to the failed armed incursion by sea early in the month that was aimed at toppling President Nicolás Maduro. – Associated Press 

Though cow’s blood is a traditional ingredient for “pichon” soup in the Venezuelan Andes and neighboring Colombia, more people have been seeking it out since the COVID-19 crisis. […]The government in 2016 began distributing food directly to millions of Venezuelans in what authorities said would prevent merchants from overcharging for good. Critics call it a social control mechanism that allows the government to limit dissidence and protest. – Reuters 

Sean McFate writes: No one wants the return of private warfare, but few are taking action to slow its growth. […]The Trump administration has placed a $15 million bounty on Maduro’s head, a highly unusual step that other countries may imitate for their enemies. Expect more mercenaries, but do not expect them to be Goudreaus. – Washington Post 

Alexandra Winkler, Moises Rendon and Claudia Fernandez write: In April 2020, the Future of Venezuela Initiative (FVI) hosted a series of analytical exercises to explore the possible political scenarios that may develop in Venezuela as the Covid-19 pandemic continues. After introducing recent developments in Venezuela’s struggle for freedom, the authors present four potential political scenarios for the country and discuss key driving factors for each one. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


So, on Wednesday night, Cundle filed a class-action lawsuit in San Jose, where Zoom is based, on behalf of the church, as well as other people affected by Zoombombing. – Washington Examiner

Greg Touhill writes: We need to better integrate the skills and experiences of our reserve and Guard workforce into our cyber teams, rather than as an independent adjunct to them. We also should deliberately consider broadening the composition of our teams to foster diversity of thought by actively seeking and encouraging contrarian views. – Fifth Domain 

Meagan Metzger writes: There is no question that working with the right emerging tech companies is imperative for the DoD and other government agencies. But at a moment in history when time is particularly of the essence, there is no room for trial and error when it comes to identifying which tech companies can meet the government’s specific needs. – Defense News 

Shane Tews writes: The economic benefits of 5G wireless and its ability to power a new generation of technologies have received much fanfare. But for the planned 5G buildout in the US to reach its potential, open radio access networks (O-RAN), the creation of virtualized networks using software-defined networking, and cloud computing will be key. – American Enterprise Institute  

Alyza Sebenius writes: Despite years of added familiarity, social media giants have found no magic bullet to fight disinformation, or “fake news,” since the 2016 U.S. elections. […]Even more alarming, perhaps, the appeal of such tactics appears to be growing among elements of both major parties. – Bloomberg


The following is the May 13, 2020 Congressional Research Service report, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program. – USNI News 

Leonardo has restarted work on the U.S. Navy’s new training helicopter after its competitor’s protest of the contract was rejected by the Government Accountability Office. Airbus, which lost the competition in January, protested the award of the TH-73 that is slated to replace the Navy’s aged TH-57 Sea Ranger fleet. – Defense News 

Before leaving Southern California last week for predeployment training, the crew of aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) spent most of April isolated to prevent a viral outbreak before their scheduled deployment. – USNI News 

Satellite communications provider Intelsat declared bankruptcy May 13, although its subsidiary which provides services to the Department of Defense is not part of the Chapter 11 proceedings. – C4ISRNET 

Adopting a new hybrid procurement system could save Britain’s Ministry of Defence billions of pounds and get cutting edge technology in the hands of troops faster, a top American satellite communications company argued to the parliamentary Defence Committee. – Defense News 

More than potential supply chain gaps or funding cuts, defense industry productivity during COVID-19 is threatened most by closed schools and a lack of childcare, company executives and government officials have said in the last several weeks. – USNI News 

During a Thursday morning cable news appearance, U.S. President Donald Trump blasted the F-35’s global supply chain and hinted he might intercede to bring more work on the Lockheed Martin-made jet back to the United States. – Defense News 

The Texas A&M University System board of regents today approved the funding to create a new hypersonic weapons test center for the use of U.S. Army Futures Command. – Defense News

Trump Administration

Sen. Richard Burr will temporarily step down as the chairman of the high-profile Senate Intelligence Committee after FBI agents seized his cellphone in their investigation of stock trades he made shortly before the coronavirus roiled markets. – Wall Street Journal 

President Barack Obama’s former spy chief acknowledged that he never saw evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government. – Washington Examiner

Jennifer Santos, the U.S. Defense Department’s primary liaison to the defense industry and a key player in the department’s COVID-19 response, is departing as head of industrial policy to take a new role with the Navy, the Pentagon has confirmed to Defense News. – Defense News