Fdd's overnight brief

May 26, 2020

In The News


For the past four decades, on the last Friday of Ramadan, supporters of Iran’s government have marched to denounce Israel. […]But the coronavirus pandemic forced Iran to cancel its annual Quds Day parade on Friday. Instead, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered a televised speech, compensating in rhetoric for the silence in the streets. – New York Times

The Governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) announced on Monday that two banks owned by the country’s armed forces will be merged into Sepah Bank in the next ten days. – Radio Farda

The chief of police in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province says security forces arrested “a large number” of people who danced in a promenade on eve of religiously sensitive date. – Radio Farda

The Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine has told Radio Farda Kyiv insists on punishing those responsible in Iran for shooting down its passenger plane in January. – Radio Farda

The latest trade figures published by China’s customs shows a 61 percent drop in imports from Iran in the first four months of 2020 compared with the same period last year. – Radio Farda

The first of five tankers loaded with gasoline sent from Iran reached Venezuelan waters late Saturday, expected to temporarily ease the South American nation’s fuel crunch while defying Trump administration sanctions targeting the two U.S. foes. – Associated Press

Iran’s president on Saturday warned the United States not to interfere with a shipment of oil bound for Venezuela after the South American nation said it would provide an armed escort for the tankers. – Associated Press

Iran’s supreme leader on Friday called Israel a “cancerous tumor” that “will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed” in an annual speech in support of the Palestinians, renewing threats against Iran’s archenemy in the Middle East. – Associated Press

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday lambasted a tweet from the Iranian foreign minister invoking the term “final solution” to promote a proposal to expand democracy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. – Newsweek

Iran on Monday reopened major Shiite shrines across the Islamic republic, more than two months after they were closed, as it reported its lowest deaths from coronavirus since March. – Agence France-Presse

France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that relations with Iran had become more difficult after Tehran sentenced a French-Iranian academic to prison in what he said was a politically motivated decision. – Reuters


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is confronting the biggest challenges to his hold on power since Syrians first rose up against him nine years ago, as a rift within his family, a collapsing economy and rising tensions with his key ally Russia lay bare the fragility of his regime. – Washington Post

Traffic returned to a major highway in northeastern Syria for the first time in seven months on Monday, following Russian mediation to reopen parts of the road captured last year by Turkey-backed opposition fighters. – Associated Press

 A Syrian court has ordered a travel ban on the cousin of the country’s president and one of its wealthiest businessmen in the latest measure to contain a financial dispute that has pried open divisions in the Assad family. – Associated Press

Oula A. Alrifai  writes: Although Syria’s dire economic situation leaves both parties with rapidly diminishing wiggle room, they may be able to keep the regime in the game by doubling down on some of its current tactics, such as diverting humanitarian aid, smuggling goods from abroad, maintaining a war economy, and siphoning funds from offshore accounts. In short, whatever internal reshuffling may occur, the regime appears to be just as durable as it was before the crisis. If coup attempts, assassinations, and years of war did not break it, airing dirty laundry on social media certainly won’t either. – Washington Institute


A day after he appeared in court on corruption charges, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained a fiery public defense that risked deepening divisions in Israel’s fractured politics. – Wall Street Journal

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared Sunday in a Jerusalem courtroom to hear charges of bribery and breach of trust leveled against him by prosecutors—the first time a sitting prime minister has been put on trial. – Wall Street Journal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank and gave his support to Palestinians on Monday in a video statement to U.S. Muslims on Eid al-Fitr. – Haaretz

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday pledged to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in the coming months, vowing to move ahead with the explosive plan despite a growing chorus of condemnations by key allies. – Associated Press

New bipartisan legislation aims to increase collaboration between Israel and the US in developing defense technology. US Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced the United States-Israel Military Capability Act of 2020 last week. – Jerusalem Post

Jeff Jacoby writes: Extending Israeli sovereignty to a small part of the West Bank not inhabited by Palestinians won’t change anything on the ground. But maybe, just maybe, it can jolt Abbas and the Palestinian Authority into recognizing that their adamant refusal to compromise is getting them nowhere.[…] By demonstrating in concrete terms that rejectionism has consequences, annexation might persuade Palestinian leaders that time is not on their side. Granted, it’s a long shot. But Israel has little to lose by taking it. There will be a hullabaloo, but it will pass. – The Boston Globe

Yoav “Poly” Mordechai and Michael Milstein write: Implementing the above recommendations would probably buy Israel a few months of temporary stability in the West Bank, mainly in relation to the Palestinian public. And yet, with the passage of time, the effectiveness of such stabilization efforts will decline. […]In this case, the calculations and behavioral characteristic of the Palestinian leadership—and even more so the Palestinian street—are likely to become more extreme, to the point that it will be difficult to calm the area with just civilian measures. – Washington Institute

Daoud Kuttab writes: This strategic decision by the Palestinian leadership will require a number of factors to be implemented and sustained. While the idea of clinging to the status quo is the least bad of the two difficult scenarios before it — either an uptick in violence or an acceptance of continued Israeli dictates — new arrangements vis-à-vis Israelis will need to be made.[…] The Fatah way might have allowed Palestinian leaders at times to “wing it,” but with so much at stake, they need the legitimacy of elections and the effectiveness of a well-thought-plan with realistic goals and public support. – Middle East Institute


Hundreds of people were killed and thousands wounded in the antigovernment protests in Iraq last fall and winter that halted political life and immobilized cities from Baghdad to Basra. – New York Times

Under pressure from low oil prices, Iraq is seeking billions of dollars in debt relief from Kuwait and moving to bolster ties with Saudi Arabia, as the coronavirus pandemic compels Baghdad to court allies that could help it stave off an economic crisis. – Wall Street Journal

Hamdi Malik writes: The new prime minister can start by freezing further expansion of the PMF. Then Kadhimi should divide responsibility among the various leaders across the military organization. […]A Shiite paramilitary force that operates under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi state will offer an alternative to the rogue Shiite militias led by Iran. Iraq’s new prime minister has momentum behind him. He has only to implement his plan. – Foreign Affairs


To anyone who asked, the mercenaries who slipped into the war-pocked port of Benghazi, Libya, last summer said they had come to guard oil and gas facilities. In fact, United Nations investigators later determined, their mission was to fight alongside the Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter in his all-out assault on the capital, Tripoli, for which they were to be paid $80 million. – New York Times

A series of swift military reversals in Libya has diminished a warlord’s hopes of ruling the North African oil producer and allowed Turkey and Russia to deepen their imprint on one of the world’s most strategic ­regions. – Washington Post

Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar called on his forces on Saturday to rally against Turkey, which has helped his Tripoli-based rivals turn the tide of a military conflict around the capital. – Reuters

Islamic State said on Monday it was behind a blast in a small town in southern Libya on Saturday, the militant group’s first attack in the country for at least a year. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump called for a “rapid de-escalation” of the Libyan conflict on a call with Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday, the White House said, after recent gains by forces backed by Turkey prompted threats of retaliation. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

After another weekslong absence from public view, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has convened the country’s top military-governing body, outlining “new policies for further increasing” its nuclear capabilities and promoting top weapons officials, the North’s state-run media said on Sunday. – New York Times

Both North and South Korea violated the armistice agreement that governs their shared border when their troops exchanged gunfire on May 3, the U.S.-led United Nations Command (UNC) said on Tuesday. – Reuters

China hopes the United State and North Korea can resume meaningful dialogue as soon as possible, the Chinese government’s top diplomat Wang Yi said on Sunday. – Reuters


China’s top diplomat defended his country’s handling of the coronavirus, called for more cooperation with the U.S. to address the pandemic and backed the World Health Organization, which the U.S. has accused of lavishing favor on Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

The United States should abandon its “wishful thinking about changing China” and stop pushing the two countries “to the brink of a new Cold War,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday, trying to position Beijing as the grown-up in an increasingly fractious relationship. – Washington Post

The U.S. government will likely impose sanctions on China if Beijing implements national security law that would give it greater control over autonomous Hong Kong, White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said Sunday.  – CNBC

The European Union’s top diplomat has called for the bloc to have a “more robust strategy” toward China amid signs that Asia is replacing the United States as the center of global power. – Associated Press

The Chinese embassy in France on Sunday tweeted, and then quickly deleted, an anti-Semitic image portraying the United States and Israel as the grim reaper knocking on Hong Kong’s door. – Washington Free Beacon

Beijing is poised to turn its back on a promise to guarantee the former British territory’s rights and freedoms for half a century, a clock that only started ticking in 1997. A proposal by the Chinese Communist Party to impose national security laws on Hong Kong is the most significant attempt yet to enforce the mainland’s will on this international city .- Sky News (UK)

China’s foreign ministry office in Hong Kong and the city’s security chief on Monday defended proposed national security laws by describing some acts in mass pro-democracy protests last year as terrorism. – Reuters

China said on Monday it opposes all U.S. restrictions imposed against Chinese airlines, responding to a report that the U.S. Transportation Department has demanded Chinese carriers file their schedules and other flight details by May 27. – Reuters

A top White House official on Sunday likened China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak to the Soviet Union’s cover-up of the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. – Reuters

The United States said on Friday it would add 33 Chinese firms and institutions to an economic blacklist for helping Beijing spy on its minority Uighur population or because of ties to weapons of mass destruction and China’s military. – Reuters

Adam O’Neal writes: Mr. Putin’s departure from power could prove anticlimactic, in contrast with the Soviet Union’s fall. Mr. Luttwak thinks the “Chernobyl” miniseries may be “the No. 1 film ever made in the history of mankind.” He says it’s “right up there with films like ‘Seven Samurai,’ which contain universal teachings.” As for the Wuhan outbreak, the history and its teachings are still being written.” – Wall Street Journal

Sen. John Barrasso writes: The United States cannot rely on China in a crisis. That is one of the clear lessons learned from the global pandemic. The Chinese Communist Party lied about the virus, and people lost their lives and their livelihoods. China knew the risk, and the regime covered it up. […]America cannot be dependent on foreign suppliers. Not again, not ever. Restoring our nation’s medical supply chain must be our top priority. – Washington Examiner

John Authers writes: For those following the market, the clashes amid the Hong Kong skyscrapers weren’t even the clearest signal of provocative and ambitious Chinese intent. That came from the People’s Bank of China’s fix for the Chinese currency to start the week. This is the level the central bank sets as a guide for the market, and the exchange rate can vary from it by no more than 2% in either direction — it effectively tells the world how far China is prepared to allow its currency to move. And Monday’s fix against the dollar was the weakest since 2008. – Bloomberg

Josh Hammer writes: The United States, under the hard-nosed leadership of President Ronald Reagan, ultimately prevailed in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. But contra proponents of Whig historiography, history is never inevitably guaranteed to repeat itself. As we, hopefully, approach the waning period of coronavirus lockdowns, America must quickly and decisively pivot like never before toward developing a full-fledged grand strategy to counter the Chinese Communist Party. Like Cold War-era opposition to the Soviets, this cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are far too high. History will not judge America kindly if she cannot rise up to counter the CCP challenge. – Creators


The Taliban and the Afghan government announced a cease-fire for the three days of the Islamic festival Eid al-Fitr, which starts on Sunday in Afghanistan, offering the war-torn nation a rare respite from violence that has been intensifying. – New York Times

Under the shade of a mulberry tree, near grave sites dotted with Taliban flags, a top insurgent military leader in eastern Afghanistan acknowledged that the group had suffered devastating losses from American strikes and government operations over the past decade. – New York Times

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani began a process Sunday to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture after the insurgents proposed a surprise ceasefire during the Eid holiday. – Agence France-Presse

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban organization) aims to occupy Kabul and other provinces and has prepared plans for “large attacks” after President Ashraf Ghani ordered Afghan security forces to go on the offensive against them across Afghanistan, according to an Urdu daily. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Michael Rubin writes: Khalilzad’s proposal of cooperation with the Taliban against the Islamic State, however, is even more short-sighted. It is true that the Taliban have fought against the Islamic State in some districts in eastern Afghanistan. This is not due to the Taliban’s newfound Afghan nationalism as Khalilzad claims, but rather because the Taliban sought to push back a group which sought inroads into a region in which the Taliban believed it had a monopoly. It was less the Taliban acting altruistically to rid Afghanistan of the Islamic State and more a mafia turf war. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: So, yes, the U.S. should support the Eid cease-fire. But the moment it concludes and the Taliban returns to violence, which it will, Trump should order a short but sharp series of strikes on Taliban infrastructure. His present appeasement is a fundamental disservice of American security interests. – Washington Examiner


Police fired rounds of tear gas, used a water cannon to disperse protesters and arrested more than 100 people opposed to Beijing’s plan to impose a sweeping national security law in a return to the demonstrations that defined this city last year. Despite social distancing measures that prohibit gatherings of more than eight and laws on illegal assembly, tens of thousands of people thronged through Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district on Sunday afternoon. – Washington Post

With his plan to impose sweeping antisedition legislation on Hong Kong, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has revealed a willingness to alter the onetime British colony’s special status as a self-governing city with a speed and scope that has surprised many, from pro-democracy activists to diplomats to businesspeople. – Wall Street Journal

China’s plans to impose a new security law on Hong Kong will “only target a handful of lawbreakers”, the city’s leader said Tuesday, as she tried to reassure international businesses and investors rattled by the proposal. – Agence France-Presse

The Philippine government is investigating the suicide of a maid who died on Sunday after an incident at a shelter run by its embassy in Beirut for Filipino workers waiting to return home after losing their jobs in the coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

Nearly 200 political figures from around the world on Saturday decried Beijing’s proposed national security laws for Hong Kong, including 17 members of the U.S. Congress, as international tensions grow over the proposal to set up Chinese government intelligence bases in the territory. – Reuters

The United Kingdom should ensure that China’s efforts to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong are on the agenda for the G7 meeting in June, Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong wrote in the Financial Times newspaper on Sunday. – Reuters

Editorial: Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia have all decried Beijing’s move. The United States has also protested, and it has in its arsenal a law that would allow it to end Hong Kong’s much-coveted special trading status if its autonomy is compromised. Once again, Beijing is forcing the democratic world to rise up in defence of Hong Kong, and to demand that China keep its word. It’s not too late to fight back. As last year showed. – Globe and Mail

Lewis Lau Yiu-man writes: “One country, two systems” is designed, in theory, to safeguard the fundamental rights of Hong Kong’s people. In fact, our rights are gradually being taken away in the name of safeguarding “one country, two systems” — Beijing’s version of it. The policy isn’t dead so much as it is perverse. Which it always has been. “One country, two systems” was a ploy from the outset, a tactic for China to buy time, the better to absorb Hong Kong sooner or later. Preferably sooner, it seems. – New York Times


Russian prosecutors asked for an 18-year prison sentence for Paul Whelan, an American citizen who is on trial for espionage charges. – Washington Examiner

 A Russian military helicopter crash-landed on an airfield Tuesday in the far eastern region of Chukotka, killing four people, the military said. – Associated Press

NATO and the EU on Friday urged Russia to comply with the 1992 Open Skies military surveillance treaty, as European nations scrambled to save the pact after US President Donald Trump said his country would withdraw. – Agence France-Presse

Remote electronic voting on constitutional changes that could greatly extend Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule will be used in three or four regions but not rolled out nationwide, the Central Election Commission chief said in an interview. – Reuters

Russia denied on Friday a U.S. accusation that it had repeatedly violated the Open Skies treaty, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, and said it was Washington that had flouted the terms of the pact. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin discussed Russia’s cooperation with Iraq over an OPEC+ deal to reduce oil supply in a telephone conversation with Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the Kremlin said on Monday. – Reuters

Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern region of Chechnya, is suspected of having contracted the new coronavirus and is receiving treatment in a Moscow hospital, three Russian new agencies reported. – Reuters

Maxim A. Suchkov writes: As cliché as it sounds, on the Israeli-Palestinian issue too Russia could either be part of the problem or part of the solution for the United States — either acting as a spoiler or helping the Trump administration save face. The peace process has long been a source of fatigue and a political “hot potato,” but it might give the U.S. and Russia another chance to cooperate in the Middle East. – Middle East Institute


The coronavirus has upended the best-laid plans and priorities of many, including the European Union. But one of the biggest casualties may be European efforts to build a more credible and independent European military. – New York Times

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings defied calls to resign on Monday over allegations that he broke coronavirus rules and undermined the government’s response to the health crisis. – Agence France-Presse

Over a hundred mosques and 40 high profile Muslim organizations have signed a letter demanding that the U.K.’s equalities watchdog investigate the Conservative Party over allegations of Islamophobia, accusing it of a “dereliction of responsibilities” to British Muslims. – Newsweek

A senior police officer in Ukraine has been suspended for asking a Jewish community for a list of its members. – Jerusalem Post

Belgium is planning to stop providing soldiers for security around synagogues in Antwerp. The plan, which has not been finalized, would end the army’s protection in the city’s Jewish neighborhood in September. – Jerusalem Post


Across Africa, government numbers show coronavirus infections have been significantly lower than in other parts of the world. But from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Yaoundé in Cameroon and cities in Somalia and across northern Nigeria, health workers are reporting a reality that bears little resemblance to the official data, with hot spots emerging in countries with few resources to tackle them. – Wall Street Journal

Burundi’s ruling party candidate, retired general Evariste Ndayishimiye, has won the presidential election with 69% of votes cast, the electoral commission said on Monday, after accusations of rigging by the leading opposition challenger. – Reuters

The Bulgarian captain of a Portuguese-flagged cargo ship who was kidnapped along with seven other sailors by pirates off the coast of Benin last month, has been freed, Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said on Monday. – Reuters

Soldiers from Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso conducted their first joint operation against jihadists active near their shared border, killing eight suspected militants and arresting 14 others, Ivory Coast’s army said on Sunday. – Reuters

Latin America

Venezuela and Iran, U.S. adversaries that have been stung by sanctions and hobbled by the novel coronavirus, are forging a closer strategic partnership, providing embattled President Nicolás Maduro a vital lifeline and offering Tehran the prospect of a new center of influence just across the Caribbean Sea from Florida. – Washington Post

A second tanker dispatched by Iran was welcomed Monday by Venezuelan naval frigates and helicopters as it entered national waters, a lifeline for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro that reflects the closer ties being forged between Tehran and U.S. adversaries in Latin America. – Wall Street Journal

The White House on Monday brought forward by two days restrictions on travel to the United States from Brazil as the number of deaths from the new coronavirus in the South American nation surpassed the U.S. daily toll. – Reuters


China created a smartphone tool to trace and track the movement of potential coronavirus patients. Now, plans to make that kind of health tracking permanent are stirring concerns in a country where personal privacy was once said to be an afterthought. – Wall Street Journal

Israel on Monday asked Twitter to immediately suspend the account of Iran’s supreme leader from the social media platform for what it described as “anti-Semitic and genocidal” messages posted by Ayatolah Ali Khamenei. – Times of Israel

The Israeli cabinet limited on Sunday the involvement of the Shin Bet security service in the cellphone-tracking of people infected by the coronavirus, saying the measure would be a last resort where epidemiological investigation proves insufficient. – Reuters

The coronavirus outbreak in China has given unprecedented glimpses into how an extensive system of surveillance cameras works, as monitoring stations are rebranded epidemic “war rooms” helping to check people’s movements and stifle the disease. – Reuters

Demand for virtual private networks in Hong Kong surged more than six-fold last Thursday as Beijing proposed tough new national security laws for the financial hub, reflecting concerns over internet privacy, according to a VPN provider. – Reuters


NASA officials gave the go-ahead on Friday for SpaceX and the agency to continue preparations for a historic liftoff of two astronauts on a rocket from Florida to the International Space Station next week. – New York Times

The Trump administration has discussed whether to conduct the first U.S. nuclear test explosion since 1992 in a move that would have far-reaching consequences for relations with other nuclear powers and reverse a decades-long moratorium on such actions, said a senior administration official and two former officials familiar with the deliberations. – Washington Post

Editorial: Military installations that celebrate white supremacist traitors have loomed steadily larger in the civic landscape since the country began closing smaller bases and consolidating its forces on larger ones. Bases named for men who sought to destroy the Union in the name of racial injustice are an insult to the ideals servicemen and women are sworn to uphold — and an embarrassing artifact of the time when the military itself embraced anti-American values. It is long past time for those bases to be renamed. – New York Times

Long War

A year after American-backed forces seized the last remnant of territory under Islamic State rule in Syria, some 10,000 captured ISIS fighters in Kurdish-run wartime prisons pose “a significant risk” to the United States mission in the country’s northeast, military commanders say. – New York Times

The man who shot a guard at a Texas naval air station has been identified as Adam Salim Alsahli. The FBI’s Houston field office confirmed in a Friday afternoon tweet the identity of the 20-year-old shooter, who injured one guard before being shot dead by authorities. – Washington Examiner

Kosovo prosecutors on Friday filed terrorism charges against two ethnic Albanian women for allegedly joining the Islamic State group in Syria. – Associated Press

A German woman suspected of joining the Islamic State group in Syria has been taken into custody in her homeland after being deported from Turkey. – Associated Press