Fdd's overnight brief

May 27, 2020

In The News


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday issued an executive order requiring the implementation of a law passed last week that bars any cooperation with Israel, including the use of Israeli software and hardware. – Times of Israel

The Chief Rabbi of Tehran sent a message in Hebrew to the “Zionists, first and foremost to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu” while appearing on Iranian state television during Quds Day on Friday. – Jerusalem Post

The website of the Al-Mayadeen television channel, which is affiliated with the resistance axis, recently posted a letter from Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), to Muhammad Deif, commander of Hamas’s military wing, the ‘Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband says her release “feels quite close” as he waits to find out if she is among 3,000 prisoners granted clemency. The British-Iranian mother was jailed for five years in 2016 on spying charges – which she has always denied. – Sky News (UK)

In a voice recording sent from Qarchak prison on Monday Soheila Hejab, a political and civil rights activist, has said that agents of the Revolutionary Guard brutalized and arrested her after attending an appeals court hearing on Saturday. – Radio Farda

Iranian news agencies on Monday reported that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative in Khuzestan has visited the families of those injured with plastic bullets on May 23 during protests for lack of drinking water. – Radio Farda

France’s foreign minister has condemned Iran’s decision to sentence a French-Iranian academic to prison and said relations with Tehran have become more difficult after its politically motivated decision. – Radio Farda

Iran’s newly elected parliament convened on Wednesday, dominated by conservative lawmakers and under strict social distancing regulations, as the country struggles to curb the spread of the coronavirus that has hit the nation hard. – Associated Press

Amir A. Afkhami writes: Iranian clerics using a pandemic to advance their worldly goals is actually not unprecedented in Iran’s modern history. And this past indicates that Khamenei’s militarization of the country’s coronavirus efforts, which has already worsened the contagion in Iran, has the potential to erode his standing in the long run. […]The current practices threaten to prolong the suffering of the Iranian people. If that happens, it risks worsening the prestige of the religious strata in the country — which is just what happened in the late 19th century. – Washington Post

Ilan I. Berman writes: Israel’s successes, however, are a clear challenge for Iran. […]It’s also the reason why, in response to Israel’s battlefield successes, Tehran is now turning its attention to cyberspace, and seeking to showcase its capabilities and destructive potential. Only time will tell whether the cyber domain turns into a full-blown front in the evolving Israeli-Iranian conflict. What is already clear is that the ongoing confrontation between Tehran and Jerusalem is becoming more complex – and more potentially volatile – than ever before. – Al-Hurra Digital


Turkey’s battered finances have been shaken further by the coronavirus pandemic but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains determined to weather the crisis alone rather than request IMF help — something the populist leader has sworn he will never do. – Financial Times

Greece fears a fresh standoff on its border with Turkey after the Turkish foreign minister suggested migrants and refugees would shortly return to the frontier as the two countries emerge from coronavirus lockdowns. – The Guardian

Selva Demiralp writes: Turkey is financing its economic stimulus package with a quantitative easing (QE) program, whereby the central bank purchases bonds and injects domestic currency into the system to stimulate the economy[…]. So far, we have not seen adequate transparency regarding the QE program. Meanwhile, there are attempts to establish swap lines with G20 countries to secure foreign exchange inflows. If the pandemic ends soon and a second wave does not occur, then swap lines might provide the much-needed relief for a temporary period of time. If the pandemic continues for longer, however, a longer-term arrangement with an international institution might be needed. – Middle East Institute


Israel awarded the contract for a major infrastructure project to a local company, avoiding getting entangled in the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China. – Wall Street Journal

In a recent briefing to senior IDF officers, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said he was issuing an alert to army commanders regarding a possible escalation in the occupied territories ahead of July. – Haaretz

The Yesha Council and the Trump administration are separated by just 2.5% on the issue of Israeli sovereignty. According to the Trump peace plan, Israel can apply sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank, on territory located in Area C. The Yesha Council has rejected that proposal, which it says created conditions for de-facto freezes and destruction of Jewish communities. – Jerusalem Post

Benny Gantz made his first visit as defense minister to the embattled communities on the border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday, and warned that the conflict with the Islamist terrorist group would continue. – Algemeiner

The head of the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah on Tuesday rejected a US request to empower a UN peacekeeping force patrolling the border with Israel. – Agence France-Presse

Israeli security forces arrested seven Palestinian suspects in the West Bank in predawn raids on Wednesday morning, the first such operations since the Palestinian Authority said it had frozen a vital security coordination mechanism. – Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority official Husam Zomlot  decried Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday for not taking a strong enough stance against Israel’s proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank. – Times of Israel

Several European leaders reportedly sent personal letters to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days asking him not to push ahead with plans to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. – Times of Israel

Rocket warning sirens blared Tuesday in some communities close to the border with the Gaza Strip, but the military quickly said that it was a false alarm. – Times of Israel

A number of Arab states allied with the US are quietly backing Israel’s plan to apply sovereignty over nearly a third of Judea and Samaria, despite officially opposing the move, senior Arab officials say. – Arutz Sheva

Herb Keinon writes: By choosing IDE Technologies over Hutchison Water to build the desalination plant, Israel may indeed – as Steinitz said – have picked the cheaper bid. But it also sent an unmistakable message that it has heard America’s concerns about China loud and clear. And even more than that, it has internalized them. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

Houthi fighters in Yemen fired missiles at a military base of the Saudi-backed government in Marib province, northeast of the capital Sanaa, on Tuesday, killing seven people including relatives of the chief of staff, three military sources said. – Reuters

Chaos in war-torn Yemen is obscuring the “horrific” extent of the coronavirus epidemic in the country, leaving scientists to make educated guesses at the number of deaths caused by the disease based on burials. The estimates are grim: the crippled city of Aden alone has likely seen a five-fold increase in deaths since COVID-19 arrived. – CBS News

Police in Saudi Arabia are investigating a shooting on Tuesday that left six dead in Assir, a region close to the Yemeni border. – The National


The Pentagon accused Moscow on Tuesday of dispatching fighter jets to Libya to bolster Kremlin-linked mercenaries helping an eastern warlord, a move that would represent a significant expansion of Russia’s role in the escalating proxy war. – Washington Post

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday told an ally of Libya’s eastern commander Khalifa Haftar that Moscow backed an immediate ceasefire and political talks that would culminate in united governing authorities. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The Russians and Turks might look to history for a lesson. In the 1940s, the Italians, Germans and British fought over this same landscape in a back-and-forth conflict. The involvement of the US this week, pinpointing Russia’s alleged escalation, increases the chances for a showdown. But first, Russia has to make its pilots in Libya actually do more than just fly around and show off the flag. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — known for her long history of anti-Israel statements — appeared to draw a moral equivalence between the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia. – Algemeiner

The International Criminal Court at The Hague requested the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday to provide clarification regarding Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent declaration that he is ending all agreements with Israel and the U.S., which may have ramifications for questions of international jurisdiction in the Palestinian territory. – Haaretz

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: Accordingly, a meaningful strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq must now begin to address all three of these sets of issues – or “ghosts.” It cannot continue to be focused on short term security threats like ISIS and the Popular Military Forces. At the same time, such a strategic dialogue must recognize that Iraq must find its own answers to dealing with many of its “ghosts,” and the United States cannot help an Iraq that cannot unite or act to the point where it can help itself. It also requires the United States to decide whether the U.S. will commit itself to a sustained effort to help Iraq emerge as a nation that is unified and strong enough to prevent further civil conflict and act independently of Iranian pressure and threats. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Chinese scientists in recent days said they had ruled out both a laboratory and an animal market in the city of Wuhan as possible origins of the coronavirus pandemic, in their most detailed pushback to date against allegations from U.S. officials and others over what might have sparked it. – Wall Street Journal

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump is so “miffed” with Beijing over the novel coronavirus and other matters that the U.S.-China trade deal is not as important to him as it once was. – Reuters

President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday China would step up its preparedness for armed combat and improve its ability to carry out military tasks as the coronavirus pandemic is having a profound impact on national security, state television reported. – Reuters

Asian equities mostly fell Wednesday as profit-taking and worries about deteriorating China-US relations outweighed optimism over the gradual reopening of economies around the world. – Agence France-Presse

President Xi Jinping’s government is throwing the might of the Chinese state behind the country’s vaccine developers as the world races to make a shot against the coronavirus. – Bloomberg

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: The logic of confrontation, not the logic of technology, is now in charge in the U.S. showdown with China over Huawei. And it’s getting serious.Our confrontation now is less with a system than it was in Soviet times. It’s with a particularly benighted Chinese leadership that may be far along in the process of discrediting itself. Don’t let the Leninist antecedents of today’s Chinese Communist Party blind us to the ways this cold war differs from the last one. – Wall Street Journal


Senior military officials are set to brief President Trump in the coming days on options for pulling all American troops out of Afghanistan, with one possible timeline for withdrawing forces before the presidential election, according to officials with knowledge of the plans. – New York Times

The Afghan government said it was in the process of freeing 900 Taliban members from prison on Tuesday, the biggest such release yet, and urged the insurgent group to extend a three-day ceasefire set to end at midnight. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday renewed his desire for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan but added that he had not set a target date, amid speculation he might make ending America’s longest war part of his re-election campaign. – Reuters

South Asia

A Himalayan border standoff between old foes India and China was triggered by India’s construction of roads and air strips in the region as it competes with China’s spreading Belt and Road initiative, Indian observers said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: China may believe intimidation and the sort of ‘salami-slicing’ in which it engages in the South China Sea will enable it to act without consequence against India, but India is not the Philippines, willing to roll over for a few yuan. […]Xi may believe he can digest Hong Kong and crush its freedom spirit, but he will be wrong to believe that India is weak or that the United States—even under the Trump administration—would simply ignore his aggression. Instead, the United States would likely open the floodgates to provide any intelligence and weaponry which India would need to defend itself and bog down China in a morass of Xi’s own making. – The National Interest

Husain Haqqani and Aparna Pande write: India, the largest country in the region, would ideally be suited to playing a major role in rebuilding its neighborhood because of its central location and large economy. It would be in the U.S. interest to encourage this outcome. […]There is a geopolitical reason, too, for the United States and other democracies to encourage Indian regional leadership in post-pandemic rehabilitation. China has been expanding its influence in South Asia and could step in more aggressively to assist weakened governments with a view to controlling them in the future. India could emerge ahead in the contest with China with the right mix of policies. – Hudson Institute


The head of China’s military garrison in Hong Kong said his soldiers would safeguard the country’s national-security interests in the city, reinforcing an aggressive push by the Communist Party to tighten its grip on the former British colony. – Wall Street Journal

Protesters resisting China’s increasing grip over Hong Kong fought running battles with thousands of riot police who barricaded the city’s legislature, where Beijing’s allies pushed forward a bill Wednesday to criminalize disrespect of China’s national anthem. – Washington Post

Hong Kong riot police fired pepper pellets to disperse protesters in the heart of the global financial centre on Wednesday, as new national security laws proposed by Beijing revived anti-government demonstrations. – Reuters

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday a draft blueprint on safely starting travel between New Zealand and Australia will be presented to both governments in early June. – Reuters

Hong Kong legislators are holding a debate on Wednesday over a controversial bill that would require schools to teach China’s national anthem, organisations to play it and sing it, and anyone who disrespects it to face jail or fines. – Reuters

China must respect Hong Kong’s autonomy, the European Union said on Tuesday, amid controversy over Chinese plans to adopt a national security law for the city. – Reuters

Beijing’s planned national security legislation for Hong Kong is set to block its foreign judges from handling national security trials, people familiar with the matter said, which would exacerbate concerns about the city’s judicial independence. – Reuters

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned that Hong Kong could lose its status as a global financial center if a proposed Chinese crackdown goes ahead, and promised a “very interesting” US response within days. – Agence France-Presse

Hong Kong’s leader said Tuesday that national security legislation proposed by China’s legislature will not threaten the semi-autonomous territory’s civil rights, despite widespread criticism of the move as an encroachment on freedom of speech and assembly. – Associated Press

China on Tuesday dismissed U.S. threats of economic sanctions in response to Beijing’s announcement of new national security rules for Hong Kong. – The Hill

John Yoo and Robert Delahunty write: Finally and most importantly, such an action would demonstrate in a compelling way to the entire world the fundamental differences between the U.S. and the CCP. The U.S. is an open, liberal and pluralistic society with a clear and determined will to overcome the racism of its past. […]Welcoming immigrants from Hong Kong will let the differences between the U.S. and the CCP shine through. It is also the just and right thing to do. – Newsweek


Russia has begun building a prototype of its first stealth bomber which should be completed next year, the state-controlled TASS news agency reported on Tuesday, citing two sources in the military-industrial complex. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin said Russia has passed the peak of the coronavirus epidemic and ordered preparations to resume for military parades marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II victory. – Bloomberg

Russia said Tuesday that the U.S. decision to withdraw from an international treaty allowing observation flights over military facilities would erode global security by making it more difficult for governments to interpret the intentions of other nations. – Associated Press

Russian pilots flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner while intercepting a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea, U.S. 6th Fleet said on Tuesday. The intercept the third such incident in two months, Navy officials said Tuesday. – USNI News

Edward Lucas writes: The real counterpart for these nostalgic Russians is in Germany, where the “Reichsbürger” movement argues that the defeat of 1945 did not mean the legal dissolution of the Third Reich. The Federal Republic is a puppet state. They too issue documents and claim that the law does not apply to them. They too are silent about the crimes of the past. Perhaps they and their Russian friends should get together. They could even sign some kind of agreement. It happened before. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Herman Pirchner Jr. writes: As the coronavirus, and the deaths associated with it, continue to spread, the Russian masses – previously rendered passive though propaganda – will understand that Putin lied to them about Russia’s preparedness. […]Should Russia’s elite split, it may become possible to bring enough people into the streets to truly challenge Putin’s rule. Such a split could occur because those who cumulatively keep Putin in power feel their privileges threatened as a result of his mishandling of multiple issues (the virus, the economy, and so forth), which has begun to undermine regime stability. – The National Interest


Merkel is encouraging the European Union to abandon old constraints, borrow money in vast quantities and channel the cash toward the E.U. nations whose economies have been most devastated by the pandemic. The plan would give E.U. leaders in Brussels some powers akin to running a single nation. – Washington Post

Excluding Sweden from moves to open borders across the Nordic region as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic would be a political decision and not justifiable on health grounds, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The EU is willing to shift its stance on fisheries in negotiations with Britain next week, sources said, in what would be the first major concession from the bloc in talks on their new relationship after Brexit. – Reuters

A one-trillion-euro recovery plan to get Europe back on its feet after the devastation wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic was set to be unveiled Wednesday, as badly hit Spain started 10 days of national mourning for its thousands of dead. – Agence France-Presse

When Boris Johnson boasted last year he’d got “Brexit done,” weary European governments were only too happy to go along with it. The last thing they need now is for that sort of distraction to return. – Bloomberg

A virulently anti-American and antisemitic cartoon tweeted by the Chinese Embassy in Paris on Monday previously appeared on several websites linked to white supremacists and Holocaust deniers. – Algemeiner

Dr. Alan Riley writes: But when the aim is disinformation in Germany, flimsy credibility in Luxembourg is barely relevant. The goal of the litigation is to allow the disinformation operation to throw doubt on the legality of the actions of the EU, and seek to bring pressure to bear on Germany to break with the EU rules. The courtroom drama is merely a backdrop for the real plot. – Centre for European Policy Analysis


Once a country approves a refugee’s resettlement, the IOM — part of the United Nations’ refugee agency, ­UNHCR — controls their travel. It suspended those processes on March 17. For some refugees who were on the verge of travel, it’s a relatively minor blip after years of trauma — just a few more months appended to years of waiting. For others, such as gay and transgender Ugandan refugees in Kenya, the delay comes with immediate risks. – Washington Post

Widespread unlawful detention and torture by Nigerian security forces has aggravated the suffering of a generation of children and tens of thousands of people in north-east Nigeria, according to a new report. – The Guardian

Andrew Green writes: Like those earlier generations, Zein said, community-based groups are prepared to leverage whatever is necessary—demonstrations, lawsuits, pressure from international allies—to compel faltering governments toward a compassionate, comprehensive strategy and to ensure more than misery emerges from the lockdowns. – Foreign Policy

The Americas

The third cargo of an Iranian tanker flotilla carrying fuel for gasoline-thirsty Venezuela was approaching the nation’s exclusive economic zone on Tuesday as the previous two were preparing to discharge, according to Refinitiv Eikon data. – Reuters

Canada will co-chair an international panel with the United Nations and Jamaica to discuss how to shield developing countries from the coronavirus pandemic. – Bloomberg

Thirty people were deported to Haiti on Tuesday, but a former paramilitary leader accused of murder and torture was not among them as a result of recent discussions with U.S. officials, according to a Haitian government spokesman. – Associated Press

American Islamic preacher Fadel Soliman said in an April 30, 2020 interview on Al-Jazeera Network (Qatar) that Islamophobia and the media have inadvertently done a great service to Islam by making it, in marketing terms, a recognizable “brand.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

A top executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei is scheduled to learn Wednesday if a U.S extradition case against her can proceed. – Associated Press

Jason Brodsky writes: Officials in Washington would be wise to consider that these are not ordinary commercial transactions. They represent the latest advancement in an illicit strategic relationship stretching back more than a decade. With clear evidence of Iranian meddling in the Western hemisphere, now is the time to build a strong and unified coalition against the deadly Iranian regime and its key South American ally. – Newsweek


Twitter labelled two Donald Trump tweets “unsubstantiated” and accused him of making false claims Tuesday, a first for the social network which has long resisted calls to censure the US president over truth-defying posts. – Agence France-Presse

The U.S. Census Bureau released a request for information May 20 asking for industry input to shape the statistical agency’s cybersecurity acquisition strategy for the coming decade. – Fifth Domain

The government of Canada, alongside Microsoft and the Alliance for Securing Democracy, will lead a global effort to counter the use of cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns to disrupt elections, officials announced Tuesday. – The Hill

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The social media giant Twitter has labelled two tweets by US President Donald Trump, calling them “unsubstantiated.” By doing so it has waded into a thorny debate about politics and the role that social media giants should play in censoring or labelling misleading content. […]This leads to questions about why Twitter has not had the same policy for the Iranian regime and its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei who regularly spouts extreme anti-Israel and anti-women views, some of which have been accused of being antisemitic. – Jerusalem Post

Andy Mukherjee writes: That’s where a tech cold war may help. Wall Street investors have been able to profit from the explosion of e-commerce in China, even though the likes of Facebook and Amazon.com Inc. are largely shut out of the People’s Republic. If that access gets curbed by geopolitics, then Ambani’s story becomes more compelling. He can offer the vision of a vast retail network that has Facebook’s popular WhatsApp messaging system processing orders and payments for neighborhood shops connected digitally to a billion-plus buyers. That could be a big draw. A U.S. home is within Ambani’s reach, especially if Chinese firms are forced to vacate. – Bloomberg

Justin Sherman writes: Technology could help contain the pandemic. Yet expanding government surveillance in a crisis, particularly in cooperation with a relatively unregulated private sector, also prompts important questions. As citizens worldwide scrutinize expanding surveillance measures like contact tracing phone apps and facial recognition, and witness more broadly the creeping expansion of state authorities, we should scrutinize the rhetoric of war used to frame our thinking as well. – C4ISRNET


In March 2019, the Department of Defense established the Space Development Agency to oversee the creation of a new national security space architecture, one that would forego the traditional U.S. Air Force approach of using a small number of large satellites in higher orbits in favor of a proliferated constellation of smaller satellites operating in low Earth orbit. – C4ISRNET

Two candidate payloads for the U.S. Space Force’s Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites have passed their preliminary design review, with critical design review expected in fall 2021. – C4ISRNET

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper ordered replacing the military’s expansive movement restrictions on Tuesday with a regional conditions-based set of guidelines governing when and where service members, civilian employees and dependents can travel. – USNI News

After years of struggling to conduct attack submarine maintenance – with the four public naval shipyards prioritizing SSN work last, behind a backlog of ballistic-missile sub and aircraft carrier work, and private shipyards finding it tough to resume submarine repair work after years of only doing new construction – the Navy appears back on track for its SSN maintenance, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command told USNI News. – USNI News

The Navy is investigating the security force response to last Thursday’s gun battle at the gate of a Texas naval air station, Navy officials confirmed to USNI News on Tuesday. In parallel to the FBI and NCIS criminal investigation into the “terrorism-related” gun battle at the NAS Corpus Christi North Gate, the Navy conducting a standard preliminary investigation into how the Navy Security Force (NSF) handled the attempted assault by now-slain suspect Adam Alsahli, 20. – USNI News

In an era of renewed great power competition, China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, has become the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. – USNI News

The No. 2 official in the Pentagon’s office of inspector general, Glenn Fine, resigned Tuesday, several weeks after he was effectively removed as head of a special board to oversee auditing of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic relief package. – Associated Press

The United States Air Force has officially removed a minimum height requirement for pilots in an effort to allow for a “larger and more diverse applicant pool” to the military branch, including female pilots. – The Hill

President Trump on Tuesday evening urged House Republicans to vote against a surveillance bill that will be brought to the floor this week after lawmakers reached an agreement to vote on a key provision. – The Hill

Long War

To hear jihadist militants tell it, the coronavirus is an opportunity not to be missed. With governments worldwide focused on the crisis, Islamist groups insist the time is ripe for increased attacks, and they say their followers are getting the message, especially in fragile African countries. – Bloomberg

Jacob Zenn and Colin P. Clarke write: This could further plunge the region back into chaos it hasn’t seen since 2012, when jihadis controlled Mali and imposed Taliban-style rule on the population, restricting women’s freedoms, destroying Sufi shrines, and cutting off the hands of “thieves” who were often from marginalized ethnic groups, while using Mali as a base to launch major attacks on Western interests in Algeria and Niger. […]Now, ISGS has a vested interest in ratcheting up violence in the Sahel to unprecedented levels to outbid and undermine JNIM before negotiations can even get underway. – Foreign Policy

Amalina Binte Abdul Nasir writes: Malaysia will be faced with a new type of supporters and terrorist. It is one that they system has yet to experience. As such, it is imperative for Malaysia to continue exchange and learn from its experienced peers like Indonesia, Australia and the US on ways to further develop and fine tune existing programs to better suit battle-hardened terrorists, and ways to evaluate the efficacy of their rehabilitation program. […]Overall, in anticipation of receiving more returnees, Malaysian officials would be well advised to take steps to ensure that the existing structures and programs are optimally suited to tackle the complex process of deradicalization. – Middle East Institute