Fdd's overnight brief

May 29, 2020

In The News


Washington has disrupted planned Iranian fuel deliveries to Venezuela by threatening sanctions against shippers, U.S. officials said Wednesday, temporarily thwarting a burgeoning economic alliance between two of America’s biggest rivals. – Wall Street Journal 

Crushed by U.S. sanctions and weak oil prices, Iran has one of the world’s most battered economies. It also hosts one of the best-performing stock markets. – Wall Street Journal 

Tehran on Thursday dismissed the impact of what it called Washington’s “desperate attempt” to end sanction waivers for nations that remain in the Iran nuclear accord. – Times of Israel 

It has been almost five months since President Trump shocked the world by authorizing a strike to kill Iran’s top spymaster and shadowy commander, Qassem Soleimani. […]But as part of its campaign to keep the Soleimani legacy alive, Tehran has this year been steadily building the profile of the dead commander’s 28-year-old daughter, Zeinab Soleimani. – Fox News 

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Thursday warned the United States against its naval presence in the Gulf as they received 110 new combat vessels. The vessels included Ashura-class speedboats, Zolfaghar coastal patrol boats and Taregh submarines, state television reported. – Agence France-Presse 

Iran said the U.S. decision to end waivers that allowed some foreign companies to work on its civil nuclear projects would have no impact. – Bloomberg 

Fuel shipments to Venezuela are being celebrated in some Iranian circles as a blow to the United States, which has imposed heavy sanctions on Tehran and Caracas targeting both regimes. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The Law Enforcement Commander of Khuzestan Province on Wednesday said the security police of Mahshahr Port has arrested “fourteen agents of Takfiri and separatist groups”. – Radio Farda 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called for new protections for women after a 14-year-old girl was allegedly murdered by her father in a so-called “honor killing,” sparking outrage in the country. […]Amnesty International condemned the killing and called on authorities to ensure full “accountability” for the crime. – CNN 

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 

U.S. Special Representative Brian Hook said that increased Iranian misbehavior in response to U.S. pressure is “just another metric that it’s working” as he defended the Trump administration’s pressure policy. – The National Interest 

Micah D. Halpern writes: Iranian leadership typically thinks things through. But, not now, not in this case. Hatred for Israel is what stokes their fury, but it is not a burning issue with enough of the rest of the Muslim world to propel Iran to leadership of the entire world. – Jerusalem Post 


In the past month, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) leader Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani has dramatically increased his media appearances. […]Prior to these appearances, Al-Joulani’s last media appearance was on February 15, 2020, when two pro-jihad journalists active in the Idlib area published video interviews with him. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

COVID-19 has cut a wide swath of pain and loss across a world which has struggled to keep pace with a deadly virus that has moved swiftly across borders. But for one group, the global pandemic has translated into regional opportunity. The Islamic State militant group has sought to expand upon the rebuilding effort it began last fall and use the coronavirus to spread its own, more violent flavor of destruction and terror. – NBC News 

Anton Mardasov writes: Russia has once again displayed its pragmatism in using its facilities in Syria and links to private military groups for geopolitical maneuvering at little financial cost. The deployment to Libya has also showcased Moscow’s role not so much as a direct participant in the country’s conflict as a facilitator of a burgeoning alliance between Assad and Hifter. – Middle East Institute 


Russia and Turkey seem to be on the brink of a serious confrontation in Libya, while simultaneously supporting opposing sides in the civil war in Syria. RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Aleksandr Gostev spoke with Russian political scientist and Middle East specialist Mikhail Magid about the stakes in both conflicts and the goals that Ankara and Moscow are pursuing. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

 Official Turkish data show a significant drop in natural gas imports from its eastern neighbor, Iran, in the first quarter of 2020. […]As a result, Turkey has more than doubled its imports of LNG in March compared with March 2019, and for the first time, Turkey’s liquefied natural gas imports have outpaced the purchase of natural gas through pipelines. – Radio Farda  

Despite official optimism, the economic outlook for Turkey after the coronavirus pandemic subsides is grim, with top procurement programs experiencing major major delays, economy and procurement officials told Defense News on condition of anonymity. – Defense News 

Nicholas Danforth writes: History is versatile. When it serves their purposes, Turkey’s leaders will undoubtedly continue to dress their foreign policies in neo-Ottoman garb. But there’s no reason for analysts to go along with it. The impulses often called neo-Ottoman — aggressive nationalism, religious chauvinism, and anti-Western hostility — are very real in Turkey, just as they are in countries that don’t have an Ottoman past. Also real are the various pragmatic geopolitical and economic factors driving Turkish decision-making that neo-Ottomanism ignores. – War on the Rocks 


Israel’s government won’t vote on the issue of Palestinian statehood or on the entirety of the US Donald Trump’s peace plan, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu told the Hebrew daily Makor Rishon in an interview published Friday. – Jerusalem Post 

An attempt this week by the Democratic Socialists of America’s BDS national working group to tie Israel to recent incidents of US police violence against minorities has sparked outrage. – Algemeiner  

An Israeli medical team and equipment were sent to enemy state Sudan earlier this week in an attempt to save the life of a key diplomat infected with COVID-19 but were ultimately unsuccessful. – Ynet  

A cyber winter is coming and it will be faster than suspected, Israel’s cyber czar warned on Wednesday, a week after Iran tried hacking Israel’s water system. In a recorded speech for a Cybertech conference event slated for Thursday and obtained by The Jerusalem Post, National Cyber Directorate chief Yigal Unna provided striking new details about the Islamic Republic’s hack and how Israel blocked it. – Jerusalem Post 

The IDF and the Shin Bet have begun preparations for a possible outbreak of Palestinian violence if Israel goes ahead with plans to annex parts of the West Bank in the near future. – Algemeiner 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Palestinians residing in the Jordan Valley would not be granted Israeli citizenship after the region is annexed by Israel, but will remain citizens of a future Palestinian entity. – Haaretz 

Gulf States

The U.S. State Department has approved a possible $1.425 billion sale of Patriot air and missile defense system components and upgrades to Kuwait, the Pentagon said on Thursday after notifying Congress of the certification. – Reuters 

With fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections looming, some Arab Gulf nations have turned for help to an ostensible enemy and a country they don’t officially recognize: Israel. – LA Times 

The Qatar-owned satellite network Al Jazeera broadcast a crudely antisemitic interview with a leading Muslim cleric who called for the violent conquest of the State of Israel. – Algemeiner 

UN agencies trying to help the millions at risk from the conflict in Yemen are nearly broke, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said on Thursday, announcing a drive to raise some $2.4 billion next week to pay for the world biggest aid operation. – Reuters 

 David Ignatius writes: Aljabri, in supervising this operation and many others, helped save hundreds — perhaps thousands — of lives, say former U.S. and British counterterrorism officials. In the fight against al-Qaeda, Aljabri was one of the Arab heroes. Now, he and his family inexplicably are targets of a brutal campaign, and Western governments are not doing enough to help. – Washington Post


A French navy frigate hailed a tanker as it was on its way to load refined petroleum products from an eastern Libyan port, preventing the ship from reaching its destination and leaving it loitering offshore for almost a week, four Western diplomats told Bloomberg on Thursday. – Bloomberg 

The family of a Libyan people trafficker killed 30 migrants in revenge for his death, Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Jack Detsch writes: Ever since, Libya has fallen into a complex web of warring factions. The United States has made an effort to salvage a counterterrorism policy based on fighting the Islamic State, but it has been challenged by Haftar’s bloody offensive. U.S. Marines left the country amid the general’s advance on the capital of Tripoli that began in April 2019. – Foreign Policy  

James Stavridis writes: Losing a brutal dictator only to fall into a decade of war has been a sad outcome for the 6 million Libyans. For the U.S. and Europe, helping them find a path to peace is not just a humanitarian imperative — it is a direct responsibility, given the dire way in which the 2011 NATO intervention turned out. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon’s parliament approved on Thursday a law to remove decades-old banking secrecy rules in order to better fight rampant corruption that has pushed the country to the edge of economic collapse. – Times of Israel 

Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, on Thursday spoke with his American and British counterparts and warned against Israel’s intentions to apply sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria. – Arutz Sheva 

A documentary about Algeria’s protest movement on French TV has sparked not just another diplomatic standoff between the North African nation and its former colonial power, but anger among protesters themselves. – Agence France-Presse 

Aaron David Miller writes: As for Netanyahu, as long as he doesn’t expect too much from his new Arab friends and doesn’t break the bank by annexing wholesale the Jordan Valley and the whole West Bank (very unlikely), the Gulf Arabs will stay on board as they did when the U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem. It ain’t peace. But then again that was never in the cards. In a broken, angry, dysfunctional Middle East, who could ask for more? – Politico 

Robert J. Windorf writes: The prospect of greater flows of desperate refugees penetrating Algeria’s relatively porous eastern and southern borders presents a rising challenge for the Tebboune government, which could further destabilize the country’s already delicate political and socio-economic system. A major disruption in Algeria’s gas and oil fields could have a negative knock-on impact on Europe. – The National Interest  

Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi write: After becoming prime minister, he took action against the group Thar Allah in Basra due to its involvement in killing and wounding demonstrators. […]It seems unlikely that the prime minister could order raids or similar actions against the larger resistance factions, since he is obliged to respect the PMF institution as a whole. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. government has charged 28 North Korean and five Chinese individuals with facilitating more than $2.5 billion in illegal payments for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile program in what court papers describe as a clandestine global network operating from countries including China, Russia, Libya and Thailand. – Washington Post 

A married couple was executed by firing squad in North Korea after being caught trying to flee with their 14-year-old nephew, according to a report. – New York Post 

The economy was not on the agenda when Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dictator, appeared at a party meeting on May 23rd after his second three-week absence from public view in as many months. According to state media, the Supreme Leader promoted several military officials and laid out plans to beef up the North’s nuclear deterrent. That was exactly the sort of action Mr Kim should avoid, America’s national security adviser responded, if he wanted North Korea to have a “great economy”. – The Economist


Through three years of economic conflict, the United States and China have erected tariffs that squeezed trade. They have clashed over the telecommunications firm Huawei and the flow of strategic semiconductor technology. – Washington Post 

Hong Kong’s days as an international city with a high level of autonomy from mainland China now appear to be numbered, following a decision by China’s rubber-stamp parliament Thursday to press ahead with a new national security law that will criminalize acts such as protesting and criticizing Beijing. – Washington Post  

As businesses world-wide struggle to resume operations following months of coronavirus-imposed economic lockdown, two planeloads of German executives traveling to China in coming days are upping pressure on foreign rivals to resume international business travel. – Wall Street Journal 

As businesses world-wide struggle to resume operations following months of coronavirus-imposed economic lockdown, two planeloads of German executives traveling to China in coming days are upping pressure on foreign rivals to resume international business travel. U.S. trade groups in China and Japanese executives say they are eager to resume business. – Wall Street Journal 

Shortly after China’s legislature endorsed a national security law for Hong Kong on Thursday, the United States, and governments of Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement arguing the legislation would “curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties.” – Fox News 

With Donald Trump and Xi Jinping both focused on ramping up domestic support in the wake of the pandemic, the bottom is rapidly falling out of U.S.-China relations. And few in either Washington or Beijing seem in the mood to stop it. – Bloomberg 

Twitter has flagged a tweet written in March by a Chinese government spokesman that suggested the U.S. military brought the novel coronavirus to China, as the social media platform ramps up fact-checking of posts. – Reuters   

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) claimed on Thursday that it expelled a U.S. Navy warship that had “trespassed into Chinese territorial waters” off the Parcel Islands (Xisha Islands) in the South China Sea The Global Times of China reported. – The National Interest 

China is steadily increasing its security footprint in Central Asia and closing the gap with Russia, a trend that could see Moscow’s influence “undermined in the coming decade,” according to a new report. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Josh Rogin writes: Now, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Politburo colleagues are calculating that they can curtail Hong Kong’s freedoms and still take advantage of its prosperity to bolster their own power. That is precisely what the United States must move to prevent. – Washington Post 

Hilton Yip writes: But it isn’t just about Hong Kong. The bold move is merely the latest example of belligerent nationalistic behavior from China directed at both domestic and international targets this year. It follows several years of increasingly nationalistic messages emanating from the top of the Chinese government. – Foreign Policy 

Kathy Gilsinan writes: The longer-term implications stretch far beyond the immediate crisis, however. When it’s all over, China will have gained experience pushing its propaganda overseas at a volume and intensity it never had before. […]And the better China’s propaganda works, the more power it will have to shape the rest of the world. – The Atlantic  


A five-member Taliban team was in Kabul on Thursday to follow up on this week’s prisoner release by the Afghan government that saw hundreds of insurgents freed. It was the single largest such release since a U.S.-Taliban deal earlier this year spelling an exchange of detainees between the warring sides. – Associated Press 

Fourteen members of the Afghan security forces were killed in two separate attacks Thursday in the first deadly assaults officials have blamed on the Taliban since the end of a three-day ceasefire. – Agence France-Presse 

It’s long been a tug of war between U.S. President Donald Trump and his senior military advisors to keep the nearly 19-year-old war in Afghanistan going, but with the 2020 presidential election looming, the unorthodox commander-in-chief said again this week that he’s ready to bring U.S. troops back home. – Foreign Policy 

William Ruger writes: The United States has accomplished what it needed to in Afghanistan. We should withdraw and wean. After over 2,200 American servicemembers’ lives lost and a trillion U.S. tax dollars spent in the country, it is time for the Afghans to take responsibility for the future of Afghanistan. – The National Interest

South Asia

The standoff between China and India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has reportedly been intensifying with both sides sending in more troops to defend their respective sides. “We remain firm in our resolve to ensure India’s sovereignty and national security,” said Anurag Srivastava, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs addressing a press conference last night. – Business Insider 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling for a special independent team to investigate this week’s “shocking murder” of a Pakistani journalist, saying there is “every reason to doubt” local police claims that it was a so-called honor killing. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

Did U.S. President Donald Trump speak with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the phone to discuss the South Asian nation’s border tensions with China? Trump, who reiterated his offer to mediate between New Delhi and Beijing over the rising temperatures at their border, told a reporter in Washington on Thursday that he spoke to Modi. The Indian government says no such conversation took place. – Bloomberg 

Sadanand Dhume writes: What does this mean for India-China relations? Nitin Pai, co-founder of the Takshashila Institution, a Bangalore-based think tank, says Beijing’s aggressive stance toward India, as reflected in its current provocation on the border, is part of the country’s “sharper and more confrontational” foreign policy in the Covid era. – Wall Street Journal 

Adam Taylor writes: In the past, this might have remained a bilateral dispute. But now, anything that involves China seems to involve the United States, too. The Hindustan Times reported Wednesday that Trump’s offer to mediate was “part of [a] growing anti-China juggernaut.” Under such a juggernaut, ambiguity may not exist. – Washington Post 

Ravi Agarwal writes: In the best of times, both India and China restrict journalists from entering border areas, and the pandemic has made it more difficult to get accurate information. […]The longer-term question is why tensions were sparked in the first place—and what that portends. A few thoughts. – Foreign Policy


Days after President Trump said the U.S. would freeze funding for the World Health Organization last month, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison pushed for a revamp of the agency’s mandate to give it powers to investigate potential pandemics similar to weapons inspectors. – Wall Street Journal 

The decision followed Beijing’s announcement that it would draft sweeping national security legislation for the former British colony, sidestepping the city’s own legislature to outlaw secession, subversion and terrorism. The decision followed Beijing’s announcement that it would draft sweeping national security legislation for the former British colony, sidestepping the city’s own legislature to outlaw secession, subversion and terrorism. – NPR 

China will attack Taiwan if there is no other way of stopping it from becoming independent, one of the country’s most senior generals said on Friday, a rhetorical escalation from China aimed at the democratic island Beijing claims as its own. – Reuters 

The head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said on Friday that “one country, two systems” and “peaceful reunification” is the best way to bring China and Taiwan together. – Reuters 

Hong Kong told the United States to keep out of the internal debate over new national security laws being imposed by China, and warned that withdrawal of the financial hub’s special status under U.S. law could backfire on the U.S. economy. – Reuters  

Tajikistan’s Border Guarding Directorate has accused Kyrgyzstan of “attempting to destabilize” the situation at a disputed segment of the border between the two Central Asian nations after fresh clashes in recent days. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned the government will open a path to citizenship for 300,000 Hong Kong residents unless China backs down on its planned security laws. – Bloomberg  

Prosecutors in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, say they have closed the investigation into the mysterious death of a prominent Kazakh civil rights activist who died while in custody, in a case that sparked protests across the Central Asian nation. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Multiple online articles and social media posts published in May 2020 claim the Japanese government is set to subsidise trips for foreign tourists visiting the country by up to half of the cost after it lifts its coronavirus lockdown. The claim is misleading; on May 27, 2020, the Japanese government clarified the plan will only apply to Japanese residents making domestic travel, adding the details of the policy are still being finalised. – Agence France-Presse 

Keith Johnson and Robbie Gramer write: The decision on what to do next now rests with the White House, with more announcements expected as soon as Friday, several officials told CNN. Additional measures could range from revoking Hong Kong’s special trade relationship with the United States, including levying higher tariffs and tougher export controls, to targeting its role as a vital financial window for Beijing. Hong Kong’s future will be largely shaped by the U.S. measures in the coming weeks—and by Beijing’s response. – Foreign Policy 

Shuvaloy Majumdar writes: The fight for the future of Hong Kong is at its halfway point. […]Acting decisively and for the long term internationally, these events need not signal demise of the rules that the People’s Republic of China have so dazzlingly manipulated. Instead, Beijing’s betrayal may serve to reignite Martin Lee’s promise, for Hongkongers and for the free world, that the democratic model will survive the despotic one. – National Post  

Therese Raphael writes: Britain and others should also show greater support to Taiwan, a model democracy in the region. Rifkind thinks international opinion is moving in that direction. Johnson will also be watching the Americans closely, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous. – Bloomberg 

Mitchell Blatt writes: This was avoidable. Anyone who observed Hong Kong knew that national security laws are extremely unpopular across a broad spectrum of Hong Kong society. […]Beijing has even shown it is capable of conducting its own extraditions in such cases it deems necessary, as the kidnappings of bookstore workers shows. – The National Interest


The National Security Agency publicly accused Russian government hackers of targeting email servers around the world in an unusual announcement on Thursday, showing that the agency is becoming more aggressive in calling out Moscow’s action as the presidential election approaches. – New York Times 

Rosneft does not have enough crude to ship to buyers with which it has long-term supply deals, making it hard for the Russian company to continue with record oil cuts beyond June, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters 

A Moscow district court has sentenced a prominent Russian journalist to 15 days in jail, while police detained several other journalists who were rallying in his support. […]Calling Azar’s detention a “cowardly act,” Amnesty International accused the authorities of “crushing activism and impinging on human rights to silence critics.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The United States’ decision to end sanctions waivers that had allowed some work to proceed at Iranian nuclear sites will only provoke Tehran into developing nuclear weapons, Interfax cited Russian Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov as saying on Thursday. – Algemeiner 

Russia is coordinating with countries including France to invite their leaders to attend a massive military parade in Moscow on June 24, the Kremlin said Thursday. – Times of Israel  

The nuclear-powered submarine, built four decades earlier for the Soviet Northern Fleet, was being towed to a Murmansk shipyard to be dismantled when it was hit by a summer storm. The sub sank, killing nine sailors and sending around 800 kilograms of radioactive fuel to the sea bottom. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


The UK is pursuing forming an alliance of 10 democracies to create an alternative pool of suppliers of 5G equipment and other technologies to avoid relying on China, The Times reported. – Reuters 

Official concern at the rise of right-wing extremism in Germany escalated again on Thursday, as details emerged of a letter written by the commander of an elite military unit warning against far-right activity in its ranks. – Algemeiner  

The U.S. State Department has blacklisted Amir Zukic, a former member of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s lower house of parliament who is accused of involvement in “significant corruption” in the Balkan country. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty    

The European Union may have no option but to impose retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. over its illegal aid to Boeing Co. in order to settle the longstanding transatlantic dispute over aircraft subsidies, according to a senior EU official. – Bloomberg  

Germany’s Foreign Ministry has threatened EU sanctions against “those responsible” for a 2015 hacking attack on the German parliament, including a Russian national as a diplomatic dispute between the two countries intensifies. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty   

A German government official appeared to court Twitter to relocate its headquarters to Europe as the social media giant faces tensions with President Trump. – The Hill 

Antisemitic incidents in Austria rose by nearly ten percent in 2019, a new report issued on Thursday by the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG) disclosed. – Algemeiner  

Italy’s defense minister has thrown his weight behind the F-35 program to counter demands from within his coalition government to suspend purchases of the aircraft to help Italy’s coronavirus-stricken economy. – Defense News 

Spanish shipbuilder Navantia has formed a joint venture with Northern Ireland’s Harland & Wolff to pitch for an upcoming program to build up to three logistics ships to support the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. – Defense News 

Thousands of supporters of Kosovo’s caretaker prime minister staged a “rehearsal” protest with strict social distancing on Thursday ahead of a court ruling that could trigger new elections in the unstable democracy. […]The political crisis has paraylsed Kosovo for months, adding another obstacle to the long-running talks with Serbia. – Agence France-Presse 


In mid-May, attackers with machine guns stormed a remote cluster of villages in South Sudan, killing hundreds, according to aid agencies working in the area. […]The violence, however, comes on the heels of the formation of a new government in South Sudan, one intended to bring an end to a civil war that began in 2013 and has cost more than 400,000 lives. – Washington Post 

A Sudanese military officer was killed and several soldiers wounded on Thursday in an attack by Ethiopian militias on the Sudanese side of the border with Ethiopia, the official SUNA news agency said. – Reuters  

Armed criminals on motorcycles killed dozens of people in a string of attacks on villages in the restive northwest of Nigeria, medics and residents said. […]Nigeria’s armed forces last week launched bombing raids against camps in neighbouring areas of the northwest as part of the latest efforts to curb attacks. – Agence France-Presse  

Seven health workers and a civilian were killed in a village north of the Somali capital after being abducted by masked men in military uniforms on Wednesday, a director of a local aid group said on Thursday. – Reuters  

Then president filipe nyusi wanted help last year to tackle a jihadist insurgency in northern Mozambique, various private military firms were keen to oblige. Mr Nyusi chose Russia’s Wagner Group, which vowed to make short work of the rebels. But after a bunch of its men were killed, it pulled out, humiliated. – The Economist 

A Rwandan court on Thursday handed a life sentence to a former politician found guilty of orchestrating the killing of tens of thousands of people during the 1994 genocide, a court spokesman said. – Reuters  

Armed men on motorcycles killed 27 civilians in central Mali in three attacks on ethnic Dogon farming villages in less than 24 hours, local officials said on Thursday. – Reuters 

The International Criminal Court on Thursday said former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo can leave Belgium under certain conditions following his acquittal last year over post-electoral violence that killed 3,000 people. – Agence France-Presse 

The Americas

The head of the international watchdog monitoring nuclear tests has warned that a US return to testing being contemplated by the Trump administration would present a “grave challenge to global peace and security”. – The Guardian 

The sustained plunge in global oil prices has brought deep, unexpected shifts on the geopolitical landscape, with impacts felt in the Arctic and the Middle East, and in the fortunes of the American heartland and the future of the Russian-Chinese strategic alliance. – Washington Times

Abraham Cooper writes: The world is witness to an ICC judge barely masking her political agenda behind judicial robes. All advances in the name of human rights and international justice are being corroded by her outrageous behavior and her enablers. Right now, Americans are seeing evidence that our own judicial system has been damaged by people in power who manipulated it for political purposes. – Washington Times

Phil Levy and Chad P. Brown write: The WTO has also significantly enhanced the United States’ ability to enforce these rules. The U.S. government has brought dozens and dozens of cases before the WTO’s trade adjudication bodies. And it has won the vast majority of them, thereby forcing European Union countries, Canada, and even China to adhere to the rules U.S. negotiators had championed. – Foreign Policy 

Latin America

Venezuela has grown increasingly dependent on one little-known trading firm in Mexico to help sell its crude abroad as the country faces U.S. sanctions starving it of oil profits in a campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro. – Bloomberg 

An English court on Thursday said it would need to decide which of Venezuela’s dueling political factions to recognize before ruling on President Nicolas Maduro’s request for the Bank of England to hand over gold the country has in its vaults. – Reuters 

The Venezuelan navy said it escorted a fourth fuel tanker from Iran through its waters on Thursday, while the United States called the shipments to the gasoline-starved country a distraction from problems facing President Nicolas Maduro. – Reuters 

Venezuela’s National Assembly on Thursday ratified opposition leader Juan Guaido as legislative speaker, defying a Supreme Court ruling approving a rival opposition figure more favorable to President Nicolas Maduro. – Agence France-Presse 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday and offered cooperation to help the South American nation deal with its major outbreak of coronavirus, his office said Thursday. – Associated Press 

As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, Latin America’s slum dwellers waited defenseless in its path. Now, with the region becoming the new epicenter of the crisis, the virus is unleashing destruction on its most vulnerable populations. – Agence France-Presse

The coronavirus pandemic has put nearly 14 million people in the Caribbean and Latin America at risk of missing meals, according to a report released Wednesday from the U.N.’s World Food Programme. – NPR  

Desmond Lachman writes: A full-blown Brazilian debt crisis would be the last thing that a fragile global economy now needs. This would especially seem to be the case at time when other emerging market economies like Argentina, Ecuador, Lebanon and Venezuela have either defaulted or are well on their way to defaulting on their debt. It would also seem to be the case at a time when serious questions are being raised about debt sustainability in Italy, South Africa and Turkey. – The Hill


President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order that could open the door for the U.S. government to assume oversight of political speech on the Internet, a broadside against Silicon Valley that a wide array of critics derided as a threat to free speech. – Washington Post 

Tile, the maker of Bluetooth trackers that help find lost keys and other items, is urging European regulators to open an investigation into Apple for alleged anticompetitive behavior. – Washington Post 

The United States put up another major roadblock this month against Huawei, as China’s big telecommunications company moves to set up the latest 5G mobile networks worldwide. – NPR 

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg distanced his company from Twitter and its fight with US President Donald Trump, as the White House readied an executive order about social media companies. – Reuters  

City government systems in Minneapolis were temporarily brought down by a cyberattack early Thursday at the same time the city was grappling with raging protests over the police killing of George Floyd. – The Hill   

Phishing-related cybersecurity incidents at federal agencies dropped by one-third in fiscal 2019, according to the Office of Management and Budget’s annual cybersecurity report to Congress. – Fifth Domain 

Cat Zakrzewski writes: The pushback comes after House leadership dropped plans to vote on an amendment that would stop the warrantless search of Internet search and browsing history. The backlash could hold up efforts to reauthorize surveillance authorities introduced in Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act that allows the government to obtain secret court orders to obtain records related to terrorism. – Washington Post 

Greg Gardner writes: In sum, COVID-19 will require a transformation in the way DoD manages and runs its IT infrastructure to maintain productivity and national security. That evolution is going to take place much faster than anyone expected, catalyzed by unanticipated work-from-home mandates. It will require an overarching strategy in order to future-proof the system as a whole, and we believe an integrated data fabric approach is the right enabling strategy. – C4ISRNET


The U.S. plans to join an international organization that will advise companies and governments on the responsible development of artificial intelligence, becoming the last of the Group of Seven countries to sign on. – Bloomberg 

According to a U.S. Air Force press release, the military’s flying arm successfully tested dropping munitions from cargo planes back in January. The USAF flew an MC-130J cargo and tanker plane at a testing range in Utah. – The National Interest  

The launch of three U.S. intelligence satellites from New Zealand has been rescheduled for June 11 following a months-long delay caused by COVID-19. – C4ISRNET 

With artificial intelligence expected to form the backbone of the U.S. military in the coming decades, the Army is launching a trio of new efforts to ensure it doesn’t get left behind, according to the head of Army Futures Command. – Defense News  

House Democrats withdrew a bill Thursday to reauthorize foreign surveillance powers as Republicans united to oppose the Senate-passed proposal. […]The House on Wednesday scrapped a plan to vote on a bipartisan amendment to the surveillance powers bill, which was designed to limit warrantless searches of Americans’ internet history. – CNBC 

As the U.S. Congress hardens against Beijing, two key lawmakers publicly added their support for a new military fund to boost deterrence against China in the Pacific, virtually assuring a Pacific Deterrence Initiative of some kind will be in the next defense policy bill. – Defense News 

That National Airborne Command Operations Center (NAOC) is a key component of the National Military Command System for the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was created so that in the event of a national emergency or an unthinkable scenario such as a nuclear war it couldn’t be taken out by the enemy. – The National Interest  

The Pentagon has spent less than a quarter of the $10.6 billion Congress gave it in March to protect military personnel and marshal American industry to procure face masks, ventilators and other products hospitals need in their fight against the coronavirus. – Defense News 

Often referred to as an “aerial quarterback,” the U.S. F-22 Raptor is designed as a “first look, first shot, first kill” kind of air dominance fighter intended to ensure air supremacy and, in many cases, establish a safer “air corridor” for less stealthy and maneuverable aircraft to attack. – The National Interest 

Sen. Jim Inhofe and Sen. Jack Reed write:  The Pacific Deterrence Initiative will not be a panacea. It will not solve every military problem America faces in the Indo-Pacific, let alone the numerous non-military challenges the United States faces there. […]The Pacific Deterrence Initiative will help ensure that America’s adversaries know that whether it’s today or tomorrow, there will never be a good day to test America’s military. – War on the Rocks 

Sue Gordon writes: The existence of bad actors. Even though we have all been affected by Covid-19 and our fortunes were tied together, that doesn’t negate the threat of bad actors. […]Our perennial competitors are still advancing, and new attack vectors are always being used: state-sponsored cyberattacks to obtain advantage in therapies and vaccines; acceleration in opportunistic cybercrime against unprotected networks; and influence operations to shape public opinion, whether for fraud or to undermine democracy, are all evidence of that truth. – CNBC  

Adam Lowther and Brooke Mitchell write: Building a creative mindset at all levels of professional military education is important if the U.S. military intends to maintain its greatest advantage: its people. As the Joint Chiefs said, “There is more to sustaining a competitive advantage than acquiring hardware; we must gain and sustain an intellectual overmatch as well.” – War on the Rocks 

George Beebe writes: Russian-Chinese cooperation is driven not only by common interests but also by “common feelings” toward Washington—feelings fueled by perceived American insults directed at both countries. Implicit within this observation is the suggestion that a less offensive American tone might still pay some dividends in decelerating Russian-Chinese cooperation against the United States. – The National Interest

Long War

Islamic State (IS) said the coronavirus pandemic was divine punishment for its enemies, according to an audio broadcast on Thursday, where the jihadists also vowed more attacks. – Ynet 

The State Department Thursday announced a $3 million reward for any information on Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan, a senior leader in the Islamic State (ISIS). Ramadan, also known as Abu Bakr al-Gharib, is one of the group’s leading propagandists. – Fox News 

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  

James Barnett writes: State fragility and social upheaval across much of East Africa offers fertile ground for the expansion of Salafi-jihadi groups. […]East Africa has already witnessed at least three generations of Salafi-jihadis: those who partook in the anti-Soviet jihad; the likes of Saleh Nabhan, who oversaw attacks on his hometown, Mombasa, at the age of 23; and the young foot soldiers of today’s al-Shabaab. Given current trends, we may expect the next generation to be larger and more diverse than any that preceded it. – Hudson Institute