Fdd's overnight brief

November 3, 2020

In The News


Iran’s supreme leader mocked America’s presidential election Tuesday in a televised address, quoting President Donald Trump’s own baseless claims about voter fraud to criticize the vote as Tehran marked the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis. – Associated Press

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday the U.S. presidential election’s result will not impact Tehran’s policy towards Washington. – Reuters

Britain on Monday described Iran’s decision to bring a new case against detained British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as appalling and said she should be allowed to return home to rejoin her family. – Reuters

Iran on Monday adjourned a new trial of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, according to her husband and the UK government, which condemned what it said was her “appalling” treatment by Tehran. – Agence France-Presse

Iranian lawmakers raised the stakes in the country’s nuclear tussle with the U.S. ahead of Tuesday’s election. – Bloomberg

The normalization between Israel and the Sunni Arab Gulf states of Bahrain and the UAE is perceived by the Iranian leadership as a direct threat to it, and as trespassing in its backyard in the Gulf. The normalization agreements endanger Iran’s hegemony in the Gulf – an exclusive hegemony that the Iranian regime has taken care to establish – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday it will focus on the “actions” of the new US administration rather than who wins the White House, a day before Americans vote. – Agence France-Presse

Mohammad Hossein Ziya writes: It remains to be seen whether Ayatollah Khamenei’s gamble on Trump’s defeat on Nov. 3 will pay off. But regardless of who wins the U.S. election, this is a bet that Ayatollah Khamenei has already lost as a result of his own decisions and the rift they have created between him and the people of Iran. – Middle East Institute

Jason Brodsky writes: With the U.S. presidential election approaching, the Trump administration has increased the pace of sanctions designations on Iran. While such penalties are aimed to build economic leverage against Tehran, a pattern has emerged in the recent U.S. actions. The United States is seeking to blur the distinction between Iran’s armed and elected states to document publicly that they are two sides of the same terror coin. – United Against Nuclear Iran


The twin threat of Russia’s and Turkey’s assertive autocracies on the European Union’s doorstep is testing the ability of the bloc’s members to find a common front in an increasingly unstable neighborhood. – Wall Street Journal

The Turkish lira touched a fresh record low of 8.4470 on Tuesday ahead of a U.S. election that could strain bilateral ties, weakening despite the central bank’s move to shut one of the last windows for lenders to access cheaper funding. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: Perhaps opposition leader Kemal Kılıcdaroglu is right: Erdogan should publicly burn his wife’s designer handbag. However, that would only be a start. For Erdogan to imply he is the defender of the faith while overseeing a family fortune built on corruption is akin to a prostitute claiming she is a defender of virginity. Once again, through either hypocrisy, stupidity, or both, Erdogan has made a mockery of himself, Turkey, and that which he claims to defend. – Washington Examiner


During a visit by a Hamas delegation to Cairo last week, Egypt called on the terrorist group to maintain the ceasefire reached with Israel in August until after the US elections on Tuesday, according to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among countries slated to establish relations with Israel under a regional rapprochement launched by U.S. President Donald Trump, an Israeli official said on Monday. – Reuters

Israel’s Civil Administration, which administers the West Bank, is recommending the resumption of a process that would make it more difficult for Palestinians to appeal appropriation of land in the territory for the state. – Haaretz

President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded Tuesday to the deadly terrorist attack in Vienna a day earlier, saying that Israel stands with Austria in the fight against terrorism. – Times of Israel

Three and a half years later, diplomatically isolated, in a deep fiscal crisis, and with relations with Washington at a nadir, Abbas and his deputies are desperate for an electoral victory by Joe Biden, who they believe will be more attentive to the Palestinian cause. – Times of Israel

On the occasion of the 103rd anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Monday called on Britain to recognize the independent “state of Palestine” within the borders approved by international institutions and its capital, eastern Jerusalem, as compensation for the “terrible” Balfour Declaration. – Arutz Sheva

Anshel Pfeffer writes: If Trump indeed loses on Tuesday night, especially with the COVID-19 crisis having presumably played such a central role in his defeat, it will be impossible for Israelis not to visualize a similar and perhaps imminent ending for Netanyahu’s prolonged hold on Israeli political life. – Haaretz

Anna Ahronheim writes: Nevertheless, no matter who wins the US election, Israel has to remember one thing: When it comes to its security, Israel has to be able to defend itself, by itself, at any given time. At the very least, Washington will continue to reinforce that. – Jerusalem Post

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: The Russians, Chinese and Iranians understand this and are trying to increase the mistrust in the American authorities – especially the president – and deepen the division among the people with a stream of “fake news” directed at American social media. And a weak America is a nightmare for Israel’s security. – Ynet


But seven months after his appointment, Iraq has slipped deeper into crisis as the downturn in oil prices has left the government struggling to raise funds to pay salaries, coronavirus cases have soared and militias roam freely, striking fear into their critics. – Financial Times

Ruba Husari writes: Failing the political courage and the buy-in and acceptance of the Iraqi people and above all the political elites that the authors of the white paper put as a condition for implementing the recommended reforms, there remains one path that could lend a helping hand: outside pressure. […]The global economy and the oil markets are unlikely to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, creating an opportunity for international institutions to revisit their leverage with Iraq on more sustainable terms. – Middle East Institute

H. Tarkhani writes: To counter Tehran’s influence, the new government in Baghdad should step up and try to gradually normalize relations with Israel. This might be the only way to counter Iran and Turkey’s influence, and to acquire real independence from neighboring countries. Further peace deals between Israel and her Arab neighbors will further devastate the Iranian regime and weaken its involvement in the internal dealings of Gulf countries. Iraq should destroy the taboo against normalizing relations with Israel, the most developed country in the Middle East. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

Attorneys defending Saudi Arabia from lawsuits by 9/11 families will represent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against allegations in Washington that he targeted a former top Saudi intelligence official for assassination to prevent the spilling of secrets about his climb to power. – Washington Post

The United Arab Emirates has come out in support of Emmanuel Macron in the face of growing anger in the Middle East over France’s approach to Islam, backing the French president’s call for greater integration of Muslims. – Financial Times

Maysam Bizaer writes: The emerging alliance between the UAE and Israel has a strong potential to shift the regional balance of power in favor of Israel. The normalization of ties with an array of Sunni Arab countries on the southern shores of the Persian Gulf will allow these small but mostly wealthy states to rely on a new regional player outside of the traditional choice between Saudi Arabia and Iran. – Middle East Institute


The U.S. Air Force recently bought dozens of Chinese-made drones to use for testing and training, according to officials and records of the purchase, fueling concerns about continued Defense Department use of technology that lawmakers consider a threat to national security. – Wall Street Journal

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed a media report about it seizing territory from Nepal as a “completely unfounded rumour”. – Reuters

Chinese telecommunications giants including Huawei are headed for a major defeat in Germany under an update of the regulatory framework, according to Berlin’s top defense official. – Washington Examiner

In the dramatic run-up to Tuesday’s US presidential election, Chinese coverage and commentary in state and social media has been relatively restrained. – Financial Times

This report in the Finance.rambler.ru outlet titled “China Is Pushing Russia Out of Montenegro”, shows how China has become the major economic power in Montenegro and is becoming increasingly dominant in neighboring Serbia. The Chinese strategy is to give loans with few questions asked even for projects that are economically unviable or wasteful. Via such loans, China creates economic dependence. – Middle East Media Research Institute

The U.S. dismissed as “unacceptable” Beijing’s warnings of further retaliation if the visas of Chinese journalists working in America weren’t renewed. – Bloomberg

President Donald Trump raised barriers for Chinese companies seeking to invest or raise money in the United States that will have a lasting impact even if he does not win a second term, according to dealmakers and policy experts. – Reuters

China’s Communist Party says it will support Fujian province in exploring a new path for integrated development with Taiwan, state media reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Marion Smith writes: The political class has followed the country in realizing that the United States finds itself in another Cold War — a second struggle against a communist country that seeks nothing less than America’s destruction. This realization came far later than it should have, and whoever wins on Election Day, the American people must demand that the next president fulfills his promise to be tough on communist China. – USA Today

Kathrin Hille writes: Any such move could trigger US government steps to close loopholes. On the other hand, Beijing could respond to resistance by Chinese chipmakers to buy local by making subsidies for new chip plants conditional on the use of local equipment. Either way, backed by the world’s largest market, China’s chip companies have more than a fighting chance. But they are in for a long, messy battle. – Financial Times

John Plender writes: As for regulatory risk, there are historic grounds for worrying about arbitrary intervention by the Chinese authorities. The prize of more secure pension incomes for the elderly courtesy of China ought to be an incentive for Western policymakers to foster a stable and peaceful financial interdependence. Under a new Trump administration that will not happen. Whether, against the background of aggressive US-China strategic competition, Joe Biden might choose such an option is moot. – Financial Times

Joseph Bosco writes: For China’s Communist Party, it is imperative to see the end of the Trump presidency, the first U.S. administration to stand up to China’s aggressive assault on the values and interests of the free world. In China’s view, the Biden-Harris promise of a return to “normalcy” undoubtedly would mean business as usual for Beijing and would suit Xi’s “China Dream.” – The Hill

South Asia

An hours-long siege on Kabul University claimed by the Islamic State left at least 22 dead and 22 wounded Monday after two gunmen stormed the campus, took several students hostage and battled security forces for hours before the scene was cleared and all hostages were freed. – Washington Post

Pakistan announced plans to formally integrate part of the territory it controls in the disputed region of Kashmir, in a move China has been requesting but has upset India, which claims the territory. – Wall Street Journal

Afghanistan is likely to receive reduced pledges for aid from international donors gathering in Geneva next month, three sources familiar with discussions said, amid uncertainty over how the government’s peace talks with the Taliban will progress. – Reuters

Bangladesh’s biggest Islamist group on Monday told the government to cut diplomatic ties with France within 24 hours, as police stopped thousands of its supporters from marching towards the French embassy. – Reuters

Editorial: China’s diplomatic and military actions over the last year have grown increasingly menacing, with its threats against Taiwan perhaps the most acute problem for the next U.S. President. Yet Washington’s closer cooperation with New Delhi shows that, even as Beijing throws its weight around, China is spurring a formidable coalition to resist. – Wall Street Journal


North Korea is building two new submarines, including one capable of firing ballistic missiles, a South Korean lawmaker said on Tuesday, following a closed-door briefing by the South’s National Intelligence Service. – Reuters

The sale of four sophisticated U.S.-made aerial drones to Taiwan has crossed a key hurdle in Congress and is at the last stage of approval, sources said on Monday, a deal likely to add to already strained ties with China. – Reuters

Australia’s former treasurer Joe Hockey, who helped oversee a comprehensive free-trade agreement with China, has accused Beijing of bullying and immature behavior as the list of Australian goods targeted for reprisals grows. – Bloomberg

The navies of India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. began their first joint exercises in the Indian Ocean since the revival of the Quad alliance amid heightened tensions with China. – Bloomberg

South Caucasus

Israel has lined up with Turkey, terrorists and Syrian mercenaries in backing Azerbaijan in the current conflict with Armenia, and will eventually suffer the consequence of that unholy alliance, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Artillery strikes on civilians in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could amount to war crimes, the U.N. human rights chief said on Monday, reiterating a call for Azerbaijan and Armenia to halt attacks on towns, schools and hospitals in the mountain enclave. – Reuters

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh military conflict in phone calls with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Nov. 1 and with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev on Nov. 2, the Kremlin said on Monday. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Putin is gambling, likely correctly based on prior experience, that Erdogan will take note of his anger and back down. When it comes to the crunch point, the Turkish leader has shown a reluctance to go eyeball-to-eyeball with the ex-KGB man. It’s either Erdogan’s support for a serious cease fire, or a localized conflict will take on a new international flavor. Considering that Turkey is a NATO member state (whether it should still be is another matter), let’s hope its the former. – Washington Examiner

Tony Barber writes: Undeniably, Georgia faces hard choices. In many ways, the country has lived in Moscow’s shadow since its annexation by the tsarist empire in 1801. Yet the west backs the independence that Georgia has enjoyed since 1991 and China believes it has interests at stake there, too. It is safe to conclude that a new round of competition for influence in Georgia, and the South Caucasus as a whole, is getting under way. – Financial Times


Russian government-backed social media accounts nurtured the QAnon conspiracy theory in its infancy, earlier than previously reported, according to interviews with current and former Twitter executives and archives of tweets from suspended accounts. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday condemned attacks across Vienna that left five people dead in the city centre and said Moscow was ready to boost counter-terrorism cooperation with Austria. – Reuters

Prof. Zhao Huasheng asked Putin how a world crisis could be turned into an opportunity for Sino-Russian relations. Putin answered that Russian-Chinese relations had reached already an unprecedented level, stating: “I am not even mentioning the term ‘specially privileged’ relations, etc. What matters is not the name but the quality of these ties. As for the quality, we treat each other with deep trust; we have established durable, stable, and, most importantly, effective ties across the board.” – Middle East Media Research Institute


At least one gunman killed four people and seriously injured several others before being shot dead by police in an attack in the Austrian capital, Vienna, that officials called Islamist terrorism. Wall Street Journal

France is enduring an autumn of agony. Covid-19 is filling up the country’s hospitals. Its churches and schoolyards are haunted by Islamist terrorism. – Wall Street Journal

France is again facing the specter of terrorism after multiple people were stabbed at a church in Nice, a city on the country’s south coast that has seen a number of attacks in the past. This is what we know so far. – Wall Street Journal

A shooting in Vienna that authorities described as a terrorist attack left at least four people dead and many more wounded on Monday night. Police shot dead one attacker but authorities said Tuesday that others might be on the run. Here’s what we know. – Wall Street Journal 

Germany has stepped up checks at its border with Austria following multiple shootings that left three dead in Vienna, police told AFP Tuesday, with a manhunt  underway for an assailant still at large. – Agence France-Presse

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned on Monday that foreign aid loans and a visa-free deal with the European Union were under threat if parliament did not restore anti-corruption reforms, saying the country could slide into “bloody chaos”. – Reuters

Czech police said they had started random checks on the country’s border with Austria following Monday’s attack near a Vienna synagogue that had left at least two dead and several injured. – Agence France-Presse

German police are investigating a Syrian satirist who filmed a video in a Berlin street in which, dressed in an Arab robe and turban, he flogged a handcuffed man wearing a mask depicting French President Emmanuel Macron. – Reuters

France will dissolve a Turkish ultra-nationalist movement named the “Grey Wolves”, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the National Assembly on Wednesday. – Bloomberg

Hungary’s justice minister has sought to divert attention from the country’s intensifying dispute with Brussels over its breaches of the rule of law by seizing on recent Islamist attacks in France and urging the EU to focus on terrorism. – Financial Times

Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky will this week seek to clear out his country’s constitutional court and reboot his drive to tackle corruption[…]. Activists say the ruling is part of a systematic attempt by the court to dismantle anti-corruption institutions driven by pro-Russian politicians and lawmakers allied to powerful oligarchs who want to wreck Kyiv’s relations with the IMF and EU. – Financial Times

Moldova’s presidential election is heading for a run-off between pro-EU opposition candidate Maia Sandu and Russia-supporting incumbent Igor Dodon, after they emerged as the leading candidates from the first round of voting. – Financial Times

A defiant French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday led international condemnation of the terror attack in Austria, saying that Europe will not give in to extremists. – Times of Israel

European police launched coordinated raids in seven countries on Tuesday as part of a clampdown on online hatred and incitement to violence, the European Union law enforcement agency Europol and German prosecutors said. – Reuters

George Barros writes: Self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko intensified anti-NATO rhetoric by accusing Poland of using Belarusian Catholic clergy as an anti-Belarusian fifth column. – Institute for the Study of War

Mehreen Khan writes: French Muslims should be Mr Macron’s biggest allies against violent terrorism. Yet rather than embracing them, he has chosen a strategy that serves the far-right and its electoral ambitions. […]Come 2022’s presidential election, Mr Macron will likely tell Muslims they should vote for him to save the republic from the far-right party of Marine Le Pen. That threat is in danger of sounding hollow for Muslims if they are subject to a hostile environment from a liberal president. – Financial Times

Tom McTague writes: In the end, all these challenges reveal the essential question that lurks underneath: What kind of country does Britain seek to be? This question may well have been prompted by the U.S. election, but it is not for Biden or Trump to answer.[…]Perhaps Britain, like the other countries of the American alliance, must follow this advice 60 years on, even if it’s for the less grandiose goal of its own freedom rather than that of mankind. – The Atlantic

Tiana Lowe writes: Yet to retract a piece solely because of public backlash is about as illiberal as arguing that Paty and the three Nice victims had it coming. The question is why any of these takes or overtly illiberal mechanisms of framing were written in the first place. In Macron, Americans clearly have a champion for free speech. But does France have one in us? – Washington Examiner


Dozens of people were killed in Ethiopia over the weekend, when three villages were assaulted by an armed rebel group, the government and human rights organizations said on Monday, the latest in a spate of attacks that threaten the stability of Africa’s second-most populous nation. – New York Times

Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara won a controversial third term in office following an election that was boycotted by the opposition and harshly criticized by Western observers. – Wall Street Journal

French forces neutralized over 50 jihadists in central Mali during an operation on Friday, Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Monday. – Reuters

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday the United States would seek to end UN sanctions on Sudan over the conflict in Darfur as the new government makes peace. – Agence France-Presse

In Somalia, whether President Trump is victorious or not, Tuesday could affect the country’s fight against terrorist group al Shabab. – Washington Examiner

Michael Rubin writes: Ending illicit Eritrean activity on U.S. soil would be both easy and is necessary. […]The European approach of simply expelling diplomats does not work because Isaias and his government simply rotate new officials in to continue the old practices. Instead, it might be time to shutter the embassy and U.N. mission if demonstrably in violation until such a time as Isaias commits both to canceling the diaspora tax and refunding the money extorted from Eritrean immigrants to the U.S. – Washington Examiner

The Americas

As Americans head to the polls after a bruising campaign in the middle of a pandemic, they’re not the only ones anxiously awaiting the results. Around the world, leaders and citizens are bracing themselves for the outcome of Tuesday’s vote. – Washington Post

President Trump is signaling that Election Day could be followed by a stretch of uncertainty and chaos as a purge of top officials, legal challenges to election results and potential resistance to a normal transition cloud the prospects for an orderly post-election period no matter who wins. – Washington Post

The prosecution of Venezuela’s Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami for violating U.S. sanctions has run into another snag after a federal judge allowed one of his co-defendants to withdraw a guilty plea over allegations that U.S. attorneys withheld evidence in the case. – Associated Press

Carlos Gustavo Poggio Teixeira writes: The Bolsonaro administration’s strategy of seeking an alliance with Trump and antagonizing Democrats in Congress is a risky gambit. A Biden triumph would not only leave Bolsonaro without his U.S. role model but also with a clearly unreceptive White House that would force a reorientation in Brazil’s foreign policy toward less ideology and more pragmatism. Bridges with Democrats would have to be rebuilt. – The Hill

Kurt Volker writes: On all of the above-mentioned issues, however – China, Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, NATO – Europe in general, and Germany in particular, is an essential partner. U.S. policy will be far more effective if we are strategizing and coordinating our actions together with our allies. A  Biden administration would sure to do this – and a second-term Trump Administration would be wise to do so as well. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Election Day will put to the test four years of U.S. preparations to block a cyberattack on its voting systems. But officials face an immediate follow-up challenge: Disinformation that could become more damaging the longer it takes to declare a winner. – Wall Street Journal

Despite a concerted effort by Facebook to stem political misinformation ahead of the US elections, false and misleading ads are still circulating as a result of glitches and loopholes — and what critics claim is weak enforcement of the social media giant’s own policies. – Agence France-Presse

Political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security hailed the Trump administration’s border security accomplishments over the past four years and lambasted Twitter for its censorship of an official’s tweet. – Washington Examiner

Previously redacted information from Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation report was made public on Monday, revealing why the special counsel’s team decided not to charge longtime Trump associate Roger Stone or WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange with crimes related to a computer hacking conspiracy or campaign finance violations. – Washington Examiner

The Department of Commerce said it will continue to defend President Trump’s executive order seeking to limit the use of the widely popular video sharing app TikTok in the U.S. after a federal judge ruling last week presented a new legal hurdle for the administration’s push to curb the use of the Chinese-owned app.  – The Hill

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned Monday of foreign efforts to spread disinformation around Election Day, as officials have increasingly sought to address election security threats.  – The Hill

More than a quarter of the incidents which the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) responded to were Covid-related, according to its latest annual report. – BBC

James Andrew Lewis writes: The United States needs to rethink its strategic goals for cyberspace in the context of an unstable international environment. Acknowledging that the challenges we face will require innovative approaches is long overdue. Cyber strategy is neither sui generis nor some linear continuation of nuclear strategy. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Kevin Coggins writes: The United States and our allies are increasingly dependent on unfettered access to space. However, it has become abundantly clear that our space systems have significant cybersecurity vulnerabilities that our adversaries are eager to exploit. – C4ISRNET


As the Pentagon prepares for a fight in the vastness of the Indo-Pacific, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a concept it hopes will allow unmanned surface vehicles to travel up to 14,000 nautical miles. – USNI News

The Navy today issued a contract modification to move its next Ford-class aircraft carrier to a more traditional single-phase delivery, with the intention of getting the future John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) in deployable shape on a faster timeline. – USNI News

The Navy’s next attack submarine will feature technology in the Columbia-class program and be significantly larger than the current class of the Virginia-class attack submarines, the chief executive of BWX Technologies said on Monday as part of the company’s third-quarter earnings call. – USNI News

The co-chairs of the bipartisan congressional Future of Defense Task Force said America will lose the advanced technology race — from artificial intelligence to biotechnology — with China unless the Pentagon “makes room for new investment” by discarding legacy systems. – USNI News