Fdd's overnight brief

November 4, 2020

In The News


It’s not exactly Eminem’s appeal to voters that they have “one opportunity” to elect the Biden-Harris ticket. But an Iranian band has made a viral rap video hit in Iran with a similar message to Americans: The ballot you cast will have a direct impact on our lives. – New York Times 

The US National Security Agency and Cyber Command conducted an operation against Iran within the last two weeks as part of a broader effort to protect the 2020 election from foreign interference, a US official told CNN Tuesday. – CNN 

Iran’s military used bomb-laden drones for the first time during army exercises, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. – Bloomberg 

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday the result of the U.S. election was not important for the country’s clerical rulers, but that the next president in Washington should respect international treaties and laws. – Reuters

Speaking the day before the anniversary of the November 4, 1979, seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the taking of American diplomats hostage, as well as the day of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Khamenei reiterated Iran’s long-standing policy that it didn’t matter whether U.S. President Donald Trump or Joe Biden wins the vote. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iran will send representatives to compete in the international e-sports world championship in Eilat this February, representing a significant departure from its longstanding policy. – Jerusalem Post 

In an apparent attempt to blame Israel for recent terrorist attacks in Europe, he said: “The last manifestation of their enmity was the Paris incident. It is not just about one caricaturist committing a wrongdoing. Arrogant powers and Zionism support this. That’s why they speak in defense of such acts.” – Jerusalem Post

Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday it will focus on the “actions” of the new US administration rather than who wins the election. – Arutz Sheva

Criticizing proposed plans to increase Iran’s population, the representative of Mahabad to the Majlis Iranian parliament, Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, says that young Iranians have no choice other than leaving the country in the absence of jobs. “Still, some people are after increasing the population,” Mahmoudzadeh said. – Radio Farda 


Turkey has fined five giant social-media companies for failing to appoint a local representative required by new laws that activists say are an attempt to stifle dissent. – Bloomberg

Turkey is evacuating a second isolated military post in northwest Syria, pulling back from territory controlled by Syrian government forces to an area still held by insurgents and Turkey-backed rebels, Turkish and rebel sources said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Michel Rose and Orhan Coskun write: Slights and barbs have marred relations between France’s Emmanuel Macron and Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan for years, but the row over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad has dragged them to a new low which could have more lasting consequences. – Reuters

Two men of Turkish descent said they helped save a police officer and two women during the deadly gun attack in Vienna, actions the Turkish government on Tuesday described as heroic. – Reuters


In the Palestinian territories, many feel the results will have a direct impact on their lives. – Jerusalem Post

IDF soldiers have fired on an Arab terrorist who approached an IDF post in Samaria on Wednesday morning. – Arutz Sheva

Raphael Ahren writes: While his preference for another Donald Trump victory seems obvious, Netanyahu knows Joe Biden has a good chance of moving into the White House, and is therefore ready to turn the pendulum’s swing into a political victory of his own. – Times of Israel

Lahav Harkov writes: Politically, a Biden win may bruise Netanyahu somewhat. Netanyahu has banked a lot of political prestige on his close connection with Trump, with the American president featuring prominently in the Likud campaigns for the Knesset this year and last. Biden will make things more difficult for Netanyahu, because they have more disagreements. But it’s hard to see it moving too many votes one way or another. After all, he formed coalitions in 2009, 2013 and 2015 without Trump in the Oval Office, but couldn’t build a government twice in 2019 with the supposed Trump boost. – Jerusalem Post

Carol Daniel Kasbari writes: However the U.S. elections turn out, the Palestinian leadership should not decide their next move and the future of millions of Palestinians based on the results. If the current Palestinian leadership is not able to decide on the least-damaging path, they should step down and hold elections sooner rather than later. At any rate, the PA should not retreat from its promise to hold elections and reform their political institutions. – Middle East Institute

Raphael Ofek and Pesach Malovany write: Incidents of warming on Israel’s border with Lebanon vis-à-vis Hezbollah occasionally raise the question of whether Iran is also in the picture. This is a highly relevant question, as Tehran appears to have done its utmost behind the scenes to operate Hezbollah against Israel with the aim of diverting the attention of Western states away from the containment of Iran’s military nuclear program. – Algemeiner 

Gulf States

Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members are considering deepening oil production cuts amid rising Covid-19 cases in the West and fresh economic lockdowns in Europe that could curb oil demand further, according to oil officials and advisers in these countries. – Wall Street Journal 

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday announced reforms that will abolish some key restrictions tying millions of low-paid and vulnerable migrant workers to their employers in conditions that have been rife with abuse and exploitation. – Associated Press

Qatar has announced it will hold long-pledged elections for its Shura Council next October, in a move that would mark a rare widening of public participation in the political systems of the Gulf as the gas-rich country prepares to host the 2022 football World Cup. – Financial Times

From gender parity to religious tolerance, Canadian Ambassador to the UAE Marcy Grossman has a busy agenda. The Jewish civil servant arrived in Dubai as the consul general in 2018. Within a year she was promoted to ambassador and moved to the embassy in Abu Dhabi, the nation’s capital. The timing could not have been more auspicious. – Jerusalem Post 

Middle East & North Africa

Libya’s rivals wrapped up their military talks with a call to the U.N. Security Council to adopt a binding resolution to implement a cease-fire deal inked last month, the U.N. said. – Associated Press 

Young volunteers have been clearing dust and debris from St. Thomas church in Mosul, as the Iraqi city occupied by Islamic State militants seeks to sweep away the horrors of a brutal three-year rule and welcome back members of minority faiths. – Reuters

Lewis Libby and Hillel Fradkin write: Yet over the long term, Arab admissions of error about Israel may prove to be the most important effect of the accords, both for the Arab world and perhaps throughout the Muslim world more generally. […]If this aborning self-concsiousness takes root in the Middle East, the blockbuster 2020 agreements with Israel could prove to be the cause of an intellectual shift potentially as great as those in the more obvious political, military, and economic realms. – Mosaic

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The next US President, whether US President Donald Trump remains in office or if Democratic challenger Joe Biden takes home a victory, will face several crises in the Middle East. These include dealing with the Iranian threat, the emerging extremism of Turkey, the failing leadership of the Palestinians, problems in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean and an emerging disaster in the Sahel and potential destabilization of Iraq. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: For Israel, the US election is being viewed as having massive consequences. It could mean an entrenchment of US President Donald Trump’s policies, including his administration’s push for more peace deals, or a potential reversal of some of his initiatives. However, while this election is being viewed as momentous in some areas of Israel that are watching closely the returns, the rest of the region has a more complex, cynical, jaded and rational approach to the White House. – Jerusalem Post


Chinese social media users watched election day in the United States with bemusement and mockery, as President Donald Trump complained of a “major fraud on our nation” and falsely claimed victory before millions of votes had been tallied. – Reuters 

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday the United States has sent out wrong and grave signals to the so-called Taiwan military forces on the potential drone sale deal. – Reuters

A Chinese drinks group has called for retrospective tariffs on Australian wine imports, Australian winemaker Treasury Wine Estates Ltd said on Wednesday, amid escalating trade and diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Canberra. – 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 

China vowed Wednesday that it will make a “proper and necessary response” if the U.S. proceeds with its latest planned arms sale to Taiwan. – Associated Press


The attacks on schools in the country’s capital, already riddled with uncertainty as American forces slowly withdraw under a deal with the Taliban, seemed to catapult many Kabul inhabitants into a mood of despair and exhaustion, as if any hope of peace had been erased by Monday’s carnage. – New York Times

The demolition of Shahr-e Now Burger marked the dramatic debut of a citywide anti-crime crusade headed by Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh. It was launched in early October in response to growing public alarm as an explosion of robberies, killings and drug-related crimes has swept Kabul, a city of more than 4 million, in recent months. – Washington Post

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


The South Korean military on Wednesday detained a man from North Korea ​who crossed the countries’ heavily armed land border and triggered an extensive manhunt, officials said. – New York Times

The police in Hong Kong arrested a prizewinning journalist on Tuesday whose work had exposed the authorities’ delayed response to a mob attack on antigovernment protesters last year, intensifying concerns about a crackdown on press freedom in the semiautonomous Chinese city. – New York Times

A top leader of Thailand’s pro-democracy protests insisted Tuesday that the student-led movement will not back down from its most controversial demand, that the country’s monarchy undergo reforms. – Associated Press 

The Morrison government has called on China to come clean on whether a range of Australian export sectors worth billions of dollars a year will face new curbs from Friday amid increasing tensions between the two countries. – The Guardian 

Vinay Kaura writes: However, the best that the PDM can hope to achieve through political mobilization alone is to put more pressure on the PTI government on issues directly affecting the people. Without the military’s backing, the capacity of opposition leaders to overthrow the government remains highly doubtful. And if the opposition campaign gains momentum, the military would likely save its own skin by replacing Imran Khan with an equally pliable but more popular politician. – Middle East Institute

South Caucasus

Russia’s top diplomat said Tuesday that about 2,000 fighters from the Middle East have joined the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, the worst outbreak of hostilities in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in more than a quarter-century. – Associated Press

Russia is considering an Iranian proposal for ending the conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh after three ceasefires failed to halt fighting that is now in its sixth week. – Reuters

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday said Moscow would continue working with Turkey to stop the military confrontation in Nagorno-Karabakh from unravelling, the RIA news agency cited him as saying. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: Joe Biden has made healing partisan discord a pillar of his campaign. Should the former vice president wish to carry that promise over to foreign policy, then he would find no better place to start than leading a bipartisan effort to stop the Azerbaijani assault on Nagorno-Karabakh, or Arsakh as locals call it. – The National Interest


The borscht dispute highlights deeper grievances between Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainians see the Russian government, in addition to pursuing a military intervention in their country, as trying to appropriate the entire cultural heritage of the eastern Slavic world for Moscow, on such issues as leadership in the Orthodox Church and historical claims to Crimea. – New York Times 

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russia wanted to retain its “superiority” in the Arctic and that it planned to renew its icebreaker fleet to bolster its presence there. – Reuters 

Moscow does not have inflated expectations for cooperation with the new U.S. president, the RIA news agency cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying as U.S. voters went to the polls on Tuesday. – Reuters

In Russia, the U.S. presidential election has become a national obsession. Ordinary people who rely on state-controlled television as their main source of information have seen the topic pop up every day on multiple talk shows. Among the elite, the duel between U.S. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden has become the favorite topic of conversation at fancy restaurants and in the corridors of power. – Foreign Policy 


Britain’s terrorism threat level has been raised to ‘severe’ as a precaution following attacks in France and Austria, interior minister Priti Patel said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Britain and the European Union will be recommended to begin a new round of talks on Brexit in London during the weekend, The Times reported. – Reuters

France is looking at appointing a special envoy to explain Emmanuel Macron’s thinking on secularism and freedom of expression in a bid to quell the anti-French backlash growing in some Muslim countries, officials have said. – The Guardian 

Lithuanian transmission system operator Litgrid has ceased all power trading with Belarus, saying on Tuesday it had detected the start of production at Belarus’ Astravets nuclear power plant which Vilnius deems unsafe. – Reuters 

Tom Rogan writes: In a welcome development that should earn appreciation from both President Trump and Joe Biden, Germany has announced that it will deploy a warship on an Indian Ocean patrol alongside the Australian navy. Provoking alarm in Beijing, German Defense Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the Sydney Morning Herald that China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy had provoked a “rethink across Europe” of how to approach Beijing. – Washington Examiner

Daniel Kochis writes: President Donald Trump has placed a significant emphasis on the need for increased defense spending among NATO allies, and the newest data suggests his efforts are paying off. In 2016, non-U.S. NATO members spent $262 billion on defense; in 2020, they will spend $313 billion. Regardless of whether this increase resulted from changing threat perceptions, or Trump’s laser-like focus on inadequate defense spending, or of some combination of the two, the results speak for themselves. The $50 billion increase is equivalent to the entire defense budget of France. – Heritage

Benjamin Haddad writes: Yet when looking at some of the coverage of the most recent attacks in the United States, and the reaction from leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the culprit is France itself. French President Emmanuel Macron’s vow to fight “Islamist separatism” has been treated as its own act of barbarism. Most French citizens, however, aware of the reality on the ground, recognize this fight as necessary and overdue. – Foreign Policy


Tanzania’s main opposition leader vowed to push ahead with nationwide street protests despite arrests as the U.S. threatened to take action against the East African nation’s government. – Bloomberg 

Ethiopia’s prime minister on Wednesday ordered the military to confront one of the country’s regional governments after he said it carried out a deadly attack on a military base overnight, citing months of “provocation and incitement” and declaring that “the last red line has been crossed.” – Associated Press

Malawi said on Tuesday it will open a full embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, becoming the first African nation to do so in the contested city. – Reuters

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Tuesday condemned what it described as the “cold-blooded murder” of environmental activist Fikile Ntshangase in October. – Reuters 

Insurgents have killed at least 12 people and abducted nine women and young girls in Nigeria’s troubled northeast, residents said Tuesday. The incident occurred Sunday morning at Takulashi village, less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Chibok in Borno state. That’s where Boko Haram extremists abducted 276 schoolgirls from their dormitories in 2014, causing international outrage. – Associated Press

The Americas

When Argentine President Alberto Fernández was elected last year, many hoped he could lift the country out of a painful economic recession. But today, the economy is facing a growing crisis, as he struggles to come up with an economic plan while managing a fractious Peronist coalition. Its leftist base is loyal to Vice President Cristina Kirchner, the powerful former president. – Wall Street Journal

More than 70 nations voiced strong opposition Monday to what they consider threats to the International Criminal Court and decried sanctions on its top officials, issuing a statement that did not name any country but was clearly aimed at the U.S. – Associated Press 

The United States formally exited the Paris Agreement on Wednesday, fulfilling a years-long promise by President Donald Trump to withdraw the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter from the global pact to fight climate change. – Reuters

Mexico’s attorney general sought an arrest warrant for former Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray in a case involving scandal-plagued Brazil construction firm Odebrecht, but was blocked by a judge, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday his government would review cooperation over drug policy with the United States and how its agencies operate in Mexico after the recent U.S. arrest of a top military official. – Reuters

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


Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc on Tuesday suspended several recently created and mostly right-leaning news accounts posting information about voting in the hotly contested U.S. election for violating their policies. – Reuters

New York Attorney General Letitia James is launching an investigation into allegations that robocalls provided misleading voting information and urged voters to stay home on Election Day. – The Hill 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: This summer, US intelligence officials warned of Russian interference as well as Chinese and Iranian interference, but Moscow was still considered the worst offender. All of this would seem to lead to the conclusion that if the US hit Russia’s IRA hard in 2018 to limit their impact on Election Day and on vote counting in the days after, then the same play book is probably being used as this goes to print. – Jerusalem Post


The following is the Oct. 29, 2020 report, Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense—Issues for Congress. – USNI News 

Two months after disclosing the existence of a next-generation fighter jet demonstrator, the U.S. Air Force is staying mum on which company may have built it. But one thing is for sure: Classified aviation programs are on the rise, and opportunities abound for the three major American defense aerospace primes — Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy’s next Ford-class supercarrier, the John F. Kennedy, will be delivered to the fleet with its full suite of advanced electronics and with the ability to support the carrier-launched F-35C aircraft, a change from a planned two-phase delivery devised in the original contract. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force just tested a modified “G-suit” designed with women in mind. Last week, five female fighter pilots donned an updated version of the Advanced Technology Anti-Gravity Suit (ATAGS), specialized compression gear worn over a flight suit to help pump blood through the body when under the stresses of gravity during high-speed flight. – Military.com

Long War

The gunman suspected of killing four people in a terrorist attack in Vienna was convicted on terrorism charges last year after trying to join Islamic State in Syria but was released from prison after serving part of his term, authorities said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal 

Few details have been released about how the shooting unfolded or who the victims were, but the authorities have identified six locations in one neighborhood where they say shots were fired. […]Monday’s violence comes after recent terrorist attacks in France — including the beheading of a teacher near Paris and a knife attack at a church in Nice — that have both been linked to Islamist extremists. – New York Times 

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a deadly attack in Vienna, in a statement issued through its Amaq News Agency along with a picture and video purporting to show the gunman. – Reuters

Austrian police raided 18 properties and arrested 14 people in a massive manhunt on Tuesday for possible accomplices of a convicted jihadist who shot dead four people and injured 22 others in a late-night rampage in the centre of Vienna. – Reuters

Missile Defense

America’s nuclear modernization effort may be in for a delay or the elimination of the ground-based deterrent if Joe Biden wins the presidency, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith indicated in a recent discussion. – Washington Examiner 

Last week the United States Department of State approved the second weapons sale to Taiwan in just over a week. This deal for 400 anti-ship cruise missiles, which is worth a reported $2.37 billion, follows a sale of three weapons systems in a separate deal worth $1.8 billion. This is the ninth weapons sale approved by Washington to Taipei since President Donald Trump was elected in 2016. – The National Interest 

Timothy Crawford and Khang Vu write: Arms control has been and will continue to be an instrument to manage great-power relations. Even if extension of New START will not turn Russia into an ally in Washington’s efforts to contain China, it may help to do something less dramatic but no less important: prevent or delay a Sino-Russian alignment based on antagonism toward the United States. – War on the Rocks

Trump Administration

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

A major advocacy group for FBI agents is calling on President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to allow FBI Director Christopher Wray to complete his 10-year term leading the bureau, regardless of how the 2020 presidential election swings. – The Hill