Fdd's overnight brief

November 5, 2020

In The News


Federal officials said they seized 27 websites linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for allegedly posing as news outlets to spread disinformation. – Bloomberg 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has arrived in Venezuela at the start of a Latin American tour that will also take him to Cuba and Bolivia. “Every high-level visit deepens our strategic alliance, our brotherhood,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted on  November 4 after welcoming his Iranian counterpart upon his arrival in the South American country. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iran has shown off a new long-range missile system that, when launched, would cause the foes of the Islamic Republic to tremble, according to one of the country’s most senior military officials. – Newsweek 

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in a November 3, 2020 address that aired on Channel 1 (Iran) that the West’s “attacks” on the honor of the Prophet Muhammad are a sign of the oppressive, unjust, ignorant, and barbaric nature of Western civilization. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Austin Corona writes: Were Iran’s attitudes to shift, and internal cooperation between the KRG and the Iraqi federal government improve, bilateral cooperation could lead to a new era in water negotiations between the two countries. In the meantime, Iraq can focus on dams as symbols of national unity and safeguards against fluctuations in water supply, and make improvements in irrigation methods that will show tangible results, but the continuation of regional damming as a solution to water scarcity will likely bear unfortunate long-term consequences. – Washington Institute 

Michael Rubin writes: It would be unfortunate if, in its efforts to restart the Iranian nuclear deal, Biden and team inadvertently bolstered China’s interests and positions in the Indian Ocean basin at a time when, wishful thinking aside, neither Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei nor Chinese president Xi Jinping appear sincere in their desire for rapprochement and to respect the post–World War II liberal order. – The National Interest 


The French government on Wednesday banned a Turkish ultranationalist group that it accused of leading violent actions and inciting hatred speech in France. – Associated Press 

Turkey vowed Wednesday to deliver a firm response to France’s ban of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves group linked to a top ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – Agence France-Presse

The Turkish lira resumed its drop as early presidential election results in the U.S. pointed to a closer race than polls had predicted, while traders focused on the prospects for a local interest-rate hike. – Bloomberg


A Palestinian motorist fired a pistol at Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday and was killed by them, a military spokesman said, and Palestinians identified the dead man as an officer in their security forces. – Reuters

Some 139 United Nations countries approved a resolution on Thursday that spoke of the Temple Mount solely as an Islamic holy site, by referencing it only by its Muslim name of al-Haram al-Sharif. – Jerusalem Post

It was one of seven pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel resolutions that the UN General Assembly’s Fourth Committee in New York passed on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi has recognized the 18 years of IDF occupation in southern Lebanon as a military campaign, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit reported on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Martin Indyk writes: If Rabin had survived, would peace have been achieved? We cannot know. But we can be certain that Rabin wouldn’t have acted like his successors.[…]Twenty-five years later, it still isn’t too late to redeem his legacy by returning to a gradual process of Israeli separation from the Palestinians, rooted in mutual respect, not hatred. – Wall Street Journal

Meir Y. Soloveichik writes: Now, in a region terrified of Iran, it is not Israeli weakness but strength that makes it so attractive, and an agreement with the Palestinians has been deemed unnecessary for normalization with other Arab countries. – Commentary Magazine

Middle East & North Africa

Syrian President Bashar al Assad said billions of dollars of deposits held by his countrymen in Lebanon’s financial sector that were blocked after a major financial crisis were a main cause of Syria’s deepening economic crisis.Lebanese banks, fearing capital flight and grappling with an acute hard currency crunch, have since last year imposed tight controls on withdrawals and transfers abroad, drawing outrage from local and foreign depositors unable to access their savings. – Reuters 

US President Donald Trump’s threat to head to the Supreme Court over alleged election fraud as he claimed victory late Tuesday creates chaos in the Middle East because of the presidential race that left both candidates certain they had won a full day after the polls closed. – Jerusalem Post 

Yaacov Ayish writes: The world is obligated to help free Lebanon from the clutches of this ruthless Iranian proxy. Another war between Israel and Hezbollah would take a heavy human and economic toll on the already beleaguered Lebanese people, with whom Israel has no quarrel. Thousands of lives hang in the balance, but there is still time to act. Don’t let it slip by. – Defense Post 

Patricia Karam writes: However, the pandemic should serve as a warning sign for this new government that economic and social policies need to translate from short-term attempts to manage a health crisis that is creating pressure on the government into policies for addressing the root causes of Jordan crises. The stability and growth of this long-term U.S. ally, even in a changing Middle East, cannot be overstated. – The Hill

Frank K. Sobchak writes: If the interests that led to normalization abruptly change, how heightened will concerns over the controversial sale of advanced F-35s stealth fighters to the UAE become? Those concerns remain, despite Israel’s recent condoning of the sale. Will Sudan’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism result in a real change of behavior and policy? Time will tell, but before we celebrate in earnest, these questions are certainly worthy of answers. – Jerusalem Post 

Anchal Vohra writes: As the U.S. election goes down to the wire, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince must be pacing nervously in his gilded palace. Mohammed bin Salman bet big on Donald Trump’s reelection when he gave his tacit approval to the decision by his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, to sign a peace deal with the Arab world’s supposed archenemy Israel. But if Joe Biden wins, the Saudi position, which came at the cost of offending Muslim sentiment globally, makes him look more isolated. – Foreign Policy

C. Alexander Ohlers writes: U.S. presidential elections have had a significant impact on Iraq, from the 2002 decision to invade Iraq to the 2020 strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Former Vice President Joe Biden has a contentious history in Iraq that may have many Iraqi leaders in fear of a Biden victory. – The Hill

Korean Peninsula

A North Korean man who crossed the heavily fortified border with South Korea has said he wants to defect to the South, Seoul officials said on Thursday. – Reuters

South Korea’s top diplomat plans to visit Washington next week, officials said on Thursday, as Seoul pledged a solid alliance with the United States regardless of the presidential election results. – Reuters

Ethen Kim Lieser writes: In front of thousands who gathered to celebrate the country’s military parade on October 10, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un applauded his nation’s efforts in keeping out the novel coronavirus that has caused at least 1.2 million deaths around the world. But behind the scenes, the number of citizens suspected of contracting the disease surged, according to data released by the World Health Organization. – The National Interest


China pledged that it would initiate a “proper and necessary response” to the U.S. arms sale to Taiwan announced on Election Day. – The Hill 

Chinese President Xi Jinping tried to re-assure international businesses that the nation is committed to open trade, amid concerns that the new ‘dual circulation’ strategy will mean the world’s second-largest economy is set to become more insular. – Bloomberg 

China has emphasized its ongoing neutrality in the U.S. election as both candidates moved to declare victory in a cutthroat race, but Beijing warned Washington would be punished if it went through with yet another sale of weapons to Taiwan, a self-ruling island claimed by the Chinese mainland. – Newsweek

In a major speech on Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping talked up his country’s plans for playing a greater role in global trade, without mentioning ongoing tensions with the U.S. – CNBC

Elizabeth Buchanan and Bec Strating writes: Overall, the South China Sea and the Arctic are very different maritime regions with distinct geopolitical characteristics. China is clearly borrowing from the great-power exceptionalism playbook in the South China Sea. Yet while Beijing has articulated a clear strategic interest in the Arctic, a replication of its South China Sea play book in the Arctic is highly unlikely. – War on the Rocks 

Nina Shea writes: Given that the CCP is now energetically working to consolidate totalitarian control over civil society, this partnership comes at a very high price—for the Chinese Catholic Church and for the Vatican’s moral authority. – First Things


Violent attacks on Afghan forces and civilians spiked by 50 percent in the third quarter of the year even as the government and the Taliban launched unprecedented peace talks in September, a U.S. government watchdog said on November 5. – Radio Free Afghanistan 

Students were gunned down “one by one” as they leapt from the windows of Kabul University classrooms when militants stormed the campus earlier this week, a survivor told AFP on Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Fighting has intensified in Afghanistan in recent months, with US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) describing the number of enemy-initiated attacks (EIAs) registered between 1 July and 30 September as “above seasonal norms”, according to a report by US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko. – Jane’s 360 

IS is the latest player to emerge in the murky world of militants in the country, further complicating the already bloody war between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents. Both the Taliban and the government have fought against IS and both regard it with suspicion, accusing each other of secretly supporting the jihadists and using them to undermine slow-moving peace talks. – BBC

South Asia

Pakistan’s prime minister has rekindled controversy with archrival India this week by pledging to make part of the Pakistani-administered Himalayan region of Kashmir officially part his country. – Associated Press

Amid the ongoing Charlie Hebdo cartoons controversy in France, the Mumbai-based Islamist organization Raza Academy has emerged as one of the lead groups in India at the forefront of anti-France protests. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Pakistani authorities have rescued a missing 13-year-old Christian girl who was allegedly forced to convert to Islam and marry a 44-year-old Muslim man, her family and officials say. […]Last year, the alleged abduction and forced conversion of two Hindu sisters made headlines in Pakistan when a video of their marriages was shared widely on social media. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Thai pro-democracy protesters plan to hold a fresh rally this weekend and petition King Maha Vajiralongkorn, a day after rejecting a parliament-initiated plan to form a committee to ease the political tensions. – Bloomberg 

Hong Kong launched a dedicated hotline for residents to report violations of new national security legislation, a move that could fuel more concerns about freedoms in the city. – Bloomberg 

Michael Mazza writes: The task now is for American leaders, including those in the most senior ranks of government, to reinforce this support. Laying the groundwork among the public for intervention now will ensure Washington will need to spend less time doing so once a crisis is in the offing. Robust public support for defending Taiwan, meanwhile, will contribute to deterring China from acting precipitously, making such a crisis less likely to come about. – Global Taiwan Institute 

Tom Rogan writes: Approving a $600 million sale of MQ-9B drones to Taiwan, the Trump administration this week threw another curveball in the path of a possible Chinese invasion of the island nation.[…] Ultimately, though, whatever happens in the U.S. presidential election, this sale is in the best tradition of U.S. global leadership: supportive of democracy, predicated on defense against external aggression, and serving of the rule-of-law-based international order. – Washington Examiner


Russian state TV and government officials have made the most of the tension surrounding the race, using it to bring home a Kremlin narrative that depicts U.S. democracy as a deeply flawed, chaotic, and potentially explosive process. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko discussed strengthening bilateral ties in a telephone call on Wednesday, the Kremlin said in a statement. – Reuters

The Kremlin said on Thursday that the lack of clarity after the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election so far could have a negative impact on the global economy and world at large, but declined to comment further. – Reuters 

Supporters of Russian nationalist groups have gathered in a Siberian city to protest against President Vladimir Putin as the country marked the annual National Unity Day holiday. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Vladimir Kara-Murza writes: Since Vladimir Putin came to the Kremlin two decades ago, the Russian government has engaged in a tacit but determined rehabilitation of the Soviet period. Among Putin’s first acts in office was to bring back the Stalin-era national anthem. A textbook approved by his education ministry justified Stalin’s purges as having created “a new class of management suitable to the goals of modernization.” – Washington Post 

Tom Rogan writes: Russia is salivating over the chaos that presently defines the U.S. presidential election.[…]The most important takeaway is the most basic and sustaining one. Namely, that Putin is a highly capable U.S. adversary with a deep, ideologically vested desire to do this nation harm. We must be on watch. – Washington Examiner


European Union member states have agreed to slap sanctions on Alyaksandr Lukashenka, along with 14 other Belarusian officials, in response to a brutal crackdown on postelection protests. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Two weeks of intensive talks between the EU and UK have failed to break an impasse towards an accord on post-Brexit ties, with chief negotiators from both sides saying Wednesday that major “divergences” remain. – Agence France-Presse

The European Union and U.K.’s top Brexit negotiators warned of big disagreements between the two sides after 14 days of intense, round-the-clock discussions failed to yield a breakthrough. – Bloomberg 

Britain said on Thursday it wanted to assure any new United States administration that it would protect the Northern Ireland peace agreement in trade negotiations with the European Union. – Reuters

Former Kosovo Liberation Army spokesman and veteran Kosovar politician Jakup Krasniqi was arrested and transferred to The Hague on Wednesday, the Kosovo war crimes tribunal said in a statement. – Reuters 

A former senior commander of ethnic Albanian separatist fighters in Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war who was also the country’s former Parliament speaker was arrested Wednesday and taken to a special court in the Netherlands for war crimes, his lawyer said. – Washington Times 

The German neo-Nazi who carried out a gun attack on Yom Kippur services at a synagogue in the city of Halle in October 2019 was not suffering from a pathological disorder and was fully responsible for his act, an expert psychologist said in court on Wednesday. – Algemeiner 

A Ukrainian-Italian dual citizen whose conviction by an Italian court over the death of an Italian journalist during Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed separatists has returned to Kyiv after having his sentence overturned. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the northern Tigray province on Wednesday and declared a “military confrontation” after the regional government attacked a federal military base there. – Washington Post 

Two Ivory Coast government supporters were killed and a minister’s convoy hit by gunfire, officials said on Wednesday, as the country struggles with a deadlock over President Alassane Ouattara’s contested reelection. – Agence France-Presse

France says Ivory Coast’s political leaders should engage in dialogue after the main opposition rejected President Alassane Ouattara’s re-election. – Bloomberg 

Long-simmering tensions between Ethiopia’s federal government and the northern state of Tigray have escalated to the verge of all-out conflict. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Nov. 4 ordered the military to respond to an alleged raid on an army camp in the restive region and placed it under a six-month state of emergency. – Bloomberg 

For plenty of Africans, President Donald Trump’s actions in the aftermath of the U.S. election have been a cause for dark humour, but others have reacted with dismay or disbelief. – Reuters 

An influential ex-rebel leader told Ivory Coast’s army to mutiny on Wednesday and back a rival breakaway government in the wake of a contested presidential election that the opposition says was illegal. – Reuters

The Americas

Flávio Bolsonaro, the eldest son of President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, has been charged with graft and money laundering as part of an investigation into the theft of public funds. […]The case has undermined one of the main promises that propelled Mr. Bolsonaro to victory in 2018: that he was singularly equipped to root out the culture of malfeasance in Brazilian politics. – New York Times 

Many Venezuelans are hoping for the re-election of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose campaign of aggressive sanctions against the South American nation’s ruling Socialist Party has won over a broad swathe of President Nicolas Maduro’s critics. – Reuters

The U.N. special investigator on religious freedom urged countries to repeal laws undermining the right of minorities to worship and hold beliefs, pointing as examples to China’s detention of Uighurs, 21 countries that criminalize apostasy, and sweeping surveillance of Christians in North Korea and Muslims in Thailand. – Associated Press

United States

Au revoir, Paris Agreement. As of Wednesday, under United Nations rules, the United States is officially out of the global climate accord. Here’s a look at how it happened, what it means and what might happen next. – New York Times 

Stock markets around the world held up on Thursday despite a looming and potentially prolonged legal battle over the results of the U.S. elections. But President Trump’s premature victory claim and unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud have been met with a deep unease globally over what lies ahead for the U.S. political process — with more than a little glee from America’s traditional adversaries. – Washington Post 

The United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is extremely regrettable, Japan’s top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said on Thursday. – Reuters

As the United States waits with bated breath for final returns to roll in from yesterday’s presidential elections, most U.S. allies have kept their comments to a minimum, wary of potentially partisan remarks that could project the image of favoring one side over the other. – Center for European Policy Analysis


As the presidential election narrowed to a few key states, supporters of President Donald Trump began spreading false claims about election improprieties that favored Democratic challenger Joe Biden. – Bloomberg 

A federal judge in Washington appeared reluctant to issue another order halting a proposed U.S. ban on video-sharing app TikTok, noting that a judge in Pennsylvania had already blocked the government’s plan Friday. – Bloomberg 

Uncertainty over the winner of the presidential election and President Trump’s early victory declaration could open the floodgates for election disinformation. – The Hill


Elon Musk’s SpaceX was dismissed by Pentagon brass during its early years. But now, the billionaire entrepreneur and his company are enjoying more success than ever in snaring Pentagon business. – Wall Street Journal 

The following is the Oct. 29, 2020 Government Accountability Office report, Navy Maintenance: Navy Report Did Not Fully Address Causes of Delays or Results-Oriented Elements. – USNI News 

The U.S. Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team released a solicitation outlining capabilities it’s interested in acquiring as part of future tactical network tools. – Defense News 

The State Department has given approval to a new arms sale package to Taiwan that includes four unmanned maritime patrol aircraft based on the MQ-9 Reaper platform, according to a Tuesday announcement from Defense Security Cooperation Agency. – USNI News 

Beginning early next year, the Pentagon will host the first opportunity for industry to demonstrate counter-drone technology aimed at small systems, the next step in a plan to test out new capabilities twice a year at common test ranges, according to Army officials in charge of the effort. – Defense News 

At the beginning of the year, the Navy and Marine Corps sent a new fleet plan to Pentagon leaders that called for relying on smaller ships and unmanned vessels to meet future missions and defeat future adversaries. The Pentagon rejected the plan. – USNI News 

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory has opened a lab focused on developing materials for new deployable space structures. – C4ISRNET 

A recent Navy report on ship maintenance looked at how factors like yard capacity affect on-time ship repairs but didn’t consider more operational factors such as how well a ship’s crew can contribute to the maintenance work, according to a recent government watchdog report. – USNI News 

As nations are increasingly more active in operations that fall below the threshold of traditional conflict, the U.S. military needs to learn how to respond in kind, contends one Marine Corps commander. – C4ISRNET

As results for key congressional races, and the presidency, continue to roll in Wednesday morning, a major shakeup for the Senate Armed Services Committee has yet to materialize. But here is what we do know, as of Wednesday night. – Defense News 

Jan Kallberg and Col. Stephen Hamilton write: Our adversaries will and already are exploiting the fact that we as a democracy do not tell our forces what to think. Our only framework is loyalty to the Constitution and the American people. As a democracy, we expect our soldiers to support the Constitution and the mission. Our force has their democratic and constitutional right to think whatever they find worthwhile to consider. – C4ISRNET 

Heather Williams writes: The Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative is one such opportunity under the leadership of the six co-chairs — the Netherlands, Morocco, South Korea, United States, Germany, and Finland. It should not treat deterrence and disarmament as mutually exclusive endeavors. Providing a strong extended deterrent to allies while also being sensitive to disarmament pressures is indeed a delicate balance, but it is one that the United States has to pursue with greater nuance. – War on the Rocks

Long War

Austrian authorities said they are investigating whether the lone gunman who killed four people and wounded many more during a rampage through the center of the capital got help from like-minded Islamist radicals. – Wall Street Journal

Schools across France launched a campaign this week that uses the killing of teacher Samuel Paty in a terrorist attack to reinforce core values of the French republic, from freedom of expression to the country’s strict separation of religion and state. – Wall Street Journal

Large quantities of mobile phone footage have confirmed that the jihadist who killed four people in a rampage in Vienna on Monday was the only gunman, but Austria fumbled intelligence on him, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Trump Administration

President Trump’s reelection campaign said Wednesday that it would launch a legal blitz to try to halt vote-counting in Pennsylvania and Michigan, would seek a recount in Wisconsin and challenged the handling of ballots in Georgia, threatening to draw out the final results of the razor-thin White House contest. – Washington Post 

Eric Trump tweeted a video, first pushed out by an account associated with the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, that purported to show someone burning ballots cast for his father. The materials turned out to be sample ballots, and Twitter quickly suspended the original account that circulated the misleading clip. – Washington Post 

International election observers in the U.S. offered a sharp rebuke of President Trump on Wednesday, criticizing his attacks on the vote counting process and his premature claims that he has won the 2020 election. – The Hill