Fdd's overnight brief

October 1, 2020

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


The second of three ships loaded with gasoline from Iran approached fuel-starved Venezuela on Wednesday amid simmering social unrest over a lack of goods and services that’s sparked protests across the South American nation. – Associated Press

Turkey and Iran are increasingly adopting “game-changing” drones as their weapon of choice against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, prompting fears for the safety of civilians and stoking geopolitical tensions. – Agence France-Presse

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) has condemned the transfer of political prisoner Soheil Arabi to solitary confinement in the infamous Raja’ei Shahr prison. – Radio Farda

Rouhani said Iran has friendly relations with both South Caucasus nations and stands ready to play “any constructive role” in easing tensions between them. – Radio Farda

Iran has spent nearly $20 billion pushing its controversial foreign policy objectives in the region, the deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said in an interview on state television. – Radio Farda


Hezbollah took journalists on a grand tour around what it said was a facility Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged was an undercover missile depot, during his speech at the UN on Tuesday. – Ynet

In order to truly clean out Hezbollah from its strongholds in any future conflict, it would take the IDF months, Defense Ministry director-general Amir Eshel said Tuesday night. – Jerusalem Post

Tom Rogan writes: The Lebanese Hezbollah is under serious and escalating pressure. Inside Lebanon, the crisis is one of political legitimacy. Abroad, the crisis is one of sustaining pressure from the United States, Israel, and increasingly, European nations.[…] In short, Hezbollah risks soon finding itself with fewer friends and far fewer means to serve its foreign policy interests. – Washington Examiner


The United States has repatriated and charged the last Americans believed to be detained in Syria and accused of supporting the Islamic State, the Justice Department said on Wednesday. – New York Times

The Trump administration blacklisted several top Syrian officials and alleged financiers on Wednesday, including the central-bank governor and an intelligence chief, part of a series of U.S. actions meant to oust longtime ruler President Bashar al-Assad. – Wall Street Journal

Reports of clashes in the Druze area of southern Syria around Suwayda assert that men were killed in clashes with the Russian-backed 5th Corps, a unit that was recruited in Syria in the last several years. – Jerusalem Post


NATO allies France and Turkey traded angry recriminations on Wednesday as international tensions mounted over the fiercest clashes between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces since the mid-1990s. – Reuters

France accused Turkey on Thursday of sending Syrian mercenaries to fight in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and said it was working with Russia to reach a ceasefire between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces. – Reuters

Turkey on Thursday enters a new era of tight social media restrictions that threaten to erase the local presence of Facebook and Twitter should they fail to take down contentious posts. – Agence France-Presse

Tom Rogan writes: As Turkey advances down this dangerous path, the U.S. will have to take an increasingly active stance in establishing new cost calculations for Erdogan. It is intolerable to see Erdogan run a sword through a basic condition of relative Eurasian peace. If he continues to do so, he must be checked. If necessary, by the imposition of allied military force in his path. – Washington Examiner

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The concept of turning this conflict into a proxy war is inviting for Ankara, but no one gains in Baku or Yerevan. In the classic Russian question, “who benefits,” only Turkey seems to benefit because it can get rid of the headache of recruits it promised the world to and did not deliver. Russia may benefit by removing them from Syria so the regime can advance. Nevertheless serious experts have cast doubt on aspects of the stories, asserting, for instance, that salacious headlines often exaggerate.  – Jerusalem Post


Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay discussed on Wednesday in a virtual meeting with his Emirati counterpart, Industry and Advanced Technology Minister Sultan al-Jaber, possible collaboration in research and development between the countries. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF arrested a Palestinian who infiltrated into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening, according to the IDF Spokespersons Unit. – Jerusalem Post

Hussein Ibish writes: If a national vote is unlikely, it is just possible to imaging a limited election in the West Bank, conducted by the PA. […]It would at least show that Palestinian elections are possible and that one side, at least, is interested in gaining popular credibility, even in a limited area. It means risking the possibility of a Hamas win, but the Palestinian national crisis is so dire that there’s no rational substitute for letting the chips fall where they may. – Bloomberg

Hillel Frisch writes: Entering the phrase “housing demolitions” in the EU’s official site yields a shocking result: 18 of the first documents to appear concern Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank.[…] For the EU, neither impartiality nor the welfare of Palestinian citizens matters. What counts is taking whatever measures are most likely to create a Palestinian state that will be perennially divided between a one-party fiefdom in the West Bank and another one-party state in Gaza governed by fundamentalists. – Algemeiner  


Iran-backed militias launched rockets targeting U.S. troops that landed near Erbil airport in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, a Kurdish security agency said on Wednesday, hours after Iraq’s premier pledged to protect foreign missions. – Reuters

Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani condemned Wednesday’s rocket attack in Erbil and called on Iraq’s federal prime minister to hold those responsible accountable. – Reuters

A bipartisan pair of senators is expressing concern about the Trump administration’s reported threats to withdraw from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad if Iraq cannot stop militia attacks against U.S. personnel. – The Hill

Iraq’s foreign minister on Wednesday said his country hopes the U.S. will reconsider its decision to close its diplomatic mission in Baghdad, as a group of ambassadors expressed their willingness to help Iraq tackle security challenges. – Associated Press

In May 2020, Iraq’s parliament confirmed Iraqi National Intelligence Service director Mustafa al Kadhimi as Prime Minister, and in June finished confirmation of his cabinet members, bringing months of political deadlock over government leadership to a close. – USNI News

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The rocket fire is a message that more could come. It came from near Mosul and the rockets travelled several dozen kilometers. This shows that Hashd or PMU controlled areas can be used for rocket fire against the KRG, brazenly and without any consequences. […]It is unclear if Iraq will ever crack down and stop the perpetrators of these attacks. – Jerusalem Post

Katherine Lawlor writes:  Iranian proxy militias and followers of nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are likely planning to infiltrate the anniversary protests and use them to achieve their own objectives. […]In an unlikely but most dangerous scenario, Iran’s proxies could use the chaos of mass protests as a cover for attacks on the US Embassy, on Kadhimi’s government, or on any individual or organization affiliated with the United States or the US-led Coalition. – Institute for the Study of War

Arabian Peninsula

The United States is reportedly preparing a new legal and intelligence review into the Yemen-based, Iran-backed Houthis which could lead to a designation of the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). – United Against Nuclear Iran

The United Arab Emirates has announced its candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2022-2023 term, state media said. – Agence France-Presse

The trial of a U.S. citizen who is also a Saudi national began Wednesday in Saudi Arabia in a counter-terrorism court that has been used to imprison rights activists in a case that could spark further tensions in already uneasy U.S.-Saudi relations. – Associated Press

When Oman’s ruler of a half century died without an heir apparent, brief fears of turmoil ended with the quick announcement of a new sultan in this nation on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. – Associated Press

According to Al Otaiba, who played a key role in promoting Israel’s recent treaty with his country, neither Sudan nor Oman is in any hurry to normalize its relations with Israel. – Arutz Sheva

Samuel Ramani writes: The United States has already used Israel’s normalization with the UAE as a lever to pressure China, as it has encouraged joint Israeli and Emirati investments that compete with Beijing’s port construction initiatives in Haifa. It should impose similar pressure on the UAE over its relationship with Russia. By taking action on this issue, U.S. policymakers will also counter a strategic partnership that has played a significant role in undermining U.S. hegemony in the Middle East. – Foreign Policy

Middle East & North Africa

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with Tunisia’s president Wednesday, kicking off a North African tour amid growing concern about lawlessness in Libya. – Associated Press

Libya’s warring sides have agreed to resume military talks next week after meeting in Egypt, the United Nations mission said, adding it hoped the step would pave the way towards a lasting ceasefire. – Reuters

Ahead of the signing of the Israel-UAE-Bahrain peace agreements, senior Palestinian-British journalist ‘Abd Al-Bari ‘Atwan, editor of the online pan-Arab daily Raialyoum.com, wrote that these agreements, which serve only the interests of the U.S., enrage the vast majority of Arabs. As a result, he said, they may bring the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, back to the path of armed resistance. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Telem leader and member of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, MK Moshe (Bogie) Yaalon will remotely brief U.S Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and members of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus on security issues. The briefing will focus on the implications of Israel’s recent peace deals and steps toward normalization with some Arab states, as well as the current status of security threats from other states and terrorist groups. – Arutz Sheva 


Chinese authorities said Wednesday they have formally arrested 12 Hong Kong residents who were caught fleeing the city in an ill-fated attempt to escape to Taiwan, paving the way for them to be tried on the mainland even as their families plead for their return. – Wall Street Journal

China’s government has been deeply involved—often from behind the scenes—in a wave of acquisitions across Europe over the past decade. – Wall Street Journal

The United States could fall behind in its global competition with China without additional resources to develop better intelligence on the Chinese government, and spy agencies must focus more on the challenge of pandemics and trade, according to a report by the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released Wednesday. – New York Times

The FBI this week released a film highlighting what it says are aggressive Chinese intelligence recruitments efforts in the U.S. – Washington Times

The US House of Representatives voted Wednesday to force companies to disclose products that come from China’s Xinjiang region, in a new bid to stop what lawmakers say is widespread forced labor in the restive area. – Agence France-Presse

Jacob Stokes and Zack Cooper write: As U.S. leaders consider establishing new crisis management mechanisms, they should therefore keep in mind this history and remember that although crisis management mechanisms are potentially useful, they do not always amount to “win-win cooperation.” As China’s leaders have made clear, crisis management is inherently strategic, so crisis management mechanisms should account for geopolitical realities. – War on the Rocks

Jude Blanchette writes: He has emphasized adhering to problem orientation, telling us to aim at the problem and proceed from it, regard the discovery of contradictions and understanding and resolving problems as the breakthrough points in our work, go to the root of Xinjiang’s social stability problems, and emphasize aligning problem-solving efforts with the actual situation by solving the problems that present themselves and focusing on solving prominent problems. These connotations of Xi Jinping’s thoughts on governing Xinjiang are very profound and provide us with important methodological guidance. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Taliban negotiating team that will determine the future of Afghanistan in talks with the Afghan government comprises 21 men, most with graying beards and biographies that date back to the fight against the Soviet Union. – Washington Post

An Afghan official says at least nine people including four civilians were killed when a suicide car bomber attacked a military checkpoint in southern Afghanistan. – Associated Press

Afghanistan’s chief peace envoy Abdullah Abdullah ended a three-day visit to Pakistan on Wednesday optimistic the uneasy neighbors have turned a corner from a relationship marked by suspicion and downright hostility toward a partnership for peace in the region. – Associated Press


Thousands of police officers flooded onto Hong Kong’s streets Thursday, stopping and searching people en masse, to thwart demonstrations planned for China’s National Day over Beijing’s tightening control of the city. – Washington Post

In a secret letter to President Trump in December 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likened the two leaders’ budding friendship to a Hollywood romance. Future meetings with “Your Excellency,” Kim wrote to Trump, would be “reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film.” – Washington Post

Defectors have complained recently that the government of President Moon Jae-in, who has made improving ties with North Korea a priority, is failing to provide refuge by ignoring rights, stifling political activity and deporting some escapees. – Reuters

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Wednesday Britain had secured Vietnam’s public support for it to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). – Reuters

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong was granted bail on Wednesday after being formally charged in court in connection with participating in an unauthorised assembly in October 2019 and violating a city anti-mask law. – Reuters

For some Hong Kong protesters, stripped of their passports and facing criminal charges, a perilous 600 km sea journey to Taiwan is their only hope of escape. For Taiwan, which has promised assistance to the people of Hong Kong but is wary of antagonising China, this brings a dilemma. – Reuters

A group of Republican lawmakers seeking to counter national security and economic threats from China is calling for the United States to open trade talks with Taiwan, a plan which is “very much” on the radar screen of the Trump administration, according to the congressman who leads the group. – Reuters

Armenia posted pictures on an online government platform on Wednesday of the wreckage of a plane it said was a SU-25 warplane shot down by a Turkish fighter jet on Sept 29. – Reuters

Armenia and Azerbaijan vowed to keep fighting and rejected international calls for negotiations Wednesday as clashes over the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region raged for a fourth day. – Agence France-Presse

The Trump administration plans to announce an investigation into Vietnam’s currency practices, according to three people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

One of the five Indonesians held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines was killed Wednesday during a clash with troops, an Indonesian official said. – Associated Press

David Ignatius writes: As the escalating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan draws growing international concern, the Armenian prime minister said in an interview that he fears a wider war between Turkey and Armenia, bitter historic adversaries.[…] The Armenia-Azerbaijan standoff is one of those forgotten “frozen conflicts” that have a way of melting down suddenly, when regional and global tensions are on the rise — and when the political stakes in the United States are high. So far, Trump is nowhere to be seen. – Washington Post


But while President Trump and President Jair Balsonaro of Brazil have chafed against restricting their own movements, Mr. Putin has retreated into an intricate cocoon of social distancing — even as he has allowed life in Russia to essentially return to normal. – New York Times

Russia, like many other nations in the world, is closely following U.S. presidential campaign as the United States is one of the world’s top economies, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a daily conference call on Wednesday. – Reuters

Russia’s military is now more capable than at any time since the end of the Cold War, a development that comes as Western nations are increasingly concerned about President Vladimir Putin’s role in election meddling and conflicts from Ukraine to Syria, according to a new report. – Bloomberg

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is recovering in Germany after being poisoned in Russia by a nerve agent, accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being behind the attack in comments released Thursday. – Associated Press

The head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service has accused the CIA and Pentagon of training militants to foment unrest in Belarus, as Moscow continues to defend its beleaguered ally President Alexander Lukashenko. – Newsweek


The new report, the product of months of work that put all 27 E.U. nations under scrutiny, reflected concerns that the European Union has failed to combat democratic backsliding among some of its members, though it has long prided itself as a bastion of liberal values. – Washington Post

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently published a sharp letter excoriating the Vatican’s plans to renew an agreement with the Chinese government on Church operations in China. He promoted the article in a tweet, concluding, “The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal.” – New York Times

Europe is struggling to respond to Turkey’s increasingly frequent flexing of military muscle, which has become one of the European Union’s biggest foreign-policy challenges and left it divided over what actions to take. – Wall Street Journal

The United States has held off on joining Britain and Canada in imposing sanctions on Belarus in hopes the European Union can overcome an internal dispute, paving the way to coordinated U.S. and EU sanctions, four sources said on Wednesday. – Reuters

European Union leaders will try to break a stalemate over Belarus on Thursday by untangling a separate standoff with Turkey that has exposed the paralysis in the bloc’s decision-making. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a warning to Italy over its economic relations with China on Wednesday, and described Chinese mobile telecoms technology as a threat to Italy’s national security and the privacy of its citizens. – Reuters

British and EU trade negotiators have failed to close the gap on state aid, a key element barring their new agreement on post-Brexit trade ties, officials and diplomatic sources with the bloc said as 27 national leaders gather in Brussels on Thursday. – Reuters

Julian Assange’s conversations in the latter part of his 7-year stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London were systematically bugged, even in the toilet, a London court heard Wednesday. – Associated Press

Editorial: Mr. Pompeo’s larger point is that a regime that doesn’t respect the right to religious freedom will not respect much else. He reminded his audience not to underestimate the power that comes from challenging dictatorships at their weakest point: moral credibility. […]It is a welcome message from a U.S. Secretary of State, and the Vatican would do well to at least hear him out as it enters its latest negotiations with Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

Yannis Palaiologos writes: The pandemic has spurred a lot of talk in Brussels about “strategic autonomy,” or the need for the EU to become an independent global player in an increasing multipolar world. But if it can’t defend its own members from aggressive neighbors, these pretensions are nothing but hot air. – Wall Street Journal

Nathalie Tocci writes: But while abandoning unanimity on certain issues may not the end-all-be-all solution to Europe’s foreign policy woes, but it is a necessary place to start. The alternative is to lose all credibility and to permanently prevent the EU’s coming of age on the global stage  – Politico 


Last week, U.S. officials held talks with Sudan in the hopes of adding it to a growing list of countries that have normalized relations with Israel, in what the Trump administration has billed as part of its Middle East peace process. – Washington Post

Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga can be handed over to a United Nations tribunal in Tanzania, France’s top civil court ruled on Wednesday, rejecting his lawyers’ arguments that he should face justice in France. – Reuters

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this week called on Mali’s transitional government to maintain a 2015 peace agreement deemed critical for the country’s stability. – Agence France-Presse

Southern African countries should consider holding their general elections without the presence of international observers, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said. – Bloomberg

Editorial: The issue the US and Israel must ponder is Sudan capable of transformation to a democratic civilian government when its military leaders were part of a Bashir cabal that perpetrated ethnic cleansing and genocidal crimes against indigenous peoples in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region. – Arutz Sheva

The Americas

The United States is targeting only about one percent of the 400,000 Chinese students in the United States over China’s bid to gather U.S. technology and other information, a top White House said official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

A Canadian judge on Wednesday adjourned Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s extradition hearing to consider the defendant’s claims that key evidence had been omitted. – Agence France-Presse

The draft version of legislation introduced by Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday opens the door for bigger private investment in the nation’s economy, potentially undoing decades of state intervention. – Bloomberg


Facebook Inc on Wednesday banned ads on its flagship website and Instagram photo and video sharing service that claim widespread voting fraud, suggest U.S. election results would be invalid, or which attack any method of voting. – Reuters

The House on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that would send cybersecurity resources to state and local governments, which have been increasingly targeted by hackers during the past two years. – The Hill

Voting information could face blockades from cyberattacks aimed at slowing down election-related, public-facing websites, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. – Washington Examiner

Chinese hackers attempted to break into the private email account members of President Trump’s family and also tried to steal emails from campaign and administration officials, said White House National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien. – Washington Times


Defense officials faced a bipartisan grilling Wednesday over the Trump administration’s plans to slash the U.S. troop presence in Germany by nearly 12,000 service members. – The Hill

As the Navy experiments with its unmanned surface vehicle prototypes, the service plans to employ the Sea Hunter Medium USV in fleet exercises in the next fiscal year, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants said today. – USNI News

The first of three inputs to the Pentagon’s Future Naval Force Study was released this week, the Hudson Institute is calling for a future U.S. Navy fleet of 581 battle force ships through the addition of 80 corvettes, 99 unmanned surface vessels, 40 unmanned submarines and 27 new small amphibious ships. – USNI News

Israel delivered on Wednesday the first of two Iron Dome aerial defense batteries purchased last year by the US Army. – Algemeiner

The U.S. Air Force has added nine vendors to the list of companies that will compete to build the service’s autonomous Skyborg drone wingman. – Defense News

In deciding how to move forward with the warped and carbonized hulk of the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, U.S. Navy leaders face a series of choices and all of them are bad. – Defense News

The Pentagon’s top IT official said Wednesday that his office has spent the last few months preparing the armed services to migrate to the department’s long-delayed enterprise cloud as soon as it becomes available. – C4ISRNET

Palantir, the Silicon Valley-based software company that successfully sued the Army in 2016, wants to become “the central operating system for all U.S. defense programs,” the company wrote in paperwork filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for its initial public offering. – C4ISRNET

The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin have reached a tentative agreement over labour costs the United States services incurred in managing non-ready-for-issue (RFI), or installation, spare parts for its fleet of F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs). – IHS Janes

The US Army has greenlit initial production of an Interim Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (IM-SHORAD) system, and awarded General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) with a USD1.2 billion contract to build the new vehicles. – IHS Janes

The US Air Force (USAF) has commenced the second phase of development of the Skyborg attritable unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) that it plans to fly in 2023, the service disclosed on 30 September. – IHS Janes

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Center for Rapid Innovation (CRI) and DZYNE Technologies resumed flight testing of the ROBOpilot unmanned air platform with a fourth test flight on 24 September at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. – IHS Janes

Weight and mobility challenges have forced the US Army to abandon a government-designed autoloader for its Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) programme and the service is now looking for help from six tech companies. – IHS Janes

Trump Administration

President Trump’s spy chief ignored urgings from senior U.S. officials not to release information about Russian intelligence material containing unverified allegations about Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal

Former FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday sought to defend the bureau’s 2016 investigation into Russian election interference as Senate Republicans alleged an anti-Trump bias by top bureau officials. – The Hill

Eli Lake writes: None of this information gets Trump off the hook, either. He has aided and abetted Russian disinformation by repeatedly denying that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. This gives the Russians cover and encouragement to do it all over again this year, which is exactly what the intelligence community has been warning about. In this respect, Trump himself, like the FBI, is a victim of Russian disinformation. – Bloomberg