Fdd's overnight brief

October 20, 2020

In The News


The United States on Monday said it blacklisted two Chinese men and six Chinese entities for having dealt with Iranian shipping company Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and, in some cases, helping it to evade U.S. sanctions. – Reuters

Iran’s single-day death toll from the coronavirus smashed a record set less than a week ago, with 337 dead confirmed Monday as a resurgence of infections is overwhelming hospitals. – Associated Press

Iran hosted officials from Ukraine in a second round of talks on Monday over compensation for a Kiev-bound passenger mistakenly shot down in January, state media reported. – Agence France-Presse

Authorities in Iran have in recent weeks warned that hospitals are running out of capacity as the number of Covid-19 patients has surged. More than 30,000 people have died in Iran so far this year of Covid, making it one of the worst-hit countries in the region. This week, Iran has reported the largest number of deaths in a single 24 hours since the crisis began. – Financial Times

Editorial: Mr. Biden says he’d return to the 2015 nuclear deal if Tehran returns to compliance. He also promises to take a tough stance on Iran’s malign behavior in the Middle East. But how is Mr. Biden going to contain Iran’s regional imperialism and support for terrorism without an arms embargo? Like so much else about Mr. Biden’s agenda, that question won’t be asked until after the election. But you can bet it’s on the mind of the mullahs. – Wall Street Journal


Turkey is withdrawing troops from a military post in northwest Syria that was surrounded by Syrian government forces last year, but is consolidating its presence elsewhere in the region, sources familiar with the operation said on Monday. – Reuters

Greece’s government says it has finalized plans to build a wall along its northeast border with Turkey, over concerns that migrants may try to stage mass crossings into the European Union country. – Associated Press

Walter Russell Mead writes: Many Arab leaders fear that Turkey will use the brotherhood’s networks to build support for Ankara’s regional ambitions. Iran can only call on the minority Shiites for religious support, but Turkey can attract supporters from the Sunni majority. Ironically, the current Arab nightmare is that the next U.S. administration won’t support Israel enough. Regional leaders fear that Team Biden would ignore Israeli as well as Arab objections, embracing Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, despite Mr. Erdogan’s ambitions, and dropping sanctions against Iran as part of a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. – Wall Street Journal


Even as the Knesset voted to approve historic normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday night, an unofficial economic delegation of citizens from the Gulf nation was quietly visiting Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. – Times of Israel

Israel and the United Arab Emirates are set to sign a visa exemption treaty Tuesday, in what will be the Jewish state’s first such agreement with an Arab country, according to Israeli officials. – Times of Israel

Following the Knesset approval of the UAE-Israel accords and the planned arrival of the first official United Arab Emirates (UAE) delegation in Israel, the UAE-Israel Business Council invited Emiratis and Bahranis with a photo of the three countries’ flags overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem from the top of the King David Hotel. – Jerusalem Post

Israel’s Chamber of Commerce has signed an agreement of cooperation with the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), marking the opening of trade ties between the two countries following the establishment of formal ties on Sunday, according to a government press release. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boarded a ship in the Haifa Port that reached Israel from the United Arab Emirates to tout the economic benefits for Israel from the countries’ newly-established relations. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF is not ready for the dangers posed by a chemical-weapons attack, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said in a report Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Starting in January, Israel will have a dedicated “water attaché” stationed at its embassy in New Delhi. – Algemeiner

A special Israeli-German scientific discussion was held on Monday under the theme of “Agricultural Innovation and Adaptation to Climate Change.” […]The panel also included top-ranking scientists in their respective fields from both nations. – Jerusalem Post

Emily Schrader writes: While the diplomatic situation is extremely complex, and there are strong arguments to be made on both sides, we are nothing if not a nation that can stick to its principles. The side of Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan is not where Israel should be positioning itself, and certainly not by supplying Azerbaijan with arms used to kill Armenians. Morally, Israel must stand with Armenia, a nation with shared values and history similar to the Jewish state. – Jerusalem Post

Ephraim Sneh writes: The practical sides of this alliance are Israel’s import of half of its demand of crude oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, and the export of $5 billion in sophisticated Israeli military equipment, according to President Ilham Aliyev’s public statement. But the alliance is not about oil and arms. Azerbaijan, with its vast majority Shi’ite Muslim population, aspires to be a secular, modern, enlightened independent state. Neither of its neighbors agree that Azerbaijan should have all these attributes together. Israel is the country that fully supports all the aspirations of the Azerbaijan people and government. – Jerusalem Post


Hasanain Alminshid had received death threats for his human rights activism for years, but ignored most of them. After his mentor was gunned down outside a police station, he finally made the difficult choice to flee Iraq. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron and Iraq Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi both highlighted the importance of the fight against terrorism following a meeting in Paris, a statement from Macron’s office said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Hussein Ibish writes: The lesson for the Baghdad embassy, he tells me, is to look for an option between keeping the presence as it is and shutting it down altogether, both of which would be big mistakes. “But,” Silliman notes, “the first thing is to decide what the main purpose of the presence is, and then suit the infrastructure to fit the mission.” As with so much else about U.S. policy in the Middle East, the solution to this problem must start with Washington finally deciding what it wants to accomplish. – Bloomberg

Arabian Peninsula

The cabinet of the United Arab Emirates on Monday approved an agreement to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel that was signed in Washington last month, ahead of the first official visit by a UAE government delegation to Israel. – Reuters

The first ever official United Arab Emirates delegation to Israel took off on Tuesday as the two countries look to broaden cooperation after normalising ties last month under a U.S.-brokered accord, forged largely over shared fears of Iran. – Reuters

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah called on Tuesday for national unity to meet challenges facing the Gulf state, in a speech to parliament ahead of parliamentary elections to be held on Dec. 5. – Reuters

Sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Oman has long prized its neutrality, garnering a reputation as the Middle East’s Switzerland. But the Gulf state’s ability to steer clear of regional power struggles has been put at risk by economic woes that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the slump in oil prices. – Financial Times

Dennis Ross writes: Their loss won’t be a win for Israel because the Palestinians are not going anywhere; Israel will still have a Palestinian problem. A smart U.S. policy would be to broker Arab outreach to Israel, Israeli steps to Palestinians in response, and use that to restore a sense of possibility. In the end, Bandar will have done Palestinians a favor if he forces them to look in the mirror and realize it is time to choose correctly. – The Hill


China delivered a diatribe against U.S. climate policies on Monday, saying that under President Trump, the United States “is widely viewed as a consensus-breaker and a troublemaker.” – Washington Post

China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday some U.S. politicians were “smearing” normal economic and trade cooperation, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Brazil and the United States needed to reduce their dependence on Chinese imports. – Reuters

The diplomatic spat between Canada and China grew more heated on Monday as Beijing denounced press criticism of its ambassador to Ottawa, only to have Canada’s deputy prime minister and opposition leader echo the criticism. – Associated Press

The air-launched ballistic missile that China has reportedly been developing appears to be a hypersonic warhead boosted by a conventional rocket. – Defense News

Western reliance on face masks and other protective gear from China has helped power an economic revival in the country where the coronavirus pandemic first emerged, according to new data from the Beijing government and Chinese analysts. – Washington Examiner

James Conway and Peter Ackerman write: It is essential to develop a domestic supply chain for critical minerals, with reasonable mining and permitting processes to enable our companies to compete. To ensure this can happen, extraction and processing must take place in return for a commitment to strict environmental standards, recycling and R&D for new material research. For the minerals unavailable domestically, the international allies must diversify supply, working together to limit Chinese investment in critical resource reserves. – Financial Times


The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan warned Monday that “distressingly high” levels of violence threaten to derail ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. – Associated Press

A Taliban official said signs that U.S. President Donald Trump will hasten the exit of all American troops from Afghanistan would force the country’s warring groups to finally negotiate peace, but experts worry the move may give the militant group the upper hand. – Bloomberg

Josh Rogin writes: President Trump’s Afghanistan policy is confusing and unclear, even for his own officials.[…] McMaster is criticizing Bolton for talking out of school, but at the same time criticizing the president’s policies himself while trying to sell his book. Meanwhile, the U.S. troops in Afghanistan are still fighting the war, while U.S. leaders in Washington fight among themselves. – Washington Post

Nurlan Aliyev writes: Since 1989, Russia’s Afghan policy has seen several changes. Currently, it prioritizes three goals. First, to stabilize Afghanistan and to maintain Russia’s strong role in the negotiations while also seeing the removal of U.S. and NATO military bases. Second, to use the Afghanistan peace process in its current confrontation with the West. And finally, Moscow considers its participation in the peace settlement as a confirmation of its return to the world’s global-power competition. As Moscow assumes the Taliban will play a huge role in the country in coming years, it aims to be on good terms with Afghanistan’s assumed future power brokers. – War on the Rocks

South Asia

The Indian military revealed on Monday that its forces had captured a Chinese corporal who had strayed across the disputed, unmarked high-altitude border that zigzags between the two nations, the first time a soldier had been reported captured since hostilities exploded between India and China in June. – New York Times

China’s military says it hopes India will make good on its pledge to swiftly return a Chinese soldier found lost along their mountainous border where the sides have been locked in a tense standoff. – Associated Press

Support is growing within India’s government to formally start talks on a trade deal with Taiwan as both democracies see relations with China deteriorate. – Bloomberg

Pakistan is bracing for more protests as an alliance of opposition parties builds momentum for a nationwide series of rallies calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan. – Bloomberg

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Sri Lanka and the Maldives this month, officials of both Indian Ocean nations said on Tuesday, as Washington seeks to counter China’s growing influence in the region. – Reuters


Taiwan will not be intimidated by China’s “hooligan” officials and will continue to celebrate its national day around the world, the government said on Tuesday, after Taiwan said Chinese diplomats had tried to charge into a diplomatic event in Fiji. – Reuters

The United States, Japan and Australia conducted trilateral naval exercises in the South China Sea on Oct. 19, the U.S. Seventh Fleet said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Indonesia rejected this year a proposal by the United States to allow its P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance planes to land and refuel there, according to four senior Indonesian officials familiar with the matter. – Reuters

Germany has granted refugee status to a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist facing a rioting charge in connection with last year’s anti-China protests, the protester told Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

The Philippine president has said he has no problem with being held responsible for the many killings under his anti-drugs crackdown, adding that he was ready to face charges that could land him in jail, though not charges of crimes against humanity. – Associated Press

The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) pledged to strengthen cooperation in preparation for the next general election, leaders from the two ruling parties said in a joint statement. – Bloomberg

Espionage in Australia had eclipsed Cold War levels, the country’s spymaster told parliament on Tuesday, in a speech warning that citizens were being monitored and harassed by foreign powers. – Agence France-Presse

South Caucasus

A ceasefire in the mountain territory of Nagorno-Karabakh was under severe strain on Tuesday after new clashes between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces in their deadliest fighting since the 1990s. – Reuters

The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, two countries at war with each other, are scheduled to separately meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Friday. – Politico

Alberto M. Fernandez writes: The Erdogan regime thinks it is being very clever, playing one power against another for its own benefit. But the overall result seems to be constant chaos and turmoil which an already burdened West is forced to manage and try to contain. Even if there was some benefit to the U.S. from Turkish aggression in the Caucasus – and such a benefit seems to be tiny if not invisible – it would seem that this long and growing list of Turkey’s regional actions hostile to the U.S. far outweighs any possible benefit from its latest misadventure. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Russia and Saudi Arabia are at an important part of oil talks and recent flurry of phone calls between the leaders of the energy-rich countries are aiming at stabilizing the oil markets, the Kremlin said on Monday. – Reuters

The Kremlin said on Monday that Moscow hoped talks with the United States would continue despite Washington rejecting a Russian proposal to unconditionally extend the last treaty limiting the two countries’ strategic nuclear weapons. – Reuters

Russia on Tuesday denied British and U.S. allegations its military intelligence had orchestrated a litany of cyber attacks, including attempts to disrupt next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. – Reuters

Russia said on Tuesday it would be ready to freeze its total number of nuclear warheads if the United States did the same in order to extend their New START nuclear agreement by a year. – Reuters

Editorial: Yet talk of bringing Russia back into the fold persists. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants deeper economic ties through the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and could ask a President Biden for neutrality, while French President Emmanuel Macron still thinks he can make Moscow a partner. Mr. Putin would court Mr. Biden as he did Barack Obama, but Mr. Biden shouldn’t fall for the same gambit. – Wall Street Journal


Britain and the European Union edged toward resuming their troubled trade talks on Monday, after the bloc’s chief negotiator said he was ready to “intensify” negotiations on the legal text of an agreement. – Associated Press

The NATO military alliance is considering a summit in March in Brussels to welcome a new U.S. president if Democrat candidate Joe Biden wins, diplomats and officials said, with a gathering in the first half of next year if Donald Trump is reelected. – Reuters

The U.K. rebuffed the European Union’s effort to restart their deadlocked trade negotiations, holding out for more concessions from the bloc before it is prepared to restart talks. – Bloomberg

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has announced a new science and technology strategy aimed at competing with potential adversaries. – Defense News

A German businessman and an alleged accomplice have been charged over the delivery of machinery to a company linked to the Russian military in violation of European Union sanctions, German prosecutors said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Elisabeth Braw writes: But after the Cold War, Sweden, like many other countries, slashed funding for its armed forces and dismantled its exceptional civil defense. The government has spent the past few years rebuilding it, but last week’s announcement marks a clear acceleration.[…] The Swedish government’s new investment will help government agencies and companies do their part. Swedish citizens — and, indeed, all of us — should in turn do our part because it will help our families and communities in a crisis and because it will help keep our society safer, too. – American Enterprise Institute

Tom Rogan writes: This is not to say that all is good for NATO in the Baltic battlespace. As recent Russian air antics have proven, the alliance’s air defense command appears to be sleeping on the job. Still, Sweden’s decision to stand in its own defense is worthy of praise. NATO members such as Belgium and Germany should take notice. –  Washington Examiner


Tens of thousands of protesters brought the largest city in Africa to a standstill on Monday, mounting the biggest demonstration in a two-week campaign against police brutality and escalating a standoff with a government that has pledged to restore order. – Wall Street Journal

Armed men freed at least 900 prisoners from a jail in Beni, east Democratic Republic of Congo, in a coordinated attack in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the town’s mayor said, blaming an Islamist militant group operating in the area. – Reuters

Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has labelled the British and Americans “hypocrites” and “champions of double talk” for the way they have behaved over the Chagos Islands. – BBC

Guinea’s opposition candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo declared himself the winner of the West African country’s presidential election Monday before the official results have been announced, setting up a tense showdown with the incumbent leader of a decade. – Associated Press

Last month, amid reports that Sudan could soon normalize relations with Israel, the northeast African Arab country’s leading governmental agency in charge of interpreting Islamic law issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, saying ties with the Jewish state remain forbidden. But in good Talmudic tradition, a senior cleric from a rival group of Islamic scholars thought his colleagues were mistaken and issued a fatwa arguing the exact opposite. – Times of Israel

James Barnett writes: In order to be competitive in Africa in the long-term, the US will ultimately need to focus more on African needs and interests than on Chinese behavior. Forging stronger ties across Africa, the world’s fastest growing continent in terms of population, is not simply something that great power competition necessitates. It is a smart move in its own right. – Hudson Institute

The Americas

Exit polls issued early Monday showed Bolivia’s socialists taking a seemingly insurmountable lead in the country’s bitterly fought presidential election, a result that, if confirmed by the official tally, would amount to a massive popular rebuke of the right-wing forces that drove the left from power a year ago. – Washington Post

Tax authorities from the United States and four other countries have joined forces to stop shadowy global money networks that use international borders to stymie local investigations. Their first coordinated move against a target is not in some far-flung country. It is on U.S. soil. – New York Times

Venezuela’s opposition is organizing a popular consultation to repudiate the government of President Nicolas Maduro, a process expected to be held around the Dec. 6 congressional election that the opposition is boycotting. – Reuters


Federal prosecutors unsealed charges against six Russian intelligence officers accused of engaging in some of the most destructive cyberattacks of recent years, including operations that knocked out Ukraine’s energy grid, exposed emails from the French president’s party and damaged global systems in the costly 2017 NotPetya attack. – Wall Street Journal

Authorities in Pakistan said they would lift a ban on TikTok after the Chinese-owned video-sharing app agreed to take down content they deemed vulgar, indecent and immoral. – Wall Street Journal

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham announced his panel will consider authorizing subpoenas to compel testimony from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey after the “censorship” of New York Post articles related to purported emails from the laptop of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. – Washington Examiner

Japan’s chief government spokesman said on Tuesday the country will put cyberattack countermeasures in place to make sure the Tokyo Olympics are a success. – Reuters

The U.S. Army’s tactical network modernization team wants to integrate wearables with the new augmented reality combat goggles as a means of bolstering cybersecurity. – C4ISRNET


USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) fired its first missile as part of a weapons system test off the coast of California, the Navy announced on Monday. – USNI News

The Navy has pitched a range of missions for its unmanned surface and undersea vessels, ranging from gathering intelligence to laying mines to launching missiles – the latter of which Congress strongly opposes at this point in the USV’s development – but few concrete concepts of operations have been released, and the finer details of the Pentagon’s Battle Force 2045 still haven’t been released. – USNI News

The Pentagon has raised to $95.8 billion the estimated cost of fielding a new fleet of land-based nuclear missiles to replace the Minuteman 3 arsenal that has operated continuously for 50 years, officials said Monday. – Associated Press

The Navy’s first stealth destroyer, USS Zumwalt, test fired an SM-2 missile out of its MK 57 vertical launch system Oct. 13, the Navy announced Monday afternoon. – Defense News

The United States is aggressively pitching Greece to purchase four American-made frigates, and will offer to co-produce three vessels in country, the top U.S. diplomat in Greece said Thursday. – Defense News

Long War

French authorities vowed to crack down on civic groups they said were promoting radical Islam, days after an extremist beheaded a schoolteacher for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump said on Monday that he would remove Sudan from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism once it completes payment of a settlement to victims of terrorist attacks. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on an Australian-based businessman and his gemstone company for helping Al Qaeda move money across the globe to sustain its operations. – New York Times

The last known chief of ETA, the now-extinct Basque separatist militant group, was back in court Monday in Paris to face terrorism charges that he deems “absurd” because of his role in ending a conflict that claimed hundreds of lives and terrorized Spain for half a century. – Associated Press

Within hours of the assassination of a history teacher by an 18-year-old Islamist in France on Friday, fingers were pointed at social media platforms for having helped motivate the killer before he decapitated Samuel Paty and then for allowing him to gruesomely claim responsibility moments afterwards. – Financial Times

Four school students are among 15 people who have been taken into custody in France following the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, who showed controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils. – BBC

One of France’s most vocal Islamists was taken into police custody on Sunday in connection with the horrific murder of a high school teacher in broad daylight at the end of last week. – Algemeiner

Trump Administration

One of the biggest questions centers on whether Trump administration officials believe that Mr. Lenzi and other diplomats in China experienced the same mysterious affliction as dozens of diplomats and spies at the American Embassy in Cuba in 2016 and 2017, which came to be known as Havana Syndrome. American employees in the two countries reported hearing strange sounds, followed by headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and memory loss. – New York Times

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to review two major Trump administration immigration initiatives, adding them to a docket now crowded with cases that will test President Trump’s agenda and policies. – New York Times

Joseph A. Bosco writes: For those and other reasons, I will vote against Communist China and for the administration that is most likely to stand up to it. I hope my grandchildren will understand why in good conscience I will vote for Trump this time. If he wins, I hope he will keep the personnel and policies governing his administration’s approach to Asia, while striving over the next four years to live up to the personal and professional standards they and we expect in our president. – The National Interest