Fdd's overnight brief

October 27, 2020

In The News


The Trump administration on Monday imposed counterterrorism sanctions on Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum, the National Iranian Oil Company and its tanker subsidiary in a pre-election move that analysts say will make it more difficult for the pressure campaign to be reversed in the future. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s oil minister said on Twitter on Monday that Tehran’s oil industry will not yield to pressure from the United States. – Reuters

Iran’s foreign minister used his speech for the 75th anniversary of the United Nations to accuse the United States of initiating or joining eight wars since 200 that displaced 37 million people and resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and “unprecedented extremism.” – Associated Press

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the French charge d’affaires over alleged insults against Islam’s Prophet Mohammad, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

It is also a long-standing potential flashpoint. Innocent shipping is exposed to terrorist attacks, covert military action by state actors and the lingering threat of piracy. And watching every vessel that passes is an Iranian ship. Officially Saviz is a merchant ship, but it is most likely a covert Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forward base. Several open-source reports over the last several years and officials with Saudi Arabia have accused the ship of being operated by the IRGC. – USNI News


Russian airstrikes killed dozens of Turkey-backed fighters in northwestern Syria on Monday, according to a spokesman for the fighters and a commander in the targeted group, in a deadly escalation of violence that puts a fragile cease-fire at risk. – Wall Street Journal

The mother of an American taken captive in Syria eight years ago accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of “undermining” White House efforts to negotiate his release. – Washington Post

In the years before Le Mesurier’s death, he and the White Helmets had become the focus of an online disinformation campaign led by Russian and Syrian officials and peddled by pro-Assad bloggers, alt-right media figures and self-described anti-imperialists. As their work in Syria expanded, the group became one of the most scrutinised and vilified organisations in the world. – The Guardian


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday joined calls for a boycott of French goods, ramping up a standoff between France and Muslim countries over Islam and freedom of speech. – Agence France-Presse

Turkish security forces killed two militants in the southern province of Hatay on Monday, after clashes that resulted in a large blast in the area, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said. – Reuters

Turkey on Monday said goal-oriented talks in line with decisions by the United Nations Security Council and considering Armenia’s ceasefire violations were needed for efforts by the OSCE’s Minsk group to yield results, as a U.S.-backed ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh crumbled. – Reuters

France is not planning a reciprocal boycott against Turkish products and will continue talks and relations with Turkey and its president, Trade Minister Franck Riester said on Monday. – Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday it was time for a realistic proposal about a two-state solution on the divided island of Cyprus to be discussed, and added that the parameters of the current talks were not sustainable. – Reuters

Nikos Tsafos writes: A strong relationship with the United States is something both Greece and Turkey value, and U.S. mediation has always been an essential ingredient in avoiding conflict between the two for decades. Grounding diplomacy on hard energy facts—understanding that there is less at stake than the parties think, less to win, and less to lose—that should make it easier for the two sides to pull back from their positions without losing face and without surrendering anything substantial while committing themselves to a substantive dialogue. The time for U.S. leadership is now—before it is too late. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


A military court in the Gaza Strip convicted three Palestinian peace activists of “weakening revolutionary spirit” on Monday for their role in holding a video call with Israelis in April, but it ordered the authorities to release the two who remained in jail. – New York Times

The Palestinian foreign minister said Monday an international peace conference is the only way to generate momentum to bring Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a peace agreement. The U.S. ambassador said the Trump administration has “no objection” to meeting international partners. – Associated Press

Israeli defense officials have confirmed that Jerusalem has asked senior American officials to consider removing obstacles hindering the sale of F-22 fighter jets to the Israeli Air Force to preserve its air superiority following the agreement of the United States to sell the F-35s to the UAE. – Haaretz

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, for the first time on Monday, thanking him for working with the Jewish state “on preventing an Iranian entrenchment in Syria.” – Times of Israel

The daughter of Lebanese President Michel Aoun is drawing outrage in Lebanon this week for backing the idea of peace with Israel, albeit with significant caveats. – Times of Israel

A Palestinian man was indicted Monday for illegally carrying a loading gun and planning to carry out a shooting attack with it in the central Israeli town of Rosh Ha’ayin in late September, police said. – Times of Israel


Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq said on Monday they had foiled a plan to attack foreign diplomats in their autonomous regional capital of Erbil, more than a year after the killing of a Turkish consular official there. – Reuters

Saddam Hussein’s right-hand man, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a longtime fugitive, has died, according to the late Iraqi dictator’s daughter and his Ba’ath party. – The Guardian

Iraqi anti-government protesters stand atop a concrete barrier amid clashes with riot police on Al-Jumhuriyah bridge across the Tigris River leading to the highly-fortified Green Zone, in the Iraqi capital Baghdad – Agence France-Presse

Arabian Peninsula

Starting this Thursday, wines from the Golan Heights Winery will be stocked on shelves of stores in the United Arab Emirates, a result of the recent normalization deal with Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam, on Tuesday condemned cartoons offending the Prophet Mohammad and any attempts to link Islam with terrorism but did not echo calls by other Muslim states for action against images being displayed in France of the Prophet. – Reuters

The Saudi-led military coalition engaged in Yemen said on Monday it intercepted and destroyed an explosives-laden drones launched by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement towards Saudi Arabia, Saudi state news agency reported. – Reuters


A senior Libyan official has warned that the fragile ceasefire to end the civil war in the oil-rich north African country will only survive if rival foreign countries stop meddling in the conflict. – Financial Times

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that a ceasefire agreement between Libya’s warring factions was a courageous step and that all foreign fighters must leave the country in 90 days in line with the accord. – Reuters

Libya’s National Oil Corp (NOC) on Monday ended force majeure on the last facilities closed by an eight-month blockade of oil exports by eastern forces as it pushes to restore production of one million barrels per day (bpd) within four weeks. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Morocco’s foreign ministry said on Sunday the continuing publication of “offensive” cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad is an act of provocation. – Reuters

France has urged Middle Eastern countries to end calls for a boycott of its goods in protest at President Emmanuel Macron’s defence of the right to show cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. – BBC

Zev Chafets writes: If there is change in Washington, Netanyahu will seek to convince the new president that the old certainties of the Obama years did not work and, in any case, no longer apply. His message to Biden will be that the peace train is real and moving in the right direction. Rather than dismiss it because it was started by Trump, Biden should get on board and declare himself engineer in chief.  – Bloomberg


China accelerated purchases of U.S. farm products last month, new data shows, but overall it remains far behind on a commitment to buy about $140 billion in specific U.S. agricultural, energy and manufactured goods this year under a trade accord signed in January. – Wall Street Journal

China said it will sanction three American defense contractors over proposed arms sales to Taiwan, retaliating against U.S. efforts to deepen security ties with the island democracy that Beijing claims as its territory. – Wall Street Journal

A Canadian police officer testified Monday about his arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a US extradition warrant, revealing that Washington had requested that data on her phone and laptop be secured so that it could not be “erased remotely.” – Agence France-Presse

China has ordered six U.S.-based news media to file detailed information about their operations in China the latest volley in a monthslong battle with the Trump administration. – Associated Press

China has raised objections to what it called U.S. bullying of Sri Lanka after Washington said the Indian Ocean island must make “difficult but necessary choices” regarding its ties with China. – Reuters

The United States lodged an appeal on Monday against a WTO ruling last month that found U.S. tariffs imposed on China in 2018 breached global trade rules, a World Trade Organization (WTO) official said. – Reuters


At least three people were killed Tuesday when Taliban militants launched a coordinated attack against a police base in eastern Khost province, Afghan officials said. – Associated Press

A U.S. air strike launched to support Afghan security forces killed five Taliban fighters in central Afghanistan on Sunday evening, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan said. – Reuters

Barnett R. Rubin writes: Negotiations between the Taliban and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan have opened in Doha, Qatar, but violence continues and even appears to be escalating.[…] If there is no progress in the talks, the United States could simply disengage. The United States is unlikely to break up like the Soviet Union, but it is certain to be distracted by the pandemic and numerous domestic crises. The process might be different than in 1992, but the result could be similar if not worse. It is urgent to get these negotiations moving. – Foreign Policy

South Asia

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense chief Mark Esper are in India to drive the Trump administration’s anti-China message exactly a week ahead of America’s presidential election. – Associated Press

A powerful bomb blast ripped through an Islamic seminary on the outskirts of the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday morning, killing at least seven students and wounding 112 others, police and a hospital spokesman said. – Associated Press

India will sign a military agreement with the United States for sharing of sensitive satellite data, the defence ministry said on Monday, as the two sides began a top-level security dialogue aimed at countering China’s growing power in the region. – Reuters

Pakistan’s parliament on Monday passed a resolution urging the government to recall its envoy from Paris over the publication of images of the Prophet Mohammad in France, accusing President Emmanuel Macron of “hate-mongering” against Muslims. – Reuters


Thousands of demonstrators marched to the gates of the German Embassy in Bangkok late Monday to ask Angela Merkel’s government to investigate their king, who spends stretches of time in the southern German state of Bavaria. – Wall Street Journal

Germany is continuing to look into the behaviour of Thailand’s king, who tends to spend long stretches of time in Bavaria, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday, as opposition protests in Thailand gain speed. – Reuters

The United States on Monday announced it had approved a $2.4 billion sale of 100 Harpoon coastal defense systems to Taiwan, a move sure to anger Beijing following Washington’s $1 billion missile deal last week with the self-ruled island. – Agence France-Presse

The United States warned Tuesday of China’s “threats to security” as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper held top level talks in India.  – Agence France-Presse

Japan said Monday it will not sign a U.N. treaty that bans nuclear weapons and does not welcome its entry into force next year, rejecting the wishes of atomic bomb survivors in Japan who are urging the government to join and work for a nuclear-free world. – Associated Press

Malaysia’s prime minister faced calls to resign from both sides of the political aisle Monday after the king rebuffed his proposal for a coronavirus emergency that critics saw as an undemocratic attempt to hold onto power. – Associated Press

Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said on Monday the country’s exchange rate policy was not aimed at helping its exports and asked that U.S. President Donald Trump have “a more objective assessment of the reality in Vietnam”. – Reuters

Japan and the United States on Monday began air, sea and land exercises around Japan in a show of force in the face of increased Chinese military activity in the region. – Reuters

A U.S. citizen sentenced last year to 12 years in a Vietnamese jail for “attempting to overthrow the state”, has been released and returned to his home in California, a family spokesman told Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said in address to the nation that Azerbaijan wanted to resolve the conflict over its breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region by political and military means. – Reuters


Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed Monday that NATO and Russia should conduct mutual inspections of each other’s military bases to secure a moratorium on the deployment of new missiles in Europe following last year’s demise of a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms pact. – Associated Press

A Kremlin spokesperson accused Joe Biden on Monday of spreading “hatred” against Russia after the former vice president said the nation represents a greater national security threat to the U.S. than China. – The Hill

A Russian court is set to hear on October 27 the appeal of an activist who was jailed over a satirical video featuring a mannequin of President Vladimir Putin. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russia must continue the UN arms embargo on Iran, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Athens on Monday. – Jerusalem Post


The killing has underscored the increasing challenges to that system as France grows more racially and ethnically diverse. Two or three generations of newcomers have now struggled to integrate into French society, the political establishment agrees. – New York Times

On Monday, scattered groups of workers across the country answered the call for a general strike — the loosely organized opposition movement’s latest attempt to seize the initiative. They were joined by university students who walked out of their classes, on the heels of an opposition march in Minsk on Sunday that drew more than 100,000 people. – New York Times

The U.N. human rights investigator for Belarus demanded Monday that the government “stop repressing its own people,” saying at least 20,000 were detained in August and September and hundreds reported beaten, intimidated, tortured or ill-treated in custody. – Associated Press

Britain is no longer Europe’s “center of gravity” in the eyes of America — and particularly if Joe Biden is elected president next month — according to former senior diplomat and cross-bench peer Peter Ricketts. – Politico

European allies must improve their partnership with the United States to counter growing threats from Russia and China, according to senior German leaders. – Washington Examiner

George Barros writes: Lukashenko can likely outlast strikes given that Tikhanouskaya’s funding to subsidize strikers is likely finite and Lukashenko can imprison strikers as he has before. Footage from student protests suggests a significant number of students are not participating in strikes. Worsening winter weather will further degrade protest participation. Lukashenko will likely replicate successes in suppressing protests barring major changes in the opposition’s strategy or tactics. – Institute for the Study of War


Tanzanians head to the polls on Wednesday in an election set to be a litmus test of President John Magufuli’s authoritarian style after a five-year crackdown on the opposition and freedom of speech. – Agence France-Presse

The military leader of Sudan’s ruling council sought to defend on Monday a U.S.-backed agreement to establish relations with Israel, saying the deal was yet to be concluded and could benefit Sudan as it struggles with a profound economic crisis. – Reuters

Mali’s interim prime minister said on Monday he was open to talks with Islamist militants whose insurgency has made vast swathes of the country ungovernable, but former colonial power France signalled opposition to the idea. – Reuters

Negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over a controversial multi-billion dollar dam on the Blue Nile will resume on Tuesday, nearly two months after Egypt left the talks, African Union chairman Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday. – Reuters

Judd Devermont and Marielle Harris write: Tanzania and the United States are facing pivotal elections in the next eight days. Both governments have struggled to address issues such as voter intimidation and inclusion, and have failed to assure their publics they will respect the legitimate election results. Dodoma and Washington should seize this opportunity to address some of these shortcomings, and learn from each other to revive and restore their democracies. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Ehud Yaari writes: It is unclear at the moment how quickly Israel and Sudan will sign each of the individual protocols and establish mutual embassies. […]Most Arab states are waiting for the results of the U.S. election before making any public overtures toward Israel. […]Israel will also intensify efforts to establish relations with the Muslim-majority states of the Sahel, including Mauritania, which recognized Israel in 1999 but severed formal relations a decade later. – Washington Institute

United States

States and cities across the U.S. are wrestling with a delicate task as they gear up for the possibility of violence on Election Day: how to keep voters safe without deploying a police presence that could intimidate some voters. – Wall Street Journal

Texas will send 1,000 Army National Guard troops to five major cities in the state to coincide with the November 3 General Election, a spokesman for the Texas Guard said on Monday. The five cities are Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. The troops will likely start hitting those cities beginning this weekend. – Newsweek

Editorial: Democrats have called Justice Barrett’s confirmation a “sham vote” and an “illegitimate process.” They want to delegitimize the Court in case they choose to add two or four Justices if they regain the Senate. This would turn the Court into a House of Lords, a de facto second legislature to achieve progressive goals. Are Democrats willing to pay what could be a steep political price for ruining the judiciary? – Wall Street Journal


Local U.S. election officials have been receiving suspicious emails that appear to be part of a widespread and potentially malicious campaign targeting several states, according to a private alert about the activity. – Wall Street Journal

The fake accounts are just one example of what appears to be stepped-up activity by groups associated with China as Election Day gets closer. […]Separately, Newsweek has identified about 600 such groups in the U.S., all in regular touch with and guided by China’s Communist Party—a larger-scale version of a pattern found in other countries around the world. – Newsweek

A day after US president Donald Trump announced a new initiative to thwart Beijing’s alleged efforts to “steal” US technology, senior Chinese financial officials and Wall Street bankers sat down for a teleconference. – Financial Times

China’s top cyber authority said on Monday it would carry out a “rectification” of Chinese mobile internet browsers to address what it called social concerns over the “chaos” of information being published online. – Reuters

Finland’s interior minister summoned key Cabinet members into an emergency meeting Sunday after hundreds — and possibly thousands — of patient records at a private Finnish psychotherapy center were accessed by a hacker or hackers now demanding ransoms. – Associated Press

Luigi Zingales writes: Now the Justice Department’s move has blown Democrats’ cover and may force them to take a firm position on antitrust for the first time in decades. The Google suit managed to place antitrust among the most important issues a Biden administration would face. For this reason alone, it could go down as a turning point in American capitalism. – Wall Street Journal

Robert O. Work and Lisa Disbrow write: Acquisition professionals must go beyond their comfort zones to seek out expert AI partners committed to an across-the-board public sector transformation. To that end, AI companies are heavily focusing on government customers and the best ways to serve them. This is a critical moment for the country—not only in its response to this pandemic, but for our future with AI. Navigating these tough times requires not just survival in the present, but a credible vision for a brighter future and a desire to engage with more action and less talk. – Defense One


Building hypersonic weapons in 2020 is a bit like building computers in the 1950s. One day, it will be its own specific field — but today it requires finding and convening experts from multiple discrete disciplines. – Defense One

The Pentagon will have to put off moving the F-35 program to full-rate production due to another delay in starting critical simulation tests. – Defense News

The Pentagon has kicked off a five-year, $20 million effort led by Texas A&M University to do research on dozens of hypersonic weapons projects to stay ahead of China. – Breaking Defense

Trump Administration

Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as the 115th Supreme Court justice Monday evening, elevating a disciple of the late Justice Antonin Scalia to succeed the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg and establishing a broad conservative majority for the first time since the 1930s. – Wall Street Journal

Some Senate Democrats are seeking to empower regulators to protect local news outlets, accusing tech giants such as Google and Facebook FB -2.70% of “unfair business practices,” according to a new report by members of a key committee that will hear from the top industry executives this week. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to condemn the pro-President Donald Trump online conspiracy theory known as “QAnon.” But multiple QAnon-friendly lawmakers may soon be taking seats in the House chamber. – Reuters