Fdd's overnight brief

October 30, 2020

In The News


The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled a set of punitive measures against Iran, including sanctions for petrochemical sales, in a pre-election move that analysts say could complicate efforts if a new administration takes office and seeks to rejoin the nuclear agreement with the country. – Washington Post 

U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement officials were briefed late last month on a threat against the Pentagon’s most senior leaders while they are on American soil, not just traveling overseas, according to five senior U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the matter. – NBC 

The British government summoned the Iranian ambassador on Thursday following news that imprisoned British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is to be recalled to court in Iran, the Foreign Office said. – Reuters

The detained British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been moved back to Tehran’s Evin prison, sources with knowledge of her case have confirmed to the Guardian. – The Guardian

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the U.S. sanctions imposed on the nation were taking their “last breaths.” […]The severity of the sanctions and the consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak have led to soaring prices for foreign currencies and a variety of essential goods in Iran. – Radio Farda 

The head of Iran’s state-run radio and television agency, Abdul-Ali Aliaskari, called on Tuesday for the prosecution of Persian-speaking channels abroad, targeting130 channels in Persian and 140 channels with ethnic Iranian accents. – Radio Farda 

In an attack on French President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of the right to show cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which many Muslims consider disrespectful and blasphemous, Iran’s supreme leader has equated Holocaust denial with perceived insults against Islam’s prophet. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Marjan Keypour Greenblatt writes: Although the prospect of a female president in Iran might sound exciting, the recent announcement is little more than an empty gesture rather than a sign of real change. In a country where half the population lives in a system of gender apartheid, this is not a symbol of reform. While an Iranian female president could hypothetically lead her country and represent her citizens on the global stage, she would still face daily discrimination, social repression, and physical insecurity. – Middle East Institute


Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday met with a high-level Russian delegation advocating for jointly hosting an international conference on refugees in the capital Damascus next month. – Associated Press 

Kenneth R. Rosen writes: As I reported for a magazine from Manbij on that last trip, the mere presence of U.S. troops, even during a drawdown, bolstered local prosperity and sowed hope. At the site of the suicide attack that killed the U.S. personnel, a man sold cell phone chargers and knock-off iPhone cases nearby. Abu-Omar, then 30-years-old and a former electrical engineer, told me the American pull-out, then anticipated though not yet realized, led him to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of new governance. – Washington Institute 

Thomas McClure writes: Following the U.S. withdrawal from western regions of NES, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) stabilization program in Raqqa is set to finish. This will create further opportunities for Damascus to make inroads in Raqqa, where despite continued infrastructural challenges significant progress has been made on the humanitarian, infrastructure, and security fronts across the past two years. – The National Interest


A front-page illustration published by the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday showing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lounging in his underwear, pulling up the skirt of a woman wearing a hijab to reveal her bottom, has escalated an already hostile war of words between him and French President Emmanuel Macron. – NBC 

Turkey said that it strongly condemned Thursday’s deadly knife attack in the French city of Nice. […]In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Turkey stood in solidarity with the French people against violence and terrorism. – Reuters 

Michael Rubin writes: European leaders may be averse to sanctions, but sometimes they are a tool necessary to advance peace and avoid bloodshed. Too many current and former officials have allowed Erdogan to believe that he has more leverage over the EU than it has over him.  There will be no peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and along Turkey’s borders until Europeans disabuse him of that notion. Simply put, Erdogan is the sultan who wears no clothes. It is time European governments reminded him how naked and alone he really is. – Kathimerini 

Humeyra Pamuk writes: One of Biden’s first foreign policy moves would be to restore Washington’s commitment to alliances, first and foremost to NATO, whose cohesion has been damaged under Trump as he questioned the relevance of the 70-year-old organization. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It is unclear what Turkey’s role could be, but the calm before the storm might be Ankara hedging its bets on the Trump election and seeing who will be in power in Washington in six months. Turkey knows that Trump would feel betrayed if Erdogan incites against Israel. But with Trump out of office, Turkey could begin the mobilization with Iran and other anti-Israel countries to create a crisis it hopes would be to its benefit. – Jerusalem Post

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid writes: Pakistan and Turkey’s campaign against free speech in France, aided by a cynical abuse of the Holocaust, is duplicitous in the extreme. With extremist Muslim attacks multiplying, it now constitutes dangerous incitement. – Haaretz


Talks between Israel and Lebanon over disputed maritime borders have been productive and are expected to resume next month, the United States and the United Nations said Thursday. – Times of Israel

Defense Minister Benny Gantz hosted on Thursday US Defense Secretary Mark Esper as part of ongoing talks between the two defense ministries amid procurement talks prior to an expected sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates. – Jerusalem Post

Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, head of the Palestinian Islamic Supreme Council, has called for a “day of rage” on Friday to protest “attempts to harm” the Prophet Muhammad. – Jerusalem Post 

Avi Issacharoff writes: The Israeli and American sides might not want to hear this, but the Palestinian issue is not going anywhere, and it certainly isn’t going to disappear. In fact, we may face it further down the line in a more dangerous and complex form Barghouti-style. – Times of Israel

Morad Elsana writes: Bedouin in the unrecognized villages are under-represented in the upper ranks in all social and economic indices, but they are very considerably over-represented in the Israeli population when it comes to comorbid health conditions such as high incidence of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease, and lung disease. This was already true before the pandemic, but the impact has been exacerbated by it, as these poor health conditions are linked to more severe COVID-19 infections and higher death rates. – Middle East Institute  

Amos Harel writes: Another intelligence-related question involves the sheer will of Hezbollah to fight, given the economic and political crisis in Lebanon, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and August’s explosion in port of Beirut – Haaretz

Middle East & North Africa

One of the most senior leaders of Saddam Hussein’s government and the highest-ranking figure to have eluded capture after the American invasion in 2003 has died, according to Iraqi officials and the deceased dictator’s Baath Party. – New York Times

The U.S. State Department notified Congress it approved the sale of 50 Lockheed Martin Co LMT.N F-35 jets to the United Arab Emirates in a deal that could be worth $10 billion, sources said on Thursday, potentially setting up a showdown with lawmakers over the deal. – Reuters

Human Rights Watch on Thursday said justice and accountability for crimes carried out during Libya’s years-long conflict was “key”, after the two main rival sides signed a ceasefire agreement. – Agence France-Presse

Anchal Vohra writes: As the political elite quarrels over ministries and the international community scrambles to help, Syrian workers are visible on the streets. They have proved to be more reliable for home- and business owners who have, on their own, started to slowly repair their damaged properties. – Foreign Policy

Korean Peninsula

North Korea said the shooting death of a South Korean man in its waters last month was a self-defensive measure amid concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus, state media reported on Friday. – Reuters

South Korea had hinted last year that it had an interest in building “multi-purpose large transport vessels,” and this summer what type of warships the country wanted came into better focus. In August, South Korea announced that it would move ahead with plans to procure several aircraft carriers over the coming decade to address threats from North Korea as well as the naval ambitions of China and Japan. – The National Interest 

Stephen Silver writes: A vision for the future: The main goals of the Korean New Deal include reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, ending the financing of coal plants, a carbon tax, major investments in renewable energy, and further emphasis on moving forward with a digitized economy. And it works, it could transform South Korea for decades to come. – The National Interest 

Jamie Mclntyre writes: With the U.S. election now just five days away, it is becoming increasingly clear the next president will have to deal with and likely live with a stronger, more provocative North Korea that has an ever-growing arsenal of nuclear warheads and long-range ballistic missiles. – Washington Examiner


China’s leaders approved an economic blueprint for the next five years that emphasizes “technology self-reliance,” a defiant message in the face of intensifying U.S. sanctions against Chinese firms. – Wall Street Journal 

Dzekyid, a 54-year-old barley farmer, presents himself as a role model for his neighbours and for the success of China’s efforts to tie economic development to social control in Tibet. – Reuters

Chinese and U.S. military chiefs held talks on crisis communication this week, amid heightened tensions between the two military superpowers this year in the South China Sea, with the United States denying a report on a possible drone attack. – Reuters

China’s Communist Party said it wants to strengthen national security capabilities, state media reported on Thursday. – Reuters

China accused the United States Thursday of “ignoring basic facts” after five Chinese agents were arrested by Washington for allegedly going after Beijing’s opponents on American soil. – Agence France-Presse

Wilbur Ross, an investor-turned-U.S. commerce secretary, has long been accused of ethical violations because of his failure to extricate himself from his business ties. Documents obtained by Foreign Policy show that Ross’s potential conflicts of interest around Chinese business are greater than previously known. – Foreign Policy 

Michael Rubin writes: Erdogan, Khan, and Mohamad might picture themselves as defenders of the faith, but they have essentially become the equivalent of kapos, the Jewish concentration camp administrators who collaborated in exchange for privilege or short-term safety. They may imagine their anti-French bluster will win them populist plaudits from the broader Muslim community, but in reality, they will be dismissed in history as among the greatest betrayers of the Muslim community’s ability to practice their faith openly and in peace. – Washington Examiner 

Michael Sobolik writes: Regardless of whether the United States labels China’s persecution of the Uighurs as genocide, policymakers need to think beyond existing tools in order to hold the CCP accountable. This necessity is indicative of America’s broader China challenge: moving from reactive confrontation to proactive competition. OBOR’s link to the Uighurs is an enormous vulnerability for the CCP—one that U.S. policymakers can and should exploit. – Newsweek

Tim Culpan writes: Just as the U.S. government starts looking to rein in, or even break up, big technology companies in the belief they have too much power, China is going in the opposite direction. We should expect to see more money, more policy favoritism, and more attention from party cadres aimed at ensuring the establishment of big successful chip and software firms. – Bloomberg


The top lawmaker on the House’s defense committee said Thursday the Trump administration had “no plan” to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, despite President Trump’s assertion that forces will be home by Christmas. – The Hill

Afghan and Australian human rights groups have urged the government to release an inquiry into “bone-chilling” allegations of special forces war crimes in Afghanistan, saying the public “deserve to know what was done in our name”. – The Guardian  

Rioting at a prison in western Afghanistan has left at least eight inmates dead, provincial officials said Thursday. The violence erupted on Wednesday night at the prison in the city of Herat, the capital of western Herat province, according to Mohammad Rafiq Shirzai, a spokesman for the provincial health department. – Associated Press

South Asia

Militants shot dead three young workers of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in Kashmir late on Thursday, days after his government changed laws allowing people from the rest of the country to buy land in the disputed region. – Reuters

India reportedly declined the opportunity to purchase a fleet of MQ-9 Reaper drones from the United States that would have cost the country more than $3 billion. – Washington Examiner

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi cast her ballot Thursday in advance voting for general elections that are taking place during a surge of coronavirus illnesses. The Southeast Asian country confirmed almost 1,500 new cases of infection on Wednesday alone. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: Rather, Khan should realize the greatest threat is in the genocidal campaign against whole Muslim communities led by Chinese President Xi Jinping, a man whom Khan actively enables. Indeed, if Imran Khan truly wants to fight Islamophobia, he might look into the mirror because his own behavior endangers Islam far more than any European leader does. – The National Interest


The three-way relationship among the United States, China and Taiwan is potentially explosive and figures prominently in the calculus for every U.S. president’s China policy. China claims Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy, as a territory that it will one day bring under its control, and has signaled it could go to war if Taipei were to cross certain red lines, such as formally declaring independence. – Washington Post 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ended an Asian tour focused on criticism of Beijing with a last-minute stop in Vietnam, which is tangled in disputes with its neighbor China in the South China Sea. – Wall Street Journal 

Japan may effectively shut off China from supplying drones to its government to protect sensitive information, according to six people in government and the ruling party familiar with the matter, as part of a broad effort to bolster national security. – Reuters

Malaysia’s former premier Mahathir Mohamad said on Thursday Muslims have a right to “kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past” but he did not approve of the killing of a French teacher over his use of cartoons of the Prophet. – Reuters

South Caucasus

In Azerbaijan, as elsewhere, McDonald’s and Burger King stores tend to use their Instagram accounts to post photos of burgers and fries. But a few weeks ago, the tone took a turn. After military clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia broke out last month, fast-food franchisees began to weigh in — on behalf of Azerbaijan. – Washington Post 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Turkey should be among countries involved in talks to end fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, as Azerbaijan and Armenia again accused each other on Thursday of shelling civilians in and around the mountain enclave. – Reuters

The leader of Armenian separatists in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region said Thursday that Azerbaijani forces had advanced to within a few kilometres of the key town of Shusha. – Agence France-Presse

Russia is open to the return of Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenian forces as a means to help solve a long-running conflict between the two countries that erupted into war last month. – Financial Times

Liz Cookman writes: But the violence and death isn’t pushing the fighters away from winning their fight on the battlefield, despite the repeated international efforts at mediation. “It’s up to us to solve this; we don’t believe in a political solution,” said Hyak, 31, who works in a bank and also declined to give his full name. “Look at Syria, for 10 years they are not able to solve this. We call all Armenians to come here and help us solve this. If [politicians] could solve it, they would have done it already.” – Foreign Policy 

Aleksey Asiryan writes: The longer Turkey puts its weight behind Azerbaijan, the more Aliyev finds himself dependent on Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aspiration for regional leadership. Finally, Aliyev risks spoiling relations with Russia if the conflict spirals out of control. Although the relationship between Moscow and Baku has always been complicated, Russia remains one of the important trade partners for Azerbaijan. Furthermore, Russia-Azerbaijan ties are also held together by interest groups in the Azerbaijani ruling elite. – The National Interest


Ukraine’s natural-gas chief has urged the United States to expand sanctions aimed at stopping construction of a nearly complete Russian energy pipeline that would bring gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Police in Russia shot dead a 16-year-old teenager in the Muslim-majority Tatarstan region after he tried to set fire to a local police station and stabbed a police officer, Russian investigators said on Friday. – Reuters 

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump on Thursday for his role in stabilising global oil markets, but criticised his administration for sanctioning Russia 46 times. – Reuters 

Ivan Timofeev, et al., write: Experts on both sides were concerned about the policy directions of Moscow and Washington and were focused on identifying new dialogue mechanisms, whether that was related to arms control, the Arctic, great power competition, or the Eastern Mediterranean. All too frequently, these types of conversations become a litany of differences and frustrations, where experts on both sides parrot government talking points. This dialogue was different. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Three people were killed in a knife attack at a church in the southern French city of Nice on Thursday, an act President Emmanuel Macron referred to as “an Islamist terror attack” and which prompted the country to raise its security alert to the highest level. – Washington Post 

France is again facing the specter of terrorism after multiple people were stabbed at a church in Nice, a city on the country’s south coast that has seen a number of attacks in the past. This is what we know so far. – Wall Street Journal

Britain’s Labour Party suspended former leader Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday over his response to a watchdog’s report on persistent anti-Semitism in the center-left opposition party during his five-year reign. – Washington Post

It’s been targeted again and again, threatened and firebombed and struck in an attack that killed a dozen staff members, but satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo won’t stop poking fun at Islamic extremism. – Associated Press 

The attack in Nice on Thursday follows a spate of Islamic terror attacks in France in recent years. Here is a look at some of those attacks. – Times of Israel 

George Barros writes: Self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko alluded to a possible chemical terrorism threat in Belarus for the first time on October 29. Lukashenko said the ongoing strike at the Azot chemical plant – a large nitrogen compound and fertilizer plant in Grodno – could create an “explosion” and that an ensuing toxic fallout cloud could kill several thousand. Belarusian security services’ have intensified efforts to link the protests with terrorism since October 22. – Institute for the Study of War


Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed a plan with benchmarks that would allow the more than 18,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo to progressively transfer its activities to Congolese authorities. – Associated Press 

Mozambican troops are honing in on a forest base camp belonging to insurgents terrorising the gas-rich north, the government has said, signalling a significant advancement in the battle to regain control of the region. – Agence France-Presse

Following the October 23, 2020 announcement that Sudan and Israel have decided to normalize their relations, Osama Di Al-Naim Muhammad, a columnist for Sudan’s Al-Rakoba newspaper, welcomed the move in his column and urged the Palestinians to advance towards peace. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, in his first public comments since being toppled in 2011, said that Saturday’s presidential election spelt “disaster” for the troubled country and called for dialogue. – Agence France-Presse

Tanzania’s president is poised to be declared the overwhelming winner of Wednesday’s election despite widespread allegations of fraud, while the ruling party appears to have secured the two-thirds majority in parliament required to change the constitution. – Associated Press 

The Americas

The arrest this month of Mexico’s former defense minister stunned the nation, with U.S. prosecutors alleging he had helped a cartel send thousands of kilos of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States. But the crisis confronting Mexico goes far beyond the occasional headline-grabbing bust. – Washington Post 

In the last year, Bolivia’s democracy suffered as partisan clashes filled its streets and mistrust in government grew. And yet it pulled off a calm, uncontested election. What can it teach other democracies under siege? – New York Times 

Not so long ago the tables at Woow!!! restaurant in Havana were filled with tourists ordering mojitos and plates of grilled octopus. But as President Donald Trump rolled back Obama-era measures opening Cuba relations, the restaurant grew increasingly empty. – Associated Press 

World Trade Organization members are confronting the reality that the future of the Geneva-based institution is now in the hands of the American electorate. – Bloomberg

United States

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia remain near the top on the list of countries where the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says “impunity” in cases of murdered journalists is “entrenched.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

James Jay Carafano writes: Americans aren’t the only ones waiting for the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. So are people around the world. – Fox News


Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday warned of the potential for civil unrest as votes are tallied in a US election that will be “a test” for the social network. – Agence France-Presse

Even as the U.S. Army attempts to integrate cutting edge technologies into its operations, many of its platforms remain fundamentally in the 20th century. – C4ISRNET 

The U.S. Army has completed its pilot program that would allow teleworkers to access classified information, a capability that military leaders first rolled out over the summer, a top IT officer said Wednesday. – C4ISRNET

Josh Rogin writes: Chinese interference in the 2020 election is meant to sow discord in the U.S. political system, much like Russia’s disinformation campaign in 2016. But the Chinese efforts are more sophisticated — and more complex. There are multiple Chinese interference campaigns that include actors outside the government, who profess to be fighting against the Chinese Communist Party but may be doing its bidding at the same time. – Washington Post


The following is the Oct. 28, 2020 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Constellation (FFG-62) Class Frigate (Previously FFG[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. – USNI News 

The U.S. Air Force could be one year away from being able to load its cargo planes with pallets of smart weapons, transforming them into strike aircraft without the need for expensive and lengthy modifications. – Defense News

As the Navy pursues a blueprint for its tactical data network to connect weapons and sensors across the battlefield, the service hopes the structure of its Project Overmatch initiative will help develop requirements for the new effort. – USNI News 

The 16th Air Force and an Air Force cyber software development unit are partnering together on a “low-code, no-code” pilot program that will allow airmen with minimal training to develop software applications they need. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Department of Defense released its highly anticipated electromagnetic spectrum superiority strategy Thursday, aimed at guiding how the department will develop capabilities as well as partner on and pursue readiness within the spectrum to gain an edge on sophisticated adversaries. – C4ISRNET 

The Navy and Marine Corps are further putting their money and their effort towards greater naval integration, as the services work together on tactics for blue-green operations and a spending plan that supports those new tactics. – USNI News 

The U.S. Air Force F-22 is widely regarded as the most dominant fighter in the world, and while there has been much discussion about why its construction was truncated or halted, there has been much less conversation about a related, yet interesting question: Why was it never sold abroad? – The National Interest

In a video presentation at the 14th annual Angels of the Battlefield awards presentation Tuesday, McGrath said one team member in the back of the truck was wounded as they approached the airfield where both aircraft, all American, and buildings were on fire. – USNI News

Long War

A terror attack that killed three people in Nice on Thursday left France increasingly embattled at home and abroad, as the government called for toughening measures against Islamist extremism, amid rising tensions with Muslim nations. – New York Times

A Saudi man was arrested in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after attacking and wounding a security guard with a “sharp tool” at the French consulate on Thursday, local police said. – Reuters

Sadanand Dhume writes: Radicalization remains a pressing issue. Because Europe has failed to integrate Muslim immigrants while social media has become ubiquitous, strongmen grandstanding for their domestic audiences in Pakistan or Turkey have the ability to reach potential Islamists in the West. Mr. Khan styles himself not merely as the leader of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, but as a representative of Muslims everywhere—except of course China. – Wall Street Journal 

Thomas Hegghammer writes: Whatever one thinks of the ethics and effectiveness of leadership decapitation — a pillar of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy for the past 15 years — it is probably changing the sociology of the jihadi movement. […]Jihadism has become more faceless, and it is hard to picture any current Islamic State figure becoming the subject of a monograph in the future. The age of the jihadi superstar may have ended with Anwar al-Awlaki. – War on the Rocks

Missile Defense

The Trump administration is working to pressure NATO allies to collectively crackdown on China’s nuclear program as it looks to limit Beijing’s growing influence in the global arms race. […]The Pentagon lists Chinese warhead stockpile as being in the “low-200s,” although that number is widely believed to be higher since the Pentagon’s most recent estimate, from 2019, only includes “operational” warheads. – CNN News

The Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Kwajalein Atoll hasn’t missed a beat this year when it comes to testing, including a major hypersonic test at the start of the global coronavirus pandemic, according to the leader of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command. – Defense News 

Lt. Gen. David Mann (ret.) and Maj. Gen. Francis Mahon (ret.) write: Further integrating IBCS with other Army systems must be a future priority: It is the standard bearer for air and missile defense integrated operations and a key enabler for dealing with complex and integrated attacks. This investment requires sustained support from the Department of Defense and Congress as well as priority funding as we wrestle with flat budgets and COVID-19’s fiscal challenges and potential bills. – C4ISRNET