Fdd's overnight brief

October 5, 2020

In The News


Iran has indefinitely furloughed a prominent researcher with dual French-Iranian citizenship who was imprisoned on security charges, her lawyer said Sunday. – Associated Press

Canada is forming its own forensic examination and assessment team to examine evidence and information after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a Ukrainian jetliner in January, killing all 176 people on board. – Associated Press

Iran on Saturday reimposed measures in Tehran province to contain the novel coronavirus, state TV reported, shutting public spaces and cancelling events days after confirming another record number of cases. – Agence France-Presse

An outspoken reformist figure in Iran has called on political figures of all political factions to talk to the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader AIi Khamenei and tell him to initiate reforms that would save Iran from a fate similar to regional countries. – Iran International

Russian Ambassador to Tehran Levan Dzhagaryan has made clear that his country is ready to supply Iran with its S-400 air defense system once the UN arms embargo against Iran expires on October 18. – Arutz Sheva

Iran’s sending of its foreign minister to Kuwait in the wake of the death of the Gulf country’s leader is a message to Kuwait City that it should stay neutral in issues relating to Iraq, the US, the Gulf and Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Claire Jungman and Daniel Roth write: This month should serve as a warning to the U.S. Administration: Iran is clearly capable of continuing to export in large quantities despite tightening sanctions enforcement. In addition to the well-publicized Caracas route, the White House must prioritize the curtailment of secretive (and illegal) ship-to-ship transfers, which some analysts believe are involved in half of all successful Iranian oil export deliveries — if maximum economic pressure efforts are to succeed. – United Against Nuclear Iran

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In that sense Tehran will act thoughtfully before escalation that may test a US administration that appears momentarily leaderless. Iran knows that Trump’s strongest member of his administration, Mike Pompeo, is also the toughest on Iran today. Testing Pompeo would not be wise. – Jerusalem Post


The Israel Defense Forces on Friday countered a Hezbollah claim that a Beirut factory identified by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the week as a missile production site was a civilian workshop, identifying the machinery in the facility as that which is needed for the production of precision-guided munitions. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: On Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces released details on sites where Hezbollah produces precision guided missile components in Beirut. Hezbollah rushed to take the media to the sites to show that there was nothing to see. On Friday, the IDF released more details. […] The overall context of the public relations conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, which heated up between July and October in conjunction with developments on the ground, is important because it goes along with the Lebanese political crisis in general. –  Jerusalem Post

Yaakov Lappin writes: The precision-guided missile project is a joint Hezbollah-Iranian program, and it includes the conversion of existing rockets into precision projectiles, as well as setting up the means to produce them from scratch within Lebanon. The program fits in well with Hezbollah and Iran’s agenda of using human shields to protect offensive capabilities designed to target Israeli civilians. – Algemeiner


Syrian President Bashar al Assad said the continued presence of Russia’s major naval and air bases in his country help counter the influence of Western powers in the region as the battle to crush insurgents was winding down. – Reuters

Desperate to help his family displaced by Syria’s war, pro-Turkey rebel fighter Abu Ahmad is waiting to be deployed to Azerbaijan hoping to earn almost 80 times his current salary. – Agence France-Presse

The global chemical weapons watchdog said Friday that two investigations into alleged attacks in Syria in 2016 and 2018 couldn’t establish that chemicals were used as weapons in either case. – Associated Press

Andrew Greco and Will Christou write: Pro-regime actors may be preparing for an offensive in Greater Idlib Province. Russia and the regime have recently increased their bombardment and infiltration attempts in the Jabal Zawiya and Sahl al-Ghab areas. Russia is diplomatically pressuring Turkey to fulfill its commitments to counterterrorism likely to justify a pro-regime offensive against areas primarily controlled by al Qaeda-aligned factions if Turkey does not conduct operations against these groups. – Institute for the Study of War


Turkey on Sunday condemned what it said were attacks on civilians by Armenian forces on the Azerbaijani city of Ganja in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. – Agence France-Presse

On October 1, 2020, at the opening of the new legislative year of Turkish parliament, following a two-month break, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a speech broadcast on KararTV: “Jerusalem is our city; it is a city from us.” – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Turkey has sunk political support into bashing Biden and supporting Trump. […]To show the US who was boss Ankara harassed a US soldier at an airport in Turkey, detained a US pastor on false charges, and imprisoned a US consular employee, as well as harassing US journalists. Ankara believed the US would appease its policies and get into line. Now Ankara’s attempt to control US foreign policy may be slipping.  – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Clearly the use of the fighters to channel them from fighting the war against the Syrian regime that the fighters wanted, to sending them abroad is a new phenomenon. It is mostly based on lure of pay with some religious propaganda of fighting imagined enemies or “jihad” mixed in. This blend of religious-ethnic-economic incentives is interesting, but it is primarily Turkey that operationalized the abuse of Syrians by sending them to far away places and betraying their fight in Syria to get them to fight Kurds, Libyans and Armenians. – Jerusalem Post


For Israel’s Arab citizens, the normalization deals that Israel struck with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will mean newfound freedom to stroll through Dubai’s cavernous malls, take lucrative jobs in Abu Dhabi or solicit investments from wealthy Emiratis or Bahrainis. – New York Times 

After a coronavirus-related delay, Israel’s navy is preparing for the long-awaited arrival of its next generation of missile boats — giving it a powerful new tool to defend its strategic natural gas industry from the threat of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. – Associated Press

Israel’s defense minister accused Turkey on Sunday of destabilizing the region and working against peacemaking efforts, and called for international pressure to bring about a change in the NATO power’s conduct. – Reuters

A meeting of leaders of Palestinians factions that was supposed to take place on Saturday to discuss holding new elections has been postponed indefinitely, apparently due to ongoing differences between the ruling Fatah faction and Hamas. – Jerusalem Post

Negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, set to begin next week, will only be on maritime borders, a diplomatic source in Jerusalem said on Sunday, despite indications to the contrary from Washington and Beirut. – Jerusalem Post

A bipartisan group of legislators from the Senate and the House have introduced a resolution honoring former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ahead of the 25th anniversary of his assassination on Nov. 4. – Jewish Insider

Israel’s newest spy satellite was declared operational on Sunday, three months after it was launched into orbit from central Israel, the Defense Ministry said. – Times of Israel


Twenty-year-old Mohammed was one of more than 500 Iraqis gunned down during anti-government protests over the past year by official security forces and militia groups. – Washington Post

Iraq’s military said in a statement on Monday that two Katyusha rockets had fallen late on Sunday in Baghdad’s Jadiriya area, near the heavily fortified Green Zone, without causing any casualties. – Reuters

September saw a sharp rise in attacks on U.S. bases and logistic convoys in Iraq linked to Iran-backed militias. These militias are similarly involved in a series of abductions and assassinations against Iraqi protesters. The recent escalation in attacks on U.S. targets and the continuous Iranian manipulation of Iraq’s politics has prompted two firm positions: one from Washington and the second from Iraq’s highest Shi’ite authority in Najaf. – Middle East Media Research Institute 


A rusting oil-storage vessel moored off Yemen’s Red Sea coast could rupture or explode, Western officials said Friday, warning of an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe if it breaks apart. – Wall Street Journal 

In Yemen’s gas-rich region of Marib, fighters loyal to the Saudi-backed government recited Koranic verses before launching a hail of mortar and machine gun fire towards rocky mountains, in a desperate bid to push back Houthi forces. – Reuters

Yemenis who were airlifted to Jordan to undergo treatment for critical illnesses earlier this year were brought home on Sunday on a flight into the rebel-held capital Sanaa, the United Nations said. – Agence France-Presse

Gulf States

Kuwait’s new Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah on Sunday met senior U.S., Iranian and Gulf officials who separately paid their respects over the death of the Gulf Arab state’s former ruler. – Reuters

The head of Saudi Arabia’s Chambers of Commerce has called for a boycott of Turkish products amid merchants’ reports that animosity between Ankara and Riyadh is hindering the flow of goods between the two regional powers. – Reuters

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Sunday told a United Arab Emirates news site that a Joe Biden win in next month’s US elections would see American policy on Iran shift in a way that would be damaging to Israel and the Gulf states. – Times of Israel


The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Friday authorizing member nations to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya suspected of smuggling migrants or engaging in human trafficking from the north African nation for another year. – Associated Press

The United Nations and Germany are co-chairing a ministerial meeting on Monday of world powers and other countries with interests in Libya’s long-running civil war in hopes of promoting a cease-fire between its rival governments. – Associated Press

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday Turkey aims to strengthen relations with Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) after a meeting with the country’s prime minister, who plans to step down this month. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper concluded a tour of countries around the Mediterranean over the weekend, maintaining a low profile as he attempted to steer the Pentagon clear of divisive election politics and advance Defense Department priorities despite friction with President Trump. – Washington Post

The United States and Morocco on Friday signed an accord that aims to strengthen military cooperation and the North African kingdom’s military readiness over the next decade. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Azerbaijan does not fit into these groupings because it has sought an independent foreign policy and has steered clear of Middle East disputes. However, it appears that some countries want to link these battles to the Middle East. In a world where the dominant US role of the 1990s is changing rapidly, the influence of other major players such as Russia, Turkey and Iran is growing, and this means they will try to broker deals regarding this Caucuses conflict which will have major implications for the rest of the Middle East. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

Reports that North Korean soldiers opened fire on a South Korean government worker after he crossed a maritime border last month sparked a rare apology from Kim Jong Un. But they may also have exposed key intelligence gathering techniques by South Korea, much to the annoyance of the country’s military. – CNN

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday sent a message of sympathy to President Donald Trump and his wife Melania, wishing they would recover from the COVID-19 illness, state media reported. – Associated Press

North Korea has historically acted in a provocative manner a few weeks before or after a US election, leading foreign policy experts to brace for long-range missiles or other provocative acts around the upcoming presidential election in November. – Business Insider


Pastry chef Jiamei Lu said she told the Federal Bureau of Investigation this summer that she was the victim of a financial fraud being run by a company linked to exiled Chinese businessman Guo Wengui and former White House political adviser Steve Bannon. – Wall Street Journal

China’s decision to move its British embassy from London’s upmarket West End to the less glitzy east could have been a heart-warming tale of homecoming. The new mission will be built at the former Royal Mint, just a stone’s throw from the city’s original 19th century Chinatown. – CNN

Editorial: Mrs. Merkel dragged her feet over economic concerns. China is Germany’s largest trading partner, and Chinese state subsidies make Huawei equipment notably cheaper. But Mrs. Merkel is finally moving as she faced opposition from across the German political spectrum and within her own party. The Chinese government may retaliate against German companies doing business in China. But that would only validate Berlin’s decision not to trust Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

Gideon Rachman writes: For all the confidence of pro-government intellectuals in China, like Mr Li, there is no doubt that Mr Xi’s China also has significant internal problems. […]If the US and China are indeed embarking on a new cold war to determine which country will dominate the 21st century, the vitality of their domestic systems may ultimately determine who prevails. – Financial Times 


They are here to end their fathers’ war. On both sides of the negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are nearly a dozen children of men who played key roles in the Soviet conflict in the 1980s that set off four decades of violence and loss. – New York Times

A suicide car bomber targeted the convoy of a provincial governor in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, killing at least 8 people, including four civilians, government officials said. – Associated Press

A suicide truck bomb attack on Saturday killed at least 13 people in eastern Afghanistan, government officials said. – Associated Press

While the intra-Afghan talks remain deadlocked in Doha, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Afghan Taliban organization) has continued to mount terror attacks across the country and on September 27, 2020, marked the 24th anniversary of the Fall of Kabul in 1996. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

South Asia

Weeks after India and China engaged in their deadliest border clash in decades, the sight of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier entering the Bay of Bengal drew attention across the region. – New York Times

Pakistan’s military said it killed two militants on Sunday in a shootout in the country’s northwest, a former militant stronghold. – Associated Press

Amid rising tensions with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Pakistan’s repeated ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC), Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria asserts that the Indian Air Force (IAF) is ready for a two-front war. – Business Insider


Turkey’s role in the growing clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan—two countries Moscow regards as within its sphere of influence—is adding a new element to a string of proxy fights pitting Turkey and Russia against each other and challenging Russia’s longstanding policy of neutrality over the simmering conflict. – Wall Street Journal

As President Trump remains hospitalized with Covid-19, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will cut short a trip to Asia this week, canceling stops in South Korea and Mongolia but continuing with a visit to Japan. – New York Times

Fighting broke out a week ago in Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region in Azerbaijan with an Armenian majority, setting off alarms about the risks of a wider war that might draw in Russia, Turkey and Iran. – New York Times

The fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces continued Sunday over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, with Azerbaijan accusing Armenia of targeting the country’s cities that are far beyond the conflict zone. – Associated Press

A majority of voters in New Caledonia chose to remain part of France instead of backing independence in a referendum Sunday that led the French president to call for dialogue after a three-decade decolonization effort in the South Pacific archipelago. – Associated Press

A Canadian warship has sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, the island’s defence ministry said on Saturday, a voyage that comes at a time of heightened military tension between China and Taiwan and which could anger Beijing. – Reuters 

The president of the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region warned citizens in large cities of Azerbaijan Sunday to leave to avoid “inevitable loss” after he said Azerbaijan targeted civilians in the region’s main city of Stepanakert the last couple of days. – CNN

If Vladimir Putin made one thing clear over the years, it’s that no power but Russia is allowed to meddle in the security affairs of its former Soviet stomping ground. It appears Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t get the message. By ramping up support for Azerbaijan as it tries to win back territories lost to Armenian forces in 1994, the Turkish president has put his relationship with Russia to the test. – Bloomberg

Editorial: It’s not clear how far Russia will go to stop the Turkish-Azeri offensive; Mr. Pashinyan was democratically elected in 2018 after a popular uprising, and so is no favorite of Vladimir Putin. But it is in the U.S. interest to stop the fighting and restart negotiations. That will require reining in Mr. Aliyev and Mr. Erdogan and their exaggerated ambitions. Mr. Trump, who has been an open admirer of the Turkish strongman, ought to tell him to stand down. – Washington Post

Dimitar Bechev writes: It is also worth remembering that Moscow may push back strongly against President Ilham Aliyev if he is deemed to be overreaching. The same goes for Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan given Russia’s extensive security and economic leverage over Yerevan. Erdogan may score a political win if the Azeris can seize land, but Moscow – initially caught off-guard by this crisis – still has cards to play. The ball is very much in Putin’s court. – Middle East Institute


The United States and Russia will hold a round of nuclear arms control talks in the Finland’s capital, Helsinki, on Monday to follow up on negotiations in Austria this summer, the Finnish president’s office said. – Associated Press

A Russian man goes on trial Wednesday accused of assassinating a former Chechen commander in a Berlin park on Moscow’s orders, a case that has cast a pall over ties between Russia and Germany. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: The West won’t do much more than sanction — though it should slap Putin’s regime as well as Lukashenko’s if Russia does send in troops or its “little green men.” But Washington and the Europeans must find ways to offer as much help and support as possible to the forces of freedom. After all, a loss for Putin is a win for democracy everywhere. – New York Post


A man wearing army fatigues and wielding a shovel attacked and badly injured a Jewish student coming out of a synagogue in Hamburg on Sunday, less than a year after an assault on a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle turned deadly. – New York Times

Britain’s lengthy divorce proceedings with the European Union entered a make-or-break phase on Saturday as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Commission president agreed that the two sides shared enough common ground to aim for a final settlement. – New York Times

French President Emmanuel Macron took aim at radical Islam Friday, announcing plans to outlaw what he called “Islamic separatism” in communities where he said religious laws are taking precedence over civil ones. – Wall Street Journal

Germany’s justice minister on Monday called an attack on a Jewish student outside a synagogue “a horrible act of violence.” – Associated Press

Germany is calling for the European Union (EU) to slap sanctions on Russia after Alexei Navalny, a top opposition leader, was poisoned with an internationally-banned chemical agent. – The Hill 

Yauheni Preiherman and Thomas Graham write: As the unrest drags on, Western countries need to find a way to promote democratic progress in Belarus without provoking a counterproductive Russian response. A misstep on the part of the United States or others could transform the country into a zone of geopolitical confrontation. Such an outcome would harm Western interests, European security, and the people of Belarus. – Foreign Affairs

George Barros writes: The Kremlin and Belarus cooperated to issue retaliatory travel ban sanctions against European Union (EU) leaders on October 2. The EU initially issued travel ban sanctions against 40 members of self-proclaimed president Alexander Lukashenko’s inner circle, though not Lukashenko himself, on October 2. Moscow and Minsk likely will intensify diplomatic cooperation given their joint efforts in the international information space to frame the West as conducting an intensifying hybrid war against the Union State. – Institute for the Study of War


Belgian police have arrested three men suspected of involvement in the Rwandan genocide, the latest in a series of high-profile arrests amid a heightened manhunt for perpetrators of the 1994 genocide that killed almost 1 million people in the central African nation. – Wall Street Journal

Malian authorities have released 180 Islamic extremists from a prison in the capital and flown them to the country’s north, an official confirmed late Sunday, fueling speculation that a prominent opposition politician held by jihadists could soon be freed after more than six months in captivity. – Associated Press

Sudan’s fragile interim government is sharply divided over normalizing relations with Israel, as it finds itself under intense pressure from the Trump administration to become the third Arab country to do so in short order — after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. – Associated Press

Sudan’s transitional authorities and a rebel alliance signed on Saturday a peace deal initialed in August that aims to put an end to the country’s decades-long civil wars, in a televised ceremony marking the agreement. – Associated Press

America has a new military homeport in the Mediterranean, as a US warship will call a small outpost on the Greek island of Crete home, signaling Washington’s deep concerns over the eastern Mediterranean and Russian and Chinese activities in Africa. – Breaking Defense


The federal government on Friday appealed a judge’s ruling that prevented the Trump administration from imposing a ban on WeChat, the popular Chinese-owned messaging app. – New York Times

Eric Trexler writes: Not everyone was cloud-ready or cloud-savvy when COVID-19 hit. […]Agencies must ensure they obtain the talent needed to stay secure, flexible and connected during this crisis and beyond. The world is changing rapidly, and so must government agencies IT operations. – C4ISRNET

Meredith Broadbent writes: It is unclear if the House of Representatives will take up the Hurd/Kelly Resolution or whether the resolution sums up where the approximate consensus is on approaching the complicated area of regulating new technologies. Approval of the resolution would be a useful first step in determining if the United States and Europe can productively exchange views on the best ways to approach an area of regulation that is truly a global challenge. Right now, the differing roads that the United States and Europe are on do not reflect the benefit of a dialogue on what could be best practices for regulating the new frontier of AI.  – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Pentagon has begun to shift the focus on irregular warfare away from the specific counterterrorism missions of the last two decades and toward a broader effort that includes information warfare and gray zone operations, a top special operations official said Friday. – Defense News

The U.S. Army has discontinued its Rapid Equipping Force stood up during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to get urgently needed capabilities into the field in 180 days or less. – Defense News

With adversaries working non-stop to inject disinformation into the public discourse, the United States must embrace influence operations as an integral part of modern warfare, a top Department of Defense official said today. – C4ISRNET

With Space Force approaching its first birthday, DoD and the Air Force so far have done little to rationalize the byzantine space acquisition decision-making process — one of the central problems the new service was created to fix. – Breaking Defense

For nearly 15 years a little known but highly influential Army group has been in the middle of how the Army learns immediate lessons from combat, adapts to the evolving battlefield and saves soldiers’ lives. It’s called Asymmetric Warfare Group, and the Army is shutting it down next year. – Army Times

Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division recently conducted a large-scale missile fire, one that some soldiers don’t get to see for an entire enlistment, if ever. – Army Times

Rep. Rob Wittman writes: Last week, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper committed to significant increases in spending for Navy shipbuilding and readiness. This is an important step, but it should be just the beginning. America must remember its role as the world’s preeminent maritime nation, and reinvigorate not just our Navy and Marine Corps but our shipbuilding and maritime industries. Our country’s future depends upon it. – Defense News

Peter Villano writes: Defense organizations don’t need to reinvent the wheel to work with commercially successful tech. Use what’s available today to reduce barriers and risk, reform existing methods, and increase engagement with trustworthy resources to work with more viable commercial tech companies that can move our country forward. – Defense News

Trump Administration

With President Trump hospitalized for coronavirus, a top White House official warned against any attempt by U.S. rivals to take advantage of a situation that security experts said presents a fertile ground for interference and disinformation. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday that he had warned his Russian counterpart last week that “there would be absolutely no tolerance for any interference” in the November election, but did not mention that American intelligence officials and a range of private firms had said they already saw evidence of Russian influence operations. – New York Times

Just this summer, the committee voted to give Johnson, R-Wis., authority to subpoena more than two dozen former Obama officials individuals for documents and testimony as part of the committee’s review of the FBI’s original Russia probe, and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. – Fox News